ELITE DELUSIONS: Dowd, seeming smart!


Interlude—Servicing readers’ delusions: The New York Times often signals its readers. It tells them they’re smart.

And moral!

One such signal appears at the start of Maureen Dowd’s latest rather dumb column:
DOWD (8/1/12): Remember when Janice Soprano shot her fiance to death after he punched her in the mouth? Then she calls Tony to come over and help her. He mops up the blood and has his thugs chop up the body.

“All in all, though,” Tony tells his sister sincerely, as he drops her at the bus station, “it was a pretty good visit.”

By Sopranos standards, all in all, Mitt Romney had a pretty good visit overseas. But by political standards, it was more like Munch’s “The Scream.”
As usual, Dowd doesn’t have a lot to say, in this case about Romney’s trip. But she keeps it seeming smart, citing Munch in just her third paragraph.

Later, we got Oscar Wilde and Ambrose Bierce. The scribe had little to say today. But she sprinkled in smart-seeming references.

Does the New York Times have “sophisticated readers?” If so, they’re constantly tearing their hair. We were struck by Kevin Drum’s post about Bill Keller’s new column.

Dutifully, Drum worked his way through three of Keller’s bungles. Kevin was patient—but should he have been? He was citing points which have been made many times in the past. In a rational world, we would be bollixed by the fact that Keller doesn’t seem to know the things Drum was explaining.

To his credit, Drum spoke slowly, hoping Keller could get it this time. But good grief! Until last September, Keller was in charge of this famous newspaper!

Does the New York Times have “sophisticated readers?” It certainly wants its readers to think so! Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way the New York Times is covering the current White House campaign.

The New York Times just isn’t real sharp—but it doesn’t want readers to know! When you buy the New York Times, you're buying the right not to know.


  1. Drum buys the nonsense about the 5 year increase in lifespan conditional on reaching age 65. As urban legend pointed out in another thread, the right way to look at this is the SS Actuaries' calculation. They show that benefits will have to be cut 25%. That means, that if SS is to be balanced without benefit cuts, then SS income will have to go up by 33%. We all need to face this reality.

    1. How big a change in SS funding, relative to GDP, is required to eliminate benefit cuts?

    2. Channeling Dean Baker I guess, Kevin Drum says:

      >>>>>The weird thing about this is that Social Security isn't even hard to understand. Taxes go in, benefits go out. Unlike healthcare, which involves extremely difficult questions of technological advancement and the specter of rationing, Social Security is just arithmetic.

      The chart on the right tells you everything you need to know: Right now, Social Security costs about 4.5% of GDP. That's going to increase as the baby boomer generation retires, and then in 2030 it steadies out forever at around 6% of GDP.

      That's it. That's the story. Our choices are equally simple. If, about ten years from now, we slowly increase payroll taxes by 1.5% of GDP, Social Security will be able to pay out its current promised benefits for the rest of the century.

      Conversely, if we keep payroll taxes where they are today, benefits will have to be cut to 75% of their promised level by around 2040 or so. And if we do something in the middle, then taxes will go up, say, 1% of GDP and benefits will drop to about 92% of their promised level. But one way or another, at some level between 75% and 100% of what we've promised, Social Security benefits will always be there.

      For David in Cal it's all about tough love and doing what's best for the next generation. David in Cal wants today's youths to have all the incentives his own parents had when they took the world by the tail upon coming of age, inspired as they were by life in the Red, White, and Blue back then in the good old days when there wasn't the temptation to become a layabout because of some government guaranteed Old Age pension:

      >>>>>Prior to Social Security, those unable to work routinely moved in with their children. Those who had no children or whose children were unable or unwilling to support them typically wound up in the poorhouse. The poorhouse was not some Dickensian invention; it was an all-too-real means of subsistence for the elderly in the world immediately preceding the enactment of Social Security.

      Fear of the poorhouse was always lurking in the background, haunting people as they aged. Destitute senior citizens were a fact of life. In 1934, the Committee on Economic Security, the inter-agency group appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to draft a Social Security bill, canvassed the available statistics. No national figures existed, but using available data, the Committee reported, “Connecticut (1932), New York (1929), and Wisconsin (1925) found that nearly 50% of their aged population (65 years of age and over) had less than subsistence income.”


    3. >>>>>[...continued]

      Those born after the enactment of Social Security tend to believe that the stunning statistic of nearly half the elderly living in poverty is simply a matter of history, and do not associate the reduction in poverty, on a visceral level, with Social Security. Nevertheless, according to a 2005 report of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Leaving aside Social Security income, nearly one of every two elderly people—46.8%—has income below the poverty line.”

      Social Security is the nation’s most effective anti-poverty program. In contrast to the theoretical poverty-level income of the elderly when Social Security is disregarded, the actual poverty rate among the elderly in 2006 was 9.4%. The program lifts 13 million seniors above the poverty line. About one-third of the elderly receive 90% or more of their income from Social Security; two-thirds receive half or more of their income from the program.

      Without Social Security, 55% of the disabled and their families would live in poverty. The program lifts 1 million children out of poverty. The benefits are particularly important to women and minorities. Social Security provides 90% or more of the income of almost half of all unmarried (including widowed, divorced, and never-married) women, aged 65 and older, as well as almost half of all African Americans aged 65 and older.

      It's pretty simple stuff. When, as a percentage of total population, more of the nation's population is elderly then more of the wealth of the nation will have to be directed to the elderly population than is the case now if we don't want half or more of the elderly in this country to be living in poverty.

    4. Has anyone factored in the number of people that keep working past retirement age?

      How about the ones that keep working and paying into SS while they are collecting it?

      Who can do the numbers on this?

      Is there an actuary in the house?

  2. Puny change fixes everything:

    Someone making $80,000 pays SS taxes on every dollar of income while someone making $1 million pays on barely one of every 10 dollars.

    Removing the cap would pretty much wipe out the shortfall on its own.

    This also has the benefit of putting the burden mostly on the class that's gained the most in the last 30 years: the extremely rich.

    What could be more fair?

    1. Dowd, in a typically moronic column, ignores what is obviouly the most astounding off-message comments made by Mitt - praising the Israeli health care system for being radically less expensive than the U.S. system, one of TDH's major themes.It appears that the press has widely picked up on Romney's remarks, noting that Israel has a government controlled universal health care system. (It looks like, unlike many other news sources, the Times makes no mention of Romney's statement).

      Of particular note is the article on the front page of today's Boston Globe, which includes a graphic stating:

      per capita health care cost: Israel $2,141 (2007); US - $7,421 (2008)

      Health care %/GDP - Israel - 8% (2007); US - 16% (2008)

      Percent uninsured - Israel - 0%; US - 17%

      Infant mortality (per 1000) Israel 4; US 7

      Life expentancy - Israel men - 80, US- 76
      Israel women - 84, US women - 81.

      Presumably, the full significance of Romney's statement, as far as explaining to the American public the grossly greater amount we pay for health care, without better results, will not be adequately addressed by the media or by the Democrats.

      AC / Massachusetts

    2. And he didn't ask Lech Walesa if Poland has universal healthcare, and if so, is it mandatory.

      They do and it is.

      I don't believe he took the opportunity to mention that Solidarity was Reagan's favorite union, either.

      What real Republican would miss a chance to invoke Ronald Reagan?

    3. What I've noticed is that when you talk about means-testing SS benefits, or removing the payroll tax, that is the point at which conservatives discover the concept of "fairness." As in, it's "unfair" to deny benefits to those who've paid for them, but don't need them.

    4. "...removing the payroll tax CAP..."

    5. So in your book it would be logical with conservative views on "fairness", to not balk at Social Security being turned into a welfare program?

    6. On the contrary, Anonymous of 3:44: "Conservatives" don't oppose means-testing. They are all for it. Because they want to destroy SS.

      Fairness points toward removing the tax cap.

      Means testing SS points toward destroying SS.

      Why raising or removing the cap is fair: Because otherwise the tax is regressive -- lower income workers pay a higher percentage of their total wage to the tax.

      Why mean-testing tends to destroy the program: Because it removes participation in the benefit it erodes support for SS.

    7. BTW-- there are some conservatives do who have advocated means-testing for SS.

  3. Dowd appeals to the same audience as Aaron Sorkin. People with average IQ's who think they're well above or genius, and who adopt a liberal ideology because they believe it signals this conceit.

    1. Nice case of projection. Could the same be said of Somerby's audience?

    2. Or his critics?

  4. NYC liberals (and I mean liberals, not real leftists) I know scoff at the NYT these days and read the WSJ -- yes, the WSJ, not because of its editorial pages (which they ignore) but because of its more reliable and thorough reporting.

    Personally, I (for many years now in MA but always closely connected to NYC) have never known a liberal (much less someone properly left) who pays any attention to the likes of Dowd, or who has ever paid attention to her. A few liberals I know or have known, like my father, who would be in his 90's if he were still alive, briefly paid attention to Dowd when she first came to the pages of the NYT -- and then quickly dismissed her and then learned to disdain her, during the later Clinton years. I have no idea who Bob Somerby imagines the "liberals" to whom he so often refers to be. "Liberal" as a construct of MSNBC?

    1. How about all the liberal journalists who continually fail to call her out?

      Also, consider: the NYT pays Dowd big money. Evidently, she has an audience. Do you figure lots of conservatives read her? Perhaps you don't know all liberals.

    2. Of course I don't know all liberals. Two points I'd make here. First, who gets to define "liberal"? Rush Limbaugh? E. J. Dionne? A serious question, given how the word has been bandied about for many decades now. Me, I can't imagine characterizing Maureen Dowd as a "liberal journalist." But maybe I'm just showing my age (over 60). Which leads to my second point: I have no idea what journalists might be characterized as liberal and might be expected to call out a journalists they might not themselves characterize as liberal. Some sort of mobile this whole line of argument gets stuck in. Waste of time.

      As for Dowd's big money, that hardly means she has a (significant) audience, outside some beltway echo chamber. (Btw, the NYT continues to be in economic trouble. Maybe if the paper had more columnists people actually flocked to read, that would help its bottom line?)

    3. mch, some months ago, I challenged Somerby's fans to attempt to start a water cooler discussion about any Dowd column (she is syndicated in our metro daily out here in flyover country) to see how vast her audience truly is, and actually to see how many people even know her name.

      I was told then how obviously ignorant I was. After all, she works for the mighty New York Times, the national paper of record and from whom all media, print and broadcast, get their marching orders. I was told that she won a Pulitzer Prize, and that she makes a lot of money. Ergo, she just has to be influential, even if very few of us ignoramuses out here in fly over country even know who she is.

      Yes, I guess she is a pretty good symbol of the times that someone could rise to such prominence in the field of journalism today by writing pseudo-clever, pseudo-intellectual girly gossip columns and pass that off as serious thought.

      And it is true that Dowd has worked her way into the Beltway elite by hosting fabulous dinner parties with all those A list guests.

      But once you've said that about her, and Somerby said it years ago and James Fallows said it better years before Somerby, what is left?

      Just years and years of beating the same horse.

      The news that Dowd has written yet another fatuous, silly column strikes me to be as shocking as watching the sun come up in the east this morning.

  5. David Denby shed some light on the Dowd question, if not the in the way he intended, in his book "Snark." An inside player, Denby wrung his hands over the fact that, in the 2000 primary, the great commentary of Dowd had simply gone a little to far, and She should just be a little more civil. So a highly respected critic like Denby with a major perch really felt that when Mo went astray in was a somewhat tragic loss. I read a conservative writer who wrung his hangs a bit over Dowd during the W years, and how She had lost her touch since the Clinton years, when She was of course very insightful and funny.
    So who, if anyone really does like Dowd? It's hard to say, I assume her books sell. But like Limbaugh, his wallpapered shows popularity is attested to by some pretty dubious measures, like the radio ratings services.
    I tend to view Dowd (and as the Daily Howler sometimes forgets, She is TRYING to be funny) as a failed stand up comic. Closer to a gossip scribe like Hedda Hopper of old (who went off on politics too) who in the infotainment age somehow winds up on the editorial page. The only liberals I've ever heard like her were "progressives" who quoted her Clinton smear stuff.

  6. If only she had mentioned Thomas Mann, then it would have really been both funny and erudite.

    A history of SCTV told a story of a performance where one of the comics was complaining about the audience. That they were giving "recognition laughs". He said, "Mention Thomas Mann and you get a laugh." Well, in the next skit, he was holding up a suit and said "How do I look?" and the other guy said brightly "You look just like Thomas Mann." And the audience exploded with laughter.

    Funniest line in show business.

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  8. If you'll remember that Dowd, more than anything else, aspires to be known as a "wit," and that an essential component of late 20th century wit is a liberal sprinkling of pre-graduate-level cultural references dating back to Woody Allen and Monty Python, you'll forgive the woman for caving into these irresistable (insert Freudian reference here) impulses to flatter her reader while bolstering her own image as a Hitchens or Vidal in drag.