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BUT THE OTHER TRIBE IS SO TRIBAL! Maddow kept informing Stewart about her own pure motives: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2010

Who has gained, who must sacrifice: Yesterday, two major think tanks issued reports on the Bowles-Simpson proposals. The CBPP has now “crunched the numbers.” So has the Tax Policy Center.

Tomorrow, we’ll summarize those reports. (In the meantime, to read Jonathan Chait’s reactions, click here.) But again: As you think about what Bowles-Simpson proposes, remember to place the plan into that larger context:

Again this morning, Nicholas Kristof discusses the way the top one percent have snorkeled up all the new money over the past thirty years. (We’ve been making nice progress with Kristof.) Over the course of those three decades, tremendous wealth has flowed to that top one percent, making the United States a world leader in inequality. Now, we’re confronted with an alleged major budget problem—and we’re told that someone must sacrifice.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how Bowles-Simpson divided that sacrifice up. But ask yourself this as you read reviews of their plan: To what extent is this problem being discussed in the context of that massive rise in inequality?

The top one percent is now massively rich—much, much richer than before. To what extent did Bowles and Simpson ask those particular lucky duckies to help in solving our alleged crisis? Under Bowles-Simpson, how much would those duckies sacrifice? How much of their massive new wealth would have to go into the pot?

When you read about Bowles-Simpson, do you see that massive new wealth being discussed? Our basic question:

Why not?

Special report: When Stewart met Maddow!

PART THREE—BUT THE OTHER TRIBE IS SO TRIBAL (permalink): What’s the difference between Stewart and Maddow?

During last week’s 49-minute interview, Stewart kept suggesting one major difference—he works in the comedy/satire tradition, Maddow is working in news. For us, though, the principal difference between the two emerged in one small thing Stewart said. (To watch the full session, click here.)

At one point, Stewart was making a fairly obvious claim, saying that liberal criticism of President Bush sometimes went beyond the level of policy dispute, reaching the point where people would claim that Bush was “an evil man.”

As with many of Stewart and Maddow’s exchanges, this one was a bit murky. But eventually, Maddow said Stewart was being unfair in some of his representations. To our ear, Stewart’s response illustrated a major difference between the two cable stars:

MADDOW (11/11/10): I think that you are—I think that you are glossing over the gray areas in a way that isn’t fair.

STEWART: Maybe. That could very well be.

Accused of possibly being unfair, Stewart quickly accepted the possibility. To our ear, no such instinct emerges from Maddow during the full 49.

At least as we heard their often murky discussion, Stewart kept suggesting the possibility that Maddow has possibly gone a bit tribal—that “every now and then,” when you look at MSNBC, you might see a small hint of Fox (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/17/10). Stewart’s presentations were often unclear; beyond that, we didn’t always agree with the things he seemed to be saying. But to our ear, Stewart—like a doting parent—kept giving Maddow the chance to acknowledge the possibility of error or imperfection. he himself did this at several points, modeling for his companion.

Maddow kept refusing to go there. Throughout the session, Maddow emerges as the type of tribal player who can’t even acknowledge the possibility of her own tribalism—of her own possible error. But then, throughout history, this type of refusal has represented the soul of the tribal response.

The other tribe is just so tribal! It’s how tribal players think.

Could Maddow be “tribal” in some minor way? Is it possible that Maddow, in some small way, has been “fighting Fox with Fox?” Stewart kept suggesting this possibility. Maddow kept saying that she, and her tribe, pretty much aren’t like that:

Why did Maddow insult those “tea-baggers” for several weeks? She only did it because it was funny! Do both sides “have ways of shutting down debate?” Maddow seemed puzzled by the idea. In what way do we liberals that?

For our money, Stewart didn’t do a very good job explaining how liberals “shut down debate.” (The most obvious way: We call people racist.) But when Maddow suggested that Stewart was being a bit unfair, he quickly said that he possibly was. By way of contrast, it’s hard to find a point in the 49 minutes where Maddow cops to the idea that she, or those in her liberal tribe, had been disproportional, inaccurate, unfair or unwise at any time since descending to earth. Eventually, this song-of-self produced the following exchange, in which a doting parent agrees with a child about her perfect intentions:

STEWART: The left always says, “We’re not black and white. I didn’t like Bush because he was so black and white and there’s not nuance.” Do you think that the left ever suffers from that same myopia?

MADDOW: I think bad arguments exist everywhere, yes.

STEWART: So why not just do bad arguments? Why be— You are who you are. And I think you’re a person that doesn’t like bad arguments.

MADDOW: I’m trying to pursue bad arguments wherever I find them. But can I—

STEWART: Yes.

MADDOW: Let me finish this point about Bush…

Several of the analysts gagged, but this was a wonderful moment. “I’m trying to pursue bad arguments wherever I find them,” Maddow said. After that, she asked for the chance to continue her thoughts about one of Bush’s bad arguments.

Bush had a truck-load of very bad arguments; about that, there can be little doubt. But then again, so does Maddow! Bad arguments spill from her mouth every night, typically aimed in the direction which will please (and dumb down) her tribe. But go ahead—search the tape of the full 49, looking for any suggestion that Maddow knows that she can be unbalanced, unfair, under-nuanced or just plain flat-out wrong. At the 39-minute mark, Stewart again suggested that everyone tends to overstate. As things turned out, he should have said this: Everyone but Rachel Maddow. For the record, Stewart is talking about a moment when he himself overstated:

STEWART: Right. And that was—but that’s an example of, again, pushing it too far. But people— That’s what people do. They take things and they go into the next realm.

MADDOW: I don’t— I just don’t think that—I don’t think that I do that. I mean, I can’t speak for everybody here. But I don’t think that—and I am definitely part of the conflictinator. I’m definitely part of this whole machine, primetime and the whole bit.

STEWART: Right.

MADDOW: But I don’t—

STEWART: Right.

MADDOW: I don’t— I think that the criticism of George Bush on water-boarding is a precise criticism.

Whatever one thinks of the criticisms of Bush on water-boarding, the notion that Maddow doesn’t overstate is one of the silliest thoughts in the world. But that was Maddow’s instant response to the idea that everyone overstates—although, of course, she couldn’t vouch for everyone at her own channel. (Olbermann! Under the bus!) Once again, Maddow said that she doesn’t overstate—and she returned to her criticism of the other tribe, whose leader quite plainly does.

Over and over, Stewart suggested that we all make mistakes—and Maddow suggested that she herself doesn’t. Eventually, this dynamic produced a Classic Moment.

This Classic Moment emerged from Maddow’s final attempt to defend the way she spent two weeks directing insulting dick jokes at the nation’s many “tea-baggers.” Speaking with her accuser, she offered the nine-year-old’s classic defense: You do the same sort of thing! In the following passage, this classic defense produces one final claim about her own perfect motives:

MADDOW: I remember right after the 2000 election—and I won’t keep you here forever. I’m sorry. Right after the election, you said something that, something I remember it was about George Bush and—Dick Cheney, right after Bush versus Gore, said something to the effect of Bush said, “Can we have the recession outside today because the weather is so nice,” with the idea being that George Bush is an idiot. He’s an infantile person that thinks "recess" and "recession" are the same thing.

And after the "tea-bag the White House before they tea-bag you" sign goes on Fox News, we talk about what the whole idea is about tea-bagging and how funny they don’t get what that word choice means.

I sort of feel like we’re doing the same thing, that you make—essentially, you exaggerate in order to be funny or in order to make a point.

STEWART: I understand—

MADDOW: And everybody understands it’s just little exaggeration.

STEWART: That’s true.

MADDOW: But there’s a commitment— I think we both have a commitment to not lying, to telling the truth, even when we are making a point.

STEWART: As we see it. As we see it.

Even here, Stewart kept telling Maddow that we tell the truth “as we see it.” But in our view, Maddow is largely a child, as we see in this sad rumination.

Here again, Maddow says that she only engaged in two weeks of insulting dick jokes to “exaggerate in order to be funny, or in order to make a point.” Defending herself, she tries to say that Stewart does the same sort of thing—going back ten years to cite a single joke, aimed at an incoming president.

Can you see how similar those two actions are? Stewart told a single joke about a very powerful person. Nine years later, Maddow aimed two weeks of insulting dick jokes at millions of regular people. To Maddow’s mind, these things even out; Stewart’s joke means that her own conduct was pretty much right in the mainstream. And as always, this rumination results in absolution: “I think we both have a commitment to not lying, to telling the truth, even when we are making a point.”

Does Maddow have such a commitment? In her own mind, we’ll assume that she does—although we wouldn’t bet the house on this notion. But in our view, Maddow is a monster of self-regard—and this problem was put on display all through those exchanges with Stewart.

Stewart kept saying that we are all fallible; basically, Maddow kept saying she isn’t. She is committed to telling the truth! Meanwhile, does everyone overstate at some point? Maddow voiced the classic tribal response: “I just don’t think that I do that.”

Is Maddow tribal in some small way? Does she overstate some facts? Does she sometimes trample the truth—lapse into bad argument? Does she sometimes behave a bit like Fox? Stewart kept inviting Maddow to see that she possibly does—and she kept rejecting this heresy. But in the four nights since her session with Stewart, Maddow has produced a truck-load of bungled facts and bad arguments—and almost all have been designed to tickle a liberal’s tribal itch. On Friday and Monday, she even did two full segments about a boxing licensing issue—segments which let her deride vile Texas, the biggest red state of them all. “Texas, you stay classy,” she said Friday night, completing an evening of tribal amusements. (She returned to this jibe on Monday.) One day after her assurances to Stewart, the lady performed this tribal dance, pretending we care about boxing issues when Texas isn’t involved.

In our view, liberals get dumber as this occurs—and Maddow undermines her own potent position, much as Stewart seemed to suggest. Last Thursday, she told Stewart about her commitment to the truth, about the way she seeks bad arguments everywhere.

What bad arguments has she sought since that date? Tomorrow, we’ll take up that quest.

Tomorrow—part 4: Proof, meet pudding