Defiant silly-bill watch: Bruni and Brooks on the rampage!


A deeply inane public culture: Just a fairly obvious guess! The New York Times added Frank Bruni to the team make its op-ed page even dumber.

This morning, the scribe is back from Milan—and he’s quite upset with one of those silly-bill pols! Throwing life-style in our faces, Paul Ryan has staged “a minor masterpiece of image calibration:”
BRUNI (9/20/11): Paul Ryan may not be running for president this time around, but if you have any doubt about his ambitions for a long, prominent future in government, just look at his comments in a Q. and A. published in Sunday’s Times. They’re a minor masterpiece of image calibration.

In the span of two dozen sentences, Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, mentioned the Bible, or rather a beginner’s version of it, which he said he was reading aloud to his 6-year-old son. He mentioned his truck and his appetite for hard rock, thus establishing automotive and musical affinities that balance his wonkier, number-crunching bona fides. He mentioned hunting—with a bow, no less.

Then came the capper. He mentioned his talent for what I’d like to call venison charcuterie, just because he so clearly wouldn’t. “I butcher my own deer, grind the meat, stuff it in casings and then smoke it,” he said, making clear that Sarah Palin in all her moose-eviscerating glory has nothing on him.
Bruni just can’t handle the phoniness of Ryan’s comments—his silly-bill musings about music and hunting. Bruni goes on to rage against the dying of the light. More specifically, he rages against the way those pols force us to listen to silly shit about their proletarian lifestyles.

“The relationship between lifestyle and political priorities is at best oblique,” the thoughtful fellow muses. “You really can’t judge how politicians will govern by whether they hunt or windsurf, frolic in the Texas brush or the Martha’s Vineyard sand, favor corn dogs or arugula.”

Bruni fails to note an obvious fact. In the case of Ryan, those were the silly-shit topics the New York Times asked him about! In the edited interview, he also notes that he watches CNBC—and that he is currently listening to “a series of provocative lectures by Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma.”

Ryan didn’t seem to be kidding, but we don’t plan to google Professor Fears. “With the help of a Kindle, I’m reading John Mauldin’s ‘Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle,’” Ryan also throws in, though it doesn't make Bruni's column.

There’s no way to know how much dull shit got left on the cutting-room floor. Playing the fool, Bruni complainsabout what Ryan said "in the span of two dozen sentences." But the interview may have lasted for hours. It's edited. Let's say that again!

For ourselves, we recalled the hard-as-nails, just-the-facts approach Bruni brought to his own work as a campaign reporter. Here he was, following Candidate Bush on the New Hampshire trail:
BRUNI (9/14/99): When Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first hit the Presidential campaign trail in June, he wore monogrammed cowboy boots, the perfect accessory for his folksy affability and casual self-assurance.

But when he visited New Hampshire early last week, he was shod in a pair of conservative, shiny black loafers that seemed to reflect more than the pants cuffs above them. They suggested an impulse by Mr. Bush to put at least a bit of a damper on his brash irreverence, which has earned him affection but is a less certain invitation for respect.
That was the start of a lengthy “news report” during Campaign 2000. Two months later, on the front page, Bruni was still pursuing his defiant, hard-news approach:
BRUNI (11/27/99): As George W. Bush loped through the headquarters of the Timberland Company here, he might have been any candidate in the hunt for votes, any pol on the path toward the presidency. He tirelessly shook hands, dutifully took questions and let a multitude of promises bloom.

But there was something different about Governor Bush's approach, something jazzier and jauntier. It came out in the way he praised a 20-year-old man for his "articulate" remarks, then appended the high-minded compliment with a surprising term of endearment.

"Dude," Mr. Bush called his new acquaintance.

It emerged again when Mr. Bush crossed paths with an elderly employee, and she told him that he had her support.

"I'll seal it with a kiss!" Mr. Bush proposed and, wearing a vaguely naughty expression, swooped down on the captive seamstress.

Mr. Bush's arm curled tight around the shoulders of other voters; he arched his eyebrows and threw coquettish grins and conspiratorial glances their way. It was campaigning as facial calisthenics, and Mr. Bush was its Jack LaLanne.

He is frequently that way. When Mr. Bush is not reciting memorized lines in an official speech or rendering careful answers in a formal interview, he is physically expansive and verbally irreverent, folksy and feisty, a politician more playful than most of his peers.
Bruni may be a great food critic. But when it comes to politics and policy, he is one of the emptiest suits the Times has dredged up yet.

Then too, there’s David Brooks, self-flagellating today over the failed Obama. Brooks was so angry at his failed pal, he decided to play an old card:
BROOKS (9/20/11): It has gone back, as an appreciative Ezra Klein of The Washington Post conceded, to politics as usual. The president is sounding like the Al Gore for President campaign, but without the earth tones. Tax increases for the rich! Protect entitlements! People versus the powerful! I was hoping the president would give a cynical nation something unconventional, but, as you know, I’m a sap.
You never forget your first narrative! At the Times, columnists write their own headlines. Today, this is Brooks’ boxed sub-head:

“Al Gore without the earth tones”

Through some sort of programming error, that just can’t get these themes out of their heads! For the record, Candidate Gore did not propose “tax increases for the rich.” But it feels good to pretend.

Brooks is playing the fool today. Here, he offers a rare attempt at making an actual argument:
BROOKS: [Obama] claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)
“The top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes?” As almost anyone can see, that fact doesn’t refute the “half-truth” in question—and that fact is completely meaningless unless you include the percentage of income received by that top ten percent. (Even then, you have to be careful.) Of course, that next set of facts doesn’t refute Obama’s half-truth either.

For the record, a half-truth can contain a lot of truth. Brooks is semi-right about one thing today: Obama’s pledge to avoid raising taxes on the bottom 98 percent is a rather strange artifact. But in today’s New York Times editorial, the editors report that Obama’s proposed tax hikes on upper-end earners would produce $1.3 trillion over ten years.

Do Obama's tax proposals make sense? Brooks never quite finds time to say. He’s too busy flashing back on Candidate Gore's brown suit.

Today, Bruni forgets his own silly shit. Brooks flashes on his.


  1. Just for grins, the IRS numbers for 2010 show this.
    Percentage of taxes paid by Top 10%, 69.94%.
    Percentage of income earned by top 10%, 45.77%
    Rate at which top 10% were taxed, 18.71%
    As you say, the numbers tell a different story when they are taken in context.
    The rich pay a huge percentage of total federal taxes because they earn the lion's share of national income.
    If we add in real wealth held by the different groups, as well as annual income, the figures become even more skewed.

  2. Howler fans, a question: Obama is now being accused, not just by Brooks, of "turning into Al Gore" by pursuing, essentially, a People vs the Powerful line. This is being framed as a mistake, "class warfare," etc. But didn't the People vs Powerful theme actually boost Gore in the 2000 campaign?

    Not asking this rhetorically. Am trying to remember this right, because I think the theme worked quite well for Al.

  3. As I remember, Gore was criticized soundly for this.
    Also, even die-hard Republicans credit Clinton with a booming economy.
    Talking about income inequality during good times usually doesn't sit well with voters.
    That's why the class warfare charges are not dismissed out of hand today.
    Of course, that doesn't mean they won't be dismissed tomorrow.

  4. The use of the words "effective tax rate" would take the muddle out of the hapless efforts of Brooks and other to explain who pays how much. Divide the tax obligation (balance plus estimated amounts) by adjusted gross income, and you will see that most of the so-called middle class pay at rates ranging from the lower to middle teens. (In one recent year, I paid at a rate approximating the sales tax rate in many states.) The rate for all filers with 2009 AGI above $10 million was a fraction above 20%. Not much of a burden when you consider that the costs of such foolishness as wars is NOT apportioned by size of income.

  5. As an OU alumni, I don't have to Google Professor Fears, either. In all likelihood, Ryan is listening to one of Fears' contributions to the Great Courses series, perhaps something like "How the Great Books Impact our Lives."
    Dr. Fears, a classics professor with a PhD from Harvard, reads Plato & Co. so we don't have to. Nothing wrong with Dr. Fears if he's typical of
    Teaching Co. offerings Their courses are certainly several cuts above the Nostradamus, UFO, and Bigfoot docs you get on History Channel etc, but much too basic, one would think, to challenge the great young intellect of the Republican party, the Madison-Hamilton of our time.

    Isn't Ryan also a devotee of Tony Horton's P90x muscle-building regimine? No pics of sculpted abs? Where does one go for in-depth reporting around here?

  6. Let's be clearer still, one should remember that individual income taxes amount to 42% of federal revenue. FICA and Medicare payroll taxes amount to 43% of federal revenue with corporate or excise taxes and other stuff making up the other 15%.
    Thus the rich pay 70% of 42% and thus account for less than 30% of federal revenue while receiving 45% of total income.
    The propagandists are careful to thoroughly conflate individual income tax payments with total taxes.
    As seen above, even Howler commenters get it wrong. Paying 30% of the taxes on 45% of the income means the rich and near rich get a pretty good deal, no?

  7. To be fair to Bruni, anyone who can write stuff like "a pair of conservative, shiny black loafers that seemed to reflect more than the pants cuffs above them" has deep, deep problems.

    It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George is asked how he lives with himself and he replies, "It's not easy".

    Must be tough for Bruni too.

  8. I felt ill when I read that Bruni description of Bush. I remember a lot of those types of descriptions back when, which portrayed Bush as a folksy good-guy with a lovable swagger-- while they were painting Gore as a lying, wooden, hapless doofus. I truly loathe that kind of "reporting," that imputes deep psychological meaning to the color of tie a candidate is wearing (see Robin Givhan's groaning musings, including her "analysis" of Mitt Romney who she calls “typically polished to a sheen and awkwardly formal, appears to have misplaced all his ties. Even as he confabs with businessmen who have gussied up in a suit and tie for the occasion, Romney sticks to an open-collar aesthetic." Which says ... nothing.)

    Along with the media war against Gore so well documented by Bob, I truly believe this kind of "reporting" also helped put Bush in the White House, with all its attendant consequences.

  9. From what I've read, Bruni was just as bad as a food critic. The big difference is that giving a good review for a bad restaurant won't kill people the same way giving good coverage to a bad pol will.

    I thought the same thing when I read that paragraph by Brooks - he doesn't even try to disprove that statement. what annoyed me even more was the concern troll tone, where Brooks pretended for who knows what reason to be an obamabot when he clearly never was. It reminds me of Maureen Dowd saying that she was tanning so much she worried people would think she was latina... who do these people think they're kidding?

  10. @Alex Blaze

    Other than their employers, you mean (then again, perhaps I shouldn't assume their employers want any kind of quality analysis)?

  11. I just wanted to let Bob know that the Howler has seeped into my ordinary life.

    Yesterday, at the synagogue I work at, Howard Fineman was a guest speaker. I was able to sit in on most of the speech, and I was even able to ask a question at the end. While most people asked him about his opinions on political matter, of which I probably agree with 95%, I asked about his colleagues in the media, most notably Davd Gregory, Mark Halperin and others, who are just so unbelievably shallow and inept. I asked if FIneman recognized that the media most often do a poor job, and they are typically inept at explaining policy questions, covering matters pertinent to most of America, and putting their guests feet to the fire and asking tough questions.

    To his credit, Fineman did say that he recognizes that the media mostly do a terrible job, but his only suggestion was that they "need to do a better job." That doesn't insure much hope that things will change. On his way out I was able to corner him for a second and, a la the Daily Howler, ask him to remind Chris Matthews that in 2003 he said that Social Security was a Ponzi Scheme, despite criticizing Rick Perry for saying the same thing.

    I'm not saying that he's going to actually do it on the air to Chris Matthews, but at least--I hope--I gave him something to think about.