Part 1—What Dowd leaves behind: The generation of pundits now leaving the stage leaves behind a truly appalling intellectual legacy.
They’re the gang who invented “invented the Internet.” Before that, they invented the Whitewater “scandal.”
(They gave that famous name—Whitewater—to a whole political era. To this day, can you explain what Bill Clinton is or was alleged to have done wrong?)
Their technical incompetence is a thing to behold. Beyond that, they’ve been in thrall to big-money interests for as long as they’ve been in control.
Why do we Americans pay the staggering fees we pay for health care? Our pundits and journalists have sworn an oath that they will never tell us.
What do national test scores actually show? Our pundits have no earthly idea. Beyond that, they plainly don’t care.
(“What do national test scores show?” If we might borrow some language from Wittgenstein: No such thing is in question here, only how insider elites want the story told. See Philosophical Investigations, passage 1.)
Can we talk tom turkey just for a Manhattan moment?
If our engineers built bridges the way our journalists construct their stories, all our cars would be sitting in the nation’s rivers and bays. There wouldn’t be a bridge left standing. The word “bridge” would have disappeared from the language, due to its lack of use.
A large number of well-known people have played leading roles in the invention of this crackpot intellectual culture—a crackpot culture that is never discussed by The New Kids on the Lawn, the youngsters who are now replacing the wheezing old Sam-and-Cokies.
The new kids arrive with their hands in the till. They inherit, and have agreed to extend, a laughable intellectual culture.
(No one laughs at this laughable culture because we the people have come to accept so many of its bogus tales.)
A large number of people have played leading roles in the invention of this intellectual culture. Few have played a larger role than Maureen Dowd, whose latest example of weird behavior was on display in yesterday’s New York Times.
In a slightly rational world, yesterday’s column by Dowd really wouldn’t be possible. It’s a silly love letter to President Clinton, the rapacious fellow Dowd dumbly and dishonestly savaged exactly one Sunday before.
Except for the consistent dumbness, it’s hard to believe that these Sunday columns were written about (or by) the same person. We were amazed by how few commenters to Dowd’s new column noted her weird change in mood.
The love letter begins with a silly premise, and with disguised faint praise:
DOWD (7/20/14): At 67, he continues to be, as Anna Quindlen once wrote, like one of those inflatable toys with sand weighting the bottom—you knock him over and he pops back up.For the meaning of “dishabille,” you can just click here. With your remediation achieved, you can continue reading:
As Hillary stumbles and President Obama slumps, Bill Clinton keeps getting more popular.
The women, the cheesy behavior, the fund-raising excesses, the self-pity, the adolescent narcissism, the impeachment, the charges of racially tinged insults against Obama in 2008, the foundation dishabille—all that percussive drama has faded to a mellow saxophone riff for many Americans.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg center poll showed that Clinton was, by a long shot, the most admired president of the last quarter-century. A new YouGov poll finds that among the last eight elected presidents, Clinton is regarded as the most intelligent and W. the least.
Does Bill Clinton “keep getting more popular?” Not exactly, no.
Below, we’ll review Dowd’s attempt to work with statistics. For now, consider the well-disguised faint praise.
According to Dowd, Clinton is “the most admired president of the last quarter-century.” She fails to mention that there are only four such people—and one of them is the sitting president, who is still involved in partisan warfare.
There are only three such former presidents. In effect, Dowd is marveling at the fact that Clinton polled more favorably than either of the Bushes. In that competition, Clinton is the lump of potato in a very thin stew.
As she continues, Dowd performs a bit of mind-reading. After that, she goes to the heart of the silly claim around which she builds a whole column:
DOWD (continuing directly): (Clinton and W. both should have been more aggressive in catching Osama. But certainly, if Clinton had been president post-9/11, there would have been no phony invasion of Iraq, and Katrina would have elicited more empathy.)Presumably, “real chilliness” is a jibe at Obama (or at Hillary Clinton), although there’s no way to tell. But there you see this column’s basic premise:
A Washington Post/ABC News poll in May found Bill’s approval ratings rebounding to the highest they had been since early in his presidency.
Even some who used to mock his lip-biting have decided that warmth, even if it’s fake at times, beats real chilliness.
Two months ago, a Post/ABC poll found Bill Clinton’s approval ratings “rebounding to the highest they had been since early in his presidency.”
The statement is technically accurate. The poll showed Clinton’s approval rating at 63 percent. That’s the highest measured by the Post-ABC poll in Clinton’s post-presidency.
That said, this was only the seventh time the Post had polled Clinton’s popularity over that fourteen-year span. Four of those surveys were taken during the highly partisan 2008 primary campaign, when Clinton’s popularity among battling Democrats took a significant hit.
Does Bill Clinton “keep getting more popular?” Maybe! In January 2007, the Post/ABC poll had him at 61 percent. As such, Dowd built her love letter around a two-point gain in approval over a seven-year span.
Margin of error, anyone? Nor did Dowd bother consulting other polls, some of which have tracked this topic with much greater regularity. That would have been hard work!
In this one survey, Bill Clinton has gone from 61 percent all the way to 63! On that basis, Dowd is soon asking why he is “burning brighter now, when the spotlight should be on his successor and his wife?” She’s speculating about the reasons “we” have taken him from 61 all the way to 63!
Let’s be clear. For a partisan political figure, Bill Clinton does get darn good ratings! If a pollster asked our view, we’d go with “approval” too.
In even a slightly rational world, that couldn’t explain this sudden love letter about the former president. But we don’t live in a rational world. We live in a world whose intellectual horizons have been constructed, over the years, by powder-puff piffle like this:
DOWD: Except for L.B.J. and Nixon, ex-presidents tend to grow more popular. Yet Bill Clinton, wandering the global stage as a former president who may return to the White House as the husband of a president, plays a unique role in American history. (Newly released Clinton library documents revealed that Bill, believing it punchier, preferred to use “America” and “Americans” in speeches rather than “the United States” and “people of the United States.”)The highlighted passage could only be pimped as a “revelation” in the brain-dead, utterly fatuous world Maureen Dowd has worked to create. Today, that brain-dead intellectual culture is being inherited by The New Kids on the Lawn.
At its statistical heart, yesterday’s column was silly. That said, the most striking thing about this column isn’t its utter silliness. It’s the manic turn its author took in the seven days since her last Sunday column appeared.
Does memory still play any role in the American discourse? Last Sunday’s overstated, dishonest column concerned “the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton, Inc.,” the hellhole into which Chelsea Clinton has supposedly been drawn, thanks to the grasping conduct of her rapacious parents.
Was that previous Sunday column about the same Bill Clinton? “The Clintons keep acting as though all they care about is selfless public service,” Dowd angrily complained that day, exactly one week ago. “So why does it keep coming back to gross money grabs?”
“They need to protect their daughter again, this time from their wanton acquisitiveness,” she wrote as she closed that Sunday piece. At length, she had suggested the possibility of corrupt conduct by the rapacious Clintons.
One week later, that poisonous, largely dishonest piece was replaced by a brainless love letter to the head of the clan. The previous column’s insinuations and insults were reduced to a single word:
The Clinton Foundation is “dishabille!” Aside from that, the eternal dumbness of a spotless mind was emitting sweetness and light.
Dowd’s generation is leaving the stage. Several leading figures now type their columns from Michael Bloomberg’s retirement home for aging narrative-drivers.
They leave behind an astonishing intellectual culture. That culture is defined by its utter fatuity, and by its rank dishonesty in service to preferred story lines.
No one did more than Maureen Dowd to create this intellectual culture. All week, we’ll look at the work now being done by The New Kids on the Lawn.
Tomorrow: Never trust anyone under 30!