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Print view: Digby spotted a ship of fools when Pew asked a basic question
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NEVER EXPLAIN! Digby spotted a ship of fools when Pew asked a basic question: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2011

Christopher’s latest vast fail: Wow. To observe the latest epic fail, take a look at Chris Matthews’ attempt to debate Grover Norquist on last evening’s Hardball.

To watch the full segment, just click this. Who is Grover Norquist? Click here.

Can we talk? Matthews is stunningly unprepared to discuss any policy topic. Regarding his debate with Norquist, a college sophomore could have done better after three weeks of Government 1.

Frank Bruni could have done better last night! Gail Collins could have put up a better fight, in between obsessive references to Mitt Romney’s poor abused dog. (Eighteen columns and counting, although she’s now “on book leave.”)

Here at THE HOWLER, we happen to know Grover Norquist a small tiny tad. (For several years, we worked with him on the board of a DC charity event. You might say he’s our own Bill Ayers.) We know Grover a small tiny tad—and on a personal basis, we like him, for several reasons, although we think his “no new taxes ever” stance is utterly, transparently foolish. Showing the problems with Norquist’s stance must be the easiest task on the planet. Until the task is handed to Matthews, who responds with his latest vast fail.

In this week’s award-winning special report (see below), we plan to discuss the press corps’ failure to explain an array of topics surrounding the ongoing debt limit fight. But if you want to watch someone who can’t explain a damn thing, we suggest you watch Matthews last night. For example, watch the way he wastes your time getting mad at a minor matter of language. (How dare Norquist say “hissy fit?”) Watch the way he wastes your time arguing another meaningless point: Is the GOP “no new taxes” pledge made to Norquist himself or to the American people?

Norquist has been a powerful player for years. During that era, there has been no bigger fraud than Hardball’s hapless host.

We liberals are getting our schadenfreude on concerning Rupert Murdoch this week. Fair enough, but here again we note a small problem—it sometimes seems we have to wait for the other side to commit a crime before we can hope to defeat them. When we tolerate world-class clowns like Matthews, we ensure our side’s long-term defeat.

We may do a series on Norquist next week. He has been a very determined player. For that reason, you can feel certain of one thing:

Inside DC power circles, there is no “liberal” equivalent.

Special report: Never explain!

PART 1—IN SEARCH OF THE FOOLS (permalink): What will happen if President Obama and the Congress don’t raise the debt limit by August 2?

Last week, the Pew Research Center decided to take this question to us, the people. In a survey about this matter, they gave respondents two basic choices. This is the question the Pew people asked, although they rotated the order of the two basic choices:

PEW SURVEY QUESTION (7/15-7/17): From what you’ve read and heard, do you think it is absolutely essential that the federal debt limit be raised by August 2 to avoid an economic crisis?

Or do you think the country can go past the August 2 date for when the government reaches its debt limit without major economic problems?

Can the country go past the August 2 date without major economic problems? Or is it absolutely essential that the debt limit be raised by that date? For ourselves, we would have voted for “absolutely essential.” But we the people are split on this question, according to Pew’s report:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER (7/18/11): While administration officials project an economic catastrophe if the debt limit is not raised by Aug. 2, many Americans do not see this deadline as a major problem. Four-in-ten (40%) say that, from what they’ve read and heard, it is absolutely essential that the federal debt limit be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid an economic crisis, while about as many (39%) say the country can go past this date without major economic problems.

We the people are split down the middle! In the Pew survey, forty percent said it’s essential to raise the debt limit by August 2. Thirty-nine percent said there would be no major problems if we didn’t raise the limit. (Twenty-one percent said they don’t know.)

We the people are evenly split. That said, responses differ by party affiliation, though independents tend to favor the “no major problems” side:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER (continuing directly): By a 53% to 30% margin, most Republicans say that it will not be a major problem if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2. The balance of opinion is the reverse among Democrats: 56% say it is absolutely essential to meet that deadline to avoid an economic crisis, 28% say it is not. Independents are more divided, though a slim 43% plurality say the country can go past Aug. 2 without major economic problems, while 32% say it is essential to raise the debt limit by this date.

Nothing here was super surprising. For good or for ill, this is pretty much the way this question has polled for some time.

At any rate, we the people are deeply split about the need for a debt limit hike. Yesterday, Digby offered her views about the results of this survey. We thought her reaction provides a good framework for our new special report.

Digby was unimpressed with the views of us the people. She linked to Greg Sargent’s post about this Pew survey—a report which made some sensible judgments about that survey result. “Much of the blame for this should be pinned on Michele Bachmann and others who continue to feed the fantasy that the debt ceiling doesn’t matter,” Sargent wrote. We’d be inclined to agree, although such questions are heard to test.

Sargent put major blame on Bachmann. But as she started her own post, Digby thundered about the nation’s fools, a group of which, as things turned out, she herself isn’t a part:

DIGBY (7/18/11): The Public's Cynical Assumption

Greg Sargent reports that the Republican rank and file are fools. And, by the way, so are nearly 30% of Democrats.

According to Digby, at least thirty-nine percent of the public are “fools.” Of course, if we add in the people who said they don’t know, that would take us to sixty percent. For some reason, those people were spared.

At any rate, before she was done, Digby let us know what most of those people are thinking. Why did people say “no problem?” In this passage, Carnac explains:

DIGBY: And as far as the public is concerned, the truth is that this "debt ceiling" argument is a mystifying nonsensical beltway argument that most of the people who gave an opinion on it don't understand and don't really care about. They are in a cynical and despairing mood and when you ask them if not raising the debt ceiling will make any difference, they say no because they don't believe anything that politicians and other authority figures say anymore, not because they think the government's got a secret stash of cash they can dispatch. Think of it as a protest vote—a statement of disbelief and disregard in the whole process. The particulars of this issue don't matter… [Digby’s emphasis]

Digby is skilled at knowing what tens of millions of people are thinking. Just for the sake of argument, let’s work those numbers out:

If we assume there are two hundred million American adults, then roughly eighty million adults think there would be no “major economic problems” if the debt limit stays where it is. (Another forty million don’t know.) Digby knows what most of those eighty million are thinking, why they would offer such views. Most of those people “don't really care about” this matter, she says. They are in a cynical and despairing mood. They would say no to Pew’s question “because they don't believe anything that politicians and other authority figures say anymore.”

We can think of their statement as a protest vote. “The particulars of this issue don't matter.”

We’re always amazed when people can mind-read tens of millions of people this way. But how about it—is Digby right? Is that why so many respondents told Pew that there would no major problems? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know—though we would guess that variuous people would explain their view in various ways. But we’ll note that Sargent offered a massively different explanation for that survey result. As noted above, Sargent pinned “much of the blame” for that result on Republican pols like Bachmann—on authority figures who are telling these voters that there won’t be a problem.

According to Sargent, many respondents said “no problem” because they do believe something “politicians and other authority figures” have said. This reverses the view Digby expressed.

For ourselves, we’re always amazed when fiery liberals dismiss so many people as fools. (This strikes us as very bad politics.) Just for the record, we’re all fairly clueless: Just last Friday, a major liberal blogger offered a post in which she disputed a claim about the way American corporate tax rates compare to those in Europe. To dispute the claim in question, she posted two graphs—neither of which shows the way American corporate tax rates compare to those in Europe. We wouldn’t call that blogger a fool because she failed to post the right graphs. More diplomatically, we’d say that none of us ever gets everything right—even those of us who spend all day puzzling over these matters.

For ourselves, we’d say the people who said “no problem” were almost surely wrong in their view. And we’d be inclined to agree with Sargent; we’d assume that many people are expressing that view because they’ve heard public figures they trust say there would be no problem. But we’d take the analysis one step further, bringing the press into play.

Yes, it’s partly Bachmann’s fault for saying there would be no problem. But how has the mainstream press corps reacted to claims like hers? How has the press corps handled this topic? We’ve been stunned by the press corps’ failure to address and explain this matter—by its refusal to function in accord with the traditional norms of its craft.

It’s fun to call them the people fools, although we think it’s bad politics and semi-dumb on the merits. But what about the multimillionaires who pretend to explain these matters? Why do pseudo-liberals sometimes blame the average Joe while skipping past these fools?

Does anyone ever explain major issues? We’ll be asking that question all week with respect to the debt limit issue. And by the way: If no one explains, how can we fools decide?

Tomorrow—part 2: What happened when King said no problem