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SINGING DIXIE AGAIN! The 23rd district supported Obama. Sneering, Rich sends them away: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2009

Nonetheless, or possibly therefore: We admired Patricia Cohen’s sagacity in this morning’s report about Martin Heidegger. Cohen’s piece tops the New York Times “Arts” section. And Cohen shows some good common sense. She never really tries to explain what Heidegger actually said.

What did Heidegger actually say? Late in the piece, we mordantly chuckled at one particular word-choice:

COHEN (11/9/09): Heidegger was a critic of modern technological society and of the Western philosophical tradition that gave rise to it. He argued that we must overcome this tradition and rethink the very nature of human existence or being.

His prose is so dense that some scholars have said it could be interpreted to mean anything, while others have dismissed it altogether as gibberish. He is nonetheless widely considered to be one of the century’s greatest and most influential thinkers.

“Nonetheless,” Cohen wrote. Did she perhaps mean “therefore?”

Everybody into the pool: In undergraduate days, we had a multi-year brush with greatness with future film-maker Terry Malick (then a graduate student). In his turn, Malick had experienced a major brush with greatness with Heidegger himself.

What do we recall Terry saying? Just this: According to Terry, Heidegger’s home had a heart-shaped pool!

As a senior, we took Terry’s Heidegger course—getting our degree nonetheless.

Special report: Different strokes!

PART 1—SINGING DIXIE AGAIN: We’re constantly amazed by the Lady Gail Collins, one of the Times opinion page’s line-up of fatuous stars.

Last Saturday, Collins was clowning, as always—this time about health care reform. Inevitably, her insouciance gave way to ignorance, concerning a recent election:

COLLINS (11/7/09): Meanwhile, there’s nothing but confidence and serenity among the right-wing tea-party types. They cannot get over the triumph in upstate New York, where thanks to their really extraordinary efforts, a completely safe Republican seat went to the Democrats. Think how far their movement has come! Only a few months ago, they barely had the power to disrupt a town meeting. And soon they will be able to destroy anything in their path, including their own party, like conservative locusts.

At the very top of your press corps, a person like Collins is clowning hard—and typing nonsense like that.

Question: Was that House seat in upstate New York “a completely safe Republican seat?” It’s understandable that many voters may think that, after weeks of clowning by people like Collins. But as everyone in the press corps knows, the district in question—New York’s 23rd—voted for Obama in 2008, by a margin of five points. Does that make this district sound like a “completely safe Republican” place?

How completely safe was that district? Last June, Obama appointed the district’s incumbent Republican congressman, John McHugh, to serve as secretary of the army. In The Hill, Aaron Blake quickly reported a point of widespread speculation: Obama had appointed McHugh as a way of picking up another House seat for the Dems:

BLAKE (6/02/09): President Obama on Tuesday announced that he would nominate Republican Rep. John McHugh to be the next secretary of the Army, paving the way for a third Republican in Obama’s administration and another competitive New York special election.

[...]

To say nothing of McHugh’s qualifications, his appointment could pay political dividends for Democrats.

They have targeted McHugh with little success in the past, but Obama carried his district with 52 percent of the vote last year. Now, with McHugh likely to leave an open seat in the coming months, Democrats feel strongly about their ability to snatch the seat from the Republicans.

In a memo released Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) attributed the White House’s move to electoral politics.

“There is no doubt that White House Chief of Staff and former [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] Chairman Rahm Emanuel was well aware of the political ramifications surrounding this selection when this plan was hatched,” the memo states. “The party boss in the West Wing saw a political opportunity, and he seized on it.”

Duh. This district had been Republican for a very long time—but the Republican Party has been dying out in the northeast, as the Democratic Party recently did in the south. And Obama had won the district in 2008. When McHugh’s appointment was announced, everybody speculated that this was Obama-being-Obama again. Like many others, Blake compared the appointment to Obama’s initial selection of Judd Gregg for Commerce Secretary—a pick which would have exposed a once-safe Republican senate seat in New Hampshire.

Everyone knew this back in June. But several generations of silly spin led us to last week’s election—and to Lady Collins’ latest know-nothing column, in which she assured the world that this had been “a completely safe Republican seat.” But then, Collins rarely knows what she’s talking about. Moments later, there she went again:

COLLINS: A while back, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was promising that the House bill would have a “robust” public option that would have offered real competition to the insurance companies, thus driving costs down. But then Pelosi was faced with a mini-rebellion from red state Democrats who were terrified by the news of Republican victories in races having nothing whatsoever to do with Barack Obama, Congress or health care, and she modified the plan.

Now it’s a nonrobust option, sort of like decaf instant coffee.

Unfortunately, that’s wrong too. In fact, Pelosi dumped the robust public option one week before last week’s “news of Republican victories in races having nothing whatsoever to do with Obama.” (To read the New York Times report, click here.) Pelosi’s dumping of the robust option preceded the news of Republican wins—unless you read the silly work being done at the top of your “press corps.”

But then, it isn’t just the Lady Collins who wanders about in a millionaire’s fog. On Sunday, the foggiest scribe of them all was eager to top even Collins in his sneering, clueless description of that 23rd district. Simply put, you can’t get dumber than what follows and live. More significantly, this passage helps explain why your country has nothing resembling a progressive politics:

RICH (11/9/09): This race was a damaging setback for the hard right. Hoffman had the energetic support of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox as well as big bucks from their political auxiliaries. Furthermore, Hoffman was running not only in a district Rove himself described as “very Republican” but one that fits the demographics of the incredibly shrinking G.O.P. The 23rd is far whiter than America as a whole—93 percent versus 74—with tiny sprinklings of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. It has few immigrants. It’s rural. Its income and education levels are below the norm. Only if the district were situated in Dixie—or Utah—could it be a more perfect fit for the narrow American demographic where the McCain-Palin ticket had its sole romps last year.

If the tea party right can’t win there, imagine how it might fare in the nation where most Americans live.

Frankly, how big a dope is Rich? Let us count the ways.

First, he matches Collins in his apparent cluelessness about the 23rd district. In a Richly comical way, he knows the district is “very Republican”—because he heard Karl Rove say so! But Rich could never be satisfied with the simple factual blundering which often animates Collins. He must add his sneering cultural arrogance—the attitude which, for at least fifty years, has made it hard for progressive views to prosper in our politics. Discussing a district which supported Obama, Rich begins to sneer about the income and educational levels of its appalling residents, and of course about their offensive whiteness. Speaking about a district which favored Obama by five points, Rich says the utterly gruesome place belongs in Dixie. Or maybe in Utah.

Collins and Rich are the long-time soul of a deeply unintelligent elite. Can we talk? They don’t care about health care (or anything else). Collins cares about her simpering jokes; Rich cares about his cultural sneering. But Rich’s sneering—his cultural arrogance—represents a threat to your nation’s interests. You can’t run a modern nation on dumb. But as long as we tolerate “leaders” like Rich, we liberals are going to try.

Rich was singing Dixie again—looking down his long, unintelligent nose at a district which supported Obama. You see, they aren’t as wealthy as Rich and his friends—and even worse, few went to Harvard! In this way, buffoons like Rich have always killed hopes of progress.

Our side just won’t stop playing this way. Our side keeps begging to lose.

Tomorrow—part 2: “Terrifying,” he said.