Guest host watch: Your discourse is stunningly dumb!


Making Ezra Klein dumb: On Monday, Paul Krugman wrote a column about a very important fact. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/12.

Krugman’s fact is a sensitive fact. On the other hand, it may be the most important fact in all of American politics. In many ways, American conservatism is now “detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality.”

That sensitive fact has been true for decades, a point of chronology Krugman still seems to miss. But you simply can’t run a modern nation this way. You simply can’t run a modern nation if tens of millions of its citizens believe all manner of nonsense and crap.

Krugman’s point is very important, though we think he expressed it somewhat poorly. But omigod! In this morning’s column, David Brooks says much the same thing! We’ve been waiting a very long time to see someone use that key word:
BROOKS (2/14/12): This economic determinism would be bad enough if it was just making public debate dumber. But the amputation of sociologic, psychological and cognitive considerations makes good policy impossible.
You’ll have to read the column to see what Brooks was talking about. But we were thrilled to see someone say that our public discourse is “dumb.”

Is our public discourse dumb? We’re not sure—is the Pope’s chalice Catholic? In fact, our public discourse is stunningly dumb. In part, the dumbness is a corporate choice, a choice by our elites.

We thought of that when we watched Ezra Klein guest-hosting last night for Dear Rachel. As you may know, Ezra Klein actually isn’t dumb. This was clear in his opening segment, during which he offered a very informative analysis of Obama and Romney’s budget pronouncements. His guest in this segment was Peter Orszag, former Obama budget honcho. The segment was loaded with basic info, the kind of basic information which is almost constantly missing from our pseudo-debates.

Mitt Romney has offered bizarre budget plans. With Orszag’s help, Klein took you on a long fast ride through this basic information.

That said, corporate clowns just like to have fun, even on putative “news” shows. And so it was that Klein was reduced to the pitiful crap which follows. E. J. Dionne dragged him along:
DIONNE (2/13/12): In the Pew poll, Obama has an 8-point lead over Romney and a 10-point lead over Santorum. Not even the margin of error, when you compare to Gingrich and Gingrich was the main competitor, Romney could make a strong case that he was stronger than Gingrich.

And I think what’s happened on each side, the Romney side, the Santorum side—Romney has been very awkward, to the point where, when he uses a phrase like he governed “in a severely conservative way,” that’s a story for days. We’re talking about the word "severely" and he just does not seem comfortable.

Rick Santorum knows what he believes and looks comfortable saying it. And I think it’s that contrast that is really helping Rick Santorum right now.

KLEIN: What I thought was sort of amazing about “severely conservative” is it was Mitt Romney’s only deviation from his script. He went off of his script for one comment, and it was a gaffe.
There was more to this blockheaded back and forth, but we’ll spare you. Here’s our question: Are these two guys really this dumb? Or were they just pretending?

Do you mind if we explain Dionne’s comments? Romney’s phrase has been “a story for days” because he’s a target on MSNBC. On MSNBC, the hacks have been “talking about the word ‘severely’ ” because that’s the kind of silly shit they’re paid to hack to us rubes.

They’re being paid to pretend that this pointless locution represents some sort of “gaffe.” This is a corporate decision.

Surely, Dionne understands the general shape of this process. In Campaign 2000, the boys and girls spent twenty months mocking every turn of phrase (and wardrobe element) from Candidate Gore, then coming to that same sad conclusion: He just doesn’t seem comfortable! In September 1999, Dionne even described this process as part of a column. He then kept his mouth shut, like a good guild member, as it continued for the next fourteen months.

You may know how that ended up.

Dionne decided to keep his trap shut. Today, he’s paid to go on MSNBC and peddle this same silly shit to us rubes. In the process, liberal viewers get dumbed way down. Last night, so did Klein.

Regarding Klein: If you watched last evening’s program, you may have noticed a few performance tics. Klein is a rather sober person, unlike the jester he replaced. But Maddow’s staff had prepared monologues filled with the same sorts of jokes, jibes and jests which make this putative “news” program a tribute to entertainment values—to the dumb often swamping the smart.

Klein isn’t good at “doing Maddow.” But bless his heart, he kept trying! Ironically, this produced the same sort of awkwardness commonly attributed to Candidate Romney. Klein fumbled his way through the types of jests which Maddow throws down in the way others breathe. He didn’t look comfortable in his own skin, as may sometimes be true with Romney. As was constantly said to be true in the case of Candidate Gore.

Does Romney look comfortable in his own skin? This familiar standard has been invented because it’s so absurdly subjective; it lets any pundit, no matter how slow, voice a negative judgment about a targeted pol. Gore was endlessly trashed on this basis. On MSNBC, so is Romney.

That said, the fundamentals remain: Candidate Gore had sensible proposals; Candidate Romney does not. The silly shit about pointless locutions has been designed to please you tribally, to give you some good entertainment. But can Dionne really be so dumb as to think this bullshit makes sense?

Final point: All through that opening segment, Klein read the text he was given—text which included jests and jibes about what a geeky policy wonk he is. This too is designed to entertain. (Maddow revels in it.) Klein looked uncomfortable in his own skin as he read this silly shit; he couldn’t have seemed much more “stiff.” But the fundamentals remain: Klein offered tons of basic information last night, although it was soon being buried under The Dumb.

Final point: They went after Candidate Gore that way because there was no other way to deride him. But Romney’s proposals are bat-shit insane. Romney’s proposals can be used to defeat him. Still, corporate clowns just want (you) to have fun.

We were happy to see David Brooks use that word. Your discourse is stunningly dumb.


  1. Romney's proposals cannot be used against him if people have not been taught how to recognize sense and nonsense when they see it. I believe there is insufficient trust that competent thought will lead to votes on the part of today's voters. Columnists will need to educate people to think, not just inform them.

    1. I respectfully disagree. People distinguish between sense and nonsense all the time--when they have a frame of reference. (You can't be a functioning adult if you can't tell sense from nonsense.)

      Sadly, opinion columnists are ill-equipped to provide that frame of reference. On the other hand, the news media is well-equipped (and some might even say designed) to provide that frame of reference.

      (And, for what it's worth, I think it's a good idea to avoid arguments that depend on your perception of your opponents' density. That sort of thing leads to accusations of liberal elitism...)

  2. Um, I remember noticing how skillful Klein was as a TV personality. My wife agreed. He seemed to us to be quite comfortable, in a way Christopher Hayes had a lot of trouble picking up at first, and which you could see Brian Beutler struggling with in his segment. So, on the merits of the intelligence of the show, maybe you're right. But on Klein looking uncomfortable, doesn't ring true.

  3. "But Maddow’s staff had prepared monologues filled with the same sorts of jokes, jibes and jests which make this putative “news” program a tribute to entertainment values—to the dumb often swamping the smart."

    Maddow's writing staff is, of course, doing what's demanded of it by MSNBC. While mugging may come more naturally to Maddow, it's worth noting that she has no choice in the matter either. A "serious person" interested in policy analysis is not employable at MSNBC or any other cable network.

  4. Yikes, the comments on this post are dumb. I was going to post that Romney is genuine - genuinely phony. Unlike Gore who, thanks to the media, was phonily genuine (or something). I agree that the personality-based stuff is useless, except that in Romney's case (like Bush the elder) he really is someone who clearly has no core beliefs. He will say anything to get elected (as he proves every day). Like Poppy Bush, he seems to believe all's fair in polygamy and politics (ok, I couldn't resist a cheap shot). I know, all pols shade their positions, but Mittens and Poppy strike me as the epitome of not really meaning anything. (I also agree that he should be evaluated on the "merits" of his proposals).

    1. Like promising to end the practice of indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without charges? Like promising not to use super pacs because they threaten our very democracy? Like promising not to extend the Bush tax cuts?

      That kind of "no core beliefs"?

      Oh wait. That was Obama.

    2. I gotta disagree with you Anon. I think both Bush (slightly more a traditionalist)and Romney (21st century version of a traditionalist) have rock solid core beliefs that center around a 'Ruling Class'. And a perpetuation of that 'Ruling Class'. They are both, how shall we say, rather flexible in the policy implementations designed to perpetuate the "Ruling Class'. They are willing to lead any parade, so long as it is not a parade to the guillotine. It's most important to them however,that THEY lead the Parade. Wherever it goes. Doing so perpetuates the 'same ole thing'. Bush came from oil and military intel. 20th cent man. Romney? From Finance and Marketing. 21st cent man.

  5. A lot of people consider Klein to be an Obama apologist and sycophant. Anyone with any "access" has to conform. The A-List blogger-boyz have all sold their souls and Maddow is just a pathetic shadow of her former self.

  6. In the Roadrunner cartoons, there's a sometimes a point where Wile E. Coyote has run off a cliff. He's hanging in mid-air and doesn't start to fall until he looks down and recognizes his plight. What policy should he follow? Obviously all policies are doomed to failure. He's going to fall and crash.

    IMHO that's an apt analogy for our governmental deficit. Realistically, we're on track to run deficits of well over $1 trillion forever. At some point, our lenders will decide that the US is bad security and they'll dramatically raise the interest rates they charge, or reduce the amount they lend. At some point, inflation will start to spiral upward.

    Although the President is recommending some tax increases, he (and the Republicans) are actully in the process of reducing the SS assessment. Furthermore, his proposed increases aren't going to pass. If they did, they wouldn't be enough to end the huge deficits. Tax increases big enough to pay off the deficits would devastate the economy.

    Meanwhile, decreases in federal spending on the order of $1.5 trillion per year are unthinkable. In fact, spending less than last year seems to be unthinkable. Dems continue to push for new and increased spending and so do most Reps.

    The bottom line IMHO is that everyone's proposals are doomed to failure. In Bob Somerby's terminology, they're all bat shit insane.

    1. "Tax increases big enough to pay off the deficits would devastate the economy."

      No, they would not.

      We heard the same thing in 1993 with Bill Clinton's tax increases. The dumb Republicants ranted and raved, and seized back the House, under Newt Gingrich, under the manic cry that Clinton's tax increases would destroy the economy.

      They were wrong.



      On economics issues, the GOP HAS BEEN WRONG 99% of the time over the last 30 years. I've lived through their incompetence over and over. We all have.

      You're wrong, just like they are.

      Return to the Clinton-era rates, cut military expenditures as Obama's proposing, bring the troops home from Afghanistan, and implement the Affordable Care Act. The deficit will be gone and we'll be back to surpluses soon enough, though your conservative friends will again try to figure out ways to cut taxes and blow everything up.

      Just remember, David: On economics in the US, over the last 40 years: The GOP. Has. Always. Been. Wrong.

    2. Ditto to Fido.

      But also:

      Always, always, always with the Social Security, huh David?

      Remember, you are trying to impress us with how concerned you are about future US government finances!

      So: What percentage of US GDP is collected in taxes, including SS receipts?

      And: What by percentage of US GDP do the SS trustees expect future SS payments to outstrip receipts? (i.e. How much additional GDP would have to be captured to make it up?)

      How big is the SS "problem?" It is tiny. You are a charlatan.

      The real problem in future government solvency (yes, there is a real problem!) is our free-market healthcare system -- it's going to bankrupt the country, send us all individually to the poorhouse (that is the ones who aren't already there), and leave ever-increasing millions without any health care worthy of the name.

      You're concerned about the future? Help get the free-market profiteers out of the medical arena. Help civilize the USA.

  7. In case you haven't noticed, this site concerns itself principally with media criticism, not policy analysis. When a policy debate does commence, it's invariably in response to one of your thoroughly predictable right-wing sermons. The jury is still out of global warming! Social security is in dire jeopardy, let's do like they do Chile! Deficits are bad bad bad, so what if we're in the middle of a depression!

    Assuming you understand government debt as poorly as you do global warming and the operation of social insurance, why should anyone waste time debating you in this question? And if you're really so very humble ("IMHO", as you remind us constantly?) why not keep the right-wing talking points to yourself -- it's not as if we can't hear them elsewhere -- and seek wisdom instead?

  8. Yeah, whenever these guest hosts get on there it's always excruciating to watch, because they're just reading the same script. And it's not a good one to begin with. Comedy's hard, and she can't do it either. Yuuck.

    Worse about Klein last night (I think) was his trafficking in this idea that the GOP wants to "trick" the Dems by severing the whole tax cut issue from both Medicare and UI.

    As if those two are not defensible programs on their own, and that they need to be cynically linked to tax cuts in order to get through?

    If anything, the trick could be on the GOP here. It's an election year, and so they're going to have to defend their cuts then, right?

    Klein just proved last night that all these guys care about is just politics as an elaborate game-- it's never the core issues that are of concern to them. I think the Dems might welcome a clean debate on Medicare and Unemployment benefits.

  9. there is a way to satisfy the need for style on tv (unlike print and radio) journalism without having to significantly degrade substance by resorting to the antics the howler decries: employ very attractive people like wagner and kelly for example. people will stay tuned in no matter how boring they get with policy issues.

    as for madow my advice to msnbc would be to have some good hair, makeup and fashion people work on her. longer hair seems obvious to me for one thing.

  10. Cute story. Makes me want to be better. Thanks for sharing. You are wonderful.