Our own liberal kindergarten: We liberals are skilled at noting the intellectual povery which exists Over There, in the other tribe.
We're less skilled at noting our own tribe's intellectual poverty. Consider two recent examples from the work of Jonathan Chait, who votes the way liberals do.
One example concerns "education reform;" in this post, Chait adopts a contrarian view. The other example concerns the way "Republican politics and conservative thought" evolved during the Clinton/Gore years. It constitutes a perfect pander to the liberal world's tribal outlook.
Each piece by Chait is written on the kindergarten level. It's stunning to think that we liberals accept such work. But quite routinely, we do.
Let's start with education reform. In this recent New York Magazine post, Chait hails Michelle Rhee' for her successful tenure as chancellor of the DC Public Schools.
He works from a silly, underfed study from the conservative-leaning Urban Institute. The study examines the growth in average NAEP scores in the DC Public Schools from 2005 to 2013, as compared to the amount of growth predicted by a demographic analysis—a demographic analysis which goes unexplained by the Urban Institute and unexplored by Chait.
We'll focus on Grade 8 math. According to the study which Chait affirms, DC's changing demographics would have predicted a four-point gain in Grade 8 math scores during that eight-year period. But good lord!
Under Rhee, the DCPS actually recorded a 17-point gain in average scores! Chait uncritically accepts the idea that this much larger gain shows that Rhee's reforms were effective.
Truly, this is sad. Chait accepts the Urban Institute's unexplained demographic projection without even batting an eye. Incomparably, we decided to do something which made a bit more sense:
We decided to compare DC's score gains during that period to those recorded in other big cities. Our decision to run this simple check required almost no IQ points.
Duh. As everyone knows except New York Times readers, NAEP scores were rising all over the country during the years in question. To simplify the demographic confusion, we looked at how DC's black kids did during that period, as compared to their peers in other cities.
In what you see below, we're including every city school system which took part in the NAEP in 2005 and 2013. As you can probably see, the score gain in DCPS was remarkably average:
Growth in average scores, Grade 8 mathFor all NAEP data, start here.
2005-2013, NAEP, black students only
Los Angeles 16.72
San Diego: 7.39
New York City 5.82
Duh. The score gains achieved under Rhee suddenly seem less amazing. That said, we decided to examine this question from a second perspective. We decided to ask a different question:
How well did DC's eighth-graders score in math in 2013, at the end of Rhee's reign?
In theory, it's easier to produce large score gains if you're starting from a very low point. DCPS was low-scoring, even compared to other big cities, when Rhee's tenure began.
Below, you see how matters stood by the time she left.
We include a wide range of the city systems taking part in the NAEP as of 2013. By a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year:
Average scores, Grade 8 mathIf we might borrow from our cummings: How do you like your bright-eyed chancellor now, Mister Professional Journalist?
2013 NAEP, black students only
New York City 262.59
San Diego 260.34
Los Angeles 255.84
Please understand. We don't offer these data to assess Rhee's work in DC. We do so to assess Chait's work as a major journalist.
Judged by normal intellectual standards, Chait's post about Rhee's tenure was a piece of silly true belief straight outta kindergarten. And yet, he has been a leading liberal journalist for a good many years!
Can we talk? Like the evil conservative tribe, our own glorious liberal tribe just isn't especially sharp. Consider Chait's recent post about the rise of Trump, which fits more comfortably within our typical liberal narratives.
Below, you see the start of Chait's post, headline included. It's hard to believe that Chait wrote the highlighted passage in good faith:
CHAIT (5/16/16) How Trump Has Revived the Republican Cult of ManlinessWe liberals have been trained to love presentations like the one in the highlighted passage.
About a week ago, Donald Trump managed to say something noteworthy even by Trumpian standards, and unusually revealing. “All of the men, we’re petrified to speak to women anymore, we may raise our voice — you know what, the women get it better than we do, folks, they get it better than we do.” This was remarkable not only in its ignorance of well-established inequalities between male and female pay and household burdens, among other things, but also in Trump’s bizarre political thought process. Trump had casually reverted to discussing men and women as “we” and “they,” as though he were addressing a men’s-rights rally rather than competing for an electorate in which women will compose some 53 percent. “Us versus them” is a standard trope for demagogues, but demagogues usually grasp that the “them” is supposed to be an unpopular subgroup, not a constituency that will cast a majority of the ballots.
It is easy to forget now how crucial a role traditional gender norms have played in Republican politics and conservative thought. Bill Clinton’s infidelity made him slick, weak, unmanful. (A famous 2000 Peggy Noonan column contrasted Clinton’s decision to send young Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba with the heroism of Ronald Reagan, who, she resoundingly concluded, “was a man.”) For Bush-era Republicans, manliness was an essential trait in public life. Republicans mocked Al Gore as a girlie-man who loved earth tones, and John Edwards who “looked like the Breck Girl.” National Review editor Rich Lowry decried what he called a liberal “war on masculinity,” prompting Al Franken to challenge him to a fistfight. (Lowry declined.)
That said, that highlighted passage is straight outta kindergarten too. It's very, very hard to believe that Jonathan Chait didn't know that when he was typing it up.
Careerist music man, please! Did Republicans "mock Al Gore as a girlie-man who loved earth tones?" We suppose they did, to some extent. But that isn't where the punishing script began, and that was a decidedly minor part of this punishing story.
Music man, please! The idea that Candidate Gore was "a girlie-man who loved earth tones" came from the mainstream press corps! It came from Time magazine and the Washington Post, and then from the New York Times.
Starting on October 31, 1999, these punishing insults were invented and pimped by the mainstream press corps! Republicans merely followed along, in a decidedly second-hand effort.
We find it very hard to believe that Jonathan Chait doesn't know that. It's impossible to believe that he wrote this in good faith:
"Republicans mocked...John Edwards who 'looked like the Breck Girl.' "
Republicans did that? Actually no—that was straight-up Maureen Dowd! At the time, it was one of Dowd's favorite insults. It takes a village idiot to think that Jonathan Chait doesn't know that.
(Dowd also played a leading role in the invention of the several scripts according to which Candidate Gore was "a girlie-man who loved earth tones." By the way, why would this alleged love of earth tones make Gore a girlie-man? Because, according to the mainstream press corps' script, Naomi Wolf had instructed Gore to wear earth tones, and to behave like an alpha male. There was no evidence that any of these claims were true, but all good mainstream pundits stood in line to recite them. Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man! These nasty, misogynist scripts came from the Washington Post and the New York Times, not from the Republican Party. We find it very hard to believe that Chait doesn't understand this.)
Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man? John Edwards was the Breck Girl? These were mainstream press corps jibes; they didn't come from the Republican Party. It's hard to believe that Chait doesn't know this. Why then did he write what he did?
We'll take a good solid guess:
As with Kevin Drum, so too with Chait. They give us the story we liberals enjoy. More significantly, they give us the story which can't harm their precious careers.
As we've told you for many years, mainstream career liberal writers do not discuss the behavior and conduct of the Washington Post and the New York Times. They certainly don't discuss the gong-show behavior of vintage music men and women like Matthews, Maddow and Dowd.
Despite their endless dissembling, we liberals seem to love the false and misleading stories these career journalists tell. We gulp them down the same way conservatives swallow the tales which come from Sean and Rush.
Unfortunately, these stories keep us liberals barefoot and clueless. But even as we gulp them down, we love to say how dumb and gullible they are in the other tribe.
Years ago, we discussed Chait's account of the role of the New York Times in the coverage of Campaign 2000. His account appeared in his 2007 book, The Big Con. It may have been the most ridiculous account of any topic we have ever seen.
Presumably, Chait was being less than obsessively truthful when he wrote that ridiculous part of his book (chapters 5 and 6). In the process, he was making us liberals much dumber—much less aware of the way the world has actually worked over the past thirty years.
These music men will never stop handing us the bowdlerized tales which erase the work of the upper-end press. As our part of the tribal bargain, we liberals keep truly believing the bogus tales we're told.
Still coming: Maddow goes after McAuliffe two times. Has anyone ever been dumber than this nutty music man?