Does Bret Stephens live in Our Town?


Misstatements in Our Town and Theirs: Bret Stephens is a conservative, as is his perfect right. To his credit, he's also been a stone-cold never-Trumper.

Does that mean that Stephens lives in Our Town? Or does he live in Theirs? It might be instructive to examine a couple of errors from his latest New York Times column.

The first error isn't exactly an "error." It might be seen as, perhaps, a slightly selective presentation:

STEPHENS (12/15/20): Yes, there were serious missteps in the handling of the Covid crisis. But those who would blame Trump for tens or hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths ought at least to acknowledge that a pandemic of this magnitude would have gravely challenged any president. Deaths in the United States from Covid-19 (91 per 100,000 people) are slightly worse than in France (87) but better than in Britain (97), Spain (102) and Italy (107), all of which imposed harsher lockdowns and had more engaged leaders.

All of this has convinced many of my fellow conservatives, including those who were initially hostile to Trump, that there’s more than a touch of derangement to those of us who oppose him—a mixture of justified distaste for the man and his manners and unjustified fears about the consequences of his governance.

There are no perfect comparisons between different countries when we consider "total deaths to date" from the coronavirus. 

In that passage, Stephens is looking at major nations in western Europe. The virus may have arrived a bit earlier there than in the U.S., giving them more of a chance to pile up total deaths.

Beyond that, Stephens omits Germany and our near-neighbor Canada, whose "total deaths to date" (adjusted for population) are both much lower than ours. There are no perfect comparisons when it comes to total deaths, but in that presentation, Stephens—or at least, his his "fellow conservatives"—may have their thumbs on the scale a tad.

Let's repeat—Stephens has been a consistent never-Trumper. That said, we can learn a few things about Ourselves from the genuine mega-howler he uncorks later in his column:

STEPHENS: [Trump] has detonated a bomb under the epistemological foundations of a civilization that is increasingly unable to distinguish between facts and falsehoods, evidence and fantasy. He has instructed tens of millions of people to accept the commandment, That which you can get away with, is true.

Apologists for this president might rejoin that there are also examples of this form of politics on the other side of the aisle, notably in the person of Bill Clinton. That’s true. But it only causes one to wonder why so many of the same conservatives who vehemently objected to Clinton on moral grounds vehemently support Trump on the absence of moral grounds.

Truly, that's insane. Comparing Clinton to Trump on this score comes to us, live and direct, from stone-cold Crazy Land.

Truly, that's insane! But here in Our Town, we lazily let this crazy image of Bill Clinton gain traction during the many long years which eventually led to the commander's amazingly narrow win over Hillary Clinton (while losing the popular vote).

Our Town's sachems largely slept as that image of Bill Clinton was crafted and gained purchase. Starting in early 1999, our sachems then played the leading role in transferring this crazy image to Candidate Gore. 

Over the course of several years, some of our sachems lazily slept as Candidate Gore was novelized as The World's Biggest Liar. The rest of our sachems were actually playing the leading role in this death-dealing demonization.

"Why Our Town Slept" might be the name of the book which explores this crushing political history. In truth, that book will never be written, and that history will never be explored, due to prevailing codes of silence which strongly prevail in Our Town.

In his apparent madness, Donald J. Trump has indeed helped create "a civilization that is increasingly unable to distinguish between facts and falsehoods." Comparing his conduct to that of President Clinton in that arena is itself a form of howling madness.

That said, we in Our Town helped create this madness. For that reason, this madness still exists in the world, and its genesis can't be discussed.

Total deaths to date: Using the data at this site, here are the comparisons Stephens skipped, with bonus data thrown in:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
United States: 931
Canada: 359
Germany: 278 
Australia: 35
Japan: 21
South Korea: 12

We included the three Pacific nations just to stress the (astonishing) numbers which basically never get discussed Around Here.  Not even on cable TV!

Ken and Barbie said it best. Whether in Our Town or Theirs, statistics are boring and hard!


  1. Once the media treated Reaganomics as something that could work, the "believing nonsense, not facts" genie was out of the bottle.

  2. “Our Town's sachems largely slept as that image of Bill Clinton was crafted and gained purchase. Starting in early 1999, our sachems then played the leading role in transferring this crazy image to Candidate Gore. “

    Somerby makes (or has made) a good point about the way the mainstream media has undermined liberal/Democratic candidates.

    But he muddles it by calling people like Brian Williams or Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow liberal “sachems” or “thought leaders.” No liberal thinks of these people that way. They are not spokesmen for the Democratic Party or Democratic candidates, whereas Hannity has appeared on stage actively campaigning for Trump.

    It isn’t clear who “our” sachems are precisely, although it would be reasonable to include our presidential candidates in that category. Did Al Gore hit back at the media for their lies about him, or did he “sleep”? Did Kerry hit back hard against the Swift Boat attacks? Is Bernie Sanders a sachem when he talked about destroying the Democratic Party?

    And what could “we” average liberals do back in 2000 to change journalism? Protest? Andrew Sullivan and Somerby don’t like protests, because it’s what hippies do. Write letters to the editor?

    Today at least, there are tons of liberals with blogs and on twitter, documenting and calling out the missteps of the media, both right wing and mainstream. They are actively engaged in this fight in ways that simply weren’t available twenty years ago.

  3. "a mixture of justified distaste for the man and his manners and unjustified fears about the consequences of his governance"

    It sounds like Stephens has been a never-Trumper for the wrong reasons.

    Somerby asks whether this puts Stephens on our side. Of course not.

    Liberals are not members of the same group because they all oppose conservatives (the way Republicans are united by their hate for Dems), but are united by a shared belief in the principles and programs stated in the Democratic platform, and the ideals that underlie that expression. Remember that Trump just ran a reelection campaign without any platform whatsoever, unlike the Democrats.

    It is revealing that Somerby raises this point, something no Democrat or liberal would have done.

  4. "Over the course of several years, some of our sachems lazily slept as Candidate Gore was novelized as The World's Biggest Liar."

    Gore was novelized right after Bill Clinton was novelized as the world's biggest sleaze. And Hillary was novelized as a lesbian. This was the beginning of an organized right-wing campaign against Democrats that included novelization of imaginary flaws combined with turning their actual strengths against them. Kerry's bravery in battle became cowardice. Hillary's straight-arrow nature and earnest idealism became cynical corruption. More recently, Biden was accused of the things Trump actually does. This is how the right works.

    But Somerby blames liberals. That's the part I don't get, especially given that the Sanders campaign (which Somerby nominally supported) revived all the ugly smears created by the right, for use against Hillary, as did Obama to a lesser extent. Why would Somerby think Gore should be exempt from that treatment?

    And if Somerby dislikes this approach to politics, why has he been supporting Trump and his minions, masters at these tactics, on his own blog? To date, Somerby has still not said anything good about Biden, the only person who has stood between this nation and chaos.

    I don't know what kind of spell Gore put on Somerby during their years as roomies, but it has lasted for a long, long time.

  5. "...we lazily let this crazy image of Bill Clinton gain traction during the many long years which eventually led to the commander's amazingly narrow win over Hillary Clinton (while losing the popular vote)."

    Here Somerby suggests that it is our fault that Trump beat Hillary because liberals didn't object to the smears against Bill Clinton. So, apparently, liberals got Trump elected.

    1. Liberals did object. 2. Gore didn't object, he just tried to distance himself from Clinton, not defend him. 3. Many of those smears against Bill & Hillary were repeated by the Bros working for Obama and Sanders. If those are the "liberals" Somerby is talking about, they weren't lazy and they weren't sleeping. They were cynically trying to get elected and everyone knows that girls are fair game because they don't belong in politics anyway. So Hillary deserved what she got because she was too uppity and full of herself.

    Gore is the one to blame for refusing to run on the successes of the Clinton administration, for refusing to defend Bill Clinton from the slanders against him because he split hairs about the definition of a sex act. Gore ran as a prude, picking as his running mate one of the few Democrats who joined Republicans criticizing Clinton.

    Maybe that's what Gore and Somerby have in common -- their prudishness.

  6. From Political Wire (Taegan Goddard):

    "An Arizona judge jettisoned a lawsuit claiming widespread election fraud in the state, saying the plaintiff had no standing to challenge the state’s election results because she was not even registered to vote, the Arizona Republic reports."

  7. Considering that at least half of Americans have no critical thinking skills, no conception of the notion of the common good, and no commitment to democracy and that much of our culture encourages misanthropy, sociopathy, and an apocalyptic vision of the future, I think we should feel grateful that we do not yet have to bring an AK-47 with us when we shop for groceries. I certainly do. And the fact that we debate over Somerby’s trivial concerns is also a hopeful sign that things are really not that bad, yet.

  8. Wow, Gloucon X, your comments are a real treat here, since they are distinctive, substantial, and sane, in the midst of a group of people scared to even choose a pseudonym, for fear of heaven knows what, who have some offbeat (to put it kindly) need to keep reading and drubbing a blog they feel is basically worth nobody’s time, including their own. Somerby’s concerns are, as you say, trivial, but if I found zero value in what it is he does here, I would simply find something else to read.

    Your comment today, by contrast, is extremely insightful, and you are totally right to wonder what keeps the world rolling along, when so much in life seems determined to make it grind to a permanent halt; in so doing, you have coincidentally seized upon the self-same crux that animates the Police’s terrific now long-ago song, “Invisible Sun,” which I was happy to be reminded of this morning.

    1. Somerby prefers literal accuracy over action; Bret Stephens suggests Dems are generally the same. Both are terribly wrong. Dems are interested in getting elected and pushing forward with policies that help those in need. Dems worry about Repub's corrupt actions, not their demeanor.

      You may need an "invisible sun" to get you through the day, more power to you, Dems will continue to fight for the material needs of society.

    2. Eric,
      That's the first time I've heard calling out bullshit be referred to as an "offbeat" need.

  9. Thanks, Eric.

    There has to be an invisible sun
    It gives its heat to everyone
    There has to be an invisible sun
    That gives us hope when the whole day's done

  10. When Jon Stewart quit his Comedy Central gig the best voice against the constant barrage of bs from Fox disappeared. The mainstream media has been irresponsibly quiet about calling out their misconduct. Last week Fox settled for 7 figures with Seth Rich’s family. After pounding that story for months they decided that having Hannity make a public appearance in court wasn’t a good look. Stewart would have had a heyday with this.

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