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ALL IN THE FAMILY! Jack Welch told a Nantucket neighbor about this great economy: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 13, 2006

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Last night, the great debate about the economy continued apace on Hardball. The question: If the economy is so darn good, why won’t voters give George Bush credit? Chris Matthews introduced his guest—and continued to ask that key question:
MATTHEWS (7/12/06): Welcome back. President Bush says the economy, his policies, in fact, are working and his first term tax cuts are bringing jobs and a new prosperity to America. But if it’s that great out there, why isn`t he getting credit for it—all the credit he says he deserves? Here to explain what`s going on in the world of politics and of money is Jack Welch.
The previous evening, as we’ve noted, David Gergen had answered that question on Hardball (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/12/06). Why aren’t voters giving Bush credit? Here was Gergen’s explanation—an explanation which is quite conventional, except among the power elite:
GERGEN (7/11/06): If you look at the numbers on the growth side, it looks great, but in terms of my actual life, most people find that their incomes are stagnant and they cannot afford the higher cost of health care and many other—and gasoline and many other things that are coming their way, and that’s why they`re very unhappy.
For most people, incomes are stagnant. The economy hasn’t been great for them, Gergen somehow managed to suggest.

But the economy is great for Jack Welch. “He’s of course the famous former chairman of this company,” Matthews said—“ C.E.O. of General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC.” “Jack, thanks for joining us,” Matthews continued. And then he popped that same old question—and Welch, broadcasting live from the dunes of Nantucket, gushed out his reply:

MATTHEWS: Is the president`s economic program winning?

WELCH: Absolutely, Chris! I mean these numbers are quite staggering. And look at their revenues that are coming in, as the deficit comes down. I mean, this guy has got the numbers in terms of the economy. Now he doesn’t have the numbers in terms of the polls—

Matthews broke in to ask Jack why. Why doesn’t Bush get credit from voters for this economy? And Jack Welch—lighthouse over his shoulder—said he simply couldn’t imagine why folks won’t face simple facts:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): What`s going on? I`ve got a new number from the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll that says only one sixth of the people, 16 percent, see the economy growing right now, getting better over the next 12 months.

WELCH: Well, I mean, how can you say—I mean, I don`t know how they say this. Look at reality. We`ve got 4.6 percent unemployment, the household numbers said we grew over 300,000 jobs last month...

“Look at reality,” Welch implored; unemployment is really quite low. Of course, unemployment was low under Pharaoh too, but that didn’t make it a good economy (unless you were Pharaoh, of course). Soon, though, Matthews and Welch reached a puzzling point of agreement. Average people were knocking the current economy because of the war in Iraq:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the fact that the public perception—I mean, you`re well off, but you’re pretty street-wise, you know what people are going through. You go to the pump and buy gas at $3 a gallon. If you’re a working guy or working woman, that usually means you have to go a long distance to your job, that’s the way it is, so you’re pouring cash in to that gas pump. Is that what’s bothering people in saying the economy is better? Or is it the war in Iraq that’s making them feel like we`re not doing so good in the world?

WELCH: Chris, without question, it`s the war in Iraq.

“I’m a strong Bush supporter,” the street-wise CEO soon said. “I love what he`s done with the economy.”

So here you see the power elite explaining the voters’ puzzling perceptions. Why don’t average folk like this economy? Of course! The answer is clear as a bell! They’re getting the economy confused with Iraq! By the way, at no point in this conversation did Matthews or Welch say a word about the state of average incomes. Gergen had discussed it one night before. But it had flown out of Chris Matthews’ head.

For the record, Matthews is a multimillionaire too. He too has a get-away home on Nantucket, like so much of the NBC crowd (see below). Indeed, he spends his spare time there with Welch—although the press corps’ power elite knows that it mustn’t discuss this. Similarly, comments like Gergen’s about average incomes seem to go straight from their heads.

Last night, we saw how those Millionaire Pundit Values shape discussions of the economy. Why don’t average folk like this economy? No one mentioned the state of their incomes. No, the answer was less troubling. Average people must have the economy confused in their minds with Iraq!

AN IMPROVEMENT: Why don’t voters like this economy? In today’s Times, Edmund Andrews improves upon yesterday’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg report. You know what to do—just click here.

NANTUCKET NABOBS: There’s nothing wrong with having some dough—or with having a second home on Nantucket. But make no mistake—when we create a multimillionaire press corps, discussions like last night’s will follow. Bossmen like Welch don’t discuss lagging incomes, seeing the topic as a bit of class warfare. And Matthews is paid to forget.

For the record, much of NBC shares an island bond with Welch, as Sallie Brady once explained in a Washingtonian profile. Brady gave us a look at the types of social realities that pundits know not to discuss:

BRADY (8/03): [Tim] Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.

Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he’ll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze...

Russert's boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations; celeb updates from Access Hollywood host Pat O'Brien, who retreats here; and Washington gossip from News 4 anchor Barbara Harrison, and the only ones missing from the NBC lineup are Will and Grace.

Although Welch retired in 2001, he's still a power magnet. He holds court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club. It was there that Welch once played Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, only to discover that two of the richest men in the world routinely bet only $1 a round.

That profile was written in 2003. The next year, Matthews bought a $4.4 million home on Nantucket, the Boston Globe reported. Basking amid the swells of Nantucket, he learns to share their Millionaire Pundit Values—the values which were on display in that discussion last night.

Make no mistake—when a press corps is run by multimillionaires, analyses like Gergen’s will disappear, diagnosed as disturbing class warfare. “Look at reality,” the swells will insist—as they deep-six the parts they don’t like.