Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Rachel is good at winning debates--if only one person is there
Daily Howler logo
ONE IS THE MIGHTIEST NUMBER! Rachel is good at winning debates—if only one person is there: // link // print // previous // next //

Meyerson’s unhelpful feast: Does Harold Meyerson understand the world in which he resides? We wondered when we read his column in this morning’s Post.

The column starts out about health care, then wanders about from there.

As he starts, Meyerson is feeling blue about those blue-dog Democrats. He writes as if he’s just returned to this region after a long stay on Mars:

MEYERSON (7/22/09): Watching the centrist Democrats in Congress create more and more reasons why health care can't be fixed, I've been struck by a disquieting thought: Suppose our collective lack of response to Hurricane Katrina wasn't exceptional but, rather, the new normal in America. Suppose we can no longer address the major challenges confronting the nation. Suppose America is now the world's leading can't-do country.

Every other nation with an advanced economy long ago secured universal health care for its citizens—an achievement that the United States alone finds beyond the capacities of mortal man. It wasn't ever thus. Time was when Democratic Congresses enacted Social Security and Medicare over the opposition of powerful interests and Republican ideologues. In fact, our government used to actually pave roads, build bridges and allow for secure retirements by levying taxes on those who could afford to pay them.

For the record, a Democratic Congress enacted Medicare in 1965. In the forty-four years since that occasion, America has plainly become a “can’t-do country,” for reasons which have been well described. Professor Krugman’s recent book may not have reached Mars, but it explained this history well (click here). Much shorter Krugman:

YOUR NATION’S HISTORY: FDR and World War II broke the back of organized wealth and power. But uh-oh! Starting in the 1960s, wealth and power began to fight back.

Is Meyerson just learning that this long process has occurred?

As he continues, Meyerson is mystified by Democratic opposition to Obama’s health care proposal. He finds this to be a “mysterious matter.” In fact, there’s nothing mysterious about it at all. Some of these people are afraid of losing future elections, for example. Others may be a bit store-bought. And that’s where the long-term hapless conduct of the Meyerson Cohort comes in.

The progressive world has been badly served by the long reign of people like Meyerson. This morning, his attention span jumps all about, although he returns to health care at the end of his column. This is what the gentleman types. We would say that what he types helps explain the current problem:

MEYERSON: [T]he big picture here, of which the resistance to reforming health care is just one element, is our growing inability to meet our national challenges....

But act on behalf of the nation as a whole, even if it means goring Wall Street's or Wal-Mart's oxen? Perish the thought. Pass a health-reform bill that will cover 45 million uninsured Americans and slow the ruinous growth of health-care spending? Not if somebody, somewhere, actually has to pay higher taxes. Hey, we're America—the can't-do nation.

But will the (as yet unwritten) health-reform bill really “slow the ruinous growth of health-care spending?” More specifically, does anyone even know what Meyerson means by that lofty statement? Is Meyerson saying that this as-yet unwritten bill will slow the rise in insurance premiums? Does he mean that it will slow the rise of overall societal spending? Of federal health care spending? All three? And by the wy: If Meyerson is such a fiery progressive, why is he accepting the baseline? As he dreams of “slowing the growth,” he thereby accepts the ludicrous situation in which our society spends twice as much per person on health care as other developed nations. Meyerson’s work is very unclear—and frankly, it doesn’t seem all that “progressive.” But then, his class of liberal pseudo-intellectual has served you quite badly for decades.

They’re too well-fed. They’re too well-paid. They’re too well-known—and they’re largely inept. For another example, consider what Josh Marshall wrote yesterday, over at TPM:

MARSHALL (7/21/09): Since the fiasco of 1994, health care has been a drum Democrats have banged away on at election time with the more or less open understanding that it would be safely stowed away again after November. But now we're at a point where we should soon see whether this is an issue that can ever be conquered or dealt with in any real way. The Dems went into this round with as many advantages as they're likely ever to have—a president with commanding authority, big majorities in Congress and a mood in the country that seemed decidedly favorable if not quite sold on the prospect of major reform. The one big exception to this favorable picture was the near collapse of the country's economy (which ain't nothing), but which the White House has nonetheless (and with real merit) argued is a reason for moving now on health care reform rather than delay.

Josh is massively clueless too. In fact, the Democrats “went into this round” with a public which is massively clueless about health care reform—and massively lacking in righteous anger, in angry desire for change. In part, the public is clueless and apathetic because “liberals” like Meyerson have become so denatured that they can’t even rise in righteous protest against the massive corporate looting which defines that current baseline.

Josh doesn’t seem to understand either.

Cluelessly, Josh hits the nail on the head. Democrats “have banged away” about health care “at election time,” he says, almost seeming to praise them for their intermittent efforts. But uh-oh! Our liberal “intellectual leaders” have banged away even less often. Today, Meyerson arrives in late July, boldly saying that some unwritten bill will “slow the ruinous growth of spending.” But to be honest, no one even knows what that claim means—and there aren’t a million reasons to believe it.

Sorry, numb-nuts! Real progressives would work for years—for decades—to develop public understanding and anger about such complex affairs. It takes a long, aggressive struggle to develop progressive political frameworks. As Krugman explained, the other side has pimped its poll-tested narratives down through all those years. But our own denatured “liberal leaders” are too fat and happy to fight against that. When have you ever seen them fight to develop a winning politics about anything known to this earth?

On Friday, we plan to muse about Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, inspired by this fascinating op-ed piece in Monday’s New York Times. At the end, Hemingway rues the day when “the rich” came into their lives (the lives of himself and his first wife). “Under the charms of these rich I was as trusting and as stupid as a bird dog who wants to go out with any man with a gun,” Hemingway writes. That’s not unlike the way it is when liberals read Meyerson’s column.

ONE IS THE MIGHTIEST NUMBER: Last Thursday night, we watched Rachel Maddow debate Pat Buchanan about the Sotomayor nomination. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/09, “Rachel pokes the ape.”

We were struck, most of all, by how unbalanced Buchanan is on matters of race and ethnicity—more specifically, about affirmative action. Much of what he said made sense—but on other matters, he was semi-unhinged. More than anything else, he seemed convinced that Sotomayor didn’t meet the lofty standards which obtain on the current Supreme Court. In this, his very first statement, he seemed to be locked in a dream. For the full transcript, click here:

BUCHANAN (7/16/09): Well, I think I would vote no on Sonia Sotomayor the same way I would have voted no on Harriet Miers—and I said so the first day she was nominated.

I don't think Judge Sonia Sotomayor is qualified for the United States Supreme Court. She has not shown any great intellect here or any great depth of knowledge of the Constitution. She's never written anything that I've read in terms of a law review article or major book or something like that on the law.

And I do believe she's an affirmative action appointment by the president of the United States. He eliminated everyone but four women and then he picked the Hispanic. I think this is an affirmative action appointment and I would vote no.

Sotomayor has never written a major book on the law? On the current Court, how many have? Throughout the session, Buchanan complained that Sotomayor didn’t measure up to a lofty standard—a standard which seemed to exist mainly inside his own head. But Buchanan thundered and roared about the fact that Sotomayor may have benefitted from affirmative action in her admissions to Princeton and Yale. He quoted her saying that this was the case—and he just couldn’t let it go. At some points, this led him to make statements about the nominee which were inaccurate—or just foolish:

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, about half the class graduates cum laude these days.

MADDOW: How did you do at Georgetown compared to how she did at Princeton?

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you, I graduated higher in my high school, I will bet, or as high as she did. And I’ll certainly say, in Georgetown, I did. And I'll tell you, I will match my test scores against her. But I'm not qualified for the United States Supreme Court!

Except Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton—while winning the university’s highest academic prize. Did Buchanan really match that at Georgetown? In these moments, Buchanan seemed truly unhinged—a victim of pugnacious views about affirmative action which will never let him go. (In terms of grades, Sotomayor seems to have graduated first or second in her large high school class—while being selected to give the valedictory speech.)

That’s the thing which struck us most as we watched last Thursday’s discussion. But right behind Buchanan’s myopia, we were struck by Maddow’s hapless efforts to debate this issue. Buchanan’s misstatements about Sotomayor flew by unchallenged—as sometimes happens when people debate. Much more significantly, Maddow insisted on dropping a childish framework around the discussion—a framework in which she kept attributing views and outlooks to Buchanan which he simply hadn’t expressed. For example, here’s the way she reacted to Buchanan’s silly, inaccurate claims about Sotomayor’s undergraduate record:

MADDOW (continuing directly): But, Pat, for you to argue that, for you to argue that there's no basis on which the United States benefits from having Hispanics be among the people who we choose the best and brightest from—defies belief. The idea that you think we're best served by only choosing from among 99.5 percent white people to hold these jobs—I don't believe you believe it, Pat!

Truly, that was pathetic—every bit as foolish as what Buchanan had just said. We should only choose from among white people? Buchanan had said nothing like that at any point in the evening’s discussion. Here’s a fuller transcript of that exchange, including Buchanan’s interjections and his first reply:

MADDOW: But, Pat, for you to argue that, for you to argue that there's no basis on which the United States benefits—


MADDOW: —from having Hispanics be among the people who we choose the best and brightest from—defies belief.

BUCHANAN: I don't—I don’t—

MADDOW: The idea that you think we're best served by only choosing from among 99.5 percent white people—

BUCHANAN (crosstalk): Look, I want— All right, hold it, hold it. No, no, no, no, no, no. Hold it!

MADDOW: —to hold these jobs—I don't believe you believe it, Pat!

BUCHANAN: I—hold on! I believe everybody should get a chance to excel and be on the United States Supreme Court.

Duh. But then, in all honesty, Buchanan hadn’t expressed anything like the view which Maddow described. He had said this at one point: “My argument would be, get the finest minds you can get. Get real scholars.” He’d also said that he didn’t think this particular nominee measured up. But to Maddow, this judgment somehow seemed to mean that Buchanan believed that no Hispanics should be allowed to apply. She kept applying such silly frameworks at each stage of the debate.

Some people can’t hear what the other tribe says. Maddow may be such a person.

On Monday night, she found a much better way to proceed, now that Buchanan was no longer present. In one case, she played tape of what Buchanan had said—while deftly editing out his statement that blacks had long been discriminated against. (She did this three times.) And she sadly claimed that he’d said silly things about the U.S. Olympic teams—things he’d neither said nor implied. (Theatrically, she made a big show of “quoting” Buchanan—even though she wasn’t “quoting” him. This was very dishonest.) Most significantly, she did this while Buchanan wasn’t present to define or defend his own viewpoint. Finally! What every hack wants! The chance to write the statements for both persons in a debate!

The chance to define what you yourself think—and to say what The Other thinks too!

For the record, Maddow knows how shaky it is to conduct oneself in this manner. At the start of Monday’s segment, she offered these high-minded thoughts about the “corrections” she felt she had to offer. For the full transcript, click here:

MADDOW (7/20/09): It’s not cool to talk about guests after their segment is over. It’s also not fair to re-litigate these arguments in the absence of one of the parties that participated in the argument. And I will not try to do that now. But what I do feel obliged to do is to correct some of the things that were said in the course of my argument with Pat that were stated as fact that were not true. I feel an obligation just to correct the factual record as we would with anything else that was stated as fact on this show that was not true.

Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She felt a lofty obligation to correct the factual record. And she was soon “correcting” silly statements by Buchanan—silly statements he hadn’t made. “In the absence of one of the parties,” such bullshit is easily done.

This is the way weak analysts argue—the kind of people who can’t win a debate if two people are present. But then, Maddow is a remarkably weak political analyst—and she sometimes seems to be weirdly dishonest. The progressive world will never flourish with people like this at the top of the heap—defining what we know, setting the progressive agenda. (Recently, the progressive agenda seems to be sexsexsexsexsex.)

In our view, “affirmative action” is worth defending (although it may not be worth debating). So is Sotomayor’s history, although there’s no obvious reason why Buchanan has to find her qualified for the Court. We thought Maddow was strikingly inept on both counts Thursday night. But then, Maddow’s boss—the brains of the outfit—came from the world of sports and humor. She herself is woefully inexperienced in politics and news.

Night after night, it shows.

By the way, your DAILY HOWLER keeps getting results! Last night, Maddow returned to a recent newspaper report about Congressman Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). Last night, though, she did something different. She actually quoted him accurately, as if to show that she knows how to do it! Last week, after Wamp’s office complained about her reporting, Maddow kept insisting that she had simply “quoted” the congressman—when, in fact, she had embellished a paraphrase from that newspaper report.

Sorry. That isn’t “quoting.” You can say that you’re just quoting someone. You can say it again and again, as Maddow insistently did. That doesn’t turn an embellished paraphrase into an actual “quote.”

At such moments, Maddow tends to swear she’s willing to correct any real mistakes—as she seems to lie in your face about what she’s actually doing. Even Hannity is more artful about his on-air misstatements.

Rhodes Scholars tend to know how to quote people—but some may not be obsessively honest. Maddow tends to do this sort of thing a lot. It may be a function of youth and inexperience. But we think it’s a killer for progressive interests when such people worm into power.

Maddow is good at winning debates—as long as only one person is present. Does the answer to this unfortunate conduct lie in the world of Bill Wolff?