Part 1—A potted plant referees Krugman: Last night, on his PBS show, Charlie Rose staged what we’d call an imitation of life.
Earlier in the day, he had spent several hours hosting CBS This Morning. He pretended to deal with serious topics, also provided our fluff.
Now, Rose was moderating an hour-long debate about the most important budget issues of the day.
Given the subject matter, Rose had assembled a slightly odd couple for his debate. On the one hand, he had booked Paul Krugman, one of the world’s most highly-regarded economists.
Debating Krugman would be Joe Scarborough, a former member of Congress who now hosts his own morning show on MSNBC. The program is built around tired old Bickersons gender-war shtick. This animates the promulgation of insider conventional wisdom.
Scarborough isn’t a major economist—but that doesn’t mean that this couldn’t have been a very worthwhile hour. You see, Scarborough speaks for the Washington insider class, for the inside players whose conventional wisdom dominates almost all media-driven public discussion.
Krugman tends to disagree with this crowd concerning our current budget challenges. As such, last evening’s show might have tested Prevailing Insider Conventional Wisdom against the contrary presentations of a major, world-class economist, albeit one who won't deal frankly with Ezra.
The evening didn’t turn out that way, largely because Rose—himself a creature of the plutocrat swells—behaved like a potted plant.
Transcripts and tapes aren’t available as we post, although they eventually will be. Working from memory of the 3 AM clash, we’ll list three key points where Charlie Rose failed to act:
If you end up watching the tape, please look for the part, early on, where Scarborough concedes the discussion. He says he too would like to see several hundred billion more dollars in federal spending this year, money which could be used to fund infrastructure projects and to rehire teachers.
If this had been a boxing match, a referee would have stopped the fight, declaring a technical knock-out. At that moment, Scarborough said he agrees with Krugman’s heretical views—the views which get Krugman ridiculed by the Washington Insider Class.
A referee should have stopped the fight. He could have awarded this part of the fight to Krugman, then moved to some other topic. Since the combatants also agreed that we need to lower future health care costs, he might have asked them to debate the best way to do it.
Charlie didn’t say a word! Instead, he behaved like a potted plant, helping viewers miss the fact that JoeScar conceded to Krugman.
For us, a second interesting moment was permitted to pass a bit later.
JoeScar made an accurate point. He noted that, contrary to liberal conventional wisdom, Republicans were tougher on President Clinton back in the 90s than they have been on Obama.
Scarborough told an amusing anecdote about how much he himself hated Clinton back in the mid-1990s. Since nobody hates Bill Clinton now, this could have produced an intriguing moment, had Charlie been willing to act:
Tell the truth! Wasn’t Scarborough describing one of the basic starting points of our current political dysfunction? Wasn’t he describing the start of our current hyper-partisan politics, in which Republican leaders urge their party's rubes to believe all kinds of crazy things about all major Democrats?
JoeScar’s anecdote offered a path. Charlie played potted plant.
We were struck by a third intriguing moment. It came quite late in the show.
In fairness, we thought Charlie had played a slightly more constructive role in the program’s second half hour. Now, as the combatants summarized their cases, an intriguing moment occurred.
Scarborough offered a standard piece of familiar old Tim Russert shtick. When Social Security began, he said, the average life-span was 62 years—and benefit payments began at age 65!
Off-camera, Krugman apparently snorted and/or rolled his eyes. Scarborough interrupted himself, then declared that Krugman is just like Al Gore! Like Al Gore, he’s a big know-it-all, Scarborough said. He thinks he knows more than everyone else. How dare he act that way?
Charlie could have stepped in there, creating a magical moment. He could have explained why people like Krugman have been snorting for many years about this hoary old chestnut. After explaining, he might have asked JoeScar if it might not be time to put this old chestnut away.
You’ll see Charlie do something like that when you see the hedgehog jump the moon. As a creature of the plutocrat class, Charlie engages in imitations of life. He doesn't critique standard shtick.
All week, we’ll feature imitations of life. These imitations of life will be torn from the pages of the daily news. In these imitations, tribunes of the upper-class create the impression—the false impression—that real discussions are being conducted inside the newsrooms and studios of Gotham and DC.
No such discussions are occurring. Our Potemkin discourse is a series of imitations of life.
Tomorrow: Joe Nocera
On the flip side, one of Scarborough’s virtues: Scarborough is a perfect hack concerning budget matters. He performs a more constructive role when it comes to other aspects of party politics.
Long ago, he told the truth about a topic regarding which our liberal leaders agreed to be potted plants. As we moved toward war with Iraq, he told the truth—on Hardball, no less!—about what had occurred during Campaign 2000, the campaign which gave us Iraq:
SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore...If they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.Wondrously, Scarborough was speaking to Chris Matthews, ring-leader of the brutal behavior to which he referred. And guess what?
If “they” had done that to a Republican, Scarborough would have gone on Hardball and said they were being biased! That’s because conservatives fight back against such treatment, real and imagined. In those years, we liberals accepted whatever we were handed. And we refuse to talk about that era now.
(More accurately, Scarborough would have tried to go on Hardball to say that. There’s no chance he would have been booked.)
Scarborough told the truth that day in November 2002. Even as he did, fiery liberal Frank Rich was still trashing Gore, who was saying that we shouldn’t go into Iraq.
Gore was just faking, the pompous liberal hero insisted, even complaining to brilliant Don imus. He was simply positioning himself for his next White House run!
Frank Rich is a truly terrible person—and he remains a liberal hero! At any rate, Scarborough was telling the truth at that time; Rich was still burning the witches.
Rich staged many imitations of life during the Clinton-Gore era. We assholes swallowed his bullshit down whole. Rachel loves the great man dearly, right to this very day.
There is no way to fawn hard enough when Frank Rich appears on her show!