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Print view: Weigel typed a pleasing claim. Too bad the claim wasn't accurate
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IT’S SO EASY! Weigel typed a pleasing claim. Too bad the claim wasn’t accurate: // link // print // previous // next //

Help from our Uncle Alan: Here at THE HOWLER, we’re inclined to think that Jackie Calmes is one of our calmer, saner big scribes. But good lord! What an odd way to start a news report! This headline and opening paragraph come from our hard-copy New York Times:

CALMES (8/5/10): September Senate Debate Likely on Tax Cuts for Rich

Senate leaders said Wednesday that debate would most likely begin in September over whether to let the Bush income tax cuts for the rich expire at the end of this year as scheduled, setting up a new battle just weeks before the midterm elections.

Tax cuts “for the rich?” We’ll assume that her editor did that! “The rich” is a highly imprecise term—and it’s very politically charged. Reporters should avoid this construction for both reasons—and you’d think that we liberals would know enough never to venture there. But on July 23, one of the new kids at Media Matters devoted a post to this rhetorical trap, insisting that families really are “rich” if they earn $250,000! Of course that’s rich, she hotly argued, debating Steve Doocy about the point, perhaps not knowing why hacks at Fox are instructed to frame things that way.

Our side doesn’t know how to argue! Indeed, we’ve made a fetish of our fecklessness over the past thirty years. That’s why we haven’t even been able kill that zombie idea—the dumbest idea in the world. And that’s why Keith Olbermann, back from a well-earned vacation, got help from Uncle Alan this week.

You see, Uncle Alan—Alan Greenspan—had appeared on Meet the Press. While there, David Gregory asked him to state his view of the dumbest idea. When we lower tax rates, do we get extra revenues? Do federal tax cuts “pay for themselves?” No, they don’t, Uncle Alan observed. KO rushed to quote him:

OLBERMANN (8/2/10): The Palin-Boehner argument is that cutting taxes will let small business owners create jobs and the taxes on those salaries will make up for the tax cuts.

Mr. Boehner is right about opposition to this theory being a Washington mindset. The Reagan-appointed former chairman of the Federal Reserve said flat out yesterday that tax cuts do not pay for themselves, when he was asked whether he would let them all expire.


GREGORY: You’re saying, Let them all go. Let them all lapse.

GREENSPAN: Look, I’m very much in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money. And the problem that we’ve gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money, and at the end of the day, that proves disastrous. And my view is: I don’t think we can play subtle policy here.

GREGORY: You don’t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?

GREENSPAN: They do not.

(end videotape)

OLBERMANN: What other Washington mindset guy disagrees with the number-one House Republican and thinks that the tax cuts will increase the deficit? Would you believe the number two House Republican guy, Eric Cantor?

Cantor thinks tax cuts will increase the deficit! Good lord, our side is slow!

Let’s be clear: It isn’t that KO was “wrong” to get help from his Uncle Alan. We post this exchange to illustrate a point about the long-standing, cosmic ineptitude of our liberal team:

Quite plainly, the notion that tax cuts “pay for themselves” (or even “increase federal revenues”) is the world’s dumbest idea. But it’s been driving the discourse for the past thirty years, and your side—the liberal side—has been too hapless to kill it. It isn’t “wrong” that Olbermann showed us what his Uncle Alan had said. But thirty years into this dumbest debate, this is where we find ourselves. We have to turn to one of the world’s most cartoonish conservatives to establish a bone-simple point—a point that we have been too goddamned dumb to establish down through all the years.

Does Greenspan think the sky is blue? Why not ask him that?

Maybe KO can ponder this state of affairs when he takes his next vacation. That said, we’ve been struck by several other segments on his program this week. Good lord! How the dumbing rolls on!

Special report: Not all that!

PART THREE—IT’S SO EASY (permalink): We liberals are very sensitive to the other tribe’s misuse of race. This of course is quite appropriate, though we should perhaps “use our words” to explain our claims, rather than turning straight to the R-bomb, our most favorite weapon.

That said, we liberals have a very hard time imagining that the other tribe could feel aggrieved, in any way, in any claim involving race. In best tribal fashion (this predates the human race), we deny the humanity of The Other—deny it in thought, word and action. And, in best tribal tradition, we seem to have no earthly idea that we are doing such things. Joan Walsh’s recent work, which we’ll examine tomorrow, provides us with a very long list of excellent textbook examples.

Joan has really gone tribal of late. It’s one way we keep ourselves dumb.

Does the other tribe ever have a legitimate grievance when it comes to race-based claims? Consider something Dave Weigel wrote yesterday at Slate, where he has quite successfully landed.

The headline on Weigel’s piece was eye-catching: “The Ghost of Willie Horton,” it said. “Will the GOP play the race card on Rangel and Waters?”

Sadly, Weigel was asking a perfectly reasonable question. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are facing House ethics charges. Will Republicans respond by playing race cards? In this early passage, Weigel said that Democrats are contemplating two possible “nightmares:”

WEIGEL (8/3/10): Since last week's double shot of rotten ethics news—the investigations into Rangel and Waters, both of whom refuse so far to settle—Democrats have contemplated two potential nightmares. The first is that Republicans will use the troubles of Rangel and Waters to try to depress the Democrats' African-American base, making them less likely to come to the rescue of endangered incumbents. The second is that Republicans will use the embattled committee chairs the way that they once used Willie Horton, as Halloween masks in TV ads.

Good lord—back to Willie Horton! Given the way our “liberal” world works, you may know half the history:

Republicans played the Horton card in 1988, using him (and his mug shot) as a tool against Candidate Dukakis. Then, as the “liberal” world slept in the woods, they used Horton again in 1999, as a tool against Candidate Gore. In the fall of 1999, a remarkable string of mainstream “journalists” took turns swinging this nine-pound hammer (link below). Fiery liberals like E. J. Dionne played it safe, doing and saying nothing.

Who knows? Maybe Dionne will tell the whole story in a column in 2020! If he does, Little Lord Benen, by now Dionne’s colleague, will rise to affirm his vast courage.

Back to the present: Will Republicans “use the embattled committee chairs as they once used Horton?” The question is somewhat flamboyantly framed, but a good deal of history does recommend it. As he continued, Dave quoted an unnamed congressional aide, making the kind of racial assertion we liberals love to enjoy:

WEIGEL: The Democratic angst comes, in part, because they know they're facing a whiter, older electorate this year than they faced in 2008…Will an older, whiter electorate in Nov. 2010 be susceptible to a racially-tinged message from the GOP?

"You'll notice that [conservatives] always refer to him as 'Harlem Democrat' Charlie Rangel," said one Democratic congressional aide. "It's not a coincidence. They want you to know the guy represents Harlem—get it?”

Republicans respond with a collective rolling of eyes. This is Michael Steele's party, they say, set to elect its first African-American member of Congress in eight years (South Carolina's Tim Scott). Rangel's scandals have been churning for two years, kicked off by the New York Times' investigation of his taxes. Any notion that it would be playing a race card to remind voters of this, they say, is laughable.

We were struck by the highlighted claim by that unnamed aide—a claim Dave didn’t attempt to assess or fact-check. (You know how busy these “journalists” are!) We were struck by the claim because, just off the top of our heads, it didn’t much strike us as accurate.

Is it true? Do conservatives “always refer to Rangel as 'Harlem Democrat' Charlie Rangel?” Do they even typically do such a thing? You know how our youthful analysts are! Having grown up in the search engine age, the kids decided to check.

How frequently do conservatives refer to Rangel at “Harlem Democrat Charlie Rangel?” A cursory search suggested an answer: Almost never. Quite frankly, not much.

Let’s start with the most literal search, a search on the specific term Weigel placed inside quotes:

Rangel has been in the news quite a bit in recent weeks. Before that, he was in the news last spring, also for ethics probe reasons. How often has the conservative newspaper, the Washington Times, referred to him in the manner described? According to Nexis, Rangel’s name has appeared in the Times 41 different times in the past twelve months. The term “Harlem Democrat” has appeared just once, in a July 23 news report, quickly paired with his war record. (“The raspy-voiced Harlem Democrat, a decorated Korean War veteran who has spent nearly 40 years in Congress, has long shrugged off the accusations as being overblown.”)

The term “Harlem” itself has appeared just four times, in those 41 columns and news reports.

The Times ain’t what it used to be, everybody knows that! But surely, conservatives have been using the quoted term on their cable news programs! Sorry. According to the Nexis archives, the term “Harlem Democrat” has been used on news programs to describe Rangel just once in the past twelve months—by Luke Russert, on the March 3 Ed Show. (Russert reported that 39 Blue Dog Democrats “saw problems back home in their rural districts in the mountains being associated with a Harlem Democrat who writes the nation`s tax laws who a lot of folks say is not paying their taxes.”)

Uh-oh! According to Nexis, no conservative has used the quoted term on any news broadcast in the past year. (The Nexis archive includes all CNN shows, along with evening shows for the other two cables—shows which air from 4 PM on in the case of Fox, 5 PM with MSNBC.)

Let’s move ahead to another category: Have conservatives been referring to Rangel by the quoted term in fiery magazine articles? We searched on “Rangel AND Harlem Democrat.” According to Nexis, the term hasn’t been used in any magazine article which also named Rangel in the past twelve months. In fact, the term “Harlem Democrat” hasn’t been used in any magazine piece at all!

As noted, this is the most literal possible search, a search for the specific term Weigel put inside quotes as he recorded what his unnamed source had so colorfully alleged. Could it be that conservatives have been linking Rangel to Harlem in subtler ways, without using that specific two-word term—the term Weigel put inside quotes? As noted above, the very term “Harlem” itself has appeared in only four pieces about Rangel in the Washington Times, out of 41 pieces overall. And we must say, an attempt to search on recent Fox shows wasn’t a lot more productive.

For simplicity, let’s restrict ourselves to the past month, when Rangel has again been hot. On July 22, the House ethics committee “announced…that it found that Rep. Charles B. Rangel violated congressional ethics rules and that it will prepare for a trial, probably beginning in September,” the Washington Post reported. Starting that night (July 22), Rangel has been discussed on Hannity every night except July 30, often in multiple segments. (This includes last night’s program, when he was discussed in two different segments—once with Michelle Malkin, once with Sarah Palin.) The term “Harlem Democrat” has never been used on Hannity during that period. The term “Harlem” has been voiced just twice—including once on July 23, when it was voiced by a major Democrat (former party honcho Michael Brown). In all those segments, Sean Hannity has said the word “Harlem” just once; no conservative guest has said it. During this same period, the term “Harlem” has never been used on the O’Reilly Factor, even though Rangel has been discussed on six different programs, including last night’s.

According to Nexis, the term “Harlem” has never been voiced on Greta Van Susteren’s show in the last month. It has been voiced on Special Report just twice: Once by Juan Williams (he’s black!), once by former New York Jet lineman Michael Faulkner, who is running against Rangel for his Harlem House seat.

According to Nexis, that’s it!

Considering the sweeping claim Weigel passed along, these represent extremely slim pickins! We make this relatively minor point to illustrate a broader principle:

For our money, Weigel seems to serve a great many masters, with outstanding fluidity. Such preliminary assessments to the side, yesterday’s piece helps us see how easy it can be to make racial claims about conservatives, even when the claim in question doesn’t much seem to be accurate. Weigel quoted some unnamed Democrat making a highly specific assertion. He threw the claim into his report, making no attempt to assess or fact-check it. The factual claim doesn’t seem to be accurate, but it gives us liberals large, pleasing boners. But then, we liberals simply “aren’t all that”—haven’t been for a very long time. This is the lazy, inept, disrespectful way we tend to conduct our affairs.

Disrespectful? This type of lazy, self-pleasing behavior is disrespectful to the importance of race in our tortured history. But so what? We liberals enjoy it! And no one has played these unfortunate cards quite the way Joan Walsh has done over the past several weeks, in a way which has bordered on being disgraceful. Joan has gone on TV and made factual errors, then complained when her host corrects her. She has gone on TV and made foolish statements, then hurried back to her desk to Salon to pretend that she said no such things. She has made claims about Howard Kurtz which were baldly unfair, perhaps occasioning a bit of payback in Kurtz’s most recent column. And she has repeatedly displayed weirdly patronizing attitudes toward a whole class of people—the kinds of attitudes we hadn’t seen from white liberals in quite a number of years.

We’re sure that Joan has felt she was acting in good faith--but tribal life is like that. And judged on the merits, her recent work has been a real mess, on the verge of disgrace—unless you think that we liberals are allowed to toy with race, our nation’s most significant topic.

Why have we in the liberal world been unable to create a progressive politics? It will be hard to review Joan’s recent work in one day. But what the heck? Tomorrow morning, we’ll try it—although we’re sure, as we said above, that her work has been done in good faith.

Visit our incomparable archives: In November/December 1999, Willie Horton was very much back, used to mug another Dem hopeful. We’ll soon be back to work at our other site, where this will be part of chapter 7. But for a decent account of this gruesome story, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. It started with Rush—then Bradley said it, pretty much blatantly lying.

This gave the mainstream press corps “permission.” Following which, the deluge!