Part 1—A potted plant referees Krugman: Last night, on his PBS show, Charlie Rose staged what we’d call an imitation of life.

Earlier in the day, he had spent several hours hosting CBS This Morning. He pretended to deal with serious topics, also provided our fluff.

Now, Rose was moderating an hour-long debate about the most important budget issues of the day.

Given the subject matter, Rose had assembled a slightly odd couple for his debate. On the one hand, he had booked Paul Krugman, one of the world’s most highly-regarded economists.

Debating Krugman would be Joe Scarborough, a former member of Congress who now hosts his own morning show on MSNBC. The program is built around tired old Bickersons gender-war shtick. This animates the promulgation of insider conventional wisdom.

Scarborough isn’t a major economist—but that doesn’t mean that this couldn’t have been a very worthwhile hour. You see, Scarborough speaks for the Washington insider class, for the inside players whose conventional wisdom dominates almost all media-driven public discussion.

Krugman tends to disagree with this crowd concerning our current budget challenges. As such, last evening’s show might have tested Prevailing Insider Conventional Wisdom against the contrary presentations of a major, world-class economist, albeit one who won't deal frankly with Ezra.

The evening didn’t turn out that way, largely because Rose—himself a creature of the plutocrat swells—behaved like a potted plant.

Transcripts and tapes aren’t available as we post, although they eventually will be. Working from memory of the 3 AM clash, we’ll list three key points where Charlie Rose failed to act:

If you end up watching the tape, please look for the part, early on, where Scarborough concedes the discussion. He says he too would like to see several hundred billion more dollars in federal spending this year, money which could be used to fund infrastructure projects and to rehire teachers.

If this had been a boxing match, a referee would have stopped the fight, declaring a technical knock-out. At that moment, Scarborough said he agrees with Krugman’s heretical views—the views which get Krugman ridiculed by the Washington Insider Class.

A referee should have stopped the fight. He could have awarded this part of the fight to Krugman, then moved to some other topic. Since the combatants also agreed that we need to lower future health care costs, he might have asked them to debate the best way to do it.

Charlie didn’t say a word! Instead, he behaved like a potted plant, helping viewers miss the fact that JoeScar conceded to Krugman.

For us, a second interesting moment was permitted to pass a bit later.

JoeScar made an accurate point. He noted that, contrary to liberal conventional wisdom, Republicans were tougher on President Clinton back in the 90s than they have been on Obama.

Scarborough told an amusing anecdote about how much he himself hated Clinton back in the mid-1990s. Since nobody hates Bill Clinton now, this could have produced an intriguing moment, had Charlie been willing to act:

Tell the truth! Wasn’t Scarborough describing one of the basic starting points of our current political dysfunction? Wasn’t he describing the start of our current hyper-partisan politics, in which Republican leaders urge their party's rubes to believe all kinds of crazy things about all major Democrats?

JoeScar’s anecdote offered a path. Charlie played potted plant.

We were struck by a third intriguing moment. It came quite late in the show.

In fairness, we thought Charlie had played a slightly more constructive role in the program’s second half hour. Now, as the combatants summarized their cases, an intriguing moment occurred.

Scarborough offered a standard piece of familiar old Tim Russert shtick. When Social Security began, he said, the average life-span was 62 years—and benefit payments began at age 65!

Off-camera, Krugman apparently snorted and/or rolled his eyes. Scarborough interrupted himself, then declared that Krugman is just like Al Gore! Like Al Gore, he’s a big know-it-all, Scarborough said. He thinks he knows more than everyone else. How dare he act that way?

Charlie could have stepped in there, creating a magical moment. He could have explained why people like Krugman have been snorting for many years about this hoary old chestnut. After explaining, he might have asked JoeScar if it might not be time to put this old chestnut away.

You’ll see Charlie do something like that when you see the hedgehog jump the moon. As a creature of the plutocrat class, Charlie engages in imitations of life. He doesn't critique standard shtick.

All week, we’ll feature imitations of life. These imitations of life will be torn from the pages of the daily news. In these imitations, tribunes of the upper-class create the impression—the false impression—that real discussions are being conducted inside the newsrooms and studios of Gotham and DC.

No such discussions are occurring. Our Potemkin discourse is a series of imitations of life.

Tomorrow: Joe Nocera

On the flip side, one of Scarborough’s virtues: Scarborough is a perfect hack concerning budget matters. He performs a more constructive role when it comes to other aspects of party politics.

Long ago, he told the truth about a topic regarding which our liberal leaders agreed to be potted plants. As we moved toward war with Iraq, he told the truth—on Hardball, no less!—about what had occurred during Campaign 2000, the campaign which gave us Iraq:
SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore...If they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.
Wondrously, Scarborough was speaking to Chris Matthews, ring-leader of the brutal behavior to which he referred. And guess what?

If “they” had done that to a Republican, Scarborough would have gone on Hardball and said they were being biased! That’s because conservatives fight back against such treatment, real and imagined. In those years, we liberals accepted whatever we were handed. And we refuse to talk about that era now.

(More accurately, Scarborough would have tried to go on Hardball to say that. There’s no chance he would have been booked.)

Scarborough told the truth that day in November 2002. Even as he did, fiery liberal Frank Rich was still trashing Gore, who was saying that we shouldn’t go into Iraq.

Gore was just faking, the pompous liberal hero insisted, even complaining to brilliant Don imus. He was simply positioning himself for his next White House run!

Frank Rich is a truly terrible person—and he remains a liberal hero! At any rate, Scarborough was telling the truth at that time; Rich was still burning the witches.

Rich staged many imitations of life during the Clinton-Gore era. We assholes swallowed his bullshit down whole. Rachel loves the great man dearly, right to this very day.

There is no way to fawn hard enough when Frank Rich appears on her show!


  1. Really Bob? Republicans hated Clinton more than Obama?

    Yes, they did impeach him over the silliest of reasons. But you tell me how many times Senate Republicans filibustered his proposals, like they have done with every, single thing Obama has proposed, and House Republicans also blocked and delayed everything including disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, and manufactured a series of crises over what up to Obama's administration had been routine votes to raise the debt ceiling and cover spending Congress had already approved.

    1. You are assuming they are obstructing Obama from personal animus. You are assuming wrong. They are obstructing because an entire apparatus has built up over the years that encourages them to obstruct, even pays them to obstruct. Back in the Clinton era, Fox News had just been around for a few years, and Rush made his name on Clinton.

    2. I am "assuming" nothing. I am looking at the evidence of how Republicans hates Obama so much that if destroying his presidency means destroying the country, so be it.

    3. Republicans filibustered Clinton's signature issue, health care reform. Not a single Republican voted for his 1993 budget. Oh, and they shut down the government. If opposition to a president's proposals is evidence of hatred, then your argument is weak.

    4. Right. And Republicans shut down the government during Clinton's term, and that worked out well for them, didn't it?

      By the way, I am NOT arguing that Republicans didn't hate Clinton. They did. Like I said, they even impeached him for the silliest of reasons.

      I am arguing against the daft notion, and I quote, that "Republicans were tougher on President Clinton back in the 90s than they have been on Obama."

      Good grief!

    5. It isn't daft -- they were tougher on Clinton, particularly given that they didn't have the same incentives, and media infrastructure to aid them, back then. Ultimately, your only evidence that they "hate" (your word) Obama is that they've obstructed him: in other words, they obstruct him because they "hate" (again, your word) him. Anyone reading your original post is going to reach the same conclusion: you made an assumption that their opposition to Obama is motivated by hatred, because that is what you said. I think they'd have been equally fanatical in their opposition to ANY Dem president who advanced a semi-progressive agenda. I also think that most Dem presidents would have done a better job of managing that opposition, but that's another topic for another day.

    6. Could it be possible that the Republicans have been equally as tough on both presidents, or hate both equally as much?

      And yes, I do agree with one thing. They would be absolutely fanatical in their opposition to "ANY Dem president." But that Dem president right now happens to be Barack Obama.

      And please, don't get into Ezra Klein territory by suggesting that Obama could have "done a better job of managing that opposition."

      As we just discovered with Rubio on immigration, Obama could say that he agrees with Rubio 100 percent, then within the next hour Rubio will be holding a press conference renouncing his own position.

  2. "Frank Rich is a truly terrible person-and he remains a liberal hero!"

    As to the latter, only in your mind, Neptune Bob.

    1. Yes, and although Somerby now says that Chris Mathews has been "repurposed" he was hardly considered to be a "liberal hero" from well before and through Campaign 2000.

  3. In the 08 primaries Krugman wrote a blog post in which her adjured both Obama and Clinton supporters that neither should use in their calculations the fact their candidate would face less GOP attacks and obstructionism. It wouldn't help Obama that he wasn't a "Clinton" and it wouldn't help Hillary that she was "white".

    You know if the Dems nominate Charlie Crist and Susan Collins in 2016. Shit will get made up about them too.

  4. Took a little longer than I thought it would to get to Campaign 2000, but he got there.

  5. I'm not a fan of Charlie Rose, but he was not a potted plant. You've written a novella, Bob.

    1. Charlie Rose contributed very little to the discussion in the first 30 minutes or so. While I was watching the show I kept thinking, "Gee, I wish I had his job."

    2. Sometimes its a good idea for the moderator to shut up.

  6. Or, the republicans are using an entire apparatus that has been built up over the years to obstruct Obama AND they hate him.

    Either or both are possible.

    1. And, just maybe, Republicans hate Obama just as much as they hated Bill Clinton.

      But not in SomerbyWorld. Nope. Republicans were tougher on Clinton. Why? Because he says so.

    2. Aside from the impeachment, there was the Whitewater investigation and the lawsuit by the woman who accused him of soliciting her in his hotel room (forgotten her name) and a series of more minor investigations into things like Travelgate. I haven't seen any of that harrassment happening to Obama. These things were supported by the mainstream media not just whispered in Republican corners, like the stuff about Obama's Chicago corruption ties or his birth certificate. Treatment of Michelle Obama has been much nicer than treatment of Hillary was -- for example no one has accused her of murdering anyone and planting them under that vegtable garden. No one has accused Michelle of being a lesbian or of hanging sex toys on the Christmas tree, etc.

    3. But we have had articles in the MSM about Michelle's big butt. Yes, the Washington Post published an article on her big ass. Clearly the WaPo would not publish such an article unless someone like Rush Limbaugh had been complaining about Michelle's rear for years.

  7. If you really dream of a world with a classier Oscar show, why sink to glib profanity yourself. This We, by the by, though Rich was a light weight back when he wrote about theatre.

  8. Whitewater was an unpresidented political witch hunt of a sitting President, legitimized by "liberal" elites like Howell Rains, who seemed to hate Clinton on a very personal level. Obama offers no "character issues" so the best they can do is fixate on his wife's keister.

    1. Well, we did have the "pal around with terrorists" thing.

      Before we get too far astray about what and what was not "supported in mainstream media" vs. "whispered in Republican corners," here is the statement of Joe Scarborough, which Somerby buys into, that I find rather impossible to defend:

      "JoeScar made an accurate point. He noted that, contrary to liberal conventional wisdom, Republicans were tougher on President Clinton back in the 90s than they have been on Obama."

      First off, it is NOT "liberal conventional wisdom" however you want to define that nebulous term, that Republicans were tougher on Obama than Clinton.

      But I would think it is pretty apparent that Republicans behaved terribly then toward the POTUS, and they are behaving terribly now.

      Only in Somerby's mind is there some sort of point to be made in determining and comparing the degree of GOP nastiness then and now.