Bob Woodward goes where the wild things are!


How will the children react: Last evening, Bob Woodward went on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. While there, Woodward proceeded to play the fool—and to do a few things which were worse.

After a lengthy, largely pointless discussion of antique understandings about the sequester, Woodward went where the wild things are. Blitzer initiated the exchange—but Woodward was eager to follow.

Below, you see the passage in question. Woodward makes no attempt to debunk or deny Blitzer’s claim that “it's getting pretty nasty” over at the White House:
BLITZER (2/27/13): It's getting pretty nasty. Take us behind the scenes a little bit, the allegations being hurled against you right now.

WOODWARD: Well, I mean—

BLITZER: You're used to this kind of stuff, but—


BLITZER: Share with our viewers what's going on between you and the White House.

WOODWARD: Well, they're— They're not happy at all, and some people kind of, you know, said, "Look, we don't see eye to eye on this." They never really said, though, afterwards they've said that this is factually wrong, and they, and it was said to me in an e-mail by a top—

BLITZER: What was, what was said?

WOODWARD: It was, it was said very clearly, "You will regret doing this."

BLITZER: Who sent that e-mail to you?

WOODWARD: Well, I'm not going to say.

BLITZER: Was it a senior person at the White House?

WOODWARD: A very senior person. And just as a matter— I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, "You're going to regret doing something that you believe in, and even though we don't look at it that way, you do look at it that way." And it's—

I think if Barack Obama knew that was part of the communications strategy—let's hope it's not a strategy, that it's a tactic that somebody's employed— and said, “Look, we don't go around trying to say to reporters if you, in an honest way, present something we don't like, that, you know, you're going to regret this." And just—

It's Mickey Mouse.
It’s hard to make out what Woodward is saying in that last garbled passage. This isn’t the clearest of minds. (To watch this full exchange, just click here.)

But as he spoke with Blitzer, Woodward helped advance the dark suggestions first presented by Allen and Vandehei at Politico. On Tuesday, the boys interviewed Woodward for a good solid hour. (They even got to visit his house!) They came away with the idea that Woodward felt he had received “a veiled threat” from the White House.

To read their report, click here. That's where this bullshit started.

According to Politico, Woodward thought he'd received a threat! And as of this very moment, that’s the way CNN is playing Blitzer’s interview. The headline on CNN’s web site says this: “Bob Woodward says he was threatened by White House.” (As we post, we see that CNN has now walked that headline back.)

Was Woodward threatened by the White House? Did he receive a “veiled threat?” The claim is beyond absurd. In response to Woodward’s allegations, the White House released the e-mails in question—and no, they don’t include a threat, or anything mildly like that. (To read the e-mails in question, click here.)

Woodward swapped e-mails with Gene Sperling, a most mild-mannered fellow. Not only was Sperling’s e-mail to Woodward innocuous (although he apologized for raising his voice in a previous dispute). In real time, Woodward replied to Sperling’s allegedly threatening e-mail.

How badly threatened did Woodward feel? When he replied to Sperling's e-mail, this is what he said:
Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today.

Best, Bob
In real time, that was Woodward’s response to the allegedly threatening e-mail. But so what! Three days later, he was sitting with the Politico 2, giving them the thrilling impression that he had felt threatened. He continued this nonsense with Blitzer last night, quoting one piece of Sperling's e-mail completely out of context.

This is very ugly stuff—ugly, stupid, inane, bizarre. Our question to you is this: How will the children react?

You know? Our mandarin climbers?

From his spot at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent has already offered a tortured attempt to say that Woodward might not have meant what they’re saying he said. But here’s the ultimate question:

Will Rachel Maddow address this topic tonight? In our view, Maddow has typically played her viewers for fools in such matters, pretending to challenge “the Beltway media” while persistently refusing to name or challenge any famous media players. In truth, Maddow has persistently feathered her nest by kissing the asses of big major players like Woodward.

What is Ezra going to say, especially if he guest-hosts? Where will Dylan Matthews come down? And what will you be hearing from Rachel? Steve Benen has already filed this lengthy post at Maddowblog. But will his boss speak up?

Intelligent liberals shouldn’t trust our mandarin climbers; we should persistently challenge them. This ridiculous incident gives us a chance to see what the children are made of.

CNN and the death of the west!


Piers Morgan “interviews” Lott: Last night, we experienced the greatest pain which can be dispensed by modern American “journalism.”

Once again, we found ourselves watching as CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed John Lott about guns. Broadcast journalism doesn’t get worse.

Morgan keeps bringing Lott on his show to argue with him about guns. Here’s the problem:

Lott tends to oppose most gun regulation—and Morgan starts to melt down after only a moment or two with this noxious guest.

Last night, Morgan struggled as Strangelove once did, trying to restrain his passions in the interview’s early moments. But whenever Lott appears on this show, the “interview” ends up like this, with Morgan asking multiple questions, interrupting constantly and refusing to let Lott speak:
MORGAN (2/27/13): In 1996, as you know, there was a horrendous mass shooting in Australia. Thirty-five people killed. They brought in extensive gun control and gun bans in Australia. In the period leading up to that, in the 10-year period, there were 18 mass shootings in Australia. Do you know how many there have been since the gun ban was brought in?

LOTT: It depends on how you define them. I know you're— The way you're going to define them—

MORGAN: Actually, it's very easy. It's very easy to define. More than four people killed in a shooting. Do you know how many there have been in Australia since they brought in the gun ban?

LOTT: Okay. Do you know how many there have been in New Zealand?

MORGAN: Can you answer my question first? Then we'll move on to—


LOTT: The way you define it, you are going to say it is zero.

MORGAN: How many mass shootings have there been in a country—

LOTT: I just said.

MORGAN: —before they had a massacre and changed their laws? There was 18. Now, how many have there been since 1996?

LOTT: OK. No, no. You are going to let me talk for a second. The point is—

MORGAN: Answer the question.

LOTT: I just did. If you look at New Zealand—

MORGAN: How many since '96?

LOTT: I already said it a couple of times. I said the way you define it, it is zero. But the point is—

MORGAN: Zero! So just to clarify—just to clarify—

LOTT: No, sir—

MORGAN: You agree with me! You agree with me! In a country that brought in extensive gun control and gun bans following 18 mass shootings culminating in 35 people being slaughtered, there have been zero, zero mass shootings since. Here's my second question.

LOTT: No, no, no, no! You can't go and ask three or four questions—

MORGAN: Mr. Lott—


LOTT: You have made many factual statements. Let me respond.

MORGAN: I'm asking you my questions! You are going to answer my questions—

LOTT: Let me respond!

MORGAN: —and not the ones that suit you and your agenda.

LOTT: No, no! Wait a second, sir–

MORGAN: Let me ask you a second question. You don't have to answer it, Mr. Lott, but I will ask you this question because it is very important for the premise of your argument. Let me ask you this question–

LOTT: You have spoken about 80 percent of the time since the break.

MORGAN: I'm going to keep talking, so I suggest that you keep quiet.
That was the perfect defining Piers Moment: “I'm going to keep talking, so I suggest that you keep quiet!”

Too funny, also too sad.

This goes on and on and on and on whenever Lott appears on this program. Matters only got worse last night as the foolishness continued. Needless to say, the transcript can’t reflect the sour, pained look on Morgan’s face as he talks over his deeply vile guest.

To state the obvious, there is no reason why Morgan has to invite Lott to appear on his show. But he constantly does, and the interaction always ends up in a major mess. Morgan constantly interrupts and asks multiple questions; Lott rarely gets a chance to make his points.

His points may not be any good. If so, there’s no obvious reason to keep bringing him on as a guest. It would also make sense to let him speak, then to refute his points. But of one thing you can be sure:

Any time Lott says, "But the point is," an interruption is sure to follow!

This is the shape of our failing broken-souled corporate culture. Last Sunday, we saw that the entertainment industry can’t even manage to stage one entertainment program per year. Last night, we saw the way CNN thinks it should conduct interviews.

Morgan may be right in his views about gun regulation, although he often argues poorly, as Lott is able to note in the few words he gets to speak. But as a journalist, he is a clown, especially when it comes to this topic, where he can’t control his absolute certainty that he is completely right.

As a journalist, Morgan's a clown. Surely, CNN knows this.

Are screaming, stupidity and mass interruption really that good for CNN’s ratings? Set aside your own views about gun regulation:

When you watch Morgan screech over Lott, you’re watching the fail of the west.

MAN AND MANDARIN: The mandarin interviews the professor!


Part 3—And the bio from Hell: Last week, at the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle described a new class of Washington journalists. She compared them to the mandarin class which ran imperial China.

She said this new class was extremely ambitious—that its members have been that way since third grade. Beyond that, she complained about the limited backgrounds of these new mandarins. Again, we think it’s worth reviewing some of what she said:
MCARDLE (2/21/13): It's not like I came up on the mean streets of Camden, or come from a long line of dockworkers...My experience of working-class life consists of some relatives, a few summer jobs, a stint in the secretarial pool at a nonprofit, three years with a firm that had a substantial cable-installation practice, and one year in a construction trailer at Ground Zero. Most of my work experience is in writing stuff, and then talking about what I write. I'm hardly the Voice of the Proletariat. Or the Voice of Industry, for that matter.

And yet, this is apparently considerably more experience than many of my fellow journalists have, especially the younger ones. The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living.
In her piece, McArdle marveled at “the focused ambition of the young journalists I meet today;” she also noted their lack of experience in the working-class world. Worst of all, she suggested that their focused ambition and privileged backgrounds may make them “prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority.”

Uh-oh! If McArdle’s suspicions turn out to be right, this new class of journalists may grow up to be the next generation of Sam-and-Cokies—burned-out clowns who pretend to be journalists while they actually pimp and promote the views of DC’s elites. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/13.

Will our new class of elite journalists turn out like Sam and Cokie? Despite McArdle’s dark suggestions, she does have a few nice things to say about this rising class. At several points, she lists their alleged merits, as at the start of this passage:
MCARDLE: As I say, the mandarins are in many senses deserving: they work very hard, and they are very smart. But there is one important thing they do not know, which is what it is like to be anyone except a mandarin. The first generation to come out of the postwar education revolution did; their parents frequently had quite banal jobs, possibly ones that left them with dirt under their fingernails after a day's work...

But the people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other "elite" profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the postwar education system. A window that opened is closing. The mandarins are pulling away from the rest of America.
Without any question, our young journalists are among the folk who are “pulling away from the rest of America.” Some of them are already making very large incomes, though they work hard not to mention that fact. The rest of them know they’ll cash in later on, as long as they don’t blow it.

All through human history, people in such positions have in fact been “prone to being conformist, obedient, good at echoing the opinions of authority.” Our new breed may well turn out that way, just as Sam and Cokie did. But this morning, we ask a simpler question:

Are they actually “very smart,” as McArdle says in that passage?

Are these young mandarins “very smart, very bright,” as she says at several points? In a sense, but not as such! As McArdle notes, they may be quite good at taking tests, one of the pathways by which they rise. They may have strong “verbal fluency.”

But do they understand the actual ways of the actual world? McArdle keeps suggesting that they do not—and such understanding is surely required if we want to see our elites producing “very smart” journalism.

In the broader, more valuable sense, are these young mandarins actually smart? Consider a recent interview session conducted by a very young mandarin—a young journalist who has what we’d call The Resumé from Focused Ambition Hell.

For starters, let’s be fair! Dylan Matthews may turn out to be the greatest journalist/policy writer in American history. But then again, he may turn out to be Sam and Cokie—and his work isn’t always “very smart,” even at this early juncture.

Over the weekend, Kevin Drum linked to an interview Matthews conducted with Thomas Kane, a Harvard education professor. The interview appeared at WonkBlog, the Washington Post's information ghetto—and it just wasn’t “very smart.” In fact, we’d say it wasn’t smart at all—but given Matthews’ tender years and his ginormous lack of experience, we can’t imagine why this session should have turned out better.

Does it make sense to ask someone like this to conduct interviews of this type?

The background: Working with the Gates Foundation, Kane recently completed a study designed to “develop metrics capable of determining which teachers are faring better than others, and to determine what factors help determine success.” (We’re quoting Matthews.) We still aren’t entirely sure what that means, in part because we tried to read Matthews’ air-filled, meandering interview.

Let’s be honest: For the most part, Matthews tossed very fuzzy questions at Kane, and Kane’s replies wandered around a good bit. You can peruse the whole session here. But this was Matthews’ opening question for the high-ranking professor:

“Tell me a bit about how this study differs from the rest of the literature around standardized testing.”

That question is extremely open-ended—fuzzy, unfocused, air-filled. A journalist from a sixth-grade newspaper would have asked the same thing. It almost seems to demonstrate the deference to authority McArdle warned of, in that Matthews is simply asking Kane to ramble on.

And that’s exactly what Kane did; in response to that air-filled question, he rambled on for 439 words. Below, you see the way his answer began. Midway through this lengthy reply, do you have any idea what the highlighted statement means?

MATTHEWS (2/23/13): Tell me a bit about how this study differs from the rest of the literature around standardized testing.

KANE: So for 40 years, we have known that when similar students enter different teachers’ classrooms, they come out with very different achievement. For 40 years we have designed our education policies as though that weren’t true. Very few of those differences had anything to do with teachers’ paper credentials, yet that’s the only thing that state and local policies focused on. They only focused on paper credentials, and they didn’t systematically try to evaluate performance on the job for teachers.

The test scores, we knew, were just the most obvious manifestations of what is a difference in practice underneath, but nobody was systematically trying to find ways to measure those differences in practices. Quite the opposite. Most classroom observations were entirely perfunctory. Teachers, 98-plus percent of teachers, were given the same “satisfactory” rating, if their principal did an observation at all.

It was within that context that we said, “Let’s go out and try to identify some ways to identify effective teaching that help illuminate what’s going on with the difference in test scores.” We want to know that these are at least related to the magnitude of gains that teachers provide. So let’s do that in a way where we could develop measures that could be implemented widely...
According to Kane, his team of researchers wanted to “try to identify some ways to identify effective teaching that help illuminate what’s going on with the difference in test scores” (presumably, the difference in test scores produced by different teachers). He “wanted to know that these are at least related to the magnitude of gains that teachers provide.” (We don’t really know what “these” means.)

Do you have any idea what Kane is talking about at this point? Matthews asked an air-filled question, and he got an airy reply, just as Mother always warned us. In fairness to Kane, most people are less precise in extemporaneous speech than they are in their edited writing. But Matthews rarely asked the types of questions which made Kane get more precise.

To our ear, he rarely seemed to know what questions to ask. But then again, why should he?

This time last year, Matthews was still a college student—a senior at Harvard, where he seems to have been in charge of everything which moves. At the Washington Post, Matthews provides this passage as part of his bio. Given McArdle’s plausible warnings, we’d call this The Bio from Hell:
MATTHEWS: Until May 2012 I was an undergraduate at Harvard College, where I studied moral and political philosophy (though Harvard being itself, my degree is technically in “social studies“), wrote a regular column for The Crimson, served as president of Perspective Magazine, and was a DJ for the underground rock department as well as tech director for WHRB.
You’ll note the congratulatory aside about how special Harvard is. But there you see the “focused ambition” of McArdle’s new mandarin class, who start their assault on the world when they’re in third grade. Indeed, in this earlier profile, we learn the rest of the story:

“At 14, Matthews started his own blog, at 16 he was freelancing for Slate, at 18 he worked at The American Prospect...”

At 16, he was freelancing for Slate? Does anyone know why?

Matthews may turn out to be an exceptional journalist. Presumably, he has the IQ for the task—but does he have anything else? And might he have some of the climber instincts which may undercut future work?

Our view? In his interview with Kane, Matthews manifestly did not produce work which was “very smart.” But why would anyone think that such a young, inexperienced person should be conducting such interviews on such a specialized topic? And why in the world has the Washington Post created this strange game preserve, where a handful of young mandarins provide Post readers with information—or with the appearance of same?

What will Matthews turn out to be like? Will he proceed to do valuable work? Might he become the next Sam and Cokie? For reasons only the Post can explain, the whole world is his for the taking—just so long as he doesn’t blow it. That said, the history of the race is clear:

As in the case of Sam and Cokie, this access to major wealth and fame will often produce very bad results—outcomes which aren’t very smart.

Tomorrow: That profile of Matthews' boss

The Metropolitan Opera gets with the zeitgeist!


Low earners and students pay more: Good news! Going to the opera in Gotham just got that much cheaper!

Plainly, the Metropolitan Opera was a bargain before—but from now on, the bargain is bigger. Daniel Wakin reports the good news in today’s New York Times:
WAKIN (2/27/13): Attendance is down this season at the Metropolitan Opera, and officials there acknowledge that the fault is their own. They made going to the opera too expensive.

So in a rarity in the rarefied world of the performing arts, the Met said it would reduce ticket prices next season. The average cost of admission will drop by 10 percent, or to $156 from $174, Peter Gelb, the general manager, said in a recent interview.
They're practically giving Otello away! Average price: $156. Truly, you can’t beat that!

Having said that, let us also say this: In keeping with the societal zeitgeist, everyone will be paying less—except college students and low earners. In keeping with the society's drift, these folk will now pay more:
WAKIN (continuing directly): The lower ticket prices will come in a 2013-14 season that includes the return of the music director James Levine to the pit after a two-year absence; an unusual appearance by a female conductor, Jane Glover; and, surprisingly, the first time Anna Netrebko, the Russian diva, will tackle one of the most famous Russian roles at the Met.

Experiencing those moments will still not be cheap, but the new ticket pricing will ease sticker shock. For example, an orchestra aisle seat that is $360 this season will be $330, and a grand tier box seat will go to $180 from $195. In all, more than 2,000 seats for each performance will cost less, the Met said. One exception will be the $20 seats in the rear of the family circle, which will rise by $5.
Thousands of people will be paying less. Example: If you buy an orchestra aisle seat, your price will be cut by thirty bucks, all the way down to $330.

As usual, though, there is one exception: If you buy the cheapest seats, you will have to pay more! Seats in the rear of the Family Circle will rise by 25 percent.

(The Family Circle is the level above the Balcony. The seats in question are the seats in the rear of this oddly-named section. To confirm these facts, just click here.)

With this move, the Metropolitan Opera moves fully into the present day. The wealthiest patrons will get to pay less.

Students, also known as “the takers,” will be asked to kick in a bit more.

On rereading The Feminine Mystique!


A stunning piece of work: A few years ago—we don’t recall why—we spent some time reading Betty Friedan’s famous book, The Feminine Mystique.

Last weekend, we took the book with us on the train, inspired in part by a backward glance at the famous tome in the New York Times.

In the hard-copy Times, Jennifer Schuessler’s piece bore a familiar but tiresome headline: “Looking Back at a Domestic Cri de Coeur: Criticisms Of a Classic Abound.”

Typical! Use of the term “cri de coeur” inserted some snark right into the headline (which Schuessler presumably didn't write). Beyond that, a gang of little, yapping dogs seemed to be nipping at a great writer’s heels, as seems to be required by law in pundit pseudo-culture.

Criticisms of this famous book “abound,” we were told in the headline. And oh dear God, what criticisms! Example: In a piece which ran 1200 words, Schuessler devoted a chunk of space to this:
SCHUESSLER (2/19/13): In a new round table in the journal Gender and Society, [Stephanie] Coontz acknowledges that it is not known how many readers of ''The Feminine Mystique'' became politically active, or how many second-wave feminist leaders had even read the book. Indeed, Friedan was hardly without her critics in the movement, who blasted what they saw as her myopic focus on educated white women or her sometimes over-the-top language, whether she was comparing suburbia to ''a comfortable concentration camp'' or warning the National Organization for Women, which she help found in 1966, against an encroaching lesbian ''menace.''

Some scholars, however, have defended aspects of Friedan's work that sound most outlandish to contemporary ears. In an essay excerpted in the new Norton critical edition, Kirsten Fermaglich, a historian at Michigan State and the volume's co-editor, argued that Friedan was hardly the only Jewish thinker of the period to make use of extended Nazi metaphors while saying nothing about Jews. The historian Stanley Elkins, the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton and the psychologist Stanley Milgram, she wrote, all used Nazi concentration camps, much as Friedan did, as a metaphor for mass society's destruction of the individual.
To state the obvious, whatever Friedan may have said in 1966 wasn’t part of her famous book, which appeared in 1963. The term “concentration camp” is found in the book; it's part of a chapter title. That said, by the time we reach the concentration camp complaint, we are on very familiar ground, in which generations of useless people find small, tedious problems with works which extend light-years beyond their range.

Schuessler’s piece is well worth reading. We’re glad it helped us decide to take Friedan’s book with us on the train. That said, some complaints seem exceedingly small—for example, this one:
SCHUESSLER: That phrase, of course, became famous when ''The Feminine Mystique'' was published, 50 years ago on Tuesday, to wide acclaim and huge sales, and it remains enduring shorthand for the suffocating vision of domestic goddess-hood Friedan is credited with helping demolish. But her book has been shadowed by its share of critics ever since, including many otherwise sympathetic scholars who have doggedly chipped away at its own mystique.

Friedan, who died in 2006, was not just the frustrated ''housewife'' of her official biography, they point out, but a former left-wing journalist and activist whose jeremiad appeared in a climate that was more primed to receive it than she might have admitted.
In Friedan’s “official biography,” was she just a frustrated housewife? We don’t know. But it is plain, all through her actual book, that she had been a professional writer for women’s magazines in the years before she wrote The Feminine Mystique.

She frequently cites her experience within that world, a world she harshly criticizes. But it’s a familiar part of pseudo-culture that the little dogs will yap their complaints, “doggedly chipping away at” substantial pieces of work. Indeed, in the passage which follows, Schuessler seems to give voice to a very familiar complaint:
SCHUESSLER: ''The Feminine Mystique'' tends to be hailed simply as ''the book that started second-wave feminism,'' said Lisa M. Fine, a historian at Michigan State University and a co-editor of the first annotated scholarly edition, just published by Norton. ''But it's a much more complicated text.''

Indeed, some cracking its spine for the first time—as more than one commentator on the 50th anniversary has sheepishly confessed to doing—may be surprised at just how scholarly the book is. Friedan, who claimed she gave up a prestigious Ph.D. fellowship in psychology after a boyfriend said it would threaten their relationship, spent years in the New York Public Library, digging as deeply into the theories of Freud, Margaret Mead, A. H. Maslow and David Riesman as into the women's magazines she blasted for perpetuating the mythology of the ''happy housewife.''

Today that immersion in midcentury social science may make the book feel dated and more of a symbolic totem than a direct inspiration to current feminists.
This famous book is hard, this criticism almost seems to be saying. Of course, all over our pseudo-discourse, this complaint will arise when the fatuous souls who pose and preen are asked to peruse an entire book, or even when they are forced to sit through an entire speech or lecture.

(Do you remember when Dana Milbank complained about all the big words Gore used in a talk? In our last post, Sam Donaldson complained that George Stephanopoulos was being “very cerebral.”)

We’re sure there are problems with Friedan’s book, but we are very glad that Schuessler’s piece helped us decide to take it on the train. We were stunned by this book’s power as we read it going and coming. And uh-oh!

For us, the chapter on Freud was especially striking, for reasons we will describe another day. It didn’t make the book feel dated. It made the book feel very powerful, and it made us admire its author.

Good lord, what a remarkable book! It didn’t “feel dated,” not on a weekend when we watched a circus clown tell a roomful of famous women, on worldwide TV, that he has “seen their boobs.” (The women were expected to chuckle, proving that they are good sports.) Indeed, we were so stunned by Friedan’s book that we revisited that cascade of criticisms which we’d perused in the Times.

Same old story, we found ourselves thinking. Tomorrow, we’ll start to discuss what we found so impressive in Friedan’s deeply passionate text.

That said, if you want a brilliant book to read, you can do a great deal worse than this 50-year-old text. We’ve read few books to match this book.

Tomorrow, we’ll start to say why.

MAN AND MANDARIN: The pitiful ballad of Cokie and Sam!


Part 2—How will our strivers turn out: Within the mainstream press corps, the previous class of mandarins failed us liberals quite badly.

At one point, the Sams and the Cokies really seemed to be doing the job. Sam was willing to shout questions at Reagan. And Cokie was just very Cokie.

These mandarins never stopped being pro-choice, and so they were always listed as liberals. But as the years went by, as their very fat bank accounts grew, they became rather obvious tools of the scam. In the case of this famous pair, their full descent was memorialized in October 2000, two weeks before a history-changing election.

Below, you see the record of the moment when Sam and Cokie made it clear that they had completely gone over—that they were full-fledged, well-bribed members of a criminal mandarin class.

In the final Bush-Gore debate, Candidate Gore had discussed the need for a patients bill of rights. In response, Sam and Cokie guffawed, clowned, partied hearty. They were advancing the mandarin line, even as George Steohanopoulos tried to make them stick to the actual issue:
DONALDSON (10/23/00): Well, you talk about the message. I mean, remember during the last debate, Gore kept talking about the Dingell/Norwood bill, the Dingell/Norwood bill? And we thought, as a public service, we'd just show you who Dingell and Norwood are. Let us tell you about them.

[Photographs appear]

Representatives of Dingell and Norwood introduced the Patients' Bill of Rights favored by Gore and the House of Representatives. John Dingell, from Michigan, is the longest-serving Democrat in the House. His father, who was a House member before him, was a sponsor of Social Security in the '30s, and pioneered the idea of national health insurance back in 1943. Charlie Norwood from Georgia, a Republican, is a dentist. He served in Vietnam and was first elected to the House in 1994 as part of the Republican revolution. So that's who Dingell and Norwood are. Now I'll tell you—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important—

ROBERTS: Yeah, but—

DONALDSON: But there's a guy named Greg Ganske who's also on the bill. It's actually the Dingell-Norwood-Ganske bill!

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important, the important point—

DONALDSON: But I don't have time to start telling you about him.

ROBERTS: He's from Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The important point there is that George Bush didn't answer the question about the Dingell/Norwood bill, which is a Patients' Bill of Rights that allows people to—the right to sue.

ROBERTS: Actually, I don't think that is the important point there.


ROBERTS: Because that's not what comes across when you're watching the debate. What comes across when you're watching the debate is this guy from Washington doing Washington-speak.


ROBERTS: And you know, it's having an effect not just at the presidential level, but at the congressional level as well. Because the Republicans did a very smart thing, which is that they voted for their version of a Patients' Bill of Rights, and they voted for their version of prescription drug coverage. So they get to go out and tout all these issues, and then the Democrats are left saying, “But you didn't do Dingell and Norwood.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then they—but what gets lost there—

Wait a second, what gets lost there is that George Bush did oppose a Patients Bill of Rights in the state of Texas. And he did—and he's not for the Dingell/Norwood bill.

ROBERTS: It was lost because Al Gore didn't say it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, well, he did say it, actually, in the course of the debate.

DONALDSON: This is very cerebral. George Will, you are, but it doesn't be—helping Gore.

WILL: It's not helping Gore in part because people find him overbearing and off-putting and all the rest.
In fact, Gore did explain all the key points in that final debate. When Cokie claimed that "Gore didn't say it," she was now flatly misstating the truth to advance the mandarin line. To his credit, George Stephanopoulos kept trying to raise the relevant points which had arisen in that debate. But Sam and Cokie, aided by Will, just kept clowning and laughing, in line with a twenty-month upper-class war against Vile Clinton’s successor.

In a move which captured the age, Sam complained that Tedious George was being “very cerebral!” Journalism over!

To this day, the career liberal world has agreed to pretend that these events never happened. But in that mocking conversation, Sam and Cokie showed the world that they were full-fledged members of a mandarin ruling class.

Last week, Megan McArdle described the process by which a new journalistic elite is being formed. And uh-oh! She almost seemed to suggest that this new journalistic class will end up the same way those storeboughts did. To read her full piece, click here.

McArdle isn’t a liberal, but liberals and progressives should consider the various things she said in her piece. We liberals just sat there politely and took it as Sam and Cokie, with many others, went over to the mandarin side during the post-Reagan years.

Now, a new set of allegedly liberal journalists is being assembled for our use and enjoyment. But will they turn out to be the real deal?

Comparing D.C.’s ambitious young journalists to imperial China’s mandarin class, McArdle suggested that these high-flyers may turn out to be lacking too:
MCARDLE (2/21/13): All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it's meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.

The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. Since I moved to Washington, I have had series of extraordinary conversations with Washington journalists and policy analysts, in which I remark upon some perfectly ordinary facet of working-class, or even business-class life, only to have this revelation met with amazement...
Tomorrow, we will once again examine the claim that these young journalists “really are very bright”—“very smart,” as McArdle says a bit later. For today, liberals and progressives might want to consider the background McArdle ascribes to these rapid risers—and the traits which may perhaps be found among this striving class.

According to McArdle, many member of this class are clueless about everyday aspects of working-class and even business-class life. This statement is perfectly plausible; it’s hard to know why this wouldn’t be true, given their backgrounds and their tender years. She also suggests that these rapid risers are “prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority.”

Sam and Cokie turned out that way. Will our new elite follow suit? For a second day, we think it’s worth reviewing McArdle’s portrait of the way today’s young strivers have struggled to climb, reaching all the way back to third grade:
MCARDLE: The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high-school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.


As I say, the mandarins are in many senses deserving: they work very hard, and they are very smart. But there is one important thing they do not know, which is what it is like to be anyone except a mandarin. The first generation to come out of the postwar education revolution did; their parents frequently had quite banal jobs, possibly ones that left them with dirt under their fingernails after a day's work. (I remember as a child watching my grandfather's hands with fascination: after decades in a service station, they were permanently darkened from oil and dirt. He would come home from work every day and go into the first-floor powder room to wash his hands and shave before dinner ... but though I watched him scrub and scrub very thoroughly, the gray never entirely came off.)

But the people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other "elite" profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the postwar education system. A window that opened is closing. The mandarins are pulling away from the rest of America.
Rightly or wrongly, McArdle pictures a class of strivers who had already started to strive by the time they attended third grade. They have rocketed to the top through their technical verbal skills, although they lack a wide range of life experiences.

She says these young strivers are very ambitious—and she suggests that this high ambition may make them prone to be conformist. She says they are prone to being obedient.

Worst of all, she says they tend to be good at echoing the opinions of authority.

That’s how Sam and Cokie turned out, as you can see in the transcript we’ve posted. By October 2000, Sam and Cokie weren’t even pretending to be involved in journalism. They were simply laughing and clowning as they advanced the preferred point of view of Washington’s mandarin class.

Sam came from an average background; Cokie came from the elite. But fame and money are powerful forces—and the fame and the money have only grown since they turned Sam and Cokie to mush.

Is McArdle just trashing These Kids Today? Or will the fame and the money affect our new leaders in the ways she suggests? Is this process already occurring? For each of the last two questions, we will assume that the answer is yes. But in any case, liberals and progressives refuse to function as active citizens if we assume that It Can’t Happen Here—not among the brilliant new leaders the networks have selected for our brilliant new liberal tribe.

Will our new leaders be mandarins too? Are they mandarins already? Tomorrow, we’ll examine a question which predates those concerns:

Are our brilliant new journalistic leaders even “very smart?”

Tomorrow: A very weak interview session, matched with the bio from Hell

Maddow and Hayes talk Chicago and Newtown!


Where the good kids are: Today, voters in Illinois’ second congressional district start the process of replacing Jesse Jackson Jr.

In the past several weeks, Rachel Maddow has presented this contest as a test of the NRA’s ongoing political strength. Reason: One Democratic contender, Debbie Halvorson, has an A rating from the NRA, based upon past votes as a one-term congresswoman in a different Illinois district. Other Democratic contenders have always been low-rated by the NRA.

On February 15, Maddow discussed her theory about the NRA’s dwindling influence. She played tape of Halvorson at a past event, then offered a framework which struck us as slightly odd:
MADDOW (2/15/13): That was Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat, promising a crowd at a gun rights rally she will be their voice wherever she goes. That same Debbie Halvorson, now a former member of Congress, still a Democrat, is trying to win the first congressional election taking place in America after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Maybe once upon a time, that kind of position on guns, maybe once upon a time having an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association would be a great asset for getting elected to Congress. I’m sure at some point it might have been, but it is not anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, we showed the ad that the super PAC run by Mayor Mike Bloomberg had started running in that Illinois district. Highlighting Debbie Halvorson’s A rating from the NRA and highlighting it is not a good way.
Maddow’s analysis struck us as somewhat odd. For starters, we doubt that an A-rating from the NRA would ever have been a big plus in this heavily Democratic, largely urban district. Mainly, though, we refer to her statement that this will be “the first congressional election taking place in America after the Sandy Hook shooting.”

Is Sandy Hook the real frame of reference in this Chicago-area district? According to the Chicago Tribune, the district covers the South Side of Chicago and the southern suburbs. The district’s voting-age population is 54 percent black and 34 percent white. The district is heavily Democratic.

Question: Do black and Hispanic Chicago Democrats really think about Sandy Hook first when they think about guns? As many people may have heard, Chicago has had its own unique problems with gun violence in the past year. Just last month, the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, age 15, was a major event in Chicago. Pendleton had performed as a majorette at Obama’s inaugural parade just one week before.

When Chicagoans think about guns, do they think first about Sandy Hook? Maddow made that suggestion several times, then introduced Chris Hayes as she started her next segment. We wondered if Hayes would broaden Maddow’s frame of reference, but it didn’t happen:
MADDOW: This Illinois special election, the first congressional contest since what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary last month, happens just a week from Tuesday. Joining us now is Chris Hayes, the host of Up with Chris Hayes, weekend mornings at 8:00 here on MSNBC.

Chris, it is great to see you as always.

HAYES: Always great to see you.

MADDOW: Did you ever think you would live to see the day when an A rating from the NRA would be an albatross for politicians?

HAYES: You know, the weird part of it is I saw that day when it I was 13 years old or 14 years old, when there was this period, the Million Mom March, the assault weapons ban, when this kind of thing was good politics for Democrats and the Democratic Party leaned into it...
It didn’t seem to occur to either pundit that the death of Pendleton and other Chicago kids might count for a great deal in this district along with the deaths of the children at Sandy Hook.

We don’t know who will win tonight. Turn-out may be very low; part of the district is located in gun-friendly rural areas. We’ll only say this: For ourselves, we’re tired of seeing our fiery liberal leaders look right past the lives of black kids.

Do Chicago voters think of Sandy Hook when they think about guns? We will guess that folk in this district may know how to mourn Hadiya Pendleton along with those other beautiful kids, the beautiful kids from halfway across the country.

Do we liberals know how to honor black kids? Quite often, it seems that we do not, although that plainly can't be true. Reason? Because we’re the good people!

Worth at least a thousand words: To see what other good kids look like, please click here, then stare at the photograph hard.

In search of “dumb” as a standard of judgment!


More on the Oscar show mess: In this morning’s New York Times, Cieply and Barnes report the reaction to Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar turn.

In the hard-copy Times, their report sits atop the first page of the Arts section. Early on, we were struck by the reaction we highlight below:
CIEPLY AND BARNES (2/26/13): Post-Oscar Monday found the movie capital coming to grips with a 3-hour-35- minute ceremony that climbed in the ratings but at its best seemed to hide a great year for film behind a flurry of musical numbers, TV memories and Michelle Obama. At its worst, members of the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said, the ceremony trafficked in offensive humor.

“I think I’m a very liberal guy, but I actually winced,” said Lawrence Turman, an Academy member who is chairman of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

He echoed criticism that a number of people in Hollywood voiced privately, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid complicating relations with the Academy and the show’s producers.
According to the reporters, many observers were critical of MacFarlane, but most were only willing to speak “privately,” “on condition of anonymity.” This seemed strange, because of something we learned just a bit later on:
CIEPLY AND BARNES: Hawk Koch, the president of the Academy, did not respond for requests for comment. An Academy spokeswoman defended Mr. MacFarlane and the show’s producers in a statement.

“If the Oscars are about anything, they’re about creative freedom,” the statement said. “We think the show’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and host Seth MacFarlane, did a great job, and we hope our worldwide audience found the show entertaining.”
The Oscars are all about creative freedom. But how strange! Despite this lofty orientation, people didn’t feel free to voice their thoughts about the Oscar program!

Hollywood is often good at posturing and posing. That said, we were struck again, as we always are, by the annual paradox of the Oscars. As an industry, Hollywood is all about entertainment. Yet the one TV show it stages each year is always a brain-numbing flop.

So it was again this year. But critics seem to be searching for the term with which this problem can best be described.

That one key term is “dumb.” MacFarlane had a few good jokes, but most of his jokes were not good jokes. They simply weren’t very funny. They were massively formulaic.

There’s a term for such work: “dumb.” And yet, the criticisms recorded by Cieply and Barnes never employ this straightforward term for the dud which destroyed the Dolby.

In the Times report, MacFarlane’s jokes and skits are criticized as “offensive.” They’re criticized for lacking “good taste,” for having “a sexist tone.”

They’re criticized for being “ugly,” for “reinforcing anti-Jewish stereotypes among Oscar viewers around the world.” MacFarlane is also criticized for his “reliance on jokes about race.” The overall broadcast is criticized for “containing sexist, misogynistic and sexually exploitative content.”

We wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of that. We’d extend the complaint about race, noting that, to an “artist” like MacFarlane, actors like Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle are still just a couple of black guys for use in extremely stale jokes.

Cheadle and Washington are nothing more, not even after all these years.

MacFarlane was criticized in many ways, some of which are meant to be stinging. But the most obvious critique of MacFarlane’s work was AWOL from this Times report:

MacFarlane’s work was numbingly dumb—dumb and formulaic. It isn’t hard to come up with jokes like the ones he offered. You just have to be dumb enough, crass and empty enough, to be willing to do it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve noted the absence of “dumb” from our culture’s store of criticisms. Under prevailing cultural rules, you can criticize a performer or a journalist for almost anything—except for being dumb.

You can say a performer is sexist, racist or “ugly.” But for some reason, you aren’t allowed to say that an “artist” like MacFarlane is just flat-out dumb.

MacFarlane’s performance was very dumb. But then, a lot of work in Hollywood is, so no one seems willing to notice.

How does the Hollywood hackistry think? For the true humor produced by the evening, let’s look at the way MacFarlane’s work was defended to the Times. In this passage, Cieply and Barnes are quoting the broadcast’s producers:
CIEPLY AND BARNES: Others expressed unease over Mr. MacFarlane’s reliance on jokes about race—he pretended to mix up Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington—and women, including the opening number about nudity called, “We Saw Your Boobs.”

Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, an organization that recently released a report on the shortage of female movie directors, said “The sexist tone throughout the show indicates a critical need for the Academy to expand its talent pool of female writers, producers and directors.” Ms. Burton added that instead of celebrating film, “the whole world saw them honoring men and mocking women.”


Asked whether they regretted having included the number, Mr. Zadan and Mr. Meron, in a telephone interview on Monday, both answered, “No.” Mr. Zadan pointed to the show’s strong ratings, and said, “You hire Seth MacFarlane, you want something to be cutting edge and irreverent.”
In Hollywood Speak, dumb, formulaic Stern-style jokes are said to be “cutting edge” and “irreverent.” Meanwhile, critics who want to be decent and open-minded will make remarks like this:
CIEPLY AND BARNES: “It is offensive, even though comedians have great latitude,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, speaking of a skit in which Mr. MacFarlane, in character as the trash-talking teddy bear from his movie “Ted,” counseled Mark Wahlberg that it’s best to become Jewish and donate to Israel if you want to work in Hollywood.
“Comedians have great latitude,” Rabbi Hier said, trying to be decent, open-minded and fair. Presumably, this permitted latitude is part of the drive to protect MacFarlane’s “creative freedom.”

(At this point, we insert our mandatory joke: At present, the only creative thing is Hollywood is the creative accounting. MacFarlane is a case in point. As noted above, he has made one movie—about “a trash-talking teddy bear.” For unknown reasons, we refer to such people as “artists.”)

Rabbi Hier was being fair. But for those who want the simple truth, here it is: MacFarlane’s jokes and skits were dumb, formulaic—and crass. Before we get to offensive and sexist, let’s visit the starting-point:


Out of respect for “creative freedom,” Hollywood figures won’t state such a fact. It’s the most obvious fact in the world.

In our culture, it can’t be said.

The wages of people this dumb and this crass: Black guys can only be black guys. Women have boobs, little else. (Little girls are taught this fact about themselves in the program's opening minutes.) And the Jews are still controlling Hollywood! Let’s broadcast this fact to the world!

MacFarlane was dumbest and crassest in show. Minds like his keep everybody locked up in their old pens. But in our world, you can’t call him dumb. You have to go straight to the S- and R-bombs. This provokes the scripted response in which dopes like MacFarlane are said to be “irreverent,” on the “cutting edge.”

That scripted response is extremely dumb too. But you can’t even say that!

MAN AND MANDARIN: McArdle’s new framework!


Part 1—Exploring a new elite: Especially for liberals, reading Megan McArdle may involve paying a price.

Last week, McArdle wrote a very worthwhile piece for the Daily Beast. She discussed the new class of journalists, scholars and bureaucrats who increasingly define the way we all think.

McArdle compared this new elite to the imperial bureaucracy, the mandarins, who once governed imperial China. At one point, she said she was talking about “the Mandarinization of America.”

We think her piece was quite worthwhile, though you do have to fight your way through passages like the one which follows, passages in which McArdle ruminates about herself:
MCARDLE (2/21/13): [T]he people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other "elite" profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the postwar education system. A window that opened is closing. The mandarins are pulling away from the rest of America.

I include myself in this group. Though I completely lacked the focused ambition of the young journalists I meet today, I am a truly stellar test-taker, from a family of stellar test-takers. I have a B.A. from Penn and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, credentials that I am well aware give me an entree that other people don't have. Nor do I think that these are bad things to have. Verbal fluency, fast reading, and a good memory are excellent qualities—in a writer.

But they are not the only qualities worth having, and the things that mandarins know are not the only things worth knowing.
We’ll admit it. As we read that highlighted passage, we asked ourselves an obvious question: If McArdle is “a truly stellar test-taker,” why is her B.A. just from Penn?

We don’t recommend that way of thinking, but McArdle’s lavish self-praise demands it. At any rate, we’re advising you not to abandon this piece when you encounter such passages.

McArdle praises her own test-taking skill, which she admits is stellar. She praises her own verbal fluency, along with her rapid reading and her marvelous memory. But in that same passage, she makes a very good observation:

These qualities can be highly useful. On their own, though, they just aren’t enough.

Horrible people can have those qualities. A person who has verbal fluency may be extremely limited—and many such people may be found within our modern-day mandarin class.

For years, we’ve looked for ways to call attention to this problem—to the astounding shortcomings of our press corps elite. We’ve sometimes called them Antoinettes. We’ve asked if they might be space invaders or some form of cyborg.

Can they be human, we’ve often asked. In her piece, McArdle offers a new lens through which we might view this new class—she compares them to Chinese imperial bureaucrats. And having proposed this unflattering framework, she offers this punishing observation about this young, rising class:
MCARDLE: What's remarkable is that this is coming from me. It's not like I came up on the mean streets of Camden, or come from a long line of dockworkers. Both my grandfathers were small-business owners. My father and most of his siblings have spent at least some time as professors. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and went through middle and high school at what is now the most expensive private school in New York City. (I should note that it wasn't anything of the kind when I went there. But still.) My experience of working-class life consists of some relatives, a few summer jobs, a stint in the secretarial pool at a nonprofit, three years with a firm that had a substantial cable-installation practice, and one year in a construction trailer at Ground Zero...

And yet, this is apparently considerably more experience than many of my fellow journalists have, especially the younger ones. The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high-school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.
McArdle isn’t a grey beard. According to the leading authority on her life, she turned 40 only last month. Beyond that, she tilts toward the right side of the aisle, having moved, more than a decade ago, from liberal to libertarian.

But when she describes these new mandarins, McArdle describes a younger class of journalists—“kids” who emerged from a few elite schools as part of “a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living.” According to McArdle (see first passage quoted above), these “young journalists” feature a “focused ambition” that she herself lacks.

For many reasons, it can be hard to spot the shortcomings of these young climbers. You see our new mandarins on the TV machine thingy, where they try, with the help of staff, to help you learn to adore them more fully. You see their written work in our major publications. Because of the way celebrity works, it may be hard to observe their substantial limitations, especially since they possess a degree of “verbal fluency” with which you can be misdirected.

We think McArdle has offered a worthwhile new lens through which we can examine this important new class. In our view, liberals and progressives were profoundly betrayed by the last generation of mandarins—and yet, we liberals have been almost completely unable to observe this obvious fact or to give it voice in the public square.

How will the new generation pan out? For the rest of the week, we’ll use McArdle’s worthwhile text as a framework for asking that question.

In our view, no liberal or progressive worth his or her salt should trust this exalted new mandarin class. Are they man or mandarin? More to the point, and abandoning sex-specific language, are these new mandarins fully and helpfully human?

Are they full-blooded men and women—or are they mandarins only? We’ll be asking such questions all week. McArdle provides a good text.

Tomorrow: Are these new mandarins “smart?”

As Doc Watson once put it, we're southbound!

Full services return on the morrow: In our view, Doc Watson put it best. To see a performance of the whole song, just click here:
Southbound, she's burnin' the ground and I don't mean maybe
Sure am glad I caught this train cause I'd like to see my baby
I've been lonesome, long to see them hills that I come from
I'm going back to spend a little time
Where a friend's a friend when you ain't got a dime
I'm southbound.
In our case, no "baby" is involved; the only "hill" would be Bolton Hill. The part about friends and dimes doesn't seem to apply.

But the doctor got the general idea, as he so frequently did. Those basic points established, full services return on the morrow.

Are Spielberg and Bigelow artists or slackers!


What hath Zero Dark wrought: We fled the Oscars not too long after Seth MacFarlane performed “We Saw Your Boobs,” which the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever has now described as the gent’s “best number.”

Plainly, the Howard Stern formula owns the culture. That formula has two parts:

First, determine the thing you “shouldn’t” say. Then, proceed to say it, knowing that the mandarin class will treat your piffle as humor.

Ah, those mandarins! We have continued to ponder Megan McArdle’s review of the current mandarin class, even as we have been rereading The Feminine Mystique, in which Betty Freidan savagely flayed the 1950s’ version of same. Even as McArdle pummels our modern order, she does make one major giant misstatement:

“As I say, the mandarins are in many senses deserving: they work very hard, and they are very smart.”

Except no—our mandarins actually aren’t “very smart.” We thought of that problem as we read (perhaps) the final few analyses of Zero Dark Thirty over the weekend.

Is our long national nightmare over? Will woolly-headed ruminations on Zero Dark Thirty finally stop? In Saturday’s New York Times, two top film critics, Dargis and Scott, combined to consider the endless debate about this particular film’s treatment of torture.

We thought their long piece was extremely light. In our view, they used their verbal skills to serve the main role of the mandarin class—to give the impression that enlightened debate is taking place within the national press.

Is there a potential problem when Films like Zero Dark Thirty or Lincoln offer dramatic portrayals of real historical figures and/or real historical events? In our view, the critics swerved off the rails early on, with this one highlighted phrase:
DARGIS/SCOTT (2/23/13): The rules of journalism seem clear enough, at least when they are violated. But where, in a work of imagination drawn from real life, are we supposed to draw the line between acceptable invention and irresponsible fabrication? Can we shrug off, say, the preposterous fancies of “Shakespeare in Love” and playful untruths in “The King’s Speech” and still object to the paranoid embroideries of “JFK”? Historians know that facts are not separate from interpretation and the same can be said of taste in movies. There is no single standard that would condemn (or excuse) both the whimsical inventions of “Marie Antoinette,” in which the Queen of France is glimpsed wearing high-top sneakers, and the wholesale revisionism of “Mississippi Burning,” which ridiculously credited white F.B.I. agents for the hard-won victories of the civil rights movement.
Can Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln be described as “works of imagination drawn from real life?” Yes, but so can classic political films like Advise and Consent and Seven Days in May. The distinction: The latter films don’t pretend to show us real historical figures in the midst of real historical events. The latter films are purely fiction, although their themes and concerns are plainly “drawn from real life.”

Inevitably, the first type of “work of imagination drawn from real life” can confuse people about real events and real facts in a way the second type cannot. But the critics avoided this distinction throughout their piece.

Predictably, they ended by saying that the mandarins to whom they fawn for a living haven’t done something problematic or wrong. Also, they flirted with the hoariest cliche of the mandarin class: The American people are pretty sharp:
DARGIS/SCOTT: Audiences are used to reading the words “based on a true story” as a hedge rather than a promise (or a threat!). And we are often in the dark about just what has been changed or omitted. Even devoted history buffs may not remember the tally of votes in Congress nearly 150 years ago. But thinking adults can tell the difference between a fiction film and a nonfiction one, despite the worried warnings from politicians and others who have recently been moonlighting as movie critics. Behind some of the most inflamed concern over works like “Lincoln” and especially “Zero Dark Thirty” is a thinly veiled distrust of the American public—that, well, moviegoers are just not smart or sophisticated or schooled enough to know the difference between fact and fiction, on-screen lies and off-screen ones.

Given some of the stories that politicians themselves have peddled to the public, including the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, such concern is understandable. It can often seem as if everyone is making stuff up all the time and in such a climate of suspicion and well-earned skepticism—punctuated by “gotcha” moments of scandal and embarrassment—movies are hardly immune.

But invention remains one of the prerogatives of art and it is, after all, the job of writers, directors and actors to invent counterfeit realities. It is unfair to blame filmmakers if we sometimes confuse the real world with its representations. The truth is that we love movies partly because of their lies, beautiful and not. It’s journalists and politicians who owe us the truth.
It can seem as if everyone is making stuff up all the time? At this point, everyone is making stuff up all the time, from our history professors on down, and the people cast as journalists rarely seem to notice. That said, films which pretend to be showing us historical figures and/or events have a unique ability to spread flawed or bogus information. As they mouth undifferentiated piffle like “invention remains one of the prerogatives of art,” Dargis and Scott never quite manage to confront this obvious problem.

Is it “the job of writers, directors and actors to invent counterfeit realities?” We’re not sure, but it seems to be the job of the mandarin class to create the counterfeit impression that an intelligent watchdog class is considering important problems in our leading publications.

We don’t think Dargis and Scott did that. We don’t think their piece was smart, let alone “very smart.”

Is the mandarin class very smart? Are they confronting important problems in our leading publications? Over the weekend, we’ve been thrilled to revisit the way Friedan tore that illusion apart in the summer of 63, describing the work of the mandarin class all through the post-war period. Reading Dargis and Scott blather on to their mandated ends, you can perhaps see that a mandarin class is still employed to create that type of illusion today.

For our money, a fair amount of hubris is involved in pretending to show us what Lincoln said to his son (or to his cabinet) in the White House. When film-makers pretend to show us how bin Laden was tracked, powerful misinformation can be conveyed—and yes, that’s an actual problem.

Some people make purely fictional films to convey ideas about the real world. Others dress up actors as Lincoln—or as Maya. Their work gains speed from this potent illusion. This frees them from the need to invent a compelling story from scratch.

In the process, such slackers actually may transmit bogus ideas and notions. If they do, mandarin critics will be on hand to call them “artists.” They will tell us “it’s their job” to confuse us the rubes in such ways.

Breaking: This whole press corps is out of order!


The New York Times attempts to report on the nation’s Hispanic students: In some ways, yesterday was the wrong day to be called away from our sprawling campus.

Consider a few of the day’s events as recorded by Kevin Drum:

You had a fake column by David Brooks. For Drum’s review, click here.

You had a somewhat fake review of health care costs by Steven Brill. Click this.

Following Monday’s fake interview by Charlie Rose, these presentations made us think of Al Pacino’s famous rant in that famous movie:

This whole “press corps” is out of order, as we’ve told you for some time.

This whole “press corps” is out of order! Essentially, its major presentations are Potemkin. They’re efforts by a Potemkin elite to make the public think it has a press corps.

Also from Drum, late Thursday: This post concerning a piece by Megan McArdle, in which McArdle describes the “mandarin” class which helps conduct this long-running fraud. We recommend the second half of her piece, although we didn’t have the chance to review it with full care.

Is this whole press corps out of order? Brooks, Brill and Rose are very high-ranking players. But along with their fake presentations, consider the hapless work of Motoko Rich in this news report from yesterday’s New York Times.

Rich was discussing the performance of Hispanic students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). We were struck by the sloth and the technical incompetence displayed all through the report.

Let’s start with the hard-copy headline, which captured the sense of Rich’s opening paragraphs:
RICH (2/22/13) Test Scores of Hispanics Vary Widely Across 5 Most Populous States, Analysis Shows

Of all the changes sweeping through the American public education system, one of the most significant is simply demographic: the growing population of Hispanic students.

A new analysis released Thursday of nationwide test results in the five most populous states—California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas—shows that depending on where they live, Hispanic students’ academic performance varies widely.
“A new analysis shows!” Truly, that's rich.

Rich was describing a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency which conducts the NAEP. From that headline and from those opening grafs, a New York Times reader might get the impression that the NCES report was breaking new information about the performance of Hispanic students.

It wasn’t. The information Rich discusses has been available for quite some time in the voluminous data banks presented at the NAEP site. That said, reporters wouldn’t examine those data if their grandmothers' lives were at stake. Periodically, therefore, the NCES issues reports, hoping to induce reporters to consider basic data.

Ironically, we used these data months ago to challenge bogus claims by Gail Collins, Rich’s partner in sloth at the Times. Collins was parading around the country, making bogus claims about Hispanic students in Texas. She plainly hadn’t consulted the data; eight months later, Rich treats these data as news.

If these data are really newsworthy, they have been public for some time. But at the Times, such data will go unexplored (or will be misrepresented) until such time as the NCES spoons them out in a special report, at which point the Times will make you think the data are new.

What do these data show? The errors began as soon as Rich started trying to tell us. As she started, she reported that Hispanic students in California perform less well on the NAEP than their counterparts in four other large states. This is just extremely old “news.” But look how Rich tried to explain it:
RICH: In mathematics, Hispanic eighth graders in California similarly underperformed their peers in other states, with just 13 percent hitting the proficiency mark, compared with 22 percent in Florida and 31 percent in Texas, where Hispanics make up more than half the eighth-grade student population.

In prepared remarks for a panel to discuss the report on Thursday, Richard Zeiger, chief deputy superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education, pointed out that one in four students in California is an English-language learner, the highest proportion in the country. He said that in addition to the state’s demographic challenges, the schools had been hampered by “a sustained disinvestment in public education, made all the more severe by the Great Recession.”
Interesting! From the highlighted comment, one might get the idea that California has an unusually high percentage of English-language learners among its Hispanic students. This might start to explain why California’s Hispanic kids don’t score as well as their peers in other states.

But is that true? Rich makes no attempt to tell us. She doesn’t say what percentage of California Hispanics are English-language learners, nor does she give the corresponding percentage for the other large states. This is terrible journalism—and then, we get handed this:
RICH (continuing directly): California’s struggles were not confined to Hispanic students. Over all, the state’s fourth and eighth graders underperformed the national average in reading, math and science. One bright spot in the state came from gains shown by black students in fourth-grade reading and math scores over two decades.
From that, you might think that California’s white and black students also underperform the national average in reading and math—possibly by a lot, since the state’s struggles “weren't confined to Hispanics.”

In fact, California’s black fourth-graders outscored their nationwide peers in reading and math in 2011; California’s white fourth-graders outscored their peers in math, essentially tied them in reading. (We didn't check science.) In that passage, Rich created confusion in the most boneheaded possible way—by failing to “disaggregate.” To wit:

California’s “overall” scores were low because it has a very high percentage of Hispanic students, and their scores were low. That doesn’t mean that other parts of the student population were “struggling.” Incredibly, Rich failed to make this bone-simple distinction—but then, all through her report, she creates confusion in this way, by her struggles with the very basic concept of disaggregation.

At best, Rich’s report conveyed some very old news—old news the Times never regarded as news until the NCES wrote a report. Along the way, she seems to make various factual errors; she also creates a fair amount of confusion by the way she jumps around between “overall” scores and scores of Hispanics alone.

That said, Rich’s report attained new heights of fatuousness as it ended. Our whole press corps is out of order when our nation’s most famous newspaper is able to “report” in this manner:
RICH: New York students’ scores appeared to be influenced in particular by whether they were enrolled in city or suburban schools. In eighth-grade reading, for example, the percentage of urban students who were proficient was 26 percent, compared with 43 percent of suburban children.

“The exposure that our urban children have to high levels of learning versus typical suburban students—there are marked differences,” Mr. Slentz said. “Whether it’s access to public libraries, to well-developed after-school programs, there is a difference between what the suburban kids have at their fingertips versus what urban kids have.”
Good God. After all these years, the New York Times thinks it’s news when it learns that suburban students score better in reading and math than urban kids. At the start of this passage, Rich seems to suggest that this gap is especially large in the state of New York, but she makes no attempt to compare New York to the other states involved in the NCES report.

We’ve marveled at Rich’s reporting before. We marvel at its ineptitude because it appears in the New York Times—and because Rich, who is 42 or 43, apparently graduated summa cum laude from Yale.

What does it mean when work this inept is found at the top of our national press corps, presented by McArdle’s “mandarin” class? For one thing, it means the New York Times doesn’t care about low-income kids. And it means that your whole national “press corps” is very much out of order.

Hooray for Hollywood! And hooray for the way a mandarin class serves a plupotent elite.

We're off on a mission of national import!


Heading toward the north on Amtrak: As you may already have heard, we're off on a mission of national import, heading toward the north on Amtrak.

We expect to post tomorrow. We recommend Paul Krugman's column, in which he knocks down the usual experts.

On this national holiday weekend, did we note a few sly Hollywood references? Hooray for Hollywood! Even if by-the-Potomac!

Coming: We accept the Hornaday Challenge!

Faddish interventions v. preschool for all!


Kevin Drum’s reactions: After reading our post about those (forbidden) rising NAEP scores, Kevin Drum says he had a similar reaction when, if we might borrow from Keats, first he star’d at NAEP scores.

As Drum described his reaction, he made a distinction which rang a few more bells for us:
DRUM (2/21/13): Like Bob, I was also surprised the first time I really started to dig into test score data: it showed pretty clearly that we've made consistent progress over the past three decades, especially at the elementary school level. It turns out that American schools aren't in terminal decline. At the same time, years of dipping into the ed reform literature has made me very cynical about faddish interventions. Virtually none of them really seem to hold up when you test them with bigger sample sizes, longer time series, or better studies.

I feel differently about pre-K interventions for a couple of reasons...
Kevin goes on to say that (high quality) preschool is different from all those faddish interventions. We are inclined to assume the same. (You can check Drum’s couple of reasons yourself.)

That said, the reference to “faddish interventions” brought this thought to mind:

As we mentioned this morning, we were never inclined to think that the “standards and testing” regime would do all that much to help struggling low-income kids. We were surprised when we saw that NAEP scores had been rising strongly, especially in math, during the years when this regime was being widely adopted. (The widespread adoption of “standards and testing” predated No Child Left Behind, which largely codified and mandated a pre-existing consensus.)

We never thought that “standards and testing” would do all that much to help low-income kids. Thanks to Kevin’s fantastic work on the topic, we now wonder if the rise in test scores might not be connected to lead abatement. That said, we also believe that a lot of people have tried very hard to improve public schools in the past forty years. We assume their efforts have helped.

Urban school systems were a total mess, in every way, when we taught in Baltimore, from 1969 through 1982. We get the impression that a lot of people have tried to change that in the years since then. We’re inclined to honor all their efforts until we’re shown they were crazy or nuts.

That said, “faddish interventions” still seem to be fairly common in public education. “Standards and testing” strikes us as one example; we’ve never seen a coherent explanation of how grade-by-grade “standards” are supposed to be applied, since there will always be a wide array of achievement levels within any school system’s third- or fourth-grade population. If the state of Maryland devises statewide “standards” (objectives) for fifth grade math, what do you do with the kids who may be way behind standard fifth grade level in math? What do you do with the kids who may be ready for more advanced work—the kids who will be bored by those statewide standards?

We’ve never seen that question addressed, even as the public discussion oohs and aahs about statewide (or even national) standards. In that sense, “standards and testing” has always struck us as a “faddish intervention.” Meanwhile, we have literally never seen a public discussion of the most obvious problem we encountered in seven years of teaching fifth graders in Baltimore (we also taught eighth-grade math):

What do you do for beautiful, deserving kids who may be years behind traditional “grade level” in reading and math? How do you get them textbooks they can actually read with understanding? Textbooks they can read with understanding which discuss material appropriate to their age and grade? Where do you get them age-appropriate library books? Where do you go for math textbooks/instructional programs which are designed for kids like them—for fifth-graders who may be sixth- or seventh-grade by age but who may be doing math “on the third-grade level.”

How do you immerse these kids in the experience of reading and writing? If the books you hand them are too hard, they can’t be expected to read them, and they certainly won’t enjoy them. “Standards and testing” doesn’t begin to address this problem. But this was the big, gigantic, overwhelming problem we encountered in the elementary classroom. We’ve never seen a discussion of this in the public square.

We’re not saying that no such discussion has ever occurred. We’re saying that the standard discussions in the national press seem completely disconnected from these basic realities. (Granted, if the NAEP scores are basically accurate, it means that the disconnects are not as large as they were in the 1970s.)

Does lead abatement help explain the rise in NAEP scores—the rise in scores the American public has never been told about? We’ll assume that it does, although we’ll also assume that major efforts by many people also explain the rise. That said, when we read the national press, we often wonder if anyone else has ever set foot in an urban classroom.

It’s a beautiful thing when kids who have always struggled in school finally get a chance to succeed—when they get handed books they can actually read, books which treat subjects they care about. When they get to sit in circles and read those books to each other. When they get to lay on the floor and put their reactions on paper.

As a general rule, “faddish interventions” don’t do that. Middle-class kids have those experiences from very early ages, as of course they should.

High-quality preschool might help a lot of children get there. What a shame that, Drum excepted, the career liberal world manifestly doesn’t care—hasn’t shown the slightest sign of caring for the past several decades.

If Obama actually tries to pass preschool, he’ll be facing an uphill climb.

The least helpful approach: We don’t want to single out Rachel Maddow for an impulse which is very common. But in our own view, this is the least helpful reaction to topics like this:
MADDOW (2/14/13): Oklahoma loves [its widely-available early education] because kids in Oklahoma just a few years into this started making truly long leaps in their letters and their spelling and their problem solving. Oklahoma kids made truly long leaps. Black kids, white kids, Native American kids, Hispanic kids. Everybody. It really worked.
We’re sorry, but that isn’t accurate. Oklahoma kids have not “made truly long leaps” as a result of the state’s efforts with preschool. But there’s always a detached millionaire who’s eager to feed you this shit.

(Michelle Rhee takes the same approach. She pretends it’s easy to get great results, then lets regular teachers get trashed when her happy-talk dreams don’t pan out.)

Here’s what those people are telling you: I will never have to work inside an actual low-income classroom. Instead, I will sit here and happily peddle this feel-good, happy-talk shit.

You pitiful rubes—you average people—are the ones who will have to make it work. When it doesn’t work in the way I’ve described, you’ll be the ones who get trashed.

Variants of this happy-talk have been common since the 1960s. It isn’t a smart way to deal.

Our Rhee on Rose: When Kevin got hissed!


This has the faint sound of a novel: Although it apparently wasn’t his, George Burns was famous for saying it:

“Sincerity is everything in show business. Once you learn to fake that, you’ve got it made.”

That’s how it works in show business. To understand the American discourse, you have to master three basic concepts: Novels, scripts and “zombie facts.” (Paul Krugman; just click here.)

When Michelle Rhee sat down with Charlie Rose, Charlie inquired about her husband. Rhee is married to Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA all-star.

Johnson has also been involved in urban education. Until we’re shown that he has failed in some grotesque way, we very much respect his efforts. But when Rhee responded to the (leading) question from Rose, we thought we were possibly hearing a novel.

After Charlie told Rhee who her husband was, this is the story Rhee told:
ROSE (2/18/13): Does Kevin Johnson believe the same things you do about teachers unions?

RHEE: You know, so—

ROSE: He’s your husband.

RHEE: This is my husband who is—

ROSE: The mayor.

RHEE: —the mayor of Sacramento.

ROSE: Former NBA all-star.

RHEE: That’s right. It was interesting. When I first met Kevin Johnson I was— I was listening to him speak, and he was talking about the fact that when he retired from the NBA, he decided to go back home to the neighborhood that he grew up in and start a charter school. And he said that when he went into the school, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the city and he said, “This is what I’m going to do, we’re going to make this school great again,” and the teachers you know all clapped.

And he said, "A week later I came back and people were hissing and booing as I came in and I realized the teachers union had come in and told them, ‘This is terrible, you’re going to lose your jobs,’ etc.”
Did that actually happen? Presumably, the school is question is Sacramento High, Johnson’s alma mater, which he opened as a charter in 2003.

But did that story actually happen? To us, it has the feel of a novel. First, the teachers all clapped for Johnson. But wouldn't you know it? Just one week later, “people” were hissing and booing!

In that week, the fiendish union had struck—the fiendish teachers union.

As we said, we respect Johnson’s efforts. Beyond that, teachers and their unions aren’t always sensible or right. But did that story actually happen? In a slightly saner world, we would expect a major broadcaster to challenge or question a tale which seemed to have such a novelized feel.

That isn’t what happened here. Here’s how Rose reacted:
ROSE (continuing directly): Yes, yes.

RHEE: And the teachers union spent $750,000 to try to make sure that he couldn’t open the charter school. And when he— When he told that story and I listened to it and I thought, “Wow, we have something in common!”

ROSE: "Radical: Fighting to Put Students First." Michelle Rhee, thank you.

RHEE: Thank you.

ROSE: Good to see you.

RHEE: It’s good to see you, too
“It’s good to see you, too,” Rhee said. We’ll guess she really meant it.



Part 4—Why Obama faces great odds: Last Tuesday, President Obama proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”

With blinding speed, some unlikely suspects fell into line, stating their heartfelt agreement with this lofty goal. For one example, let’s return to one part of Gail Collins’ column.

According to Collins, here’s what happened after Dick Nixon vetoed a day care bill in 1971. In this passage, Collins’ concern about preschool seems boundless. Below, we’ll note a few points:
COLLINS (2/14/13): Now, 42 years later, working parents of every economic level scramble madly to find quality programs for their preschoolers, while the waiting lines for poor families looking for subsidized programs stretch on into infinity.

And President Obama is trying, against great odds, to do something for 4-year-olds.

People, think about this for a minute. We have no bigger crisis as a nation than the class barrier. We’re near the bottom of the industrialized world when it comes to upward mobility. A child born to poor parents has a pathetic chance of growing up to be anything but poor. This isn’t the way things were supposed to be in the United States. But here we are.
According to Collins, we have “no bigger crisis as a nation” than the crisis Obama’s proposal addresses. But how odd! Using Nexis, we can find no previous instance when Collins wrote a column about the need for early education.

She wrote plenty of columns about Mitt Romney’s dog, who she said had been “strapped to the roof of a car.” (Inside a windproof kennel.) She even spent a chunk of last summer grossly misinforming the public about our low-income schools.

But in the 42 years since Nixon struck, Collins has had little to say about the need for early education, even though it addresses our biggest crisis. In part for that reason, it’s just as she said: “People, here we are.”

We were also surprised by Joan Walsh’s lengthy, detailed piece in Salon. “I write from the perspective of someone who very much believes in the wisdom of investing in preschool,” Walsh wrote, “and who also knows the obstacles to enacting large-scale programs.” Here’s where her perspective comes from:
WALSH (2/14/13): Back in the 1980s, I worked for the California State Assembly Human Services Committee, which oversees subsidized childcare and preschool programs as well as welfare-to work programs. Later I consulted with an Oakland non-profit surveying the landscape of best practices in reducing urban poverty to promote what worked best.

Back then, and to this day, high quality preschool programs seemed to be the single best intervention to break the cycle of chronic poverty. And yet despite, or maybe because of, our many national, state and local efforts to build such programs for every family, truly large-scale success is elusive.
Sounding quite a bit like Collins, Walsh said that high quality preschool programs “seem[s] to be the single best intervention to break the cycle of chronic poverty.” Apparently, it has seemed that way to Walsh since the 1980s. That said, we don’t recall seeing Walsh write about this topic before (we could be wrong). We don’t recall reading about high quality preschool in Salon in the years when Walsh was editor.

Or about low-income schools in general. When has Salon ever discussed such schools?

Question: When’s the last time the ranking liberal world pushed for high quality preschool? Expanding our search, when’s the last time the ranking liberal world discussed low-income schools at all?

Early in her piece, Walsh explained why preschool doesn’t get discussed. We think what follows is fantasy:
WALSH (2/14/13): President Obama’s plan for universal preschool is as ambitious and crucial as his healthcare reform commitment, maybe more so. Citing research showing that investing a dollar in preschool saves $7 in the course of a child’s life, by improving their chances at finishing high school, avoiding early parenthood or prison, going to college and/or getting and holding a job, the president declared Tuesday night: “Let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”


Obama’s new crusade demands the question: If preschool is such a great value, why haven’t we made it a priority before?

The easy answer is that American social policy is rarely inspired by research. But the more honest answer is that preschool campaigns often get derailed by debates over how to provide it, and to whom, and at what cost. Preschool can seem like a social policy silver bullet: It can help kids do better in school, it can provide child care support for parents who need it; it can even serve as an employment program for teachers, aides and family support professionals, maybe moving some unemployed parents who need support for their kids into the workplace themselves.

The very fact that preschool proposals seem like the answer to so many social problems has led to a vexing outcome: they can be derailed by questions about costs, goals and turf, thus solving no problems at all. They are often oversold (the president may be making that mistake already.) “Can universal preschool solve all our problems?” a National Journal headline blared Thursday morning (a dumb headline on a smart piece). Of course, the answer is no–but done the right way, it can solve some of them.
It may be true that preschool proposals “can be derailed by questions about costs, goals and turf.” But when has any major liberal ever made a preschool proposal? When has any major liberal discussed preschool on TV? Expanding our search, when has any major liberal ever discussed low-income schools in any way? When have we ever discussed the many deserving children (like Damien Fowler, age 4) encompassed by this sprawling topic?

How do progressives fail to gag while reading that column by Collins? In fairness, Collins is right on several scores.

It’s true! Obama will be working “against great odds” if he ends up trying “to do something for 4-year-olds.” But in large part, those odds will stem from forty years of liberal indifference—from our apathy, our vast disinterest. From our moral preening.

We liberals pretend to care about minority kids. This still forms part of our tribal identity, an identity which is built around the joy of calling the other tribe racist.

In truth, we don’t care about such kids at all; nothing could be more plain. To understand our tribal loathing and the great odds Obama would face, let’s return to a topic we’ve often discussed: The nation’s rising NAEP scores.

In this recent blog post, Paul Krugman cited an interesting part of a recent David Brooks column. “[A]s far as I know not a single major player in [our budget] debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides,” Brooks wrote.

When we read that passage by Brooks, we wondered if we had ever switched sides on some topic based upon data. We thought of how amazed we were when, if we might borrow from Keats, we first star'd at the nation’s NAEP scores.

We’ll guess this was roughly ten years ago. For about the millionth time, we had seen the federally-run National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) described as the “gold standard” of educational testing.

We decided to go to the sprawling NAEP site to see what it contained.

We were stunned by what we saw there. We saw that, according to this gold standard program, black kids had been making large progress in reading and math down through the years. (Hispanic kids too.)

Like everyone else who reads newspapers, we had never heard this. Like everyone else who reads newspapers, we had endlessly heard that our schools were awful and getting worse—that absolutely nothing was working.

Based upon our own teaching experience, we had never thought that “standards and testing” were likely to help low-income students in major ways. We abandoned that presupposition after seeing those NAEP data, although we’ll still guess that the rise in scores is most strongly tied to other factors. (For one possibility, see Drum on lead abatement.)

That said, those “gold standard” scores are an incredible thing to behold. To our eye, those rising lines on NAEP graphs are gorgeous. A few years ago, Richard Rothstein captured the change in its most striking form:

As of 2007, Rothstein noted, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math than white fourth-graders scored in 1992!

That progress, if real, is astounding. But thanks to the mountain of liberal indifference, the public has never been told. Very few people have ever heard that our low-income and minority kids seem to be doing much better in school.

This is one of the reasons why Obama will face great odds if he tries to sell universal preschool. To this day, the public is constantly told that nothing works.

Why would they want to pay for universal preschool if nothing else ever has worked?

Why do we liberals hate black kids so much? We often marvel at our cruelty—at the astounding indifference which is involved when we won’t bother ourselves to tell the public about those astonishing NAEP scores.

Go ahead—look at Damien Fowler, age 4. If those NAEP scores aren’t totally bogus, his older siblings are doing much better in school than their parents and grandparents did. (The same is true of America's white kids.) This should be a cause for hope. But the liberal world disregards children like Fowler so much that we can’t even move our big fat asses to let the public know.

If you watch The One True Channel, you will see a great deal of advocacy on behalf of certain groups which are currently favored by us liberals. Much of that advocacy is completely justified; it represents actual progress. But you won’t see black kids mentioned at all—unless such children live in Malawi, in which case Lawrence will rend your heart each year at Christmastime.

Manifestly, the liberal world just doesn’t care about black kids. We quit on black kids long ago; nothing could be more plain. For that reason, the business community in several red states has been working harder than we have to bring preschool to children like Damien Fowler.

Good for them—but you know how we are! When Obama mentioned this fact, we knew we had to find ways to deny it. Result? Maddow offered a clowning report designed to make us think that Oklahoma is leading the way because, if we might borrow from Jesus, they know not what they are doing. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/20/13.

What makes us liberals hate black kids so much? And since we enjoy the practice so much, should we drop R-bombs on our own heads? We wouldn’t recommend the bombs, but Obama will be facing great odds because of the decades of sloth and indifference we have brought to this topic.

That’s if he really plans to proceed—if he tries at all.

Tomorrow or Saturday—epilogue: Two talkers discuss Chicago