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WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE! Why do voters believe foolish claims? Let’s review last Wednesday’s Hardball: // link // print // previous // next //

Establishment values and logic/Why your side can’t win: Michelle Cottle is a major establishment player. Rather clearly, she has been in training for several years to be the establishment press corps’ replacement for Cokie Roberts.

She’s is training to be the New Cokie—a clucking southern woman who states the establishment view on all troubling moral affairs.

Beyond that, Cottle has become a large bottom-feeder over the past dozen years. Yesterday, at the Daily Beast, she showed how low the establishment is going to go in these brave new years.

Are Murdoch’s newspapers “bottom-feeders?” This was the Daily Beast headline: “Bachmann Rumor Grows Louder.” No, it isn’t always wrong to report on a political rumor. But as she starts, Cottle shows that rumor and “whispers” are now assumed to be a basic part of the process:

COTTLE (7/20/11): Hear that snickering? That’s the sound of the 2012 mudslinging starting in earnest.

If you aren’t yet familiar with the growing whispers about Michele Bachmann’s campaign—the uncorroborated speculation that the candidate’s profoundly antigay hubby, Marcus, is a closeted gay man—you will be. The chatter has already made its way from the blogs and Twitter (Cher tweeted that Marcus has tripped her exquisitely tuned gaydar) to the alternative press to The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld left each other in stitches this week taking shots at Marcus Bachmann’s effeminate manner and “center-square gay” voice. (Anyone out there old enough to remember Paul Lynde?) As Stewart joked, the guy is “an Izod shirt away from being the gay character on Modern Family.” Clips of the comedians’ faux “comedy repression” session promptly popped up on the websites of such stodgy outlets as The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

The wringing of hands about whether it’s fair for the respectable media to promote this sort of salacious chatter is as inevitable as the chatter itself.

To a bottom-feeder like Cottle, concern about what Stewart (and some major journalists) have done is batted aside as “the wringing of hands.” Darlings! “Salacious chatter” is now inevitable! Why not lie back and enjoy it?

Why not repeat the very best jokes? Why not help your readers recall the comically mincing Paul Lynde?

Cottle has been a nightmare-in-training for years. Her new piece helps us see how low the establishment is going to go in this new tribalized era.

Cottle shows us establishment values. For a look at establishment logic, we recommend this pitiful news report from this morning’s New York Times—a news report which will likely send thrills up pseudo-liberal legs.

We’re not familiar with Ron Nixon’s work, though much of it may be quite good. He worked his way up from the Roanoke Times, where he was conceivably held to tighter standards of logic. This morning, many lines are smudged in his opening paragraphs, as he defines a troubling problem—a troubling problem which, in all honesty, doesn’t quite seem to make sense.

In our hard-copy Times, Nixon’s report sits atop the first page of the “National” section. Fudging and smudging as he goes, Nixon seeks an “hypocrisy” hook concerning those freshman Republicans:

NIXON (7/20/11): Freshman House Republicans who rode a wave of voter discontent into office last year vowed to stop out-of-control spending, but that has not stopped several of them from quietly trying to funnel millions of federal dollars into projects back home.

They have pushed for dozens of projects in their districts, including military programs opposed by the president, replenishing beach sand lost to erosion, a $700 million bridge in Minnesota and a harbor dredging project in Charleston, S.C. Some of their projects were once earmarks, political shorthand for pet projects penciled into spending bills, which Republicans banned when they took over the House.

An examination of spending bills, news releases and communications with federal agencies obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that nearly two dozen freshmen have sought money for projects that could ultimately cost billions of dollars, while calling for less spending and banning pork projects.

Politicians have long advocated for projects on behalf of individuals and businesses back home, even without earmarks. Several lawmakers said they were merely providing a constituent service. But since many of the freshman Republicans campaigned on a pledge to cut spending and to change Washington’s time-honored ways, their support of spending projects suggests that in many cases ideology can go only so far in serving the needs of people back home.

That last sentence is really pathetic. But Nixon has to fudge many points to drive his hypocrisy hook.

“Nearly two dozen freshmen have sought money for projects that could ultimately cost billions of dollars, while calling for less spending and banning pork projects.” But alas! Unless a call for less spending is actually a call for no spending, it’s hard to see the obvious conflict in the facts Nixon reports. (Do any of the projects he cites represent “out-of-control spending?”) Meanwhile, note the way Nixon marbles the word “earmark” through his report—even though, as you can see, these troubling projects aren’t earmarks.

Liberals have lost for many years because we can’t reason more clearly than this. Your side can’t win in a world like this—though thrills up the leg can feel grand.

This morning, the New York Times makes no real attempt to report what’s in the new Gang of Six plan. Given the way this famous newspaper reasons/explains, maybe it’s just as well.

Regarding the Gang of Six plan: We’re working from our hard-copy Times, which reports that the plan “calls for both deep spending cuts and new revenues through an overhaul of the income-tax code.” The explanation stops there.

Special report: Never explain!

PART 2—WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE (permalink): Why do fools fall in love with misinformation or foolish ideas?

Given the way our press corps works, it isn’t that hard to do! Consider a recent example:

On Monday, Digby announced that forty percent of the public are fools. They’re fools because they think there would be no huge economic problem if Congress won’t raise the debt limit. (An additional twenty percent didn’t know if this would lead to huge problems, although they weren’t listed as fools.)

As far as we know, these people are totally wrong. But why do fools believe such things? Given the way our “press corps” works, it isn’t that hard to believe foolish notions! Consider what happened when Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican, showed up on last Wednesday’s Hardball. To watch the full segment, click here.

Background: One day earlier, Senator McConnell had announced his now-famous plan to raise the debt limit. McConnell’s proposal was quite confusing—but Hardball’s host, Chris Matthews, had had approximately twenty-six hours to get clear on what he’d proposed.

But Matthews is rarely clear on anything. He opened the show with Rep. King. This is how he began:

MATTHEWS (7/13/11): We start with the fight for a debt ceiling deal. U.S. Congressman Steve King’s a Republican from Iowa. Let me ask you—Congressman King, thank you for joining us.

KING: Hi, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me go over some highlights of the McConnell plan we’ve been talking about. It essentially frees the debt ceiling from the deficit fight, as you know. If enacted, President Obama would be able to ask for $2.5 trillion over the next year in three installments, as long as he offers up spending cuts. Congress could then vote against raising the debt limit, but Obama would have veto power, of course.

You’re opposed to that. Why, sir?

Say what? Twenty-six hours later, Matthews’ account of the McConnell plan's “highlights” was clear as mud. According to Matthews, Obama would be able to “ask” for $2.5 trillion over the next year—although Matthews didn’t say who Obama would be asking. (And he didn’t specify that this would by a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit.) As Obama asked for this $2.5 trillion, he would have to “offer up spending cuts,” Matthews said—though he didn’t say how large the cuts would have to be, or to whom they would have to be “offered,” or if the spending cuts would actually go into effect. Matthews finished with a bit more gorilla dust: “Congress could then vote against raising the debt limit, but Obama would have veto power, of course.”

This was the very first topic Matthews raised on this program. It wasn’t some random topic which caught the Hardball host by surprise; this was Matthews’ own choice for his program’s starting-point. Despite this, Matthews’ account of McConnell’s proposal was almost completely incoherent. From Matthews’ rat-a-tat account, an average Joe who was watching this program would likely emerge with no real idea of what McConnell had proposed.

Incredibly, that was the best Matthews could do with a topic he himself had selected.

In response, King said he opposed the McConnell plan; he said it “passes the congressional responsibility over to the president and it puts him in the position to veto the objections of Congress about raising the debt ceiling…Right now, it requires a simple majority to say no to debt ceiling, and that is our constitutional obligation. We shouldn`t pass it off to the president.” That statement was much more coherent (and much more accurate) than anything Matthews had said to this point—although it’s still unlikely than an average Joe viewer would have understood, from this exchange, what McConnell had proposed.

Why do fools fall in love with mistaken ideas? Consider where things went from there as this utterly hapless “journalist” continued his grilling of King.

Having muddied McConnell’s proposal, Matthews moved to a new topic. Two days earlier, Obama had made a troubling statement; he said he couldn’t “guarantee” that Social Security checks would still go out after August 2 if the debt limit didn’t get raised. In response, several Republican congressmen had called Obama a liar. Matthews played tape of one such statement, then showed what a nitwit he is:

MATTHEWS: OK. Republican congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois, a Tea Partier, went after the president today, calling him a liar in a video message today. Let’s watch what he had to say.

WALSH (videotape): President Obama, quit lying! You know darn well that if August 2nd comes and goes, there’s plenty of money to pay off our debt and cover our, all of our Social Security obligations. And you also know that you and only you have the discretion to make those payments.

But have you no shame, sir? In three short years, you’ve bankrupted this country and destroyed job creation. You’re either in over your head, you don’t understand what makes this country great, or you’re hell-bent in turning us into some European big government wasteland.

MATTHEWS: “European big government wasteland.” What does that mean, exactly, that kind of a charge, sir?

KING: Well, I think that’s a bold statement on the part of Joe, and it’s all right for him to play a little hardball with the president.

MATTHEWS: Well, what’s "European wasteland"? What are we talking about, “European wasteland?” And by the way, do you agree with him that the government is not going to go into default in early August if you don’t pass the debt ceiling? Do you agree with him on that?

Good lord! Walsh had made several very serious claims about several serious topics. Most importantly, he had made a statement about those Social Security checks—a statement which was grossly misleading, though it may have been technically accurate. But Matthews chose, as he often does, to focus on an utterly silly semantic offense. He fussed and fumed, through two Q-and-As, about the term “European.”

(This just in from the planet Earth: The contrast between European “social democracies” and the more laissez-faire American system has been a basic analytical framework for several decades now.)

Walsh had called Obama a liar. More narrowly, he had said that Social Security checks could still be sent after August 2, even if the debt limit stays right where it is. That was a very important claim—a claim which needed examination. But Matthews wasted everyone’s time, sputtering through two iterations about an imagined semantic offense. This gave King the chance to ramble, at some length, about the economic devastation in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania—economic devastation he laid at Obama’s door.

An average-Joe viewer could have learned very little from this exchange to this point. But as you can see in the passage above, Matthews had tagged on a relevant question—a question about the debt limit. Did King agree with Walsh? Did he “agree that the government is not going to go into default in early August if you don’t pass the debt ceiling?” Matthews should have said “debt ceiling increase,” of course. But we were finally somewhere near where the rubber meets the road.

And yet, alas! Please note the obvious shortcoming of this question from Matthews. In the tape that Matthews played, Walsh hadn’t said a word about the technical term, “default.” He had made a more recognizable claim—he had said that Obama was lying about those Social Security checks. He said the checks could still be sent even if the debt limit stayed the same. Skipping past that specific claim, Matthews introduced a more nebulous question. And here’s what happened when Rep. King finally started to answer:

KING: I think the president may well, and he did yesterday, implied the threat that senior citizens might not get their Social Security checks. He said, Eat your peas and we can’t guarantee our veterans’ pension payments or our Social Security checks coming in.

I think what I’ve done today, with Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, introducing the Promises Act, it says, it directs this: That we pay our military first. They’re in uniform. Their lives are on the line and their families are living paycheck to military paycheck and they become a political pawn instead. They should be guaranteed to be paid first for all time.

And we need to service our debt. And that needs to also be guaranteed for all time. That consumes right now about 15.2 percent of our revenue stream before you touch the part that we’re borrowing. So we can do this. And Social Security needs to be paid, as does the military. And so that’s what we’re trying to do is to lend some confidence to the markets.

Finally! King seemed to be making this claim: Even after August 2, there would still be enough revenue coming in to pay the troops, to pay debt service, and to send Social Security checks. This, of course, is a factual claim, subject to factual review.

This brings us back to our original question: How do average voters fall in love with mistaken ideas? Let’s understand the context in which King’s claim was made on this program:

All around the country, average Joes were seeing Bachmann and King and Walsh and others making this claim this day. In a rational world, it would be the job of a “journalist” like Matthews to subject such a claim to review. In fact, King’s claim is utterly batty; even if it’s technically accurate (we don’t know if it is), it’s plainly grossly misleading. And guess what? It’s amazingly easy to demonstrate the problem with King’s claim by use of a few simple facts.

But Matthews didn’t have any facts in his head this day; he almost never does. He was unprepared to debate King’s claim, just as he had been unprepared to describe McConnell’s proposal. Tomorrow, we’ll look at his reaction to what King said—and we’ll look at some facts which appeared in the next day’s Washington Post, when that newspaper finally started explaining this very important matter. (The New York Times still hasn’t tried to do so, as near as we can tell.)

Five days after this Hardball session, Digby called eighty million people “fools” because they don’t understand this matter.

Our question: How are average Joes supposed to understand topics like this, surrounded as they are by “journalists’ like Matthews, by newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times? The claim by King was utterly foolish. But Matthews was unprepared, as always. He gave viewers almost nothing to go on.

The claim by King was utterly foolish. But how could a poor fool tell?

Tomorrow: Several months too late, the Post did some real reporting