Part 1—As passed by Republican votes: Last Wednesday, Digby joined the liberal crowd, singing the week’s liberal song.
Her piece at Salon started like this. To us, this seemed a bit odd:
DIGBY (7/1/15): Last week was a productive one for President Obama. His approval ratings are up, he passed a major piece of legislation, he gave a historic eulogy at Charleston’s Emanuel AME church, and the Supreme Court handed down two rulings that will leave lasting positive marks on his legacy.“Last week was a productive one for President Obama,” Digby said.
“He passed a major piece of legislation,” she said. To us, that sounded odd.
Why did that sound odd? Because the major legislation in question received support from very few Democrats in either the House or the Senate.
The legislation had been aggressively opposed by many liberals and progressives. In the actual congressional voting, the bill was opposed by 158 of 186 Democrats in the House and by 31 of 44 Democrats in the Senate.
Rightly or wrongly, Obama had passed the legislation with mainly Republican support. This wasn’t just Obama’s bill. For better or worse, it was also John Boehner’s.
Credit where due! As she continued, Digby acknowledged this state of affairs.
In our view, she performed a bit of a two-step in the process. The legislation which made Obama’s week “productive” was in fact “depressing” for her:
DIGBY (continuing directly): And it seems that liberals in general are feeling pretty good about things too. While the horrifying events of Charleston threw everyone for a loop, the long overdue realization that it was time to put the Confederate Flag into the history books was a welcome reaction. And while the passage of the fast-track legislation over the objections of the progressive base was depressing, the left put up a good fight that showed a path to winning future battles. Two big, highly anticipated Supreme Court decisions were met a huge sigh of relief, in the Obamacare case, and buoyant euphoria, in recognition of the right for gays and lesbians to marry. Sometimes it’s good to be a liberal.As it turns out, “the passage of the fast-track legislation...was depressing,” Digby said. She said liberals were feeling good because of those other events.
It seemed to us that Digby was cheerleading just a bit. On a week when the president passed legislation she found depressing, she found a way to play along with the liberal meme of the week, in which this had been Obama’s greatest week.
She toned that language down a bit, changing the president’s week to “productive.” In the process, she gave him credit for two judicial decisions he hadn’t authored—and she smoothed her way past legislation he aggressively pursued, legislation which made her own head hurt.
To us, that was a bit of a two-step. In fairness, that put Digby miles ahead of the liberal cable hordes, who plowed ahead as if Obama’s success with that fast-track bill had been a triumph for socialist labor.
On the One True Liberal Channel, Obama’s week was being hailed—and that “depressing” piece of legislation was widely treated as one of the triumphs. On Tuesday night, Al Sharpton had started his program like this:
SHARPTON (6/30/15): Thanks to you for tuning in. We start with President Obama—loose, energized and with momentum coming off what many are calling the best week of his presidency. Today a reporter asked him about it.In Sharpton’s recitation, that “major trade deal” was treated as a triumph—as part of that “best week.”
OBAMA (videotape): In terms of my best week—now my best week, I will tell you, was marrying Michelle. That was a really good week. Malia and Sasha being born, excellent weeks. There was a game where I scored 27 points. It was a good week.
SHARPTON: It was a light-hearted moment, but the momentum is real. The president signed a major trade deal. His Charleston speech was stirring, maybe even healing. Two Supreme Court rulings cemented his legacy on Obamacare and gay rights. We saw the White House lit up in rainbow colors after the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
(He also credited Obama for the Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. He said it cemented Obama’s legacy on the subject, even though Obama opposed same-sex marriage until 2012.)
To us, that sounded a bit like cheerleading. But so what? One hour later, a loud cable talker was pushing the same line:
MATTHEWS (6/30/15): Well, after last week’s powerful sequence of triumphs for President Obama on trade, health care and same-sex marriage, his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is looking to capitalize on his momentum and that’s making some on the right nervous. President Obama reflected on his successful run last week earlier today. Here he is.Like Sharpton, Matthews treated the trade deal as one of the president’s “powerful sequence of triumphs.” The “depressing” nature of the triumph escaped his notice too.
OBAMA (videotape): So in many ways, last week was simply a culmination of a lot of work that we have been doing since I came into office. How am I going to spend whatever political capital that I have built up? You know, the list is long. And my instructions to my team and my instructions to myself have always been that we are going to squeeze every last ounce of progress that we can make when I have the privilege—as long as I have the privilege of holding this office.
MATTHEWS: Isn’t that great, that the president of the United States, even he has to make lists of things he tells himself to do every day, like everybody else is trying to do?
The next night, on The Last Word, David Axelrod continued the theme:
O’DONNELL (7/2/15): Where do you place last week, David, in the Obama presidency?“Yes, it was a really good week,” Axelrod said. To him, the trade bill was part of the package. Lawrence didn’t complain.
AXELROD: Well, you know, obviously, it was a strong week, you know, for a variety of reasons. He had worked hard on this trade bill that was thought to be dead, it came back. You know, but the other—
He said today, and I think he was right, that really what it was, was a culmination of a number of things. The affirmation of the healthcare act was a culmination of, you know, a six-year effort on his part and it was—and so it was very satisfying...
Without any question, Obama had some major victories during the week in question.
The Supreme Court refused to overturn the Affordable Care Act; this preserved the major legislative act of the president’s tenure. And he did prevail on that fast-track legislation—the legislation which Digby said left progressives depressed.
Can we talk? If you were watching MSNBC last week, you didn’t hear much extended discussion of that “fast-track” trade legislation.
You saw Matthews and Sharpton add it to the president’s triumphs without further comment. Other hosts ignored the matter altogether.
You heard little discussion of what the legislation accomplished. You heard very little discussion of the fact that the bill had been passed despite overwhelming Democratic Party opposition.
In many ways, this was fitting. If you watch MSNBC, you probably have little idea about this legislation.
Unless you watch Big Ed Schultz, you haven’t seen it discussed a whole lot. You haven’t seen its merits and its demerits discussed or debated.
Last week, you saw the legislation hailed as one of Obama’s triumphs, but you saw little discussion of its substance. You saw your favorite hosts rush past the fact that the bill was passed with Republican votes, in the face of overwhelming Democratic opposition.
All week long, we’ll be asking a question. Why have you heard so little discussion about this legislation? It can almost seem like the cable gods are keeping us barefoot and clueless!
How much do you think you know about this trade legislation? Why have you heard so little about it on The One True Channel?
Why have your favorite hosts ignored this major legislation? Is it too complicated to discuss? Could there be some other reason? Does the general avoidance of this topic fit some larger pattern?
We don’t know how to answer those questions. But we were struck by the discussions last week, in which this bill was treated as a triumph, with very few questions asked.
It almost seems like the cable gods may have stolen a line from the early Bob Dylan:
Progressives like Digby may (or may not) know what we the people need. But it almost seems like the cable gods think they know what we want.
For some reason, we don’t need to hear about that silly trade bill! To us, that avoidance seems to fit a pattern—a pattern which isn’t attractive.
Tomorrow: Rachel Maddow, early in May, describing a very bad bill