Part 1—Commenters can't seem to see it: Last Tuesday, we recommended Van Jones' hour-long CNN town hall special, The Messy Truth.
Over the weekend, we finally watched the program. In our view, it was a very weak effort.
For starters, the program suffered from the scattershot staging typical of such "town halls." Jones spent thirty seconds speaking with representatives of every imaginable group. Such drive-by conversations are pointless.
Even worse, he spent a lot of time talking to Rick Santorum, who had been chosen, for some reason, to represent the standard Republican viewpoint.
Jones' program was supposed to challenge the way we Americans now "speak past" one another. Unfortunately, Santorum was almost impossibly rigid in his reactions to the situations with which he was confronted. He simply couldn't depart from his established frameworks. This made his rather lengthy segment a monumental waste of time.
It must further be said that Jones was part of the problem himself. He opened the program by speaking with a family from Ohio which had supported Obama in both previous presidential elections, but voted for Trump this time.
Jones' interview with these blue collar blokes was perhaps the strongest part of the hour. We'll likely return to some of their comments during the rest of the week.
That said, the phoniness of the cable news town hall was put on brilliant display when Jones introduced two members of this five-voter family. After playing videotape of an interview he'd conducted in their home, he brought them out live, "all the way from Ohio."
Below, you see what Jones said as he introduced these guests. Questions:
Did anyone really believe the things Jones said? Also, if what Jones said was true, what would that say about him?
JONES (12/7/16): Please welcome Derinda and Scott Seitz right here, all the way from Ohio.The taped interview with the Seitzes was interesting; it was well worth discussing, at much greater length. That said, nothing about it could have been "life-changing" or a "total stereotype-shatterer" unless Jones has spent the past forty years on the back side of the moons
JONES: You know, that was a life-changing thing for me, and I just learned so much from you. It was a—it was a total stereotype shatterer.
What do you hope people who are watching, people who are in this room, can learn from you, from your family and your experience so far?
We were disappointed in Jones' performance. He'd always struck us as one of the sane ones, and one of the smart ones, when we watched CNN's ludicrous eight-pundit panels in action this fall.
Plainly, Jones is very bright—he always has been—but his town hall program was blatantly phony in all the standard ways. "Cable news" tends to eat the souls of even its best and brightest.
On balance, the program was bad. That said, Jones started in the revolutionary way to which we'd been attracted last week in some the preview segments we'd seen.
He started by making an appalling suggestion. Concerning our broken political culture, he weirdly said that part of the problem may perhaps lie with Us!
No, really. Check it out:
JONES (12/6/16): Good evening. I'm Van Jones. I want to welcome you to The Messy Truth."I'm a strong Democrat," Jones then said. He proceeded to explain what he thinks is wrong with Us.
Now, look, it's been one month, a whole month, since the election night and it still feels nearly impossible to have productive conversation with the other side.
You know who I'm talking about, OK?
We're still acting like one side is always right and the other side is always wrong. One side is grounded in truth and reason and, you know, good common sense, and the other side is insane and delusional, OK?
And now both sides have been guilty of doing this. I've been personally guilty of doing this. You have probably been guilty of doing this.
But look, this is America. At some point, we have got to do better, all right?
So we're here tonight and we're just going to try to get real. Neither side has all the answers. Nobody is perfect. And the real truth, when you get down to it, is almost always messy.
For instance, let's just get messy here for a second. I think both political parties need to take a good long look in the mirror, because right now, they both kind of suck. Let's just be honest.
Right now, both parties kind of suck.
Now, I'll start with us. Let's—I'll start with Us.
In our view, Jones fell well short of nailing the actual problem. That said, he was headed in a useful direction, as was Kevin Drum in this December 9 post.
Drum was responding to Paul Krugman's latest lament about a claim Krugman finds puzzling. Drum responded to this part of what Krugman had written that day:
KRUGMAN (12/9/16): Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it—the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles. But it’s easy to see how the sense that liberals look down on regular folks might arise, and be fanned by right-wing media.Do liberals sneer at working-class whites? Krugman still seemed to think that those working-class whites are just imagining things, as he had explicitly said in an earlier column.
Do we liberals sneer at The Others? Beyond that, is it possible that part of the problem with our failing culture could somehow lie with Us?
Drum rolled his eyes at Krugman's naivete concerning this fairly obvious point. In turn, we rolled our eyes a tiny bit at Drum. He said we liberals do tend to sneer at The Others a bit. But we thought he ducked the real nature of the problem—and in comments, his readers seemed completely unable to come to terms with the way We roll.
Does part of our problem lie with Us? Have we liberals played a role in the disastrous failure of our broken political culture? We think the answer is blatantly yes. We also think that we the liberals have a very hard time bringing this state of affairs into focus.
We'll ponder this puzzle all week. But no, it isn't because we mock Those People for enjoying fast food!
Can we grasp what it actually is? In our view, it seemed that Drum's commenters couldn't.
Krugman thinks it's all a dream! Might our team have a long way to go?
Tomorrow: What the rustics said