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THE DISCOURSE YOU RODE IN ON! Joe Nocera is very angry. Except for the fact that he isn’t: // link // print // previous // next //

A fine place to say you will: Cooperstown is a very nice place for a wedding, especially one with such all-star participants. Each party said that he or she will. Finest bride we ever witnessed!

Otsego Lake has never looked wetter. Locals admit that it’s not a Great Lake. All the same, it’s a very good lake, and we heard no one say different.

Much earlier, these acts occurred. History takes a long time, though things can go down very fast.

Special report: The discourse you rode in on!

PRELUDE—SITTING IT OUT (permalink): Joe Nocera feels very strongly about the debt limit deal.

Except for the fact that he doesn’t.

Four months ago, on April 2, Nocera published his first column as a twice-weekly New York Times op-ed writer. (Before that, he had been writing a Saturday column in the Business/Financial Desk section.) Today, the gentleman blows a gasket about the debt limit deal.

As you can see, Nocera is very angry. Except for the fact that he isn’t:

NOCERA (8/2/11): The Tea Party's War On America

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America's most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn't care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that's what it took.

As he closes, he does a bit more name-calling. “For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests,” he angrily proclaims. “But rest assured: They'll have them on again soon enough. After all, they've gotten so much encouragement.”

You can tell Nocera is very angry from all this exquisite name-calling. He refers to a recent “war on America”—a “jihad” conducted by a group of terrorists in suicide vests who were trying to blow up the country.

“Much of the country has watched in horror” as this jihad has been waged, Nocera reports. He neglects to say that he himself wasn’t one of those people.

How can you tell that Nocera wasn’t consumed by horror? Here’s how: According to the Nexis archives, this is just the second time he has ever used the term “debt limit” or “debt ceiling” in a New York Times column. His previous usage occurred last Tuesday, in a column which didn’t concern the debt limit debacle—a column which dealt with an action the Federal Reserve had taken against Wells Fargo. And not only that! This is the first time Nocera has ever used the term “Tea Party” in a Times column!

Weird, isn’t it? Writing two columns a week for four months, he failed to mention the fact that a group of jihadists were conducting a “war on America!”

Nocera is in a state of high fury—today. But as this ridiculous episode unfolded, Nocera had nothing to say about it—zilch, rien, nada, squat. He made no attempt—none at all—to explain or clarify any of the points he finally discusses today. And today, when Nocera finally speaks, he speaks in a loud and stupid name-calling rage, the kind of fury the other side uses to show the world how dumb your side is.

Nocera is very late to the party. And when the gentleman finally arrives, he’s very loud, possibly drunk

. Don’t get us wrong: As Nocera continues, he describes the problems with the debt limit deal in ways we assume to be accurate. (“America's real crisis is not a debt crisis. It's an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn't address unemployment, it's guaranteed to make it worse...The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.”) But this description is very brief, and it shows up many months too late. As such, Nocera’s pretend-to-be-angry column captures the astonishing failure of the social club known as New York Times to deal with this months-long episode.

Has any “newspaper” ever refused to discuss a major topic in quite the way the New York Times has? Consider the performance of this famous “newspaper” in just the past six days:

First, let’s take a guess. By Saturday morning, many citizens were quite concerned about the possibility that no debt limit deal would be reached. Presumably, some of these citizens opened copies of the Times hoping for crumbs of insight. But when they turned to the op-ed page, they found four columns, none of which dealt with the debt limit matter! The Times had commissioned two columns by guest contributors; one piece dealt with the TVA, the other with Israel’s response to the Arab Spring. Among regular New York Times columnists, Charles Blow at least seemed to feel he should explain why he wasn’t discussing the crisis:

BLOW (7/30/11): My grandfather spoke to me this week. That would've been unremarkable if not for the fact that he died four years ago.

I had ducked into a movie theater to escape the maddening debt-limit debacle. I chose ''Captain America: The First Avenger.'' Surely that would reset the patriotic optimism.

But as I watched the scenes of a fictitious integrated American Army fighting in Europe at the end of World War II, I became unsettled. Yes, I know that racial revisionism has become so common in film that it's almost customary, so much so that moviegoers rarely balk or even blink. And even I try not to think too deeply about shallow fare. Escapism by its nature must bend away from reality. But this time I was forced to bend it back. It was personal.

As the Times continues to move past self-parody, Blow at least felt he should explain why he was “escaping” this fairly obvious topic. He went on to explain that the U.S. army wasn’t integrated during World War II. Never mind what that new movie says!

The fourth column on Saturday’s op-ed page was written Nocera himself. Nocera is very angry—today. But last Saturday, he wrote a piece assuring us that one of the Bernie Madoff trustees would be dealt with fairly, or something.

Amazing, isn’t it? A war was being waged on your country (we’re now told) and that’s what this big numb-nut wrote about? Do you believe Nocera is angry?

Sorry, but no—we do not.

We found Saturday’s lack of discussion astounding. That said, the “Sunday Review” section wasn’t much better, although a number of familiar players (including the Silly Twins, Bruni and Dowd) pretended to offer relevant discussions. On page 1, the Times led the section in typical fashion—with a sweeping historical overview of a tendency it has abjectly refused to cover in its current manifestation. (Headline: “Jefferson’s Tea Party Moment.” And yes, that’s Thomas Jefferson.) To marvel at the Times’ upper-class fatuity, we’ll direct you to pages 3 and 4 of the section, where you could peruse these pieces:

As a war was being waged on your country, those were the topics the Times was exploring! And by the way: Just as Blow did at the start of his Saturday piece, Sam Tanenhaus started his historical overview with another bit of unintended institutional self-parody:

TANENHAUS (7/31/11): Whatever the outcome of the debate on the debt ceiling, everyone seems to agree that it has been one of the most alienating spectacles in recent political history—a peculiarly Beltway form of theater, with much of the public still confused about what exactly is at stake.

Too funny! We can’t imagine why “much of the public” might have “still been confused” about this topic!

This morning, Nocera is in a very loud rage, complaining about an ugly war he previously failed to mention. But why is “much of the public” confused? Presumably, many Times readers are still confused because they’ve been reading the New York Times—including the columns by Nocera, the columns which never mentioned the war he now says was waged on this nation.

The New York Times, an upper-class former newspaper, is thick with noblesse oblige—with upper-class indolence trading off with fury aimed at “those people.” And make no mistake: When an indolent upper-class cohort takes control of an enterprise, the intelligence with which that enterprise is run drops to basement levels. Consider:

Last Thursday, the Times staged an earlier move past self-parody (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/11). Finally, the paper devoted an entire page to a series of questions about the debt limit—obvious questions the former newspaper had ignored for months.

“Perhaps the time has finally come for a crash course in all things debt ceiling,” the hapless former newspaper wrote, with no apparent sense of irony or embarrassment. (Unintentionally comical headline: “As 11th Hour Nears, a Look at the Debt Ceiling.” Should the paper perhaps have taken “a look” at this topic before the 11th hour? Mercifully, this ridiculous headline has been dropped from the on-line version of this piece.) But good God! If you want to understand the dilemma in which we’re all mired, just read through the hapless work the Times performed on that page! This was the very first Q-and-A by the former newspaper’s crash course tandem, Professors Cooper and Story:

COOPER/STORY (7/28/11): Q. Republicans and Democrats alike keep talking about the need to reduce the federal deficit. Won't refusing to raise the debt limit cut the deficit?

A. No. The debt limit, or ceiling, which is the amount that the nation is allowed to borrow, must be raised if the United States is to pay for all the things that Congress has already bought: the spending in the budget bills it has already passed, the Social Security checks promised to retirees, the payments due to private companies with federal contracts and the interest on bonds it has sold. Washington has long spent more money than it takes in, and planned to make up the difference with borrowing. Both parties agree that this cannot go on forever. But if the debt limit is not raised, it will not cut the nation's deficit or allow the government to get out of its existing obligations. It will simply make it impossible to borrow the money that the government needs to pay for them.

Some Republicans argue that the dangers of a default are being overstated, and that the only way to curb the nation's debt problem is to reduce its legal ability to borrow. (As a senator, Mr. Obama voted against raising the limit himself.) But economists say the dangers of default are real, with ramifications ranging from slowing the economy to making mortgages and car loans more expensive. But analysts say that freezing the debt ceiling would have little immediate effect on debt levels. ''While debates surrounding the debt limit may raise awareness about the federal government's current debt trajectory and may also provide Congress with an opportunity to debate the fiscal policy decisions driving that trajectory, the ability to have an immediate effect on debt levels is limited,'' the Government Accountability Office reported. ''This is because the debt reflects previously enacted tax and spending policies.''

We’ve highlighted the most striking part of the rambling, barely coherent “answer” to that peculiar opening question.

If Congress refused to raise the debt limit, would that cut the deficit? “No,” the Timespeople oddly reply. “It will simply make it impossible to borrow the money that the government needs to pay for” existing obligations. But if the federal government can’t borrow the money to pay for those obligations, would that not eliminate the deficit? It would also create a social disaster as basic government functions were suddenly halted. But by definition, if you can’t borrow any money, how can you run up a deficit?

If Congress refused to raise the debt limit, the government could only spend the money it was receiving through normal taxation. This would produce a social disaster. But that’s pretty much the definition of what it is to have no deficit, unless you’re reading a broken-down former newspaper like the New York Times.

For what it’s worth, last Thursday’s “crash course on all things debt ceiling” was an intellectual mess throughout; Cooper and Story were overmatched by the many overlooked questions they tried to tackle in their last-minute all-nighter. But the New York Times has long since ceased to function as a newspaper at all, let alone as a competent paper. In this case, the Times kept refusing, month after month, to discuss the most obvious aspects of this giant unfolding mess. A modern nation simply can’t function when its most famous “newspaper” works in this bizarre way.

That is especially true if the liberal world is too inept to notice.

This brings us back to Joe Nocera, who is very angry today—except for the obvious fact that he isn’t. Nocera is loudly calling names, accusing jihadists of waging a war. Nocera’s name-calling is quite skillful. But alas! Over the course of the past four months, he has shown that he, like the enterprise he rides in on, is good for little else.

Tomorrow—part 1: Krugman v. Will