Sunday, July 5, 2009

the weird turn pro

A couple of months ago I finally let my Wall Street Journal subscription lapse. I had subscribed for 34 years, since I was a sophomore in college. But it had become increasingly redundant. The New York Times has significantly upgraded its business section over the years (David Leonhardt is a favorite), while Murdoch has been trying to morph the Journal into more of a direct competitor to the Times. For business and financial news, I find myself these days reading Bloomberg and the FT online along with a dozen or so financial blogs. But ultimately it boiled down to the fact that I couldn’t stand providing financial support to Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. It was like cutting a check to FOX News.

So I was feeling much better last week when I read this brief post on Paul Krugman’s blog (“
Secrets of the WSJ”):
This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion section contains a lot of what one expects to see. There’s an opinion piece making a big fuss over the fake scandal at the EPA. There’s an editorial claiming that the latest job figures prove the failure of Obama’s economic plan — something I dealt with in the Times. All of this follows on yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years.

Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe? I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?

He makes an interesting point. Certainly the editorial board of the WSJ doesn’t believe all the stuff they write. For one thing, so much of it is contradictory (e.g., deficits don’t matter during Reagan and Bush administrations but threaten the Republic during Clinton and Obama administrations). In the past they at least made an effort to sound credible and maintain a certain consistency if not necessarily from year to year at least from month to month. But increasingly they seem to think their readers don’t have a memory that goes out beyond a week or so (or, perhaps, are so blinded by ideology and partisanship they don’t care).

Take just one of the editorials Krugman cites – the one on the Minnesota Senate race. They assert, “Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election.” Here are the facts: The recount that gave Franken his victory was undertaken by the five-member Minnesota State Canvassing Board, which included the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court (appointed by the Republican governor Pawlenty), another state Supreme Court Justice (also appointed by Pawlenty), one member appointed by former Independent governor Jesse Ventura, and one non-partisan member elected by the voters. The only Democrat on the panel was the Secretary of State. The board was unanimous in all its determinations. Similarly, the three-judge panel chosen to hear Coleman’s court challenge consisted of a Republican appointee, a Democratic appointee and an Independent appointee, and it too was unanimous in all its determinations. Finally, the state Supreme Court (including three other Pawlenty appointees) unanimously rejected Coleman’s appeal, 5-0. Bi-partisanship (or non-partisanship) and unanimity prevailed at every step. But the Journal simply asserts that the election was stolen.

(The Journal cites the 2004 governor’s race in Washington State as another election stolen by a Democrat. But when Washington State Republicans challenged that election before a Republican judge in one of the most conservative counties in the state, the judge found not merely that the Republicans failed to present convincing evidence of fraud – he found that they provided
NO evidence of fraud. None whatsoever. He even gave additional votes to the Democrat. And this is from the only judge in state history to have previously overturned an election. So thorough was the judge’s rejection that state Republicans didn’t even bother to appeal the case to the Washington State Supreme Court.)

But apparently the Journal believes this stuff serves a purpose. Like FAUX News, they are providing an alternative reality for their partisan audience. Accuracy is irrelevant. (As Brad DeLong
notes, they don’t strive to make the best case for their point of view, just the most persuasive case.)

Most of us came to the conclusion during the Bush years (if we hadn’t previously) that it was actually important that the people running our government be hitched to reality and base their policies on actual facts. I know this may sound unduly partisan, but it seems increasingly that Republicans believe that anything can be true if you just want it badly enough to be so.

Am I being unfair? Earlier today, in writing about Iran, I quoted John Bolton urging, essentially, that we go to war with that country. But I wasn’t just taking a cheap shot at some crazy blogger. This guy was US ambassador to the UN under the administration that just left office less than five months ago. And he was writing in the
Washington Post, not in his pajamas in his parents’ basement (actually, to be truthful, I don’t know what he was wearing or where he was when he penned that piece).

As Matthew Yglesias
It’s actually true that neocon bashing is a bit on the tiresome side. That said, I think it really has to be understood as a vital social necessity. Adherents of a deranged and sociopoathic “neocon” conception of America’s role in the world continue to be tremendously influential in our society. They have columns at The Washington Post and dominate the foreign policy coverage on Fox News. They have The Weekly Standard and Commentary and a healthy slice of The New Republic. [Ed. Note: And the WSJ editorial page.] And most important, as best as anyone can tell their ideas remain utterly dominant in the Republican Party. Their intra-party critics like Colin Powell, rather than winning intra-party arguments seem to be simply drifting out of the GOP coalition.

This is a dangerous situation. In the United States, the opposition party is always one ill-timed recession or political scandal from taking power. So a set of ideas that dominates one such party is something you need to keep a watchful eye on, no matter how marginalized that party may seem at any particular moment.

OK, so I have to mention Sarah Palin. Who knows, a couple of Pastor Wright eruptions and a six month delay in the financial meltdown and she could have been one angry, cancerous heartbeat away from the presidency. Even with all the craziness of the past few days, the mainstream media is framing it all in the context of how it might affect her chances of securing the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. In a country of over 300 million people, is there any rational reason anyone would be talking about Sarah Palin as a potential candidate for the position of the leader of (still) the most powerful country in the world four years from now? Apart from the fact that, despite everything we have learned about her over the past 10 months, she is still hugely popular among members of a cult called the “Republican Party.” Not just popular, she is their single biggest draw among the faithful.

You’d think, during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when monetary policy had already reached the “zero bound” that constitutes its practical exhaustion as a policy tool, that the notion of some fiscal stimulus from the federal government would be “not uncontroversial” (
as Bush’s top economist, Greg Mankiw, put it in 2003). Yet every single Republican member of the House of Representatives voted against the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package (which, as it turns out, was only half to a third as big as it should have been). Not a single Republicans voted for a true no-brainer (heck, if nothing else, it was the biggest two-year tax cut in US history – and Republicans couldn’t embrace that?).

And as if that wasn’t enough, three Republican governors tried to reject the federal stimulus money – during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The common thread among the three leaders of this stimulus-rejection effort was that they are (or were) all considered prospective Republican presidential candidates – Rick Perry of Texas, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Sarah Palin. But their “crazy base” is so crazy, they apparently felt compelled to reject economic aid for their respective states – in favor of laying off teachers and health care workers when the economy is still in free fall.

I will leave Sanford alone, except to urge you to watch
this Jon Stewart takedown and to note that the federal money he tried to reject (the legislature overruled him) would have gone to help the unemployed in the state with the second worst unemployment rate in the country.

And, then, there is Palin.

You really must read the
entire transcript of her resignation speech (or whatever you want to call it) to appreciate the full magnitude of her craziness. This was obviously not something that was long in the works – more like she woke up that morning and thought, “Heck. Think I’ll resign as governor today.”

Gail Collins had a
great piece on the subject (she has become a true treasure – smarter and funnier than Maureen Dowd and nowhere hear as obnoxiously snarky). Here is a bit:
“And a problem in our country today is apathy,” she said on Friday as she announced that she would resign as governor of Alaska at the end of the month. “It would be apathetic to just hunker down and ‘go with the flow.’ Nah, only dead fish ‘go with the flow.’ No. Productive, fulfilled people determine where to put their efforts, choosing to wisely utilize precious time ... to BUILD UP.”

Basically, the point was that Palin is quitting as governor because she’s not a quitter. Or a deceased salmon.

Bruce Reed had a pretty good piece in Slate:

"It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down [and] plod along," Sarah Palin said Friday, in an attempt to suggest that serving her full term as governor would add to the nation's apathy. "That's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out." Sarah Palin is no quitter. That's why she's quitting.

Reed makes a good substantive point:

Time after time, quitting has turned out to be the "worthless, easy path" that Sarah Palin insists it isn't. What makes her sudden resignation especially troubling, though, is not the flawed strategy so much as her jubilation and relief in putting the statehouse in her rear mirror. Palin's resignation is a symptom of what's crippling the Republican Party of late: Governing has become an unwelcome distraction.

Exactly. When your whole ideology is anti-government, actually governing is inconvenient, to say the least. If nothing else, it requires attention to things like “facts.” A stubborn refusal to accept “reality” can result in … well, the Bush administration. Why accept those constraints?

But my favorite observations on the Palin meltdown were from Paul Begala in Huffington Post (it’s short – worth reading the whole thing):
I wish Hunter S. Thompson had lived to see this.

As Hunter said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Sarah Palin … has made herself the bull goose loony of the GOP.

… Her statement was incoherent, bizarre and juvenile. The text, as posted on Gov. Palin's official website (here), uses 2,549 words and 18 exclamation points. Lincoln freed the slaves with 719 words and nary an exclamation; Mr. Jefferson declared our independence in 1,322 words and, again, no exclamation points. Nixon resigned the presidency in 1,796 words -- still no exclamation points. Gov. Palin capitalized words at random - whole words, like "TO," "HELP," and "AND," and the first letter of "Troops."

Gov. Palin's official announcement that she is resigning as chief executive of the great state of Alaska had all the depth and gravitas of a 13-year-old's review of the Jonas Brothers' album on Facebook. She even quoted her parents' refrigerator magnet. (Note to self: if one of my kids becomes governor, throw away the refrigerator magnet that says: "Murray's Oyster Bar: We Shuck Em, You Suck Em!") She put her son's name in quotations marks. Why? Who knows. She writes, "I promised efficiencies and effectiveness!?" Was she exclaiming or questioning? I get it: both! And I don't even know what to make of a sentence that reads:

*((Gotta put First Things First))*

Ponder the fact that Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins publishing house is paying this, umm, writer $11 million for a book. Ponder that and say a prayer for Ms. Palin's editor.

I'm no latter-day Strunk & White, just a guy who was struck by Palin's spectacularly rambling and infantile prose. It bespeaks a rambling and infantile mind. But perhaps not. …But does anyone believe that's why she's resigning? No, there's more to this story. And Ms. Palin's resignation only increases the chances that we will all know the rest of the story soon. Or, as she might put it:

We will all KNOW the "rest of the Story" *((SOON!))*

Alas, the weird have, indeed, turned pro. And they have their own political party and media apparatus. And, as you might expect, after a few hours of sharing a “WTF” moment with the rest of us, the usual crew of FOX News types set about to explain why Palin’s resignation in the middle of her first term as governor of a state of less than 700,000 people is a brilliant tactic in her quest to lead the free world. You can always count on Bill Kristol to
answer the call, no matter how challenging:
Bill Kristol, a conservative columnist who's been one of Palin's biggest cheerleaders, says the governor is making a "high-risk move" in an attempt to position herself for 2012.

"This does give her a chance to travel the country and campaign for Republican candidates," said Kristol, who played a key role last summer in convincing John McCain to tap the junior governor as his running mate.

"I think she could have a very strong year and a half here ... she's really just getting out there and it's going to depend on her talents and her abilities. She now feels she can get out and be on her own."

Bill Kristol, you might recall, was given a prime editorial page column in the New York Times, which mercifully lasted only a year. Which raises the question, just how consistently wrong does someone have to be in order to lose all credibility and no longer be part of the mainstream pundit dialogue? After the New York Times dumped him (a truly horrible one-year experiment in giving a right-wing lunatic an even larger audience than he gets with merely FOX News, the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard), the Washington Post picked him up. Is there really anyone in the country who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I wonder what Bill Kristol would have to say about that?” Forget ideology or partisan leanings. It should simply be a requirement for any pundit in any major media outlet that he or she has been generally more right than wrong over his or her career (or, heck, in just the recent past). And to the extent he or she has been wrong, there should be some evidence that he or she has acknowledged that error and understands why he or she went wrong. In other words, there should be some reason for us to care what he or she thinks. Instead, we get this polarized, “shape of the world, views differ” attempt at some kind of ostensive ideological “balance” that continues to give a forum (or multiple forums) to guys like Kristol and John Bolton who are consistently, objectively wrong about EVERYTHING.

The weird have, indeed, turned pro.

Let’s just enjoy the fact that they are no longer running the country – at least for a while.


Gilmoure said...

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary refers to postmodernism as "a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust of theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to conventions."

The whole 'fair & balanced' zeitgeist of the last 10-12 years is very odd. It has been a wonderful tool though, to battle rational thought, education and wisdom. It's like the right wing strategists went and started constructing an entire postmodernist view of the world. Is very Orwellian.

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