SAME OLD STORIES: A destructive old tale from the not-distant past!

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2015

Part 4—Repulsed by the lesser evil:
By her own embarrassed admission, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post is “a fan of Hillary Clinton.”

Over at the New York Times, Frank Bruni pretty much isn’t. Last Sunday, this contrast produced a bit of instruction about the way the insider press corps works.

Here’s the learning we took away from the insiders’ columns:

You can have a schoolgirl crush on Clinton, or you can be a borderline hater. None of this will have any effect on what you end up writing!

How odd! Marcus, with the schoolgirl crush, wrote at least her fifth column in the past year about the “piggishness and gluttony” of the woman she so admires. For our background report, click here.

Bruni, the borderline hater, wrote the exact same column!

Is FIFA a weirdly secretive guild with weirdly hidden procedures? So is our insider “press corps!” By rather obvious rule of law, there are certain things they must all do and say. And when their reasoning goes to Qatar, we aren’t supposed to notice!

In his exasperated column, Bruni told the same old story about the Clintons’ rapacious ways in the realm of filthy lucre. As he started, he set the stage for some very weak reasoning with some vague remarks:
BRUNI (5/24/15): Say anything critical about a person or an organization and brace for this pushback: At least he, she or it isn’t as bad as someone or something else.

Sure, the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t done right by women. But those Mormons have more to answer for!

Yes, there are college presidents with excessive salaries. But next to the football and basketball coaches on many campuses, they’re practically monks!

Set the bar low enough and all blame is deflected, all shame expunged. Choose the right points of reference and behold the alchemy: naughty deeds into humdrum conformity. Excess into restraint. Sinners into saints.

Arkansas into Elysium.
According to the leading authority, Elysium “is a conception of the afterlife that...was maintained by certain Greek religious and philosophical sects and cults.” In fairness, Bruni should know all about the way members of a sect can maintain group stories!

At any rate, poor Bruni! No matter who he criticizes, some alchemist will quickly declare that somebody else is worse!

So far, Bruni had given no specific examples. Now he did—although, just for the record, we’d have to say he slightly miscast the point of his villain’s remark:
BRUNI (continuing directly): I mention Arkansas because of a classic bit of deflection performed last month by one of its senators, Tom Cotton. He was rationalizing a so-called religious freedom bill that would have permitted the state’s merchants to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. And he said that it was important to “have a sense of perspective.”

“In Iran,” he noted, “they hang you for the crime of being gay.”

I see. If you’re not hauling homosexuals to the gallows or stoning them, you’re ahead of the game,
and maybe even in the running for a humanitarian medal.

Like I said, you can set the bar anywhere you want.

And you can justify almost anything by pointing fingers at people who are acting likewise or less nobly.
You can set the bar anywhere you want? Once again, we’d have to say that Bruni should know about that!

Beyond that, we’d have to say that Bruni was miscasting and overstating the point of Cotton’s remark just a bit. You can read the CNN transcript yourself, by just clicking here.

Whatever! Fairly or otherwise, Bruni had offered a dramatic example of the kind of moral reasoning he had in mind. And sure enough! In his very next sentence, the basic rules of his own “sect or cult” kicked in:

“Naturally, this brings us to the current presidential campaign.”

“Naturally,” Bruni said, Cotton’s squalid-seeming remarks made him think of our new endless campaign. But as he continued, you can see whose moral squalor he actually had in mind:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Earlier this month Hillary Clinton not only made peace with the “super PACs” that will be panhandling on her behalf, but also signaled that she’d do her vigorous part to round up donations for one of them, Priorities USA.

She did this despite much high-minded talk previously about taming the influence of money in politics.

She did this without the public hand-wringing of Barack Obama when he reluctantly embraced his super PAC, which happened at a later point in his 2012 re-election effort.

She did this because Jeb Bush and other potential Republican rivals were either doing or poised to do this.

And she did this, no doubt, because of the Koch brothers and their political network’s stated goal of raising and spending nearly $1 billion on behalf of Republicans during this election cycle. For Democrats, “the Koch brothers” is at once a wholly legitimate motivation and an all-purpose exoneration, a boogeyman both real and handy, permitting all manner of mischief by everybody else. True, I’m vacuuming up money like an Electrolux on Adderall. But in a Koch-ian context, I’m a sputtering Dustbuster.
We’d finally reached Bruni’s central focus, the actual point of his column. “Naturally,” a heinous comment by Senator Cotton made him think of Hillary Clinton and the people panhandling on her behalf!

Can we talk? You can be an embarrassed fan; you can be a borderline hater. But within the sect of Marcus and Bruni, all roads seem to lead to this one destination!

By some undisclosed “natural” force, it lies in the order of things! Within this modern upper-end sect, every kind of squalid remark produces thoughts of Clinton!

Because the children will get upset, let’s explore the internal structure of this particular column:

A cynic might say that Bruni positioned himself a tad with his cite of Cotton’s remark. Cotton is a Republican. This might seem to provide the column with a bipartisan feel.

Beyond that, Cotton was pictured being wanton with respect to the treatment of gays. Bruni’s objection to the remark gave him a liberal-ish feel.

In our view, the bipartisan feel this column may have is illusory. Cotton is a first-term, back-bench Republican—a minor figure who is often regarded as comically fringe. By way of contrast, Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee for the White House next year, at least as matters now stand.

As is often the case in such columns, Bruni sprinkles some GOP names about, even some major GOP names. But by a vast preponderance of the insults, his emphasis is on the hypocrisy of Clinton, and even of Obama before her.

According to Bruni, Clinton had offered “much high-minded talk” about money in politics. But she then proceeded to behave in the same way Cotton did! For Bruni, it’s Clinton’s conduct which Cotton’s remark brought to mind!

Indeed, as is required inside Bruni’s sect, the problem of money in our politics seems to end up being the Clintons’ fault! Our giant money-in-politics problem seems to start with their “rapacious” conduct and “assiduous enrichment” inside their “messy world.”

Warning! Mind-reading ahead:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Democrats tell themselves that they have a ways to go before they sink as low as Republicans do. Republicans tell themselves that none of their machinations rival the venal braid of conflicting interests and overlapping agendas in the Clintons’ messy world.

The Clintons tell themselves that their assiduous enrichment since the end of Bill’s presidency still doesn’t put them in a league with the fat cats whom they’ve met and mingled with, and that they earned their wealth rather than inheriting or shortchanging shareholders for it.

Other politicians tell themselves that if the Clintons are lapping at the trough so rapaciously, surely they’re entitled to some love and lucre of their own.
You have to feel sorry for those unnamed “other politicians!” When they see the Clintons at the trough, they think they need lucre too!

Let’s be clear. The rules of this modern sect do allow for disparate judgment by members. If you’re a fan of Hillary Clinton, you talk about her “gluttony” and compare her to a “pig.”

If you’re a borderline hater, you speak of her “rapacious” ways, although you too may mention a trough.

Marcus and Bruni were telling several same old stories in these Sunday columns. Hillary Clinton is a pig at a trough, both columnists have now said. Beyond that, Bruni seemed to point at a type of hypocrisy, a story that was dumped on Candidate Gore when he proposed campaign finance reform in Campaign 2000.

Can we talk? As far as we know, Hillary Clinton hasn’t said that it’s OK for her to do something wrong because someone else is doing it worse. She has said that she will play by existing campaign finance rules, even as she proposes changing those rules in the future.

As almost anyone can see, that position makes perfect sense. It also made perfect sense in Campaign 2000, when Gore reporters at Bruni’s newspaper kept suggesting that Candidate Gore was a raging hypocrite because he’d adopted such a puzzling stand.

Bruni was telling some same old stories. “Naturally,” talk of hideous moral squalor made him think of you-know-who, the gluttonous person of whom Marcus is such an undisguised fan.

Sadly, the most destructive of the same old stories arose right away in comments. Some progressive readers were stampeding off, reciting a story from Campaign 2000 as they went.

People are dead all over the world because we bought this same old story that time. Liberals, please! Are we really planning to buy this same old story again?

Tomorrow: “The lesser of two evils”


  1. "In a functioning democracy, none of the Republican candidates would be considered viable Presidential candidates. Most would not hold elected office."

    NY Times commenter linked to and seemingly described as self-destructive by Somerby.

    "In a modestly rational world, Layton and her editor would quickly get fired. But you don't live in that rational world."

    "n a rational world, political journalists would enjoy long, detailed speeches by major political figures."

    "In a rational world, Collins would be disowned by journalists, savaged by liberals."

    "In a rational world, the NFL's clownish data collection would serve as a bit of a warning light on the path to ultimate judgment."

    Bob Somerby lamenting our irrational world.

    1. Can't find a point here, friend. Or do you think you found the part of that commenter's letter that Somerby thought was the old self-destructive story? I don't think you did.

      To my eye that old story from 2000 was the commenter's claim that "only" Sanders supported policies that would benefit real people instead of the status quo. That does indeed seem to have the ring of the "not a dime's worth of difference" claims of 2000.

      You don't have to believe (as I don't) that Nader's candidacy alone destroyed Gore's chance of winning in order to believe (as I do) that maintaining there's no real difference between the Democrats and Republicans is a poisonous strategy if you want to prevent Republicans from winning.

      Similarly, I don't think Sander's candidacy itself is a danger to Clinton and a gift to the Republicans. But to the extent that supporters of Sanders feel they have to demonize Clinton, they are indeed acting self-destructively (on the assumption they'd prefer a Republican candidate not win).

    2. To answer your question Some Say, no. I didn't quote the comment Somerby read* and linked to in order to illustrate his point that it was seemingly self-destructive.

      I did it to illustrate that those who hold and express views contemptuous of the established order often find those functioning in that system incompetent and unworthy.

      As a matter of fact, if you add phrases like "in a functioning Democracy" or "in a rational world" to many of the assertions contained in Frank Bruni's column, I would suggest there is not a dime's worth of difference in the self righteous mentality behind the writings of Mr. Bruni, Mr. Somerby and the commenter. In a rational world anyone could have seen that was my point.

      As to the rest of your comment, I agree, but only based on the caveats you add: "on the assumption they'd prefer a Republican candidate not win" and "if you want to prevent Republicans from winning." Some do not think those caveats are the highest priority and indeed are part of the problem. But they don't live in a rational world.

      *Note to casual readers of this blog: This comment box if unmoderated and infested with people whom believe Somerby might read their comments. He doesn't. He just reads, links, and sometimes even reprints comments made elsewhere, devoting whole posts to them. If you want the blogger to read your work, trying commenting at Salon or in response to Maureen Dowd.

    3. Wasn't one point in Bruni's essay that there are levels of incompetence, levels of wrongness? Even those critical of our irrational world can hope for improvement and are not insisting on an all-or-nothing degree of change.

    4. I think both of you jokers are wide of the mark here.

      Somerby wrote: "Sadly, the most destructive of the same old stories arose right away in comments. Some progressive readers were stampeding off, reciting a story from Campaign 2000 as they went."

      The commenter to whom Somerby linked gave his reasons for supporting Sanders over Clinton. How is that a tale from 2000 which is destructive? My only conclusion is that Somerby thinks to support anyone other than a Clinton or Clinton anointed successor is destructive.

    5. Somerby thinks that calling Clinton a hypocrite for her money raising efforts is repeating a tale from 2000 and destructive. Supporting Sanders isn't inherently destructive. It is destructive when those who support him do so because they buy into this criticism of Clinton, because they think Sanders is less tainted because he doesn't engage in such fundraising.

    6. "this will help Jeb(!) and little cuddly Marco and his billionaire sugardadddy."

      Yes, Bob Somerby would like you to think so. That is why he has conveniently omitted the press coverage mm has obviously seen. Coverage which indicates Marco has a billionaire sugardaddy. Other Howler readers may have not.

      Here is what someone else wrote about that:

      On Rubio: " And for Marco Rubio, a Florida legislator’s compensation wasn’t nearly enough. So he cozied up to a billionaire auto dealer who continues to underwrite his existence all these years later, affording him a lifestyle beyond his means as a United States senator. What a smooth move."

      Or Jeb(!): "Among the Bushes, it was always said that you made your fortune, then staked your political claim. Jeb Bush did a bit of that, and his net worth when he became governor of Florida in 1999 was about $2 million.

      It fell to about $1.3 million over the next eight years, immediately after which he exhibited an “unapologetic determination to expand his wealth,” according to Michael Barbaro in The Times, who wrote that even though “the path from public service to private riches is well trodden,” Bush took an unusually “aggressive and expansive approach to making money.” His net worth now isn’t known."

      Did you we read this in the Howler?

      "The path from public service to private riches is well trodden by politicians of both parties. But, even by that measure, Mr. Bush took an aggressive and expansive approach to making money.

      Since 2007, he has left few corners of the economy untouched, working on Wall Street, starting a consulting firm, investing in real estate, advising an emergency preparedness company, sitting on the board of a hospital linens provider, and giving speeches to grocery industry groups, local chambers of commerce and health care conferences.

      He has been well paid for his time, earning at least $3.2 million in board fees and stock grants from publicly traded companies alone, records show. His corporate speechmaking appears to have generated millions more: He commands about $50,000 for his speeches, delivering more than 100 since 2007, though some are unpaid. And he has earned millions from his work as an adviser to Lehman Brothers and Barclays, the company that took much of the bank over, according to executives familiar with his arrangements. Today, his pay from Barclays exceeds $1 million a year, these people said."

      Didn't think so. The first two quotes are from Frank Bruni. The third is linked by Bruni in the column containing both quotes. It too is from the New York Times.

      You see, dear Howler readers, Bob Somerby likes to disappear that which doesn't fit. He has all along.
      In the early years he never linked to articles he quoted so you had to trust him to accurately represent what was and what was not said.

    7. That's funny, but I can't seem to find the part where multiple conservative columnists called Jeb(!) and cuddly little Marco greedy pigs.

  2. The ludicrousness of Bruni's point can be made evident by drawing a sports analogy. Imagine that Lebron James was a staunch critic of a defensive tactic used by NBA players, and lobbied the league long and hard to make that tactic a foul. But in the meantime, he himself continued to use said tactic while playing defense. Nobody in their right mind would call James a hypocrite in that situation. Nobody would suggest he give the offensive players an advantage that he himself wouldn't have, just to remain "consistent."

    1. Sports analogies are ludicrous. Unless you want to compare Hillary's pants stuffing to that of a middle infielder.

    2. Malala would not make the NBA finals.

  3. Almost Elysium would be West Virginia without even moving the bar.

  4. I am enjoying this blog's unacknowledged 180 degree turn from "tribalism is bad" to "tribalism is our only hope!"

    1. You are a young commenter.

      This blog does not acknowledge turning because it is not turning. You are rotating around the blog.

      As you become older and wiser you will look back and realize you came yet another 180 degrees on your journey.

      It will be 2000 once more and the choice will be yours. Sleep through the War again or be prepared, when your rotation hits its point of half cycle, not to be fooled by the same old tales.

    2. I'm ready for another round of hope. Just don't trying fooling me with the change business this time.

    3. @2:26 Spoken like someone who doesn't understand what tribalism is.

    4. 3:03 Right you are! Saying we shouldn't pay attention to anything that comes out about Hillary, lest we have a President Walker, isn't tribal at all!

    5. Saying that you're a creep because you don't like my candidate would be tribal.

    6. "Saying we shouldn't pay attention to anything that comes out about Hillary"

      But. No one. Said. That.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Eye: No, he's going to have to say that about each one, sequentially. The next 17 months are going to be exhausting!

    9. 2:26 PM wins the thread and that's a fact, not me just saying it. Game over. She's getting a trophy for it for gosh sakes.

  5. From prior thread:
    AnonymousMay 28, 2015 at 10:50 AM: And you, David, have the nerve to suggest that people who do not work (for one reason or another) are the ones who should blush!

    CMike: there's no evidence that different tax rates affect the number of hours those hauling in the largest amounts of compensation spend working- Saint Milton Friedman, himself, conceded that point many times

    Anon -- I don't mean to criticize people who choose not to work, because they're in such a high tax bracket. BTW I'm one of them. The problem IMHO is the loss to the economy and the loss to the tax base, when people who could work stop working.

    CMike -- I have trouble believing that Friedman said high tax rates would not reduce the number of tax-payers. It follows the most fundamental principle of economics -- the law of supply and demand. Higher pay draws in more workers and lower pay draws in fewer. Can you provide a cite of Friedman making this assertion?

    I actually recall an example from many years ago. Tennis star Bjorn Borg oficially changed his residence from his native Sweden to Monaco IIRC because of Sweden's high income tax rate.

    1. David, people in the 90% tax bracket will include folks who have never worked. Rich people suffer existential distress because they don't know who they are or what they are good for, why they are on this earth, because they don't have to work in the same way as everyone else.

      People who make a ton of money off other people's labor and then try to evade paying taxes on it (by going to Monaco or by finding loopholes or by outright fraud) and morally corrupt. There are people who will engage in all of these dodges if given an incentive. They are probably the same people who do it if the tax rate is 60% or 50% or 40%. There are people who don't want to pay any tax at all because they don't feel any connection to other people or the common good. So what? That's like saying stores shouldn't sell merchandise because some people will shoplift. We need the revenue as a society, it isn't good for some people to have all the money while others suffer. Increasing tax rates is a no-brainer.

    2. David, as I explicitly stated the issue is whether tax rates affect the number of hours the highest compensated workers work, the only workers who might be subjected to a 90% tax rate. Do not again muddle the issue by turning the discussion to how the 99% might respond to increased tax rates.

    3. Anon -- when you talk about, "people who make a ton of money off other people's labor", I suggest you look in the mirror. My wife and I made money by working very long and hard and by living frugally. Now you propose to take away 90% of it. So, you want to take money produced by my wife's and my decades of labor and give to people who have done nothing to deserve that money.

    4. David in Cal,

      A 90% tax rate would have nothing to do with taking 90% of your annual income from you, let alone any percentage of your unrealized capital gains. You know this; why are you arguing this way?

    5. "You know this; why are you arguing this way?"

      Are you really this obtuse, CMike?