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Print view: Thirty years into this dumbest debate, we think Mitch McConnell's sincere
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THE FRUITS OF LIBERAL SLOTH! Thirty years into this dumbest debate, we think Mitch McConnell’s sincere: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2010

Michelle Cottle’s choice: In this morning’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes a “White House Memo” about the Shirley Sherrod matter. As we read her first two grafs, we wondered where she’s been:

STOLBERG (7/23/10): It was exactly one year ago on Thursday that President Obama plunged into a thicket of racial politics by declaring that a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., had “acted stupidly” in arresting a black Harvard University professor in his own home. Suddenly, the president whose election suggested the promise of a postracial future was thrust into the wounds of the past.

Not much has changed.

Are you kidding? We don’t know if anything has “changed” in the wider society, although we think a lot of things have changed for the better over these many years. But the Sherrod matter is vastly different from the Professor Gates/Office Crowley flap. And in one major way, the Sherrod matter is vastly unlike a string of gong-show political incidents stretching back into the past.

How is the Sherrod matter unlike the Gates/Crowley flap? Last year’s incident seemed to fan a degree of racial discord, with different segments of the society coming down fairly hard on different sides of the case. By way of contrast, almost everyone quickly agreed on the merits of the Sherrod case. By Wednesday night, almost everyone had agreed that Sherrod’s views and statements had been misrepresented. Almost everyone agreed that Andrew Breitbart’s tape excerpt was highly misleading.

Almost everyone agreed that Sherrod had got a raw deal.

Not much has changed? The Gates/Crowley flap actually seemed to split some people along racial lines, in ways which recalled other such incidents from the past. Have you seen anything dimly like that in this newest incident?

The Sherrod matter hasn’t seemed to split the society into two camps. But in another way, it’s one of the most unusual incidents in recent political history. As Paul Krugman noted in this post, gong-show incidents of this type have driven our discourse for the past twenty years. Just offhand, we can’t think of another incident where the society had the good sense to agree, pretty much as a group, that the wronged party got wronged.

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Actually, no—he didn’t say that. But gong-show lunacies of that type have shaped our public discourse for decades—often driven along by the press corps.

The Sherrod incident seems remarkably different—and the press corps can’t quite spot the change.

We thought Stolberg’s take was a bit myopic. We thought this disingenuous post by Michelle Cottle was an act of simple, balls-out bad faith.

For those of you who haven’t been watching, Lady Cottle has been in training to inherit the Cokie Roberts chair within the national press corps. For that reason, the lady had to play it safe in reviewing the Sherrod affair. As a New Republic liberal, she had to criticize Andrew Breitbart, of course. On the other hand, she had to pretend that she couldn’t think of a single thing her friends in the press corps could do:

COTTLE (7/22/10): I understand why Breitbart has Jonathan Chait, among others, up in arms about conservative pseudo-journalism. But what I find disheartening about this Andrew Breitbart business isn’t what it says so much about conservative journalism as about the sorry state of journalism period. Not the way it’s practiced (or malpracticed) by any one group or individual, but how the very notion of journalism as a real profession, with even minimal standards of conduct and ethics, has evaporated.

Breitbart’s decision to run with the video was without question appalling. But there have always been madmen, charlatans, and assholes in this business. Arguably more outrageous is that, even having been exposed as either a total scumbag or a fool, he will almost certainly suffer no serious or lasting repercussions.

I mean, how could he? Breitbart isn’t employed by an institution in a position to fire him. He operates with absolutely no oversight and no accountability. Not that I’m suggesting institutional oversight is necessarily the answer: These days, notoriety, no matter how grotesquely attained, is just another path (indeed, one of the surest) to becoming a multimedia phenom. Hell, look at Eliot Spitzer. But no one should be able to operate without some reasonable check on his destructive craziness.

Breitbart is like Eliot Spitzer? Please avert your gaze.

Poor Cottle! She’s appalled by Breitbart’s behavior; she even uses naughty words to express her displeasure. But she can’t imagine how this horrible fellow could be made to pay a price!

Breitbart will suffer no serious repercussions. “I mean, how could he,” the lady asks. Cottle went on and on and on, wondering how Breitbart could be punished. Finally, after a long rumination, it came to her! She offered this:

COTTLE: So what am I hoping will happen here? I’m not entirely sure. Journalists are, obviously, not doctors or lawyers or plumbers. You don’t need a license, or even a highly specialized set of knowledge, to practice the craft. But neither should the profession sit back while some raving yahoo, just for kicks, shreds what’s left of industry standards and practices—or, worse yet, enhance the guy’s fame by letting him babble on for the amusement of chat show audiences. With someone like Breitbart, all exposure is good exposure.

So maybe what’s called for here is a good old fashioned shunning. Let’s treat Breitbart like the toxic tantrum he is: no more profiles or interviews or linkages to his web site, even in the service of condemning him.

Yeah. I know. That makes this post kinda problematic. But how else to get the word out? Now, I swear, not another word from me about you-know-who.

Yesterday, we prayed that the New York Times (and other newspapers) would do some reporting on Breitbart’s conduct, helping readers understand the way he has doctored evidence in an array of cases. But it never entered Cottle’s head to use her platform at TNR to bring this prayer to her many friends inside the national press corps.

Let’s ignore him, Cottle said. I won’t say another word more! Of course, this is the way her loathsome class has dealt with twenty years of these deceptions, going back to the wars on Clinton and Gore, the wars which sent Bush to the White House.

Is a demon loose on the right? Let’s ignore him, Cottle has said. But of course, the lords and ladies have always taken this approach. In the process, they make their lives safer, much simpler.

Can you see the way Cottle has prepared herself to sit in the Cokie chair?

Special report: Triumph of the dumbest idea!

PART 4—THE FRUITS OF LIBERAL SLOTH (permalink): If we lower our tax rates, we get higher revenues!

Republican pols almost never state this, the world’s dumbest idea. That job is left to the talk-show hacks, the Hannitys. They routinely express this dumbest idea, introducing confusion, mistrust and anger into the public discussion.

The Hannitys constantly peddle this nonsense; Republican pols rarely do. In Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush relentlessly said that his tax cuts would lower federal revenues. (By $1.3 trillion over ten years. We could afford it, he said, because of projected surpluses.) In 1996, meanwhile, Candidate Dole had explicitly said that his proposed tax cuts wouldn’t “pay for themselves.” Why then did Senator Mitch McConnell recently voice this dumbest idea? Presumably, to bail out the hapless Senator Kyl, who had created a bit of a flap through several awkward statements. This was Brian Beutler’s account of Kyl’s second oration:

BEUTLER (7/12/10): “My view, and I think most of the people in my party don't believe that you should ever have to offset a tax cut,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl. “That clearly reduced savings [sic] is a better way to offset increased spending than a tax increase is.”

The rationale, Kyl said, goes back to the ultimate conservative goal of shrinking the size of government. If tax cuts are offset by tax increases in other area, then the government can only grow.

Duh. Assuming Beutler’s account is accurate, Senator Kyl plainly wasn’t voicing the world’s dumbest idea. As a matter of fact, he was saying the opposite: Since tax cuts will reduce future revenues, he seemed to be saying, they make it easier to shrink the size of government; they force us to reduce future spending. There’s a name for this strategy—“starve the beast.” The strategy turns on an accurate notion: If we lower tax rates, we will get lower revenues.

“Starve the beast” makes fiscal sense, but it’s politically unattractive. As discussion of Kyl’s clumsy statements grew, McConnell stepped in to help the guy out, completely reversing the basic thrust of what his colleague had said. Bush’s tax cuts produced higher revenue, the gentleman from Kentucky now said, voicing the dumbest idea in the world and reversing Kyl’s apparent meaning. In the process, he contradicted Candidate Bush’s claims about his own tax cuts.

Republican pols almost never voice this idea—they leave that to hacks like Sean Hannity. Presumably, Kyl’s blunder explains why McConnell did voice the dumbest idea in the world. But it doesn’t answer Paul Krugman’s question:

How can this dumbest idea survive, as it has for the past thirty years?

Why can’t we kill this dumbest idea? How can it continue to sow mistrust and confusion in the minds of talk-show listeners? In part, it’s a tribute to mainstream press lethargy—to the inability of big famous “journalists” to discuss almost any budget issue. But in larger part, the failure rests with us hapless liberals. It isn’t just this dumbest idea which has made a rolling joke of our discourse. Here’s a list of the world’s five dumbest ideas, all of which are alive and well, sowing confusion, after a good many years:

If we lower our tax rates, we get higher revenue!

Social Security will go bankrupt in the year [xxxx]!

The top one percent pay [xxx] percent of federal taxes, a vastly disproportionate share!

European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s ever been tried!

When it snows in Washington, that proves that global warming’s a hoax!

These dumbest ideas continue to thrive, enabled by liberal indolence. We liberals love to complain about Fox. But the real problem lies with us—with our hapless, dishonorable, highly indifferent “intellectual leaders.” Lower tax rates produce higher revenue? Even the gods on Olympus avert their gaze as we “liberals” allow this cant to survive, as we’ve done for the past thirty years.

Name a famous TV liberal. He or she has played a role in letting this nonsense persist. They’ve been kissing the keisters of fame—and letting the dumbest ideas in the world rule the American discourse. Have you ever seen a serious effort to address those dumbest ideas in a systematic fashion? Have you ever seen a serious effort to tell centrist and conservative voters about the ways they’re being misled in this long, rolling, ludicrous con game?

We see the darlings on TV, swilling wine at Bill Press’ book party. This will take us nowhere. (Candidate Gore wants to eliminate the automobile! Back in 1999, Press, then co-host of Crossfire, didn’t know what to say when Bob Novak uncorked that dumbest idea. But then, our side rarely does.)

Here at THE HOWLER, we dream of the day when citizens can visit a sprawling resource which goes by this name: “The American budget for dummies.” Where they can see a welter of questions about tax, revenue and spending issues addressed in a readable way. Until that day (which will never come), we must continue with what we have.

With Keith Olbermann’s approach to the dumbest idea, to cite one more recent example.

If we lower tax rates, we get higher revenues! No, it isn’t Olbermann’s fault that he lives at the end of thirty years of liberal sloth—that liberal “intellectual leaders” have never created familiar ways to take down this dumbest idea. Olbermann lives at that point in time—and as a result, he seems to have no idea how to address this lunacy. On July 14, he gave it a try, drawing us in with this tease:

OLBERMANN (7/14/10): Minority Leader McConnell pushing more tax breaks for the rich and mighty. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue, they increased revenue.” No evidence, except the congressional budget report estimate that as of 2005, the cuts have increased the deficit by $539 billion! Ezra Klein meets the new math, same as the old math.

Racism in the Tea Party. Sarah Palin uses the word “appalling” not about the racism, about the NAACP calling out the Tea Party for the racism. Our guest, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous.

Classic. First, Olbermann misstated that finding from 2005—then, he called people racists! But at least he had the good common sense to invite Ezra Klein to his program. How comically awful is our liberal “brain trust?” This bad: Ezra Klein is 25 years old—and he’s the best we have!

Given the sloth of the past thirty years, “liberals” who are paid $5 million per year have to turn to Ezra for help—and they’re utterly clueless themselves. Kind-hearted people will avert their gaze from this, KO’s eventual question:

OLBERMANN: Is McConnell even technically correct in that sentence? He said the Bush tax cuts did not reduce revenue, and meanwhile, the congressional estimate was that they just added $500 billion to the deficit. Are these just two ways of saying the same thing, or are they as non-connected as McConnell would have us believe?

Gaze on the legacy of thirty years of liberal intellectual sloth! The apocryphal million monkeys at the million typewriters couldn’t produce such incoherence! Poor Ezra paused, perhaps perplexed. And then, he played it safe:

KLEIN (continuing directly): I don’t quite understand McConnell’s statement. This is an old type of orthodoxy, but it tended to be something that serious Republicans disavowed. You can go back—the Atlantic business channel today had a good list of this. Bush’s economic advisers over and over and over again disavowed this position. They said, “Listen, nobody thinks that tax cuts pay for themselves. They just don’t do it. And we can’t be caught saying that because people won’t take us seriously if we do.”

He didn’t understand McConnell’s statement? How about Olbermann’s question? Sorry—such reactions can’t be voiced on cable TV! Instead of laughing at KO’s word salad, Ezra gave a semi-reasonable answer to the “worst question in the world.”

Ezra’s answer was basically good—although it could have been better. It’s true—Bush’s advisers never claimed that the cuts would produce higher revenues. But would it not have been more direct to say this same thing about Bush himself? As a candidate, then as a new president, Bush said it again and again and again—his tax cuts would lower revenue (by $1.3 trillion). Why dilute the power of the dumbestness by turning to Bush’s aides?

As a candidate, Bush always said that his tax cuts would lower revenue. (Candidate Dole had explicitly said the same thing four years earlier.) But so what? Thirty years into the reign of this dumbest idea, we liberals still don’t know to say this—and our most famous leaders flounder and flail, producing that hapless world salad. Millions of Hannity’s viewers and listeners have been conned by this simple dumbest idea. Have you ever seen a liberal laugh and tell them: Dudes! Listen up! You’re getting conned! That isn’t what Bush himself said!

KO’s word salad is the fruit of thirty years of liberal sloth. So was Rachel Maddow’s embarrassing work on her own program that very same night (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/10). But then, when it comes to the fruits of liberal sloth, we even have to challenge Ezra, in this July 13 entry at his blog for the Washington Post:

KLEIN (7/13/10): There are fiscal theories that I disagree with, and that I think are cruel, and that make me upset. But very few actually make me sad. Sen. Mitch McConnell, however, hit my sore spot today. "There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue," he told Brian Beutler of TPMDC. "They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject." In other words, this is why Republicans don't think tax cuts need to be paid for. They pay for themselves.

Why does this make me sad? Because it's hard to see the country prospering when one of its two major political parties is this economically illiterate. McConnell isn't some backbencher. He's Senate minority leader. And he thinks there's "no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue."

There's an ontological question here about what, exactly, McConnell considers to be "evidence”...

An ontological question? Don’t ask.

Ezra goes on to cite that CBO report from 2005—the report Olbermann and Maddow both grossly misstated, while presumably working straight from this post. Most of Ezra’s post makes perfect sense; some of it may be irrelevant. But if you look through the comments to this post, you will see that several teeth-gnashing commenters made the same point we will now make:

People! Mitch McConnell does not believe that Bush’s tax cuts increased revenues! The chance that McConnell thinks any such thing is vanishingly small. We know he doesn’t believe this dumbest idea for a perfectly obvious reason: McConnell isn’t “economically illiterate.” Neither are the other big players in his party’s caucus.

McConnell was there all through Campaign 2000, as Candidate Bush repeatedly said that his tax cuts would reduce future revenue (by $1.3 trillion over ten years). He understands where that number came from. He doesn’t think that a miracle then occurred—that Bush’s definitive statement about his own tax plan turned out to be crazily wrong.

No. He doesn’t believe that.

Republican pols almost never state the world’s dumbest idea; they leave that task to Hannity. And yes, McConnell’s recent claim is the dumbest idea in the world. When we lower tax rates, we get higher revenues? No major politician thinks that! And yet, we liberals can’t kill this idea, as Krugman hair-tearingly said.

Plainly, it’s the dumbest idea. But after thirty years of nonsense, we liberals don’t know how to address it! “Is McConnell even technically correct,” KO haplessly asked. “Are these just two ways of saying the same thing?” (We have no idea what that meant.)

Gaze on the poisonous fruits of thirty years of liberal sloth! Thirty years into this dumbest debate, we rely on a guy who’s 25—and he thinks Mitch McConnell’s sincere!