Notes from the barrels bottom: Before we visit the barrels bottom, lets chuckle briefly at the way our intellectual leaders now reason. Heres a bit of comic relief:
Jonathan Chait is peeved by the way Meet the Press keeps booking Harold Ford. Theres nothing wrong with his minor piquebut in Mondays post, he found a slightly odd way to state his complaint:
CHAIT (10/25/10): Harold Ford was a guest on Meet the Press this weekend, marking the sixth time the former Tennessee representative has been on the show this year. Thats more appearances than anyone else (besides the pundit superteam of David Brooks and E. J. Dionne), including more than any other NBC political contributor, and more than any current officeholder.
If you read that post with care, you may realize that Ford has been the third most frequent guest on the program this year. Chait expressed this fact in a way we sometimes see in fanciful sports discussions. Shorter Chait: Ford has been the most frequent guestif you dont count the other guests who have appeared more often.
Steve Benen may not have read with care. Linking to Chait, he posted that same paragraph, but not before offering the highlighted comment:
BENEN (10/26/10): When it came to the 2009 calendar year, "Meet the Press" had one guest on more than any other: disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
How about this year? There are still more than two months left in the 2010 calendar year, but Jon Chait notes this year's MTP frontrunner.
In fact, Chait never said who the front-runner is, though Benen seemed to suggest it was Ford. That said, the real front-runner turns out to be Brooks. Here are the current numbers:
Most pundit appearances on Meet the Press, 2010 to date:
David Brooks 11
E. J. Dionne 9
Harold Ford 6
Katty Kay 5
Doris Kearns Goodwin 4
Peggy Noonan 4
Chuck Todd 4
Thats still a lot of air-time for Ford. But Benen couldnt seem to resist the pleasure of his trademark embellishing. Jon's not only right, he disgustedly typed. I'd add that no one else is especially close to Ford's six (and counting) appearances.
Apparently, Kays five appearances dont come especially close to six. Rubes, youve been run! Again!
In such ways, we liberals now pretend to reason as we feed readers the pleasure of fury. But lets brush this comic relief to the side as we visit the barrels bottom.
The barrels bottom was published yesterday by Salon; the piece concerns Christine ODonnell. Well suggest you read the piece, while planning to shower soon after.
Read the comments, in which some readers criticize the smutty hypocrisy which now seems to drive so much work at Salon. At the same time, marvel at the number of readers who werent struck by this gong-show-grade problem.
Comments: For years, we liberals kept insisting that we were smarter and finer than all the rest. One example, widely offered for years: We liberals cant succeed at talk radio because we so love nuance so much!
By now, the big liberal sites have all dumbed it way down, giving the lie to this long-treasured notion. Just as Sean Hannity keeps making it plain that he thinks his viewers have low IQs, Salon lets us know what it thinks of its readers when it keeps diving down toward the sewer.
Theres nothing wrong with these smutty pleasures, of course. But given the obvious tabloidization found all over the liberal world, could we finally drop the pretense? Could we stop pretending were better and finer? Stop pretending were smart?
By the way, please note where this sort of thing leads. When Kid Pareene played his silly-boy race card again, commenters were soon offering comments about gays and Jews. In the comments to yesterdays piece, readers are quickly sharing their thoughts about the likely smell of ODonnells private parts. (These comments remain on-line today.) Isnt it great when a big liberal site is run by a liberal woman? So uplifting!
One final point: When average people see work of this type, it teaches them to despise the values of liberals. This is one of the many ways pseudo-liberals practice to lose. We hope the ad revenue to Salonand the chance to mock the much-despised Othermakes defeat worthwhile.
Special report: From the annals of elite epistemic closure!
PART 4WHO IS SEYWARD DARBY (permalink): Is Brent Staples part of a New Elite? We wondered when we read his Editorial Observer piece in Mondays New York Times.
Staples is a member of the New York Times editorial board. (To borrow Salons current language, hes an old black guyhes 59with a doctorate from the University of Chicago.) On Monday, he wrote about Governor Christies ongoing battles with New Jerseys public school teachers and their infernal unions.
As usual, Staples piece was worth reading. That said, we thought we may have detected a hint of a New Elite as he neared his conclusion. At the start of this excerpt, the scribe is discussing the style for which the Christie administration is well known:
STAPLES (10/25/10): [This style] was painfully evident earlier this spring in the administrations response to what should have been seen as wonderful news for New Jerseys schools.
The state had just finished near the top nationally in math and reading as measured by the rigorous, federally backed test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Christie Education Department dismissed the results as irrelevant and described public education generally as wretched.
Earlier this year, Mr. Christie accused teachers of using students like drug mules with the intent of subverting the political views of their families. During the campaign, he referred to the states nationally admired preschool program as baby-sitting.
Mr. Christie raises the right subjectsmerit pay, tenure, evaluationbut nearly always in an inflammatory fashion.
Well have to admit it. As Staples defined what the right subjects are, we wondered if we were reading work which may have emerged from a New Elite. Are merit pay, tenure, evaluation really the right subjects to raise in debates about public schools? Possibly, but there are many other such subjectsexcept when we read the work of our reigning journalistic elites, who tend to paint from a very limited palette. In New York, those elites have largely spent the last decade fawning to a billionaire education mayorand to his public schools chief, a former lawyer; and to Wendy Kopp, a Princeton graduate who never worked in a school; and to Michelle Rhee, the darling of the New Elite set, who did manage to spend three years teaching in Baltimores schools.
In Gotham, Bloomberg, Klein, Kopp and Rhee have been the decades darlings. Among them, they spent three years teaching in public schools. Question: How often do members of Gothams journalistic elite rub shoulder with the less-exalted people who work within New York Citys schools? We have no idea. But when we see a sharply limited set of perspectives emerge again and again from these writers, we recall Charles Murrays much-ridiculed thesis, in which our societys New Elite may be somewhat limited in its experience of the real world.
In Washington, the world of the journalistic elite spins around the Washington Post, a newspaper which actually makes its money from Kaplan, Inc., a publisher of educational tests (click here). Unworried by this apparent conflict (a conflict which never gets discussed by journalistic elites), the Post pushes hard for the relatively narrow educational agenda built around standards and testingand merit pay, tenure, evaluation. We strongly favor annual testing ourselves, but the Posts monomaniacal focus is rather hard to miss (along with the way it keeps failing to spot our various testing scandals and scams). Meanwhile, Melinda Gates sits on the papers board, helping direct its focus to the topics favored by the Gates Foundationan entity run by the worlds richest man.
Were not suggesting theres anything wrong with Staples palette of issues. Were not suggesting theres anything wrong with the Gates Foundations focus. But is there any chance that our journalistic elite have a somewhat limited focus when it comes to the public schools? Is it possible that some of our most famous pundits speak to Melinda Gates more often than to actual teachers? Is it possible that they hear a very limited set of ideas from within a very limited worlda world which may begin forming in college? That is precisely the type of picture Murray drew in Sundays Postin a piece which was quickly ridiculed by the nations pseudo-liberals.
These children quickly began insisting that they arent part of a blinkered elite. Despite their heartfelt protests, we thought Murrays piece raised serious questions which every progressive ought to consider. Forget about Staples for a moment; is Seyward Darby part of a New Elite? Consider what happened when we googled Darby, just yesterday.
In 2008, Darby appeared on the scene at the New Republic, often writing about public schools. We were struck by her True Beliefby the confident way she divided the educational world into the good guys (the educational reformers) and the bad guys (those who stood in the schoolhouse door, barring much-needed reform). In one such piece, Darby wrung her hands when President-elect Obama named one of them union-lovers to head the search for his Education Secretary. Darby knew who the good guys were. Well include the headlines, which focused on one union-lover:
DARBY (12/24/08): Old School/Obama's union-loving education guru
In November, Barack Obama bewildered education reformers by tapping Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who had advised his campaign, to oversee the transition's education policy team. Their verdict was swift and harsh. "Worst case scenario," wrote Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, the day after The Wall Street Journal leaked the news. "This is a sign that the president-elect isn't a bona fide reformer," he later told me. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, confirmed, "The reform community is scared to death.
The "reform community" is an aggressive group of education advocates who argue that the certification programs which produce teachers, and the unions that represent them once they're in the classroom, have had too tight a grip on progressive priorities in the field for too long. Instead, they want to shake up the system through programs that bring in new blood and hold teachers accountable. They place their hopes in nervy, pioneering leaders like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, the chancellors of the D.C. and New York City public schools, respectively. In Darling-Hammondan academic, union favorite, and vocal critic of Teach for America and No Child Left Behindthey see the opposite: an ideological enemy representative of a sluggish status quo.
Reformers are right to be nervous.
Theres an unkind word for such worksimple-minded. Darbys subsequent work about public schools has often struck us the same way. Her technical competence has never seemed vastand she has often seemed eager to accept a rather limited set of perspectives about the public schools. But then, these same perspectives have been pushed by journalistic elites in both Washington and New York over the past dozen years.
(NBC News used these concepts to stage an orgy last month, when a manipulative, simplistic film, Waiting for Superman, arrived in the nations theaters. The simplistic film had been assembled by a member of a Hollywood New Elite.)
In the two years since that piece appeared, we have occasionally wondered who Seyward Darby is. Yesterday, we googled. What follows is part of a bio from the Office of News and Communication at Duke, the university from which she graduatedin June 2007:
OFFICE OF NEWS AND COMMUNICATION (11/27/06): Seyward Darby is a senior and a full-time student again, after three years of devoting herself to The Chronicle, the independent student daily newspaper produced by Duke students.
As a sophomore, Darby was university editor and writing a lot. A year later, she was editor-in-chief when the lacrosse story and resulting media storm broke. Thats when your cell phone is on 24-hours-a-day, she recalls. In addition to heading up The Chronicles coverage, she was interviewed by numerous news organizations and programs, including NPR and CNNs Larry King Live.
Now, she is just the editorial page managing editor, which leaves lots of time for studying the healing power of poetry, her thesis topic, and thinking about next stepsmaybe graduate study in political science or development. Her thesis adviser is English professor George Gopen, whom she describes as a wonderful poet himself.
Darby says her ideal job would be to do international journalism as practiced by Thomas Friedman, the award-winning author and New York Times columnist. Friedman figured in her all-time favorite week at Duke, she says. That was when Friedman, my favorite columnist, spoke at Duke; Pat Conroy, my favorite author, spoke at UNC; and REM, my favorite band, played at Walnut Creek in Raleigh. I love college!
Shes headed for a Peace Corps assignment next fall, probably in Eastern Europe, and is going through the paperwork and medical preparation stages. The Peace Corps idea stems from teaching fifth graders for several weeks in Thailand last summer. Her Benjamin Duke Scholarshipan undergraduate merit award at Duke that covers full tuitionrequires service abroad and in North Carolina. She previously worked in a community development center at Winston-Salem State University, a historically black institution.
Darby did go to the Czech Republic, though it doesnt sound like she went there as part of the Peace Corps (click here). At any rate, she graduated from Duke in 2007, having spent as many as several weeks teaching fifth gradersin Thailand, of course. The next year, she was at the New Republic, confidently writing about the wonders of education reform; confidently helping us know who the good guys were; insisting that Rhee and Klein were the progressives in this debate; and writing pieces which came with headlines about them union-lovers.
Were always amazed when people so young and so inexperienced write with such massive confidence.
Question: Did Darby know what she was talking about when she wrote that piece, and the many that followed? Or was it her membership in a New Elite which was doing the talking? These days, the finer youngsters start forming their views while theyre still at the finer schoolsmuch as Murray described in his piece. One such idea is sometimes the following:
Teach for America recruits the finer childrenchildren exactly like us. Surely, its work must be admirable! Surely, those who criticize its work are opposed to reform. Some may be union favorites!
Silly children like Steve Benen gamboled and played about Murrays piece, offering silly, childish complaints about a string of details. But then, Benen doesnt seem to give a fig about the lives of black kids either; his posts concern The Only True Topic, the tribal battle of Us against Them, in which Our Tribe is good and smart in all things and Their Tribe is dumb and demonic.
Were sure that Darby is well-intentioned; we can no longer make ourselves say the same about Steve. But is our world perhaps full of New Elites, who may paint from sharply limited pallets? In our view, progressives should welcome the chance to discuss this very important question. Instead, members of those New Elites have mocked the notion all week.
Thats the way elites behave, of course. Wed have to say its also the way progressive interests fail.
Mondaypart 5: Sharron and the Jets