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Print view: What exactly is 'wrong' with greed? And why don't your leaders fight back?
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HOW TO PROCEED! What exactly is wrong with greed? And why don’t your leaders fight back? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2011

Sadly, you can’t get it elsewhere: Yes, our fund-raising drive continues. If you want to do PayPal or send a check, you could just click here.

This weekend, we’ll be working on chapter 6 for our companion site, How He Got There. In this chapter, a narrative hardens, then turns into stone—all thanks to an “accidental” “misquotation” by Ceci Connolly and Katharine Seelye.

What was that narrative? Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton! The die was cast—was set in stone—by December 1999. From that point forward, there would be no turning back as the press corps kept pimping this powerful theme—“accidentally” “misquoting” Gore when they felt they had to. People! If your target won’t tell any lies, you may have to invent his lies for him! This the press corps continued to do right through October 2000.

In the coming year, we’ll add to the work at How He Got There and we’ll continue our work over here. On Wednesday, though, we got to enjoy come comic relief concerning the history of Campaign 2000. Why do we continue to type? Enjoy a few laughs in what follows:

Chris and Joan’s comic relief: On balance, we don’t quite agree with Jim Fallows’ reaction to Al Gore’s new piece in Rolling Stone. (To read the Gore piece, just click here.)

It’s true: Many news orgs, including “liberal” news orgs like TPM, played the Gore piece as an attack on Obama. They offered little of the nuance found within the essay. In Fallows’ account, Gore’s essay, “about impending climate disasters, is mainly about the failure of the media to direct adequate attention to the issue, and to call out paid propagandists and discredited phony scientists” (Fallows’ emphasis). That’s largely true—but Gore doesn’t name any journalists or news orgs, except for two fleeting references to Fox, and he does name the president whom he criticizes. We’re not sure if his criticism is wholly fair; we always stress the fact that a president can’t be expected to do it all—that it takes a whole village of political actors to advance political understandings. But however you want to score it, Gore’s specific comments about Obama were more newsworthy than his general comments about the work of the press.

Who is he talking about in the press? He never says.

Gore’s piece is well worth reading, of course, although we assume that the game has been lost—that whatever climate change may bring, that change is going to come. That said, the appearance of this important piece did lead to a bit of comic relief on a fiery cable “news” program.

We refer to Chris Matthews’ comical attempt to discuss Gore’s piece on Wednesday night’s Hardball. Good lord, but this man is a clown! This is the way he began his segment, after playing a bit of tape from an old SNL sketch:

MATTHEWS (6/22/11): Welcome back to Hardball. That was Saturday Night Live and of course that sketch probably has a bitter grain of truth for Al Gore. If he had won in 2000, chances are we would be further along in combating global warming.

You may not have heard much about Gore recently. Of course, he left politics, took a very low profile, grew a beard there for a while. Now Gore has written in Rolling Stone magazine that President Obama has been a disappointment on the environmental front.

Good God, this man is a clown! Just check his recollection of Gore’s conduct since Campaign 2000! According to Matthews, Gore left politics and then grew a beard. Now, he has written a piece for Rolling Stone!

This ludicrous fellow remembers the beard. He forgets the documentary film, which did big business then won the Oscar. The subsequent Nobel Peace Prize has also slipped his mind.

Gore left politics, then grew a beard! And no, this wasn’t extemporaneous piffle; the Hardball staff had selected a piece of footage showing Gore with that troubling beard! Question: Why does Matthews’ disordered brain cling to ridiculous matters like this? For the same reason he fingers Newt Gingrich’s jewels—because it’s easy and fun!

Also, because he’s a virtual demon. As your country slips into the sea, Matthews’ conduct, sustained for years, helps you see why this is happening.

This ludicrous man has been repurposed, of course; today, he clowns on the Democrats’ side. Back then, he led the war against Gore on cable, relentlessly pimping the Jack Welch agenda in the most ludicrous possible manner. For the twenty months of Campaign 2000, Matthews’ conduct was simply astounding. On Wednesday, the analysts emitted low, mordant chuckles when he went on to make these remarks to his own beard, Joan Walsh:

MATTHEWS: Joan, your thoughts about this. Let’s go to Al Gore. He’s been sort of in and out of public life for a while after getting sort of screwed out of the election back in 2000. We can argue about how it was done, but it ended up being—

WALSH: Very bad.

MATTHEWS: —some bad calls by him in terms of the recount, and some very bad intervention by the Supreme Court, very bad.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: We can all agree on that, a lot of us.


MATTHEWS: He’s a qualified guy. I think he ran a terrible campaign in 2000. But here he is—he did Inconvenient Truth, which is a hell of a documentary, with Davis Guggenheim. And now he’s back. What do you make of his going after the president in this fashion?

Finally, Matthews recalled the documentary, though the Nobel Prize remained elusive. In this passage, Matthews initially said that Gore has “been sort of in and out of public life for a while after getting sort of screwed out of the election back in 2000.” The man is a consummate clown.

Of course, it was Matthews’ remarks about Campaign 2000 which provided the comic relief. “I think he ran a terrible campaign in 2000,” Matthews said, skillfully keeping his straight face. Just last Friday, we gave you a small idea of what this big nut-case meant (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/11). What made Gore’s campaign so “terrible?” For one thing, he wore a three-button suit—and those buttons had Freudian meaning. Beyond that, he had hired a woman to teach him how to be a man. He was “today’s man-woman,” “a man-like object;” he “didn’t have his gender straight.” He would lick the bathroom floor to be president. Over and over and over and over, he was “Bill Clinton’s bathtub ring.”

Matthews behaved like a genuine demon for the campaign’s twenty months, offering ugly, bizarre complaints about Gore’s “terrible campaign.” He told Gennifer Flowers how hot she was when he dragged her out on the air; she then spent a full half hour denouncing the Clintons’ murders. Presumably, Matthews did this to serve the pleasure of Welch; his salary was $1 million in 1999, but it soon went up to $5 million. (This type of largesse cannot be explained by Hardball’s ratings, though the show was influential at that time within the mainstream press.) But the presence of Walsh on Wednesday’s program really brought this outrage full circle. Joan sat and smiled and stood by her man—a man whose conduct she has enabled for the past decade or more.

Walsh was editor of Salon for most of the past decade. During this period, a new liberal world began to form—a liberal world which needed to understand its history and the obstacles it faces. But Walsh never commissioned a profile of Matthews, who had done so much harm to that liberal world. If you don’t understand that decision, her helpful presence on Wednesday’s program may give you a clue.

It’s very hard to convey the full squalor of Matthews’ conduct during Campaign 2000. Yes, he’s been repurposed now; because he now plays on Obama’s team, he made a few snide remarks on Wednesday about Gore’s current article. Here’s one example of the way a man of this low caliber “reasons:”

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Al Gore is back. He’s blasting President Obama over climate change. The president’s not doing enough, he says. Does Gore think a President Romney or a President Bachmann would do a better job? It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Simply put, the man is a world-class buffoon. But we liberals still wander about in the dark, thanks to the wh*ring conduct of self-dealing players like Walsh.

Why is a person like Matthews still on the air? We hope Joan’s money is spending real good. The world has paid a gigantic price for the things she left unsaid.

Others left these things unsaid too. Have you seen David Corn lately?

Visit our incomparable archives: To review one part of Matthews’ conduct during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/11. You can review a few of the things this big nut-case thought were so “terrible.”

To put that episode into its larger context, why not read our newly-completed Chapter 5? To do so, just click here.

We agree—that chapter’s a long, brisk slog. But which part would you have left out? It ought to make your stomach turn when you stop to think where this all led.

On Wednesday, Chris blamed Gore himself—and the Court. Smilingly, Joan went along.

Special report: Greed became good!

PART 3—HOW TO PROCEED (permalink): Inequality of income has grown a great deal over the past forty years. On the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, Peter Whoriskey described one aspect of this well-chronicled phenomenon.

In this passage, Whoriskey refers to recent research about top earners. Executive compensation is soaring, he notes. Income for average shlubs has stalled:

WHORISKEY (6/19/11): The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately held firms. An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those two categories.

Other recent research, moreover, indicates that executive compensation at the nation's largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled.

“This trend held at Dean Foods,” Whoriskey wrote as he continued, referring to a company from which he drew anecdotal information. “Over the period from the '70s until today, while pay for Dean Foods chief executives was rising 10 times over, wages for the unionized workers actually declined slightly.”

How much did pay for Dean’s workers decline? According to Whoriskey, “The hourly wage rate for the people who process, pasteurize and package the milk at the company's dairies declined by 9 percent in real terms.”

Executives are now paid ten times more; average shlubs get nine percent less! Within the norms of American politics, liberals and progressives will rail against this ongoing phenomenon. But what exactly is wrong with this pattern? More significantly: How do we liberals explain our views about these continuing trends?

In a simple reactive sense, liberals won’t approve of these trends. But how hard have we tried to articulate our views in ways which might convince others?

Quick reaction: We haven’t tried very hard at all. Looking around the political world, our lethargy very much shows.

Let’s start with a basic question: What exactly is supposed to be “wrong” with the pattern Whoriskey describes? How good a job have liberals and progressive done at explaining the alleged offense?

Quick reaction: We haven’t done a good job at all—and our lethargy shows. Most Americans don’t seem to be offended when high-achievers haul in large incomes; indeed, Americans are extraordinarily indulgent about high incomes in various settings. We’re amazingly willing to support the large salaries of athletes and singers; at the ball park, we happily shell out ten dollars for beer so some utility infielder can pull down his two million bucks. (Ice cream? Only six dollars!) The absurdity of these transactions is obvious, but the complaints are few. Absent some explanation, therefore, it won’t be clear to most Americans that executives just shouldn’t pull down that large pay.

How have we liberals explained the problem with the pattern described by Whoriskey? Basically, we haven’t done so at all. But then, lethargy has defined the work of the liberal world for the past forty years.

What is wrong with the growth in inequality? And when’s the last time you saw a high-profile liberal or progressive try to explain?

Over on the other side, the engines have never stopped whirring. In his current piece at Salon, Gene Lyons does a good job describing this phenomenon in a simple, digestible way:

LYONS (6/22/11): The Heritage Foundation, in turn, is one of those Scrooge McDuck-style "think tanks" largely funded by right-wing billionaires like the late Joseph Coors and the Koch brothers. Its "resident scholars" churn out one half-baked study after another proving that economic prosperity depends upon plutocrats paying little or no taxes.

See, like Uncle Scrooge, some of these jokers are pathologically addicted to hoarding. It's not enough that the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States own 40 percent of the nation's wealth. They'd really like it all.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it! But in fact, there is something wrong with pseudo-studies which tell the public various things which simply aren’t true. And this has been going on for decades—with the liberal and progressive worlds largely choosing not to respond.

Might we note something about Lyons’ formulation? Even in our hopelessly tribal politics, a liberal could offer that formulation and hope to make intellectual contact with a tribal conservative. Most conservatives are familiar with the concept of “greed;” they will understand that there are Scrooge McDucks in the world—people who may want it all, who may be willing to churn fake facts in pursuit of that ambition. Those “half-baked studies” have been churned for a very long time—although we liberals have rarely seemed to notice.

How alert has the liberal world been? We were surprised by the language found in this recent post by Paul Krugman, who has been, by light-years, the liberal world’s most valuable player in the past dozen years:

KRUGMAN (6/22/11): Reagan and Revenues

The wholesale voodization of the GOP is a sight to behold; apparently the nonsense about the Reagan tax cuts having led to a vast rise in revenue is now something one must claim to believe. Anyway, a quick note about Federal revenue history.

We recommend that you read the full post, although its ideation is a bit wonky. (Krugman offers a follow-up explanation here.) But at the risk of picking nits, we were struck by some of the language right at the top of that post. Apparently, the nonsense about Reagan is now a thing you’re required to believe? Let’s replace those highlighted terms: Quite obviously, this claim has been a part of the talk-show catechism for at least the past twenty years! Variants of this bogus claim have been churned and churned and churned again by the various radio talkers Lyons names in his column.

For the most part, liberals have failed to respond as these bogus ideas have been crammed into everyone’s heads, a process which has transpired for decades. In this post, Krugman gives the impression that this is some sort of new thing. Why do we say these things?

(By the way: Krugman explains the rise in inequality extremely well in his completely essential book, The Conscience of a Liberal.)

Alas! As income inequality has grown, one side’s heralds have worked very hard to pimp a load of supporting ideology. The other side’s heralds have largely slumbered, dozed, burbled and snored. We haven’t developed the language and the ideation with which we can approach those voters who are currently found outside our own tribe. Nor have we developed the forums in which we can approach such people with some hope of success. We prefer to spend our time insulting those who aren’t in our own tribe. This is lazy, self-indulgent behavior. Beyond that, it just isn’t smart.

What’s wrong with the societal pattern described in Whoriskey’s piece? If athletes and singers can haul in big swag, why can’t CEOs and “financial professionals?” The career liberal world has made little effort to fight back against that forty-year trend—a trend which has indeed driven along by “one half-baked study after another.”

Might we suggest that this lethargy may also stem from the culture of greed?

Sorry. The culture of greed is going strong within the career liberal world. If you still can’t see that, you simply can’t see the way your universe works. Within the modern press/pundit world, the rewards can be very great for those who maneuver their way to the top. Even if they get near the top, life can be quite sweet.

(You’d like E. J. Dionne’s day.)

The vast bulk of your liberal leaders, younger and older, are part of that reward system. In truth, such people can’t be expected to care a whole lot about the lives of average people. Second problem: Such people will watch their words, and their topics, with care. No one wants to blow the chance for the big swag at the top.

At the top, modern journalists are paid major swag; in part, they are paid for compliance. The late Tim Russert was recruited to journalism, then was made a multimillionaire, by conservative CEO Jack Welch. Others at NBC News followed suit. In various ways we have long described, the pattern here was really quote comical—and it changed the nation’s history in 1999 and 2000. But the children down below knew they mustn’t speak. They have refused to discuss this consequential, comical story right to this very day.

Increasingly, Rachel Maddow clowns for her $2 million supper. The children pretend they don’t see.

Might we note one comical part of the Whoriskey report?

If you click to this report on-line, you’ll see a photo of the fabulous Dallas crib in which the Dean Foods CEO dwells. This is offered as photographic evidence of the modern, “greed is good” life style.

Fair enough! But here is a photo you’ve never seen in the Washington Post. Never seen—and never will. Homey don’t play it that way:

Tim Russerts vacation cottage.
A town assessor photo of Tim Russert's home on Nantucket.

That is a photo of Russert’s summer home on Nantucket, where he summered as part of the island’s NBC News contingent. (That contingent included Jack Welch.) According to the Cape Cod Times, the home was valued at $7.2 million in 2008.

The press corps will show you the sprawling homes in which those no-name CEOs dwell. But by a stricture of hard pundit law, the mainstream press corps will never let you gaze on the massive wealth of its own.

The children want homes like that some day. People like this will never fight back against the fake studies of the McDucks. Instead, they putter around and pretend, as Maddow does most nights.

Krugman has done yeoman work; the liberal world would know next to nothing if he hadn’t produced his past decade of columns. But the phony claim he mocks in that post has been standard issue for decades. It has been a staple of conservative talk. It, and other bogus claims, has been crammed into everyone’s heads.

Your fiery leaders have never fought back. Do you still fail to grasp the background of your side’s lethargy?