Tomorrow, well summarize those reports. (In the meantime, to read Jonathan Chaits 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. (Weve 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, were confronted with an alleged major budget problemand were told that someone must sacrifice.
Tomorrow, well 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 richmuch, 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:
Special report: When Stewart met Maddow!
PART THREEBUT THE OTHER TRIBE IS SO TRIBAL (permalink): Whats the difference between Stewart and Maddow?
During last weeks 49-minute interview, Stewart kept suggesting one major differencehe 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 Maddows exchanges, this one was a bit murky. But eventually, Maddow said Stewart was being unfair in some of his representations. To our ear, Stewarts response illustrated a major difference between the two cable stars:
MADDOW (11/11/10): I think that you areI think that you are glossing over the gray areas in a way that isnt 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 tribalthat every now and then, when you look at MSNBC, you might see a small hint of Fox (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/17/10). Stewarts presentations were often unclear; beyond that, we didnt always agree with the things he seemed to be saying. But to our ear, Stewartlike a doting parentkept 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 cant even acknowledge the possibility of her own tribalismof 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! Its 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 arent 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 didnt 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, its 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, Were not black and white. I didnt like Bush because he was so black and white and theres 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 youre a person that doesnt like bad arguments.
MADDOW: Im trying to pursue bad arguments wherever I find them. But can I
MADDOW: Let me finish this point about Bush
Several of the analysts gagged, but this was a wonderful moment. Im 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 Bushs 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 aheadsearch 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 wasbut thats an example of, again, pushing it too far. But people Thats what people do. They take things and they go into the next realm.
MADDOW: I dont I just dont think thatI dont think that I do that. I mean, I cant speak for everybody here. But I dont think thatand I am definitely part of the conflictinator. Im definitely part of this whole machine, primetime and the whole bit.
MADDOW: But I dont
MADDOW: I dont 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 doesnt overstate is one of the silliest thoughts in the world. But that was Maddows instant response to the idea that everyone overstatesalthough, of course, she couldnt vouch for everyone at her own channel. (Olbermann! Under the bus!) Once again, Maddow said that she doesnt overstateand she returned to her criticism of the other tribe, whose leader quite plainly does.
Over and over, Stewart suggested that we all make mistakesand Maddow suggested that she herself doesnt. Eventually, this dynamic produced a Classic Moment.
This Classic Moment emerged from Maddows final attempt to defend the way she spent two weeks directing insulting dick jokes at the nations many tea-baggers. Speaking with her accuser, she offered the nine-year-olds 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 electionand I wont keep you here forever. Im sorry. Right after the election, you said something that, something I remember it was about George Bush andDick 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. Hes 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 dont get what that word choice means.
I sort of feel like were doing the same thing, that you makeessentially, you exaggerate in order to be funny or in order to make a point.
STEWART: I understand
MADDOW: And everybody understands its just little exaggeration.
STEWART: Thats true.
MADDOW: But theres 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 thinggoing 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 Maddows mind, these things even out; Stewarts 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, well assume that she doesalthough we wouldnt bet the house on this notion. But in our view, Maddow is a monster of self-regardand 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 isnt. She is committed to telling the truth! Meanwhile, does everyone overstate at some point? Maddow voiced the classic tribal response: I just dont think that I do that.
Is Maddow tribal in some small way? Does she overstate some facts? Does she sometimes trample the truthlapse into bad argument? Does she sometimes behave a bit like Fox? Stewart kept inviting Maddow to see that she possibly doesand 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 argumentsand almost all have been designed to tickle a liberals tribal itch. On Friday and Monday, she even did two full segments about a boxing licensing issuesegments 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 isnt involved.
In our view, liberals get dumber as this occursand 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, well take up that quest.
Tomorrowpart 4: Proof, meet pudding