MONDAY, JUNE 11, 2012

Part 1—Anthropologist needed: A famous old cult struck again last week—The Cult of the Offhand Comment.

For decades, adepts of this stupid old cult have wreaked havoc on American politics. In their most famous ritual, they seize relatively pointless remarks by presidential contenders, then bellow and wail about these remarks, distracting attention from things which actually matter.

This is one of the three million ways American voters get distracted from things which are worth discussing.

Last week, the famous old cult struck again, this time against Barack Obama, the sitting American president.

The president made a dumb remark, as everyone does at some point. He said the private sector of the U.S. economy “is doing fine,” although it plainly isn’t.

When the cult struck, our liberal leaders reacted in three basic ways:

First, they defended the accuracy of Obama’s remark. Digby pretended that Obama’s remark was right smack-dab on the money:
DIGBY (6/8/12): It is, of course, true. But in political bizarroworld, telling the truth is a gaffe.


Of course the president is right that the private sector is doing ok and it's government cutting spending that's causing the depression. But I'm not sure how much it benefits him to point it out at this late date.
Before long, Digby posted an “update” to this rather implausible post. In this adjustment, she contradicted her original claim, while pretending that she was doing no such thing:
DIGBY: Update: Also too—he should have said "doing better" rather than "doing fine" which isn't the way people feel and sounds odd to the ear. Plus it isn't actually working up to capacity, so "fine" is more optimistic than it should be.
According to Digby’s updated analysis, Obama shouldn’t have made his original statement because it sounds odd to the ear!

Given the fact that Obama’s statement was just plain inaccurate, this type of defense wasn’t likely to work. For that reason, some liberal intellectual leaders tried a different approach. They simply ignored the whole flap!

At the Washington Monthly blog, Ryan Cooper was sitting in for Ed Kilgore. On Friday, Cooper said nothing about Obama's remark or the attendant flap. He then authored this claim the next day:
COOPER (6/9/12): The chatter today is about Mitt Romney’s comment explicitly saying that what America needs is fewer cops, teachers, and firefighters...As Greg Sargent notes, that’s something Republicans have usually avoided, couching their “slash government” plans in vague generalities, but it’s nice to have things squarely on the table.
As the nation chattered about Obama, Cooper told grateful liberal readers that the nation was actually chattering about something Romney had said in reply.

On Sunday, Kilgore returned to his post. But as of Monday morning, Obama’s remark has never been mentioned on his high-profile blog.

(On Friday night, Al Sharpton adopted this same denialist stance. In his hour-long program on The One True Liberal Channel, he discussed Romney’s remark in detail but never mentioned Obama’s. Three reliable liberal pundits helped him execute this approach. If you got your news from this program last Friday, you didn’t hear that Obama had made any type of unusual statement.)

On a political basis, will Obama’s statement turn out to be a big deal? We can’t answer that. But thanks to The Cult of the Offhand Comment, Obama’s remark will get discussed. For that reason, some liberal pundits took a rather comical third approach to the unfolding flap.

At TPM, Brian Beutler executed perfectly:
BEUTLER (6/8/12): President Obama covered a lot of ground in his press conference today, but what’s sure to get the most attention is a claim he made about the health of the private economy. This is regarded as newsworthy because reporters recognize (correctly) that Republicans will use it out of context in attack ads.
Republicans will take his remark out of context! On Friday evening’s Hardball, Joan Walsh took the same approach. Indeed, she even criticized journalists, who have always been a key part of The Cult of the Offhand Comment.

You could tell Walsh was really offended by what Those People were doing:
WALSH (6/8/12): I have also got to say, I watched this unfold on Twitter today. And I saw a lot of people I respect, a lot of journalists I respect say, “Oh, wow, I know what he meant. But boy, he’s going to pay for that.”

I don’t know. He's only going to pay for it if we pretend to be stupid and that we don’t understand the context and we let Mitt Romney get away with it. We know what he meant, and he’s right. The economy—we would have a seven-point, a 7 percent unemployment rate, which is not good, but it`s a lot lower, if it weren`t for the public sector layoffs, most of which are in red states, governors like Rick Perry and Scott Walker.

MATTHEWS: I'm with you.

WALSH: I know you’re with me, but we just have to keep saying this.
“We just have to keep saying this,” Walsh said, explaining the plan.

Republicans and journalists will take Obama’s remark out of context! Beutler went on to explain what Obama meant or supposedly meant, just as Walsh did on Hardball. But at this point, our analysts indulged themselves in a good solid mordant laugh.

They’ll take his statement out of context! Coming from Walsh, this complaint was especially rich.

Over the past year, Walsh has made a minor industry out of taking relatively pointless remarks by Romney out of context. Does Romney “like to fire people?” When the candidate made this pointless remark, liberal leaders instantly noted that it was being taken out of context—wildly so, Kevin Drum said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/12).

Even Josh Marshall said that Romney’s remark was being taken out of context. Greg Sargent said this:

“Let me go on record saying it would be misleading and unfair to clip the video in question in order to quote Romney this way: ‘I like being able to fire people.’”

That’s what a long list of liberals said on Day One, in real time. But by now, Romney’s pointless remark has become familiar low-IQ wallpaper for “liberal leaders” like Walsh. Walsh then complains when a stupid old cult plays games with Obama’s remarks!

For decades, the liberal world slept in the woods. In her current role as Chris Matthews’ press agent, Walsh has monetized the cluelessness she worked to evince in the Clinton/Gore years and their aftermath.

Now that the liberal world has emerged from the woods and has started creating new “liberal” platforms, it’s strange to see the New Liberal Culture that is being formed.

What would happen, we once asked ourselves, if an anthropologist was asked to explore the peculiar folkways of this emerging tribe? In the last year, this simple question led to one of the greatest intellectual experiments of the modern era!

Tomorrow: Margaret Mead appears


  1. FYI Bob, is down, maybe you want to do something about it?

  2. To me, the striking thing about Obama's "gaffe" is precisely that it would seem to reveal his actual attitude toward our current economic slump -- and it's in fact the context that makes that clear.

    He prefaces his "gaffe" by talking up the "progress" we've made in creating new jobs:

    "We've created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. Over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine."

    But what is the real significance of these numbers, in the current economic downturn?

    Given the huge loss of jobs early on in the crisis, it would be obvious to any competent economist that the number of new jobs since falls well short of what is needed for full recovery. And if Obama is listening to any competent economist, he would know it.

    Instead, he appears to be listening to his own political operatives, who have told him the supposedly impressive numbers that should put a fine spin on the actually quite dismal situation. And, as would seem to be Obama's wont, he gladly sucks his own exhaust; one really does get the sense he believes it.

    The only thing is, he got a little carried away in spinning his own bullshit -- and now he's paying a price.

    Is there no God?

    1. On the other hand, exactly how quickly should those massive job losses been recovered?

      And you might want to check out the first four years of Obama's job-creation record with all the eight years of the Bush record, even before the 2008 crash, and see how well supply-side economics worked, which is precisely what Romney proposes returning us to.

  3. Love it. Thanks Bob.

  4. The only "private sector" people that Obama sees with any regularity are those that show up at his celebrity-packed fundraising events. Surprise, surprise, all of THOSE people are doing quite well, thank you. Is it any wonder that he thinks that the private sector "is doing fine"?

  5. Somerby's Joan Walsh:

    "They’ll take his statement out of context! Coming from Walsh, this complaint was especially rich.

    "Over the past year, Walsh has made a minor industry out of taking relatively pointless remarks by Romney out of context. Does Romney “like to fire people?” When the candidate made this pointless remark, liberal leaders instantly noted that it was being taken out of context—wildly so, Kevin Drum said."

    Actual Joan Walsh, January 9, 2012:

    ”I appreciate the diligence of reporters and pundits who have pointed out that when Mitt Romney said “I like being able to fire people,” he wasn’t talking, literally, about firing people. Yes, Bain Capital often made its money firing people, but Romney was actually talking about the right to ditch an insurance provider that isn’t providing good service when he made his unfortunate remark. So his GOP rivals who are piling on – Rick Perry set up a ringtone that features Romney saying 'I like being able to fire people' over and over – aren’t being entirely fair.

    "On the other hand, Romney’s not being at all fair in the way he’s defended himself. He told reporters he was only talking about defending consumers from the supposed tyranny of the Affordable Care Act – and he lied about what it does.

    “I don’t want to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to,” Romney said at a press conference Monday. “I believe in the setting as I described this morning where people are able to choose their own doctor, choose their own insurance company. If they don’t like their insurance company or their provider, they can get rid of it.

    "Those of us who supported a more progressive healthcare reform bill, including a public option, know that the compromise brokered by the White House protected the private insurance system. Nothing in the law tells people which insurance they have to have or which doctor they can go to. As a matter of fact, insurance companies themselves restrict which doctors we go to – they also have death panels – but that’s another story."

    Looks like another disconnect to me. I guess it's time to routinely go back to the source.

    1. Joan Walsh, May 25: "President Obama has raffled off dinners with George Clooney and former President Bill Clinton; Mitt’s got Trump. Any questions? Do you see a stature gap between the two campaigns? Do you want to have dinner with two guys who like to be able to fire people? Whatever floats Mitt’s boat."