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RACHEL POKES THE APE! If at first she doesn’t succeed, Rachel starts making up quotes: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2009

Why there is no progressive politics: When last we looked in on GE’s Ed Schultz, he was getting beaten blue by a no-name, know-nothing conservative state legislator from Arizona (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/09). She’d offered the world’s most predictable complaint about “huge government [health care] programs.” Schultz didn’t know what to say.

Let’s be candid. You country has no progressive politics in part because its “progressive leaders” tend to function that way.

Last night, Schultz stumbled and fumbled around again, speaking with Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. When you see your intellectual leaders function this way, you start to understand the ongoing failure—essentially, the total absence—of progressive politics.

Schultz began with a free-form question, asking Conrad to explain “what happened today.” What follows was, therefore, his first real question. And, as Conrad was forced to explain, Schultz seemed misinformed about the current state of play in health care, his self-proclaimed number-one issue:

SCHULTZ (7/20/09): OK. Senator, the CBO report that came out last week—and you got testimony from Mr. Elmendorf. Was that not a incomplete report because it did not take into account new revenue streams coming into government if we were to raise taxes on the top two percent?

CONRAD: Actually, it does take into account on the House proposal—the total proposal that was then in train in the various committees—so it does take into account the revenue as well as the expenditure. And as you know, they concluded that it would not bend the cost curve over time. They also concluded it wasn’t paid for over the ten-year period.

But, you know, those are all things that can be rectified. And it’s better to know them now and get them fixed than to have a surprise later.

Oops. Schultz seemed flummoxed by Conrad, the senator from his home state. So he basically asked his question again:

SCHULTZ (continuing directly): So, the Congressional Budget Office figured in—if we repeal the Bush tax cuts and tax the top two percent in this country, move the rate back, that we still wouldn’t be able to pay for the plan that they’re talking about on the Hill?

CONRAD: Well, they took the revenue plan that is in the House bill. And yes, they concluded that on two factors fell short. Number one, wasn’t paid for over the ten years. Number two, would not bend the cost curve in the right way beyond the ten-year period.

So again, those are works in progress. They’re not finished legislation. So there’s lots of time in order to fix them and get them right.

Ed was still fumbling around for a win. His next question, and Conrad’s answer, took us into deep weeds:

SCHULTZ (continuing directly): But the fact is that the Senate Health Committee, what they came out with was much lower than the House. And if we did repeal the Bush tax cuts, which I know you never supported way back when— you never supported those—the Senate Health Committee does have a workable plan.

CONRAD: Yes, they do. In fairness to the Health Committee, the Health Committee does not have jurisdiction over revenue. So the Health Committee, that’s the Senate Health Committee—you know, you can’t make a fair judgment on their plan. On the cost side, they’re clearly within the range of what is doable and could be paid for over the ten years.

Here’s our question: By this time, do you think anyone had any idea what these guys were talking about? By now, Schultz had America deep in the weeds. That made his next question ironic:

SCHULTZ (continuing directly): Senator, why are conservative Democrats so reluctant to help the president get what he wants and what the majority of Americans want? What’s the hold-up?

Gee. We can’t imagine why legislators, or their constituents, might peel away from something that’s being explained so persuasively! Conrad gave a sane, reassuring answer—no thanks to his fumbling host:

CONRAD (continuing directly): You know, the hold-up is getting it right. Ed, this is the most complicated legislative endeavor I`ve ever been part of in 23 years, because it affects every single American and it affects one-sixth of our economy. One in every six dollars in our economy is going through health care. So I really think this is a matter of trying to get it right. It’s an extraordinary—extraordinarily complex. But real progress is being made. I think everybody should take heart from the fact we’re very close now to a plan, at least in the Finance Committee, that would be paid for and hopefully would bend the cost curve in the right direction.

Conrad says progress is being made. Just don’t ask Schultz to explain it!

Over the past thirty years, we’ve always had conservative think tanks churning out conservative talking-points. When that Arizona legislator voiced one such point to Schultz, he didn’t know how to respond. During that same period, there has been little attempt by liberals or progressives to build a framework of understanding—and anger—around such issues as health care. In the case of health care, people don’t know that they’re being looted. We’ve managed to tell the public that millions of people are uininsured—and that health care costs are rising. That’s as far as we’ve managed to get.

One side churns out disinformation. Our side responds with Ed Schultz.

RACHEL POKES THE APE: Pat Buchanan is often a bit of a nut about race. And in this corner, Rachel Maddow leans toward immature and dishonest.

This combination has produced one or two train wrecks in the past five nights. A train wreck may have occurred last Thursday, when Maddow decided to bring the gorilla onto her stage and poke at him with long sticks. The second wreck occurred last night, when Maddow went on the air—alone this time—and pretended to straighten the record.

The “gorilla,” of course, is Buchanan himself, an intelligent person about most topics—except those involving race and ethnicity. He was invited on last Thursday’s program to discuss a column he had written about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor. “What Republicans must do is expose Sotomayor as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males,” Buchanan had written—sadly, dumbly and quite improbably. Last Wednesday night, Maddow read that part of Buchanan’s column on the air, then announced her plan to poke him with long sticks. “Pat will be here tomorrow night after the close of the hearings to talk it through with me,” she announced, on her best behavior.

Thursday night, a semi-wreck occurred, as the gorilla got prodded. (To read the full transcript, click here.) Buchanan quickly said he doesn’t think Sotomayor is qualified for the Court—that she is “an affirmative action appointment by the president of the United States.” He stated his view on “affirmative action,” then asked Maddow a question:

BUCHANAN (7/16/09): Affirmative action is basically reverse discrimination against white males and it's as wrong as discrimination against black females and Hispanics and others. And that's why I oppose it.

MADDOW: I obviously—I have a different view about it, but I want to give you a chance to explain what you—

BUCHANAN: But why do you have a different view? Why is it OK to discriminate against white males?

That wasn’t the world’s worst question, although it should be fairly easy for any progressive to answer. But instead of giving an intelligent answer, Maddow replied with a question of her own. In our view, this question was basically dumb. It helped produce our first semi-wreck:

MADDOW (continuing directly): Well, let me, let me just—let me ask, let me ask you this.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

MADDOW: Why do you think it is that, of the 110 Supreme Court justices we've had in this country, 108 of them have been white?

Would anyone not know the answer to that? For much of the period that question encompassed, no one but white people—white men, in fact—were even considered for a seat on the Court. Everybody understands that—including Buchanan, who gave an awkward but not-insane reply:

BUCHANAN (continuing directly): Well, I think white men were 100 percent of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy.

This has been a country built, basically, by white folks in this country who were 90 percent of the entire nation in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel. And the other 10 percent were African-American who had been discriminated against. That's why.

Hmm. That isn’t the answer we would have given to Maddow’s rather silly question. But unless we’re mistaken, Buchanan said or suggested that there had only been two black Justices because “African-American had been discriminated against.” It’s hard to say that part of his answer was wrong. But Maddow, arguing weakly and poorly, acted like she hadn’t heard it:

MADDOW (continuing directly): But does that mean that you think that there are 108 of 110 white Supreme Court justices because white people essentially deserve to have 99.5 percent of those positions? That there's nothing—that doesn't reflect any sort of barrier to those positions by people who aren't white. You think that's what they've—you think that's just purely on the basis of what white people have deserved to get?

Actually, no. When someone says that blacks have “been discriminated against,” that person pretty much isn’t saying that “white people essentially deserve to have 99.5 percent of those positions.” But so it goes when people debate.

Buchanan went on to make some odd claims about Sotomayor’s background. Then too, he made some other claims which weren’t entirely odd. In this passage, he offered his fullest statement:

BUCHANAN: Look at her own words in the New York Times, from the tapes. It's in the New York Times, June 11th. She said, "I'm an affirmative action baby."

MADDOW: Yes.

BUCHANAN: I got into Princeton on affirmative action. I got into Yale. I didn't have the scores that these other kids did. How did she get on Yale law review? Affirmative action. How did she get on the federal bench by Moynihan? Moynihan needs a Hispanic woman just like Barack Obama needs a Hispanic woman. That is not the criteria we ought to use, Rachel—

MADDOW: But, Pat—

BUCHANAN: —for Supreme Court justices, conservative or liberal. That's why I opposed Harriet Miers. I said, I know she's going to vote with me. She's a good Christian woman. She's probably a fine lawyer, but she's not Supreme Court material, and neither is Sonia Sotomayor.

For the record, the June 11 New York Times did report videotaped statements by Sotomayor from the early 1990s. In these statements, Sotomayor did say that her admission to both Princeton and Yale was achieved in spite of her test scores. “If we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable if I would have been accepted,” the Times’ Charlie Savage quoted her saying, during a panel discussion (just click here). According to Savage, Sotomayor had “insisted that her test scores were sub-par—‘though not so far off the mark that I wasn't able to succeed at those institutions.’ ”

Buchanan objected to that history. We wouldn’t be inclined to object, and Maddow didn’t object to it either. Unfortunately, her attempts to argue her case—and parry Buchanan’s—were often quite weak. One simple example:

MADDOW: Do you think that she got the grades that she got at Princeton on the basis of affirmative action, too?

BUCHANAN: I think what they do in the Ivy League, and you know it as well as I do, that half the class graduates cum laude these days.

Except Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude. Maddow let the misstatement go. She replied with an irrelevant question, then let a absurd reply go.

(Earlier, she argued that Sotomayor had lots of experience on the federal bench. But lots of judges have such experience. That doesn’t mean they’re Supreme Court caliber. It may suggest the opposite.)

For our money, Maddow didn’t bring a lot to the table in last Thursday’s discussion. In truth, there actually can be down-sides to this type of “affirmative action;” intelligent progressives will acknowledge this fact, as Sotomayor seemed to be doing in the panel discussion reported by Savage. Hackish progressives will do what Maddow did. They will fumble through their two-person debate, then take their revenge a few nights later, when their opponent is no longer present. That’s what Maddow did last night, in what was a blatant train wreck.

In this second, more pitiful wreck, Maddow was baldly dishonest. As is her unfortunate wont.

Tomorrow, we’ll show you some of what Maddow did in last night’s second train wreck. But just as a bit of a preview, we’ll take you back to what Buchanan said early in Thursday’s session. Why have we had so many white Justices? Again, this was his reply:

BUCHANAN: Well, I think white men were 100 percent of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy.

This has been a country built, basically, by white folks in this country who were 90 percent of the entire nation in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel. And the other 10 percent were African-American who had been discriminated against. That's why.

That isn’t the answer we would have given. But apparently, it wasn’t quite clownish enough for Maddow. And so, last night, she edited it down—leaving out what Buchanan said about blacks having been discriminated against. There—that felt much better! She played bowdlerized versions of that statement three times—when Buchanan was no longer present. But then, Maddow often seems to be baldly dishonest, a point we’ll discuss all this week.

Poor Maddow! Last night, she was deeply concerned with correcting Buchanan’s misstatements. In fact, she regretted his various errors so much, she sadly ended with this:

MADDOW (7/20/09): Those are our corrections and clarifications. Oh, actually, one other! Pat also said, quote, “The U.S. track team in the Olympics, they’re all black folks.”

Um—the U.S. Olympic track team is not all black, “folks” or otherwise. Also, the Olympic hockey team is not all from Minnesota either, which he also said.

We very much regret these errors ending up on the show. And we will be right back.

But Buchanan didn’t say the Olympic track team was all black (or that the hockey team was all from Minnesota). He didn’t say it as a “quote,” and he didn’t imply it. To see what he did say, just click here. Or who knows? Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “if” is. Do Rhode Scholars know how to read?

That “quote”—and yes, she said the word “quote”—in, in a phrase, made up. As is her wont, Maddow looked down at her notes, pretending to be reading, as she pretended to read that “quote.” But then, Buchanan isn’t the only conservative Maddow has pretended to quote in the past week. Last week, she also insisted she was quoting Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), when in fact she had embellished a paraphrase of something Wamp said—a paraphrase which had appeared in the Knoxville newspaper. When Wamp’s office challenged what Maddow said, she kept insisting that she had been “quoting.” Unless something is crazily wrong with her prep, Maddow was lying then too.

Maddow is a real piece of work—a cable figure with little real precedent. We’ll review her recent performance all week—but yes, that “quote” was made up. Of course, Joan Walsh, whose lips have been locked on NBC’s keister for years, now calls Maddow “a trusted voice for truth.” The analysts all ran around the room when they saw it (click here). We’ll discuss that nonsense too.

This country has no progressive politics. Joan’s statement helps you see why.