Part 4—Paralyzed by our own people: In the fall of 1997, we started trying to create this site.
In those days, the nation boasted two major sources of intellectual paralysis. You could get paralyzed from “the right” or by the mainstream “press corps.”
On the right, Fox News wasn’t a big deal yet, but talk radio had been going strong for more than a decade. The think tanks had been churning the bullroar since the 1960s.
More and more, the mainstream press corps was taking its cues from these paralytic sources. Silly claims were repeated, without objection, about every policy issue. And in the realm of politics, the two groups were drawing quite close.
During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, it was hard to draw a distinction between the trashing of Candidate Gore from the right and the trashing of Candidate Gore from the mainstream. A careful observer could define a few narrow distinctions. But for the most part, the mainstream press corps was increasingly an adjunct of the RNC, with all good liberals looking on, refusing to notice or speak.
Conservative power was rising in Washington. Then as now, very good jobs at very good pay were at stake!
(As early as 1998, you could read the great Frank Rich praising the honesty of Gennifer Flowers, one of the most ridiculous figures of the past twenty years. When she wasn’t detailing the Clintons’ various murders, Flowers kept busy explaining that Hillary Clinton was the world’s most gigantic lesbo and discussing the first lady’s troubling physical appearance.
(In her clownish 1995 book, Flowers recalled the first time she met Clinton, who was then the wife of her state’s governor. “I was shocked,” she thoughtfully wrote. “She looked like a big fat frump with her hair hanging down kind of curly and wavy. She had big, thick glasses; an ugly dress; and a big, fat butt.”
(By the summer of 1999, the mainstream press had adopted this ludicrous figure as one of its vessels of truth. Rich, a giant air-filled buffoon, had vouched for her early, in 1998. He went on to spend the 2000 campaign inventing claims about Candidate Gore and insisting that Candidates Bush and Gore were indistinguishable sons of privilege, “J. Crew versus The Gap.”)
That’s how it was in the early days, with silence from “the liberals” serving as the great enabler. Today, the citizen faces a richer world. He or she can get paralyzed now by voices on “the left.”
Can a society function this way? We will assume it cannot. But the silence persists all around.
Tremendous mountains of obvious bullroar now flow to us from “the left.” As long as we can find worst offenses at Fox, we liberals delight in giving ourselves a clean bill of health.
On the left, we specialize in faux claims about race, a topic about which we white liberals love to feign concern. In the hope of avoiding a state of depression, let’s focus on one small example, served to us in the past week by Slate and by Salon.
In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, Bill O’Reilly offered his views about the nature of the problems confronting America’s black community. Some of what he said was foolish; other parts of his speeches were not. Just for the record, his foolishness started in this passage on the night this chapter began, although The Voices in our tribe are all forbidden to say so:
O’REILLY (7/22/13): So many in power simply walk away, leaving millions of law abiding African-Americans to pretty much fend for themselves in violent neighborhoods. You want racism? That's racism.Just for the record, do “many in power walk away, leaving millions of law-abiding African-Americans to pretty much fend for themselves in violent neighborhoods?” We’d call that a blindingly obvious fact, although we wouldn’t drop an R-bomb about it, even when we see this walking-away occur on the left.
Thus, it is time for some straight talk. And I hope the President is listening tonight because we need him to lead on this issue.
Trayvon Martin was killed because circumstances got out of control. He was scrutinized by a neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, because of the way he looked. Not necessarily his skin color, there is no evidence of that, but because he was a stranger to Zimmerman and was dressed in clothing sometimes used by street criminals.
It was wrong for Zimmerman to confront Martin based on his appearance. But the culture that we have in this country does lead to criminal profiling because young black American men are so often involved in crime the statistics overwhelming.
Whatever! As O’Reilly started his speech, he made a striking claim. He asserted that George Zimmerman scrutinized Trayvon Martin that fateful night because of the clothing he wore.
Why did O’Reilly say that? There is no evidence that this occurred, although everything is possible. In fact, the claim that Zimmerman reacted to Martin’s hoodie was one of the three million false or unfounded claims which moved from the family lawyers straight to the mainstream press.
For some reason, Mr. O bought this part of the standard story. Right at the start of this evening’s remarks, he signaled strongly that he didn’t necessarily know what he was talking about.
There’s certainly nothing new about that! But now, we on the left can match those on the right, item of bullroar for item of bullroar. And we get the joy of rediscovering O’Reilly's racism as we do.
Hence the opening to this piece at Slate by Amanda Marcotte. We highlight the kind of claim which is now routine in the paralytic provinces of “the left.” But it’s the attack on O’Reilly’s racism which makes this pill slide down:
MARCOTTE (8/5/13): The glaring contradiction in conservative rhetoric between the hostility toward contraception and the endless hand-wringing about single motherhood so often goes unchallenged in cable news discourse that James Carville was able to get Bill O'Reilly to go into a rhetorical death spiral just by bringing it up on Thursday. O'Reilly was running his mouth with the usual race-baiting talking points that incorrectly assume that rising numbers of births to legally unmarried women means that huge numbers of women are raising children alone when he proposed that the federal government fund (with money!) a campaign to tell young women to stop having all of the sex. Carville took this as a fun opportunity to provoke O'Reilly's notorious dislike for contraception by pointing out that any kind of campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy should include contraception and sex education.Can we talk? On the paralytic left, you can now say any fool thing you want, as long as you preface it with a remark about O’Reilly’s “usual race-baiting.” In this case, Marcotte used that hook as a way to advance an unlikely claim, the type of claim which now slides down with remarkable ease:
In his usual race-baiting talking points, O’Reilly “incorrectly assumed that rising numbers of births to legally unmarried women means that huge numbers of women are raising children alone.” Or so this possible source of paralysis said.
Marcotte’s statement struck us as strange, although it was becoming familiar by this point. Is it possible that the “rising number of births to legally unmarried women” doesn’t mean that “huge numbers of women are raising children alone?”
We were curious about that. And so, we clicked Marcotte’s link.
When we clicked, it took us to this August 2 piece, also written by Marcotte. In that earlier piece, Marcotte referred to “decades of conservative freak-outs about single motherhood.” She said the rising rate of single motherhood doesn’t “mean what so many of these commentators seem to think—which is that fathers are completely out of the picture.”
By now, Marcotte had denied that “huge” numbers of women are raising children alone. She had also denied that unmarried fathers are “completely” out of the picture. When pseudo-liberals “reason” this way, actual liberals ought to scream. More often, we simply accept the easy pleasure of the attacks on Bill.
But in this August 2 piece, Marcotte linked for the second time. This time, she took us to a July 30 piece at Salon by Stacia Brown. She also block-quoted the key claim from Brown’s piece.
We’d seen Brown's claim in real time.
Brown was talking about Don Lemon, who had also voiced concern about the rise of single parent households. This is the part of that piece which supposedly proved Marcotte’s point:
BROWN (7/30/13): It’s just as irresponsible an anecdote as [Lemon’s] claim that “born out-of-wedlock” means “absent fathers.” In fact, there have been numerous studies disproving this popular claim. To be fair, maybe Lemon didn’t feel the need to interrogate this fallacy, since it’s such an easily regurgitated go-to position.According to Brown at Salon, “there have been numerous studies disproving the popular claim” that “born out-of-wedlock” means “absent fathers.”
On July 30, we read that claim at Salon. On August 5, we read Marcotte’s version of that claim at Slate, and we clicked to her August 2 transitional piece.
You’ll note that neither Marcotte nor Brown said that it would be OK if children were raised without fathers. Each writer seemed to accept the idea that children ought to have access to their fathers. They just mocked the fallacious “popular claim” that out-of-wedlock births tend to correlate with absent fathers.
For ourselves, we’re not expert on that “popular claim.” Nor do we have any well-formed views on the role that is or isn’t being played by the rising rate of “out-of-wedlock” births.
That said, we were surprised to see these fiery liberals saying that “numerous studies” debunk this popular notion. We were surprised when we saw Brown make the pleasing claim in Salon. Six days later, we were surprised by we saw Marcotte making the same claim at Slate, with links leading back to Brown.
Unlike some others, we aren’t automatically won by the assaults on Lemon and O’Reilly. We aren’t inclined to purchase any old piece of bullshit as long as it’s sold on that stick.
For that reason, we clicked the two links Brown provided in support of her claim about the “numerous studies” which debunk that popular notion. Marcotte provided the same two links to the “numerous studies” when she quoted Brown.
Given the weight which rests on their shoulders, we’d say those links are rather sad. Click here for the Pittsburgh City paper. For one lone paragraph from Essence, you can also click this.
In our view, the studies at the end of those links aren’t especially numerous. Nor do they necessarily seem to be studies. Nor do the studies seem to show what Marcotte and Brown say they show. But please understand:
Marcotte prefaced her claim with an attack on O’Reilly’s racism. Brown did the same with regard to Lemon. And increasingly, that’s all we need on the left.
Increasingly, you can hand us any old crap as long as you pleasure us first. Question: Are we toying with the lives of children when we behave like that?
There’s nothing unusual about these examples. This kind of work pervades the orgs which have grown on the left. Salon is now an astounding intellectual mess. It was once a real publication!
At some point next week, we’ll look at this piece by David Carr, in which he critiques an intriguing segment on Chris Hayes’ program last week. But make no mistake:
Moral and intellectual paralysis isn’t just for the right any more! Watching the stars on liberal cable, who seem to hate black kids so much, you could almost think of what Gretta Conroy says to her husband near the end of The Dead, as Joyce’s Dubliners reaches its end:
“Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that?”
In truth, that line jumped out as us this morning, after we read this memoir from yesterday morning's Times. But the sources of paralysis seems to be quite general now.
The paralysis seems to be available now from all sides.