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Print view: We the people redid '94. We may have been dumber this time
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THERE WE WENT AGAIN! We the people redid ’94. We may have been dumber this time: // link // print // previous // next //

Finland outperforms Oprah: You really have to hand it to Finland. The small Euro nation excels in all areas, as Miraya Navarro helps us see in today’s New York Times:

NAVARRO (11/3/10): [N]o group avoids national parks as much as African-Americans. The 2000 survey found that blacks were three times as likely as whites to believe that park employees gave them poor service and that parks were “uncomfortable places.”

Park Service officials emphasize that the demographics vary, and that parks like the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta and the Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, Calif., site of a World War II detention camp for Japanese-Americans, draw diverse crowds.

But attendance tends to be more homogenously white at wilderness parks like Yosemite, where a 2009 survey found that 77 percent of the visitors were white, 11 percent Latino, 11 percent Asian and 1 percent black.

When Ms. Winfrey visited Yosemite this month to tape her show, [park ranger Shelton] Johnson said, he was not surprised to hear that it was her first trip to the park and her first time camping. He said he was more likely to meet someone from Finland or Israel in the park than from, say, Harlem or Oakland, Calif.

How does Finland do it? The small country even over-achieves when it comes to Yosemite visits!

In fairness, it isn’t Navarro’s fault that she got handed this oddball assignment, in which she ends up wringing her hands about the fact that Oprah doesn’t go camping. For ourselves, we thought this report provided a bit of comic relief on the day after a massacre. We’d link it to Joan Walsh’s account of her racially-fraught visits to the nation’s ballparks, starting with the time she and grandma hung out with Julio high up in the ball yard.

(For ourselves, we saw Clemente from high up in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series. Different times! We walked up to the window on game day and purchased our tickets. Game 7 wasn’t sold out.)

Joan’s most recent experience occurred last week, in Texas, at Game 4 of the World Series. “I was there with my daughter, and two friends who happen to be Latino, and a whole lot of white Texans,” she writes. “I admit I felt a little discomfort. I had no idea how people would treat us walking into George W. Bush's house, being from the tribe of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Gavin Newsom, home of gay marriage and ‘Let Timmy Smoke’ T-shirts.” We’re not sure how the “two friends who happen to be Latino” fit into this morality tale. In fact, there are quite a few people in Texas who happen to be Latino; a whole lot of people who happen to be white Texans interact with these others every day, much as Jon Stewart said, just before including Joan in his list of pundit miscreants.

We know Joan’s heart is in the right place—and that race is the brutal curse of our history. Joan’s obsessions are awkward to limn, but they were bred in that brutality, the brutality Lincoln discussed. We’re only surprised that no one from Finland arrived to minister to her anxiety. Presumably, the crap with which she now lards Salon helped pay for this recent fraught trip.

THERE WE WENT AGAIN (permalink): In this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd recalls the last time it happened. More specifically, Dowd recalls 1994, the last time “voters humiliate[d] a brilliant and spellbinding young president, who’d had such a Kennedy-like beginning, while electing a lot of conservative nuts.”

When it comes to nuts, look who’s talking. That said:

Today, Obama is cast as “brilliant and spellbinding.” Along the way, he has routinely been cast as a “diffident debutante” type, and even as Scarlett O’Hara. But so it goes as a ranking member of a New Elite makes toys of all she surveys.

Above Dowd, on the same Times page, Evan Bayh plots a Democratic comeback. Last night, on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow kept casting Bayh as her own private demon—as her version of Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson. We recalled the halcyon days in 2009 when this supremely self-confident, know-nothing pundit savaged Bayh and all the rest of the clueless “conservaDems.”

Maddow was still smashing Bayh last night, reinventing herself as a version of Beck. Question: Is it possible that Bayh knew more about politics than Maddow did, back in 2009?

Last night was something like 1994, though possibly a bit worse. Of course, a great deal of this is just “structural”—a predictable part of the pitiful cycles afflicting American politics. In the past week, Kevin Drum has quite sensibly been discussing “one of the most famous equations for forecasting midterm elections,” the famous equation devised by Douglas Hibbs, who we’ve never heard of. On the basis of four factors, including the rate of growth in per capita real disposable personal income, the Hibbs model predicted a loss of 45 seats in the House.

Late last night, Kevin noted that Democratic losses in the House seemed to be extending beyond the Hibbs prediction. Perhaps Hibbs should write a fifth factor into his equation, built around the number of times Sean Hannity says that if we lower tax rates, we will produce extra revenue.

Which brings us around to us the people! In this morning’s Times, Kim Severson quotes a voter who’s trying to figure it out:

ZERNIKE (11/3/10): Adding to the grim feel in many polling places was the realization that the most expensive midterm election in history—a record $3.8 billion was spent—brought what appeared to be a new low in civil discourse, voters said.

“These elections have been a freak show all over the country,” said David Morgan, a retired Air Force officer, in Beckley, W.Va. His wife found the campaigns so distasteful that she refused to vote.

Many voters just pleaded for the bickering to stop.

Tony Perelli, 75, of Chicago’s South Side, who said he had voted reluctantly for all Democrats, considers himself a middle-of-the-road voter. But middle-of-the-road candidates were elusive. Instead, he found himself buried in rhetoric from both ends of the political spectrum.

“I’d like to get to the bottom of what’s really right for this country, and that’s kind of hard while they’re all calling each other names,” Mr. Perelli said.

To his credit, Perelli is still trying to get to the bottom of what’s really right for this country. He lives in a world where he gets little help. Perelli lives in a country where only 59 percent of adults are able to name the sitting vice president. (Joseph Biden. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/4/10.) Even worse, he lives in a country where circus clowns have run the “press corps” for quite a few years.

He lives in a country where this campaign’s most striking conversation didn’t occasion a murmur.

Who conducted that conversation? For our money, it was Lawrence O’Donnell, speaking with Amy Kremer on last Friday night’s Last Word. Kremer is chairwoman of Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party orgs. Here’s what happened when O’Donnell asked her to name some government spending she’d dump:

KREMER (10/31/10): The thing is, we need to stop this out-of-control spending and intrusion into our lives.

O’DONNELL: Tell me one government program you would stop. We agree, I agree with you—all that government spending is too high. Now tell me the program, Amy, you tell me the program you would stop.

KREMER: That’s exactly, that’s exactly, this is— The thing is, I am not—

O’DONNELL: Name me the program, Amy.

KREMER: Are you going to let me answer the question?

O’DONNELL: If you name a program. If you don’t, I have to move on to someone else.

KREMER: I am not an expert on the U.S. budget. I am not an expert on the U.S. budget, but we cannot spend more than we make. We need to leave everything on the table.

O’DONNELL: OK. Amy, we’re going to leave it right—Amy, the way, we’re going to leave it with you, and you can reconsider, going to be on for the rest of the show, you can think it over for the rest of the show about any government program you want to stop. But as of now, I’ve got you down as not opposed to a single government program.

Like Rod Steiger, she ain’t no expert! In your country, elites have long agreed to pretend that Kremer’s answer is unremarkable, even from someone in a leadership post in a large political movement.

Kremer isn’t a random voter trying to learn what’s really right. She’s a major player in a major political movement—and she showed no sign of having any idea what she was talking about. In that posture, we’d guess she was sincere; unlike major Republican pols who posture about the deficit, we’d guess Kremer really doesn’t know how silly it is to toss off facile claims about cutting federal spending.

Amy Kremer is us! For decades, surveys have shown that we the people have no idea about the shape of the federal budget. Pandering to our massive ignorance, Bayh includes this silly suggestion in this morning’s column:

BAYH (11/3/10): So, in the near term, every policy must be viewed through a single prism: does it help the economy grow?

A good place to start would be tax reform. Get rates down to make American businesses globally competitive. Reward savings and investment. Simplify the code to reduce compliance costs and broaden the base. In 1986, this approach attracted bipartisan support and fostered growth.

The stereotype of Democrats as wild-eyed spenders and taxers has been resurrected. To regain our political footing, we must prove to moderates that Democrats can make tough choices. Democrats should ban earmarks until the budget is balanced. The amount saved would be modest—but with ordinary Americans sacrificing so much, the symbolic power of politicians cutting their own perks is huge.

“Democrats should ban earmarks,” Bayh says, pandering to us the people. “The amount saved would be modest,” he says, wildly over-stating the effect of such a ban. In the process, he shows that, unlike Kremer, he knows this idea is a massive joke. It’s nonsense, extended to clueless voters—and it appears in our country’s most famous newspaper.

The state of the union is poor. We the people are massively clueless; in truth, we don’t know squat from squadoodle about any major issue. (Repeat: 41 percent of adults can’t name the sitting vice president!) Added to the mix, we now have a gang of clowns in charge of our discourse, such as the several collections of clowns displayed on cable last night. For our money, the gang on Fox was much more rational last evening than their counterparts on MSNBC, who seemed to claim the night was a wash because Sharron Angle lost. For our money, Maddow, Matthews and Olbermann clowned around like the simpering frauds they’ve long been. But so what? Maddow has been marketed as Our Own Rhodes Scholar—and we the liberals have purchased the package. She boldly proclaimed like a fool last night. But so what? She’s our harlequin.

Meanwhile, an agreement has been made all around: We won’t discuss the public’s cluelessness. The press has avoided this topic for decades. No one has ever told Kremer than she is required, by the burden of citizenship, to know what she is talking about if she offers herself as a leader. Of course, Velma Hart didn’t know what she was talking about, and Jon Stewart gave her a prize.

Not too many decades ago, this country was run by a very restricted elite. Now, membership in the nation’s elites has been widely expanded. (First, they let in Howard Stern. Then, they let in Limbaugh.) Maddow, who is largely a clown, is part of a high, influential elite. Matthews lied in your face for years, serving his owner, Jack Welch.

No one has told Perelli about this vast fraud. Following strictures of High Pundit Law, no one ever will.