That's always a dangerous sign: We're postponing our discussion of the pair of Trump voters who appeared, via videotape, on the December 10 Maddow program.
What are Trump voters actually like? We're postponing that discussion again!
Was 2015 really "the year of liberal loathing," as so many scholars are now claiming? Does that tendency toward tribal hatred tend to surface in liberal discussions of people who may vote for Trump?
Let's stop the clowning around! We think our world is full of liberal loathing, and we think it's ugly, unhelpful and stupid.
But good God! The items we've seen in the press just today! Let's discuss a bit of the context within which that loathing occurs.
The worst journalism we've read today is this lengthy New York Times news report about the situation in Flint. We'll discuss that report this afternoon. For now, let's discuss some other bobbles from the nation's discourse.
Fred Kaplan returns from Neptune
Our first click today produced this piece by Fred Kaplan at Slate. Kaplan is a 61-year-old Pulitzer-winning journalist. He also seems to be newly returned from a long sojourn on Mars.
In his piece, Kaplan describes the context surrounding Hillary Clinton's vote in October 2002 on the Iraq war resolution. Incredibly, this is Kaplan's explanation for his new report:
KAPLAN (2/4/16): Listening to her rationale Wednesday night, I didn’t know whether she was telling the truth. I had written many Slate columns about the Iraq debate and the ensuing war, but I couldn’t remember the details of then-Sen. Clinton’s position. Looking up those details now, I have come to a conclusion about the rationale she recited at the New Hampshire town hall: Hillary was telling the truth.Whatever one thinks of Kaplan's conclusions about Clinton's past motivations and current accuracy, his report is full of actual information. That said, it's stunning to think that he actually had to research this matter—that he "couldn't remember the details" he's reporting today.
Down through the years, we've been stunned by the clueless way we liberals describe and discuss that war resolution vote. It's astounding to think that a journalist of Kaplan's standing "couldn't remember" the discussion and debate which surrounded that fateful vote.
That said, Kaplan's report includes this correction: "This article originally misidentified Rep. Richard Gephardt as a senator and the Democratic majority leader. He was the House minority leader."
Everybody makes mistakes. But people, really! Good God!
The New York Times headlines PLAIN TALK
It's never a good sign when a major news org thinks it has spotted "plain talk."
During the Clinton/Gore/Clinton years, straight talk, straight-shooting and plain talk have formed the basis for an endless, ongoing press corps narrative. Our journalists have constantly spotted this type of straight talk, always from pols who are opposing the fake, phony Clintons-and-Gore.
This morning, the New York Times headlined "plain talk" right at the top of our hard-copy front page. Traditionally, warning lights begin to flash when the Times offers headlines like this:
"PLAIN TALK PULLS YOUNGER VOTERS TO SANDERS RUN"
We're so old that we can remember when "straight talk" was allegedly pulling voters to Bill Bradley's run, even as Bradley was lying his ascot off about an array of topics. (Al Gore invented Willie Horton!)
Saint McCain, the king of alleged "straight talk," was exhibiting similar problems. The press kept averting its gaze.
We warned you then as we'll warn you today—when the press corps bestows this benediction on pols, such pols will often be inclined to take advantage. That doesn't mean that Candidate Sanders is doing this. But it also doesn't mean that he isn't, or that he won't.
This morning's front-page PLAIN TALK report was written by Amy Chozick. She quickly quotes an 18-year-old college freshman. This youngster recites the narrative the Times has peddled concerning the Clintons and Gore for an extremely long time.
Journalistic claims of PLAIN TALK should serve as a warning sign. This is a very old press corps script, one that's been badly abused.
Top savant tells Playboy all
Is Bernie Sanders a viable candidate? How about Hillary Clinton?
We don't know how to answer those questions. Inevitably, though, we felt ourselves forced to click on this Politico proffer:
"Maddow: Hard to see Sanders winning"
As it turned out, Maddow had been sharing her insights with Playboy. And she meant it was hard to see Sanders winning the Democratic nomination, not the general election. ("My prediction for Bernie: populist hero forever but hard to imagine him still being there at the convention.")
Although we have no idea if he will, we don't find it hard to imagine Sanders winning the nomination. By traditional norms, he couldn't win the general election—but traditional norms are losing their hold, and the GOP may nominate a candidate who "can't win the general" either.
In fairness, Maddow is rarely wrong in these matters. On several occasions last summer and fall, she correctly noted that Rick Santorum was "the best communicator" in the large GOP field. She followed the lead of Lawrence O'Donnell, who insisted for months in 2011 that Tim Pawlenty was going to be the Republican Party's 2012 nominee.
Concerning the possible death of plain talk
People get crazy during campaigns, crazy and scripted and tribal. We're all inclined to be this way. This morning, Paul Krugman complains:
KRUGMAN (2/5/16): And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests.For the record, the same thing happened in 1999 when the very same Kenneth Thorpe "tried to put numbers" on the Gore and Bradley health plans. His motives were attacked by Bradley folk, until Bradley's top health care adviser acknowledged that the campaign had screwed up its number-crunching.
Recently Kenneth Thorpe, a respected health policy expert and a longtime supporter of reform, tried to put numbers on the Sanders plan, and concluded that it would cost substantially more than the campaign says. He may or may not be right, although most of the health wonks I know have reached similar conclusions.
But the campaign’s policy director immediately attacked Mr. Thorpe’s integrity: “It’s coming from a gentleman that worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s exactly what you would expect somebody who worked for B.C.B.S. to come up with.” Oh, boy.
(Or perhaps they made their numbers up. When pols are granted the PLAIN TALK tag, they tend to start taking advantage.)
That health care aide was never heard from again. Needless to say, the narrative about Straight Talker Bradley and Big Liar Gore continued without interruption.
"Insulted the entire gay community"
In many ways, we think Bernie Sanders is a phenomenal pol. That said, we aren't sure what would happen once the attack machine started on him. You can be sure that 18-year-olds on page one of the Times haven't examined this question.
In many ways, we think Sanders is phenomenal. That said, we're going to revisit that ancient warning about pols who get praised for PLAIN TALK. As a warm-up, let's start with this passage from Krugman's column:
KRUGMAN (2/5/16): We saw something similar back in 2008, when some Obama supporters temporarily became bitter opponents of the individual mandate—the requirement that everyone buy insurance—which Hillary Clinton supported but Mr. Obama opposed. (Once in office, he in effect conceded that she had been right, and included the mandate in his initiative.)Krugman is being polite. The individual mandate always polled poorly. Despite that fact, Candidate Clinton went ahead and proposed it. Candidate Obama said he opposed the mandate, then flipped once he'd been elected.
Who engaged in PLAIN TALK there? By the dictates of Hard Pundit Law concerning the Clintons and Gore, you weren't allowed to imagine that Candidate Clinton had been forthcoming while the other fellow had possibly worked a small con.
Last evening, Candidate Sanders "misremembered" another such moment from that campaign. It involved Obama's pledge "to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries."
Erring, Candidate Obama said he would do that; Candidate Clinton said she would not. Last night, Candidate Sanders "misremembered" what this dispute had actually been about. Candidate Clinton tried to correct him.
When he made this small mistake, was Candidate Sanders taking advantage of an ancient narrative? Last week, we were surprised when we saw the videotape of this peculiar remark on the cable show Hardball:
SANDERS (1/29/16): It is great to be against the war after you vote for the war. It is great to be for gay rights after you insult the entire gay community by supporting DOMA. It is great to finally kicking and screaming, come out against the TPP, but where were you on all of the other trade agreements.Did Hillary Clinton "insult the entire gay community by supporting DOMA?" Did Bill Clinton do that? That's what 18-year-olds are now being told, and the thought is stirring their souls.
For the record:
DOMA was authored by Bob Barr, a Republican congressman. It passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming, veto-proof majorities.
The vote was 85-14 in the Senate and 342-67 in the House, with many famous liberal Dems voting in favor of passage. That was the politics of same-sex marriage at the time, before today's journalistically useful 18-year-olds had so much as been born.
Bill Clinton called the bill "unnecessary and divisive." Press secretary Mike McCurry called it "gay baiting, plain and simple." After it passed by those overwhelming margins in the fall of 1996, Clinton decided to sign it, but he refused to hold a signing ceremony. Among other things, it seems to have been a defense against defeat in November's general election.
Did President Clinton "insult the entire gay community" by doing what he did? If he did, so did the bulk of Democrats in both the House and the Senate. That includes the late Senator Wellstone, as Candidate Clinton noted last night.
Did Hillary Clinton "insult the entire gay community" at that time? We'd be inclined to call that a stretch, even a bit of an ugly stretch.
Is it possible that 18-year-olds are being misled by yet another official PLAIN TALKER? Our national discourse is scripted, brainless, empty, dumb. For that reason, you will never see any such question raised on page one of the Times.
We're frequently stunned by the know-nothing way the politics of the 1990s get discussed. In the first click we clicked today, Kaplan extended the problem into 2002.
This is the know-nothing, dumbnified context within which we the liberals assess the nation's Trump voters. The truth is, we liberals just aren't especially sharp, though you'll never get us the liberals to believe such a ludicrous claim.
Still coming: Assessing that pair of Trump voters