WHO IS ALEXANDRA PETRI! The analysts came to us with a question: Who is the Posts newest columnist? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011
The editors (attempt to) explain the problem with inequality: Last Sunday, Peter Whoriskey wrote a front-page piece in the Washington Post about the enormous growth in income inequality over the past forty years.
Yesterday, the editors discussed Whoriskeys piece in their featured editorial. We were intrigued by the things they saidand by the things they didnt.
As they started, the editors voiced their concern about the growth in inequality. The details never cease to amaze, they saidalthough they would soon ignore some of the most basic points Whoriskey made in his piece:
In the highlighted passages, the editors took the progressive position, identifying this inequality as a major concern. For our money, they made little attempt to explain why they find this situation so troubling. But before we ponder that omission, lets consider a few other things the editors said.
In his piece, Whoriskey focused on a changed corporate culture, a culture in which greed became good over the past forty years. From his first paragraph forward, he focused on this changed culture as part of the explanation for the growth in inequality.
But when the editors summarized Whoriskeys report, they didnt mention this thesis at all. Instead, they highlighted a familiar, shopworn explanationan explanation Whoriskey had explicitly challenged. This was their full second paragraph:
The statistics partly reflect the spiraling rewards to superstar talent in entertainment and sports? Presumably, that is technically accurate. But Whoriskey explicitly said that this explanation has been vastly overplayed; he specifically noted that athletes and entertainers account for only three percent of Americas biggest earners. We thought it was odd that the editors specifically cited this shopworn (and rejected) thesis, without ever mentioning the cultural change Whoriskey highlighted.
Did the editors read Whoriskeys piece? Well let you decide.
As the editors proceeded, they offered a string of wonkish suggestions for governmental action. These suggestions were all focused on reducing upper-end income; none of them addressed the possibility of raising incomes in the middle. But lets return to a more basic question: How well did the editors explain why this inequality is a problem? They seem to think its a very big problem. But again, this was the best they could do when it came time to explain why:
No one who cares about the social cohesion of a society premised on the idea that all men and women are created equal can view such statistics indifferently.
Plainly, the income gap has grown. Plainly, the highest earners are now gaining a larger percentage of national income. But why exactly is that a problem?
The editors didnt say.
Alas! The editors adopted the progressive viewand they adopted a progressive instinct in the process. They seemed to feel their noble view was evident on its face. Unfortunately, we live in a society where corporate interests have spent the past forty years promoting ideas which undercut this progressive view. In the comments to yesterdays editorial, you can sample the views of many voters who dont see a problem with inequality.
Our view: If we progressives want to advance the reach of our views, we have to explain their merits.
As the liberal web has grown in the past few years, a great deal of liberal talk has rather clearly been aimed at other liberals. This makes us liberals feel very good. But there is one attendant problem: It changes nobodys vote.
Why is income inequality a problem? For ourselves, we know where our own explanation might start. But what is the general progressive view? And why exactly is it so hard to answer so basic a question?
WHO IS ALEXANDRA PETRI (permalink): What does Barack Obama think about same-sex marriage?
Like the editors of the New York Times, we have no idea. That said, we were struck by this mornings scolding editorial on the subject.
This is one of the ways we liberals lose, the analysts sadly said.
The editors believe that Obama should declare his support for same-sex marriage. On the merits, that would be fine with us, but we were struck by the political cluelessness evinced all through their piece. In this passage, the editors explain the politics of the matter as they understand it:
Why is Mr. Obama so reluctant to say the words that could lend strength to a national effort now backed by a majority of Americans? When our intellectual leaders are so clueless, is it any wonder that we liberals have failed so badly down through the years?
Has support for same-sex marriage become a political winner on a national basis? Its possible, but you cant make that judgment by consulting the national poll to which the editors link. To the extent that this may be a re-election concern for Obama, his advisers would, among other things, be looking at polling results among unaligned voters in swing states. They would devote no attention to the numbers from large blue states like New York and California.
Those numbers would tend to tilt the outcome of national polls. But if were talking about the politics of this issue, they wouldnt likely influence Obamas advisers at all.
Is it possible that a declaration of support might help Obama politically in the ways the editors imagine? Yes, it certainly isbut presumably, a declaration could hurt him on the politics too. Its typical of fuzzy heads like those at the Times that they can only imagine a good political outcome from a position they favor on the merits. Needless to say, Maureen Dowd was on the same page in her latest attempt to write a political column:
Dowd is still eager to let us know what any girl would tell us.
For the record, the country had already had an eight-year break from Clintonian euphemism and casuistry when Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in 2008. But it gets no break from the ongoing plague of Dowdian dumbness. That highlighted attempt to imagine the politics is just astoundingly dumb. (Why would Dowd think that the politics of this issue would turn on the reactions of homophobic elements within the Democratic Party?)
Might we make a note about the foolishness of the editors eagerness? Lets consider what Barney Frank recently told the Times Sheryl Gay Stolberg about this type of political issue. In this passage, Frank explains what Obama may have thought about same-sex marriage when we was a candidate:
Duh. Frank understands the way American politics works. More specifically, he understands that it doesnt all come down to the question of what Daddy (the president) says on some issue. In fact, gay rights groups have made tremendous progress in the past few decades without the support of major national Democrats on same-sex marriage. We can think of few major social movements which have had smarter leadership; part of this movements leadership smarts has involved the understanding that social progress comes from the efforts of an extended villagea village which may not include the president at every juncture. Gay rights leaders have been very skillful and very wise in the ways theyve negotiated national politics. On the other hand, progressives are also stuck with the low-IQ instincts of societys most visible clowns:
Really? Dowd cant understand why Obama, who must appeal to a national electorate, might defer to Cuomo, who is the governor of a socially liberal blue state? In similar ways, these savants often wondered, in Campaign 2000, why Candidate Gore sometimes took less progressive positions than Candidate Hillary Clinton, who was running in New York only. But then, this gangs capacity for understanding nothing at all has long been its most obvious trait.
(Some readers will be old enough to remember when this same sort of analysis was adopted with respect to the death penalty, a killer for national Democrats as late as 1992.)
This brings us to todays basic question: Who is Alexandra Petri?
Last Saturday, the analysts had finally had it! It had become fairly clear that Petri is now a regular Saturday columnist at the Washington Post. The analysts wailed when they read her latest analysis of the 2012 race. Once again, this was just fatuous:
It would be hard to overstate the fatuity here. For starters, no one is trying to draft Giuliani; this notion came and went a few weeks ago in roughly a New York half-minute. Meanwhile, two relative no-namesBachmann and Cainhave been the growth stocks in the GOP polls. Beyond that, is Palin flagging because shes stayed the same, and were getting tired of it?
Good God, the analysts cried. Where do they find these people?
They were thinking back to one of Petris recent columns, in which she got all over Mitt Romney for his hair and his clothes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/11). The analysts came to us with a question: Who is Alexandra Petri? they demanded. Where did the Post ever find her?
We thought the answer was interesting. The Post found Petriwhere else?at Harvard, from which she graduated in June of last year. Presumably, she has shot to her current status as a weekly columnist because of her fatuous take on political news, not in spite of it.
Petri is the daughter of a Republican congressman. In 2001, at the age of 11, she got a poem published in Highlights for Children. (Someone should have seen the problem coming.) Before too long, she was writing generally pointless columns for the Harvard Crimson (so whatshe was just a college student) and doing stand-up at Bostons Comedy Connection (no one is good when they start.) By the summer of 2009, she was interning at the Post.
By the summer of 2011, she was writing fatuous columns in the papers Saturday edition. She was reciting standard drivel about one of the candidates wardrobes; she was offering absurd accounts of why we have judged the GOP candidates in the ways we have done.
Can we talk? Thinking back on her earlier piffle about Romney, we were surprised by Petris youth. At one time, young people couldnt get his fatuous this fast. It took a few years among the swells before they developed a nose for the inanity which constitutes mainstream discoursebefore the natural spirits of youth gave way to the rigid demands of scripted political nonsense.
Petri has made it to fatuous very fast. For decades, fatuity has been the soul of the nations political press corps. Dowd advances the culture at the Timesand the Post has now found its own star.
Can a modern society run on The Stupid? Actually no, it really cant, as were all finding out at this point. That said, the nature of this death-dealing problem still seems quite elusive.