Interlude—Sadly, it came from Rand Paul: In the realm of journalism, was 2015 really The Year of the Liberal? If so, what can that mean?
Was 2015 the year when we the liberals got dumbed down? When we announced our devotion to script?
Additional attributes of our tribe will appear as our award-winning series continues. For today, let's consider a day or two in the life of the modern liberal.
For starters, consider an unusual moment from Tuesday evening's Hardball.
Hardball is a nightly program on MSNBC, the One True Liberal News Channel. The unusual occurrence was this:
Michelle Alexander was mentioned! So was her 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Who the heck is Michelle Alexander? At present, she's a law professor at Ohio State. Her law degree is from Stanford Law School. She clerked for Justice Blackmun, then of the Supreme Court.
How good a book is The New Jim Crow? We don't exactly know. Cornel West has called the book "the secular bible for a new social movement." It's currently in its three millionth week on the New York Times' paperback best-seller list.
That said, it wasn't reviewed by the Times or the Washington Post when it appeared in 2010. (In 2011, it got a very strong review from The New York Review of Books.) And one more thing must be said:
Despite its cult status in progressive circles, the book is never mentioned on MSNBC, and its author never appears as a guest. Having said that, a question arises: Who mentioned the book on Hardball?
Who else? A White House hopeful named Rand Paul mentioned The New Jim Crow! The reinvented Chris Matthews opened the door and Candidate Paul rushed in:
MATTHEWS (1/12/16): Let's go to something that a lot of our viewers care about, not just minorities, but progressives and you. Our jails are filled. Our prisons are filled, people with lives being—they`re probably learning how to be bad guys in prison, a lot of them, right?We progressives! If we want to hear a mention of Alexander or her book on our fiery channel, we have to wait until someone like Paul appears!
PAUL: Well, you know, I was always opposed—
MATTHEWS: You want to fix that?
PAUL: I was always opposed to the war on drugs, for many different reasons. But I read Michelle Alexander's book a couple years ago about the mass incarceration and "the new Jim Crow" and I became very aware of the racial disparity in the war on drugs.
I have always thought the war on drugs was bad, but now I have figured out and learned from the statistics that three out of four people in jail are black or brown. They're almost all poor.
Why doesn't Alexander ever turn up on Our Own Liberal Channel? We can't necessarily answer that question, although we can take a wild guess.
You can see Alexander here, in a 35-minute discussion with Bill Moyers on PBS. That said, her topic is mass incarceration, especially race-based incarceration.
We'll guess that the topic is just too dreary for inclusion on corporate cable, where you now see the various hacks poring over polling results in endless, utterly pointless detail night after night after night.
They're pretending to give us "campaign coverage." Mass incarceration? Too dreary and too depressing!
(Someone else you never see on MSNBC—progressive star Diane Ravitch. Unfortunately, Ravitch is concerned with low-income schools. Corporate liberals aren't concerned with that topic. Another wild guess: too boring!)
How good a book is The New Jim Crow? We can't answer that! In part, though, we have an excuse—we watch The One Liberal Channel!
On Tuesday, we emitted mordant chuckles when we heard Alexander's name mentioned. We had to wait for Candidate Paul to mention the person, and her book, in the course of discussing the topic!
We liberals! We're caught in the maws of corporate cable, somewhat like those in The Other Tribe. This may help to dumb us down—to keep us from seeing ourselves as we are.
How sure are we of our ultimate goodness, even as we consume our own cable piddle? For a quick hint, we suggest you review the letters in today's New York Times.
This morning, the Times is pandering to us too, at least in the letters it chose to publish regarding the State of the Union address.
What kind of speech did Obama give? That's a matter of judgment, of course.
That said, the Times published three letters, totaling roughly 600 words, hailing the greatness of the speech. It published one letter—27 words!—saying the speech was a mess.
It isn't the fault of the liberal world that some editor made that decision. But as we read the letters from the liberal admirers, we were struck by the extent to which we modern liberals can be tribally blind.
Consider the viewpoint expressed in this, the shortest of the three letters:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/14/16): President Obama nailed it Tuesday evening. It was an extraordinary speech, a rare example of transcendent statesmanship and progressive, inclusive oratory. It’s amazing to me that the G.O.P., the party of business, is so scared of change, no matter how common-sensical it might be. (One example from Mr. Obama’s speech: Going green is not just about being environmentalists; it creates jobs in new American industries that the world needs and will pay plenty for.)This liberal observer saw a speech which was notable for its "bipartisan" outlook and for its "inclusive oratory." Elsewhere, everyone else noticed the fact that the president's address, for good or for ill, included sections which were unusual in the way they targeted Republican candidates in the current White House campaign.
His message was bipartisan, hopeful, candid and honest from the first word to the last. But watching Speaker Paul D. Ryan sit on his hands, daring to stand and applaud only when our troops were singled out for praise, and seeing other Republicans roll their eyes while much of the House chamber was full of applause for Mr. Obama, makes me wonder if we’ve come to a point in America where no good idea goes unpunished.
(In partisan eras, partisans will often interpret the world this way. A speech becomes "partisan" to the extent that it criticizes one's own tribe.)
To what extent are we the liberals getting dumbed down as media become more and more tribal? Consider what Governor Haley said. Then consider this piece from Salon.
On Tuesday evening, Nikki Haley gave the GOP response to Obama's address. Not for the first time, we found ourselves wishing that this talented person was playing on our side.
Haley has a lot of talent, and a great foundational story (search on "Little Miss Bamberg"). Along the way in her response, Haley did something very unusual.
Can you see what it is?
HALEY (1/12/16): We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves. While Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around.Say what? We Republicans need to recognize the role we've played in the way our government is broken?
We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken.
And then we need to fix it.
The foundation that has made America that last, best hope on earth hasn’t gone anywhere. It still exists. It is up to us to return to it.
It's very, very, very rare to see a pol say something like that. Lincoln did so in the Second Inaugural. We're also reminded of Obama himself, listing the virtues of blue and red states in the 2004 speech which made him instantly famous.
In that passage, Haley went beyond criticism of Candidate Trump, which she joined Obama in delivering. By way of contrast:
All too often, we the liberals are exposed to tunnel vision of the type in that recent piece from the new Salon.
That piece is highly selective, tremendously dumb, deeply tunnelized. It's tribal vision at its best. It's part of our own growing culture.
At the new Salon, tribally flattering analyses of that type are a basic part of the new liberal culture. They represent one of the ways we keep getting ourselves dumbed down.
We'll be voting for the Democrat this November, whether it's Candidate Clinton or Candidate Sanders. We'll also be voting against our own corporate liberal cable "news," and against the multimillionaire stars who pimp its dumbed-down play-lists and push its truncated values.
We'll hope that Trump offends Haley so much that she jumps ship and plays for our team. Tomorrow, we'll return to an award-winning theme about our own tribalized liberal culture:
We'll return to the claim that 2015 was the year of liberal script.