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QUISLING CULTURE! Jonathan Chait doesn’t mess up the chaise, just as Norquist once said: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2011

Thomas L. Friedman and Jesse B. Semple: Wow! For an interesting time, just read this post by Kevin Drum—and be sure to read the comments. (And the link from which Drum works.) We’ll discuss the post in the next few days. But we think it’s quite a read, taken as a package.

Today, Thomas L. Friedman is jess being semple as he discusses Barack Obama. After a peculiar claim—the GOP may yet unveil its “more serious candidates”—Friedman lets us know what Obama should do now/should have just done all along:

FRIEDMAN (8/24/11): Obama surprised everyone by broaching the idea during the debt negotiations of a “Grand Bargain”—roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade and $1 trillion in tax increases—as a signal to the markets that we’re getting our fiscal house in order. It was absolutely the right idea—as long as it is coupled with investments in infrastructure, education and research—but House Speaker John Boehner could not deliver his Tea Party-led G.O.P. caucus.

Yet rather than flesh out his Grand Bargain in detail and take it on the road—and let every American everywhere understand and hear every day that he had a plan but the Republicans wouldn’t rise to it—Obama dropped it. Did he ever try to explain the specifics of his Grand Bargain and why it was the only way to go? No.

This left his allies wondering whether he was committed to it—and really did have his own party on board for it. And it left his opponents thrilled and setting the agenda themselves. It is why Obama’s recent bus tour fell flat. People don’t want to cheer just the man anymore. They want to cheer the man and his plan—a real plan, not just generalities and tactics to get him re-elected with 50.0001 percent and no real mandate to do what’s needed to fix the country now.

Without his own Grand Bargain on the table—imprinted on the mind of every American—Obama has been left playing defense, playing to get the least-bad deal, or playing not to lose. That’s what’s producing all the “What happened to Obama?” talk and its silly variants.

Thomas L. Friedman goes on to proclaim that Obama should rent the movie Tin Cup. Beyond that, he seems to say that Obama should build his re-election campaign around a highly specific “Grand Bargain” plan—“as long as it is coupled with investments in infrastructure, education and research.”

We don’t agree with Friedman’s basic focus, but that wasn’t our main reaction to this column. Mainly, we were struck by how simple-minded and ahistorical Friedman’s piece is. Here’s why:

After the failure of the Clinton health plan, a consensus formed among the nation’s pundits: Clinton erred by presenting a detailed plan which could be picked apart by opponents.

This consensus was widely cited in 2000 and 2005, when Candidate Bush, and then President Bush, pursued the goal of private accounts within Social Security. Bush never presented a specific plan for private accounts, as major figures in Congress had done as early as 1999. He simply presented his “principles” regarding private accounts—first as a candidate, then in 2005.

During that period, the consensus said this was the smart play—though in the end, the approach didn’t work. For the record, Obama took this same approach to his pursuit of health care—and he got a bill passed.

Now we’re back to the pre-Clinton stance. This morning, one of our leading savants says Obama should have presented a detailed budget plan right from the start. He acts as if this is fairly obvious. He offers none of the nuance provided by events of the last twenty years.

Who knows? Thomas L. Friedman may even be right! Perhaps Obama would have done better if he’d offered a detailed plan all along. But there is no way to know such a thing—and Friedman shows no earthly sign of understanding this bone-simple fact. Nor does he seem to know that he is mouthing a standard attack-point which is now being widely recited on Fox.

Where is the president’s plan! We don’t know. Where was Bush’s? It isn’t obvious that either president just should have presented a plan.

Reading Thomas L. Friedman today, our thoughts drifted off to Jesse B. Semple. One distinction: Semple was a fictional character, dreamed up by Langston Hughes to offer some gentle comic relief. Thomas L. Friedman’s role in this game becomes more obscure by the week.

Special report: There’s no surviving the Times!

EPILOGUE—QUISLING CULTURE (permalink): Is Texas enjoying an economic miracle? Obviously no, it is not.

The state has 8.4 percent unemployment. Ten percent of those jobs pay minimum wage or below; that ties Texas with Mississippi for the highest percentage of such jobs in any state. And there are fifty states in all! Forty-eight have a better percentage!

Anyone with an ounce of sense would understand what facts like these mean: Whatever else one might say about Texas, it isn’t enjoying a miracle. That doesn’t mean that the state is a basket case. It doesn’t make Texas a third-world country; it doesn’t mean that its governor, or even its legislature, should be thrown into jail. It simply means that Texas is not enjoying a miracle—or even a jobs boom.

Texas isn’t enjoying a miracle! But how do you know that, the skeptics will cry. We recall the justifiably famous answer by Senator Ervin in the Watergate hearings:

“Because I speak the English language. It’s my mother tongue.”

Texas is not enjoying a miracle. Any damn fool can see that, of course—until the quislings come along, playing their role in the sprawling fraud still known as our “public discourse.”

As careerists, they know the rules. One such rule, in place since around 1990: They know they mustn’t be truthful about potent narratives which blow in from the right. And so, perhaps by instinct, they have approached the Texas miracle as Evan Smith did in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Writing in the Outlook section, Smith was discussing “5 Myths about Rick Perry.” When he reached his final myth, he just couldn’t help himself:

SMITH (8/21/11): Myth 5. He has presided over an unqualified economic miracle.

When Perry says Texas has less than 10 percent of the nation’s population but has created more than 40 percent of its jobs in the past two years, or that more jobs have been created in Texas in the past decade—that is, on his watch—than in all 49 other states combined, he’s not exaggerating. In an election that’s likely to be about jobs and the economy first and foremost, he has quite a record to run on. But there’s more to the story than those top-line statistics.

The unemployment rate in Texas, for instance, was 8.4 percent as of Friday—less than the federal unemployment rate but worse than that of 25 other states, and it could move up a tick or two after Sept. 1, when budget cuts passed during the most recent legislative session will reduce the public employee rolls. Texas has more minimum-wage jobs than every state other than Mississippi, a superlative you brag about if you don’t care about what kind of jobs you create and are only trying to run up the numbers. And growth in public sector (i.e., government) jobs in Texas has been 19 percent over the past 10 years, vs. just 9 percent growth in private-sector jobs.

That doesn’t diminish the feat that Perry can say he accomplished: The state he has led weathered the terrible recession better than just about any other. But, as in some of the better movies we’ve seen, the plot thickens.

If you speak the English language, that second paragraph tells you that Texas isn’t enjoying a miracle (full stop). But Smith couldn’t bring himself to make that blindingly obvious statement. Instead, he told us that Texas isn’t enjoying an unqualified miracle—and he said that all those unfortunate facts “don’t diminish the feat that Perry can say he accomplished.”

Perry “has quite a record to run on,” Smith obligingly said.

Texas isn’t enjoying an unqualified miracle! Last Friday, the truly horrible Annie Lowrey played the same rhetorical card: She told us that the state of Texas isn’t enjoying an outright miracle (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/11). Then too there’s Jonathan Chait, skillfully working to keep his nose clean at the New Republic.

Let’s start with an obvious contrast:

Paul Krugman has managed to keep speaking English as he has discussed this new script—the potent new narrative Candidate Perry wants all girls and boys to recite. In this recent blog post, Krugman restated an obvious fact: Texas is not enjoying a miracle. But then, that was the theme of Krugman’s original column on this topic. That column bore the headline, “The Texas Unmiracle.”

In this context, “Un” rather clearly meant “not.”

Whatever else one may say for the state, Texas is not enjoying a miracle. For those who speak the English language, how hard can this possibly be?

Answer: Very hard. Lowrie only managed to say that there is no “outright” miracle. Two days later, Smith said this: There is no “unqualified” miracle. Decades of serfdom were telling this pair that they mustn’t speak the bone-simple truth about this candidate’s silly script. But so too with the timorous Chait, typing this recent headline:

CHAIT (8/22/11): Rick Perry’s Kinda-Sorta Texas Miracle: The Consensus Forms

Last week I argued that Texas really has had a pretty impressive economic performance under Rick Perry, but there's just no evidence that his story of why that happened is true…

According to Chait, the state of Texas is enjoying a “kinda-sorta” miracle. He went on to describe a growing “consensus” about this claim—a consensus built on two examples, one of which he seems to have imagined. But let’s be clear: When Chait pretends that Dean Baker has signed on to a view that lets the word “miracle” stay in the picture, he is throwing Paul Krugman under the bus.

He is making Krugman shrill. How dare he say there is no miracle, when we serfs have all agreed to let that word stay in the air?

Go ahead! Read the very tiny posts in which Chait pretends to spot that consensus! Examine the flimsy basis on which he pretends that Baker has backed the claim that Texas has experienced “a pretty impressive economic performance” under Perry. (Question: When did “pretty impressive performance” get linked in our language with the word “miracle?”) As you do so, ask yourself this: Why do so many “center-left” pundits strain for ways to keep script alive, if the script has blown in from the right? In this case, why do they struggle for rhetorical hooks that let a silly word linger in their headlines and their basic formulations?

Why are these quislings so goddamned eager to play along with this “miracle” claim?

We can’t exactly tell you that, but they’ve done this sort of thing before. In every election, the narratives form—the narratives which will shape the way the campaign is discussed. In recent elections, as these narratives have blown in from the right, children like Chait have struggled and strained for ways to avoid confrontation. Was Candidate Gore a big liar, just like President Clinton? Chait worked hard, for two solid years, to avoid tackling that noxious claim. And his type did little, in 2004, when central themes were quickly ginned up around Candidate Kerry.

These children seem to know their role in the game which poses as a “national discourse.” As Grover Norquist once observed: “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such.”

Contented children of the “center-left” do little peeing on the chaises. In the past week, they have stepped forward to give you the news: The state of Texas has not enjoyed an unqualified or an outright miracle. It has enjoyed a kinda-sorta miracle, as the consensus now says.

This leaves Krugman out in the cold. Chait has now called Krugman shrill!

In these ways, a script takes hold. It worms its way into everyone’s head, just as Candidate Perry directed. The process started above the fold on the front page of the great New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/11).

Now, the process has spread and grown. As the last twenty years have shown, there will be no surviving this culture.

Chait’s initial submission: Is Texas enjoying a miracle? Here’s the start of Chait’s original post on the subject:

CHAIT (8/17/11): The initial liberal reaction to Rick Perry's "Texas miracle" has been to dispute that any such miracle has occurred. The instinct here was understandable—for reasons I'll explain below, Perry's story doesn't make a lot of sense—but it doesn't seem to be correct. Matthias Shapiro persuasively argues, in a lengthy blog post that's hard to summarize, that Texas has indeed enjoyed very impressive growth under Perry. Dean Baker, after initially reaching the opposite conclusion due to spreadsheet error, reaches the same conclusion.

So Texas has done great under Perry. What does this mean?

In paragraph one, Chait’s language is clear. Yes, a miracle has occurred. According to Chait, the instinct to dispute this claim doesn’t seem correct.

The children have been doing this for a very long time. They are contented, cheerful, sedate. You can let them on the good furniture.

Then again, on the other hand, there’s no surviving this culture.