SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 2021
The parable of the French cuffs: We the people love our "stories." We love our novelized tales.
As a case in point, consider a letter in this morning's Washington Post. Robin Givhan had published this critique of Joe Biden's press event. This morning, a reader spills with praise for Givhan's attention to detail:
It's the little things
All praise to Robin Givhan for once again turning her finely tuned fashion eye to small details that give us fresh insight into the impact of presentation on political perception. In her March 12 news column, “Biden spoke without swagger, to lift a weary nation,” she highlighted small gestures—the president’s slow removal of his mask, his polished attire (white French cuffs), the way he leaned into the camera to send signals—to convey the importance of still wearing masks, the potential for institutional power to make things better and the extent to which reaching the “shaft of light at the end of a dark horror” depends on all of us.
Givhan is an astute observer, and we’re grateful for her persistent efforts to help us see and understand more of our world.
In all candor, it isn't the little things. Nothing was conveyed or changed by the fact that Biden was wearing French cuffs.
Givhan has been at this sort of thing forever, as has the wider press corps. Perhaps because we the people are so highly educated, we're inclined to credit her interpretations of the signals and symbols involved in the ways our top politicians dress.
In truth, the speed with which Biden removed his mask will have no effect on anything. Over on Fox, the French cuffs will be taken as a sign that the president is an elitist who's hopelessly out of touch.
Our sainted mother and her sisters always loved their "stories" (their favorite soaps). There was no reason why they shouldn't have.
That said, even on the highest levels, we continue to interpret politics as if we're watching our soaps. Our biggest stars invent, and sell, their heroes and their demons. They take vast liberties with basic facts, and with Enlightenment values, as they perform these chores.
Sitting at home, we trust the judgments of the stars Our Town has come to trust. We repeat the pleasing things they say, never checking to see if they're accurate, rarely asking if they even make sense.
So it went this past Tuesday night on the Maddow Show.
Rachel Maddow delivered her standard, 25-minute opening monologue. Most of it was devoted to an angry, sarcastic roasting of her current leading demon, the evil Senator Manchin (D-W.Va.).
At the heart of her scathing attack was a lengthy attempt to describe Manchin's behavior in April 2013, in the wake of the Newtown school shooting deaths.
The diatribe began at 9:08 Eastern; it ran at least ten minutes, depending on where you want to say it finally stopped. Comically, the angry, sarcastic "cable news" star said this early on:
MADDOW (3/23/21): You might remember how this all unfolded. You're forgiven if it has blurred together over the years because of the way these things always resolve. But remember how this how this happened.
The cable star said we'd be forgiven if our memory was blurred. From there, she proceeded to offer a crazy, upside-down account of "how this all unfolded."
Within hours, liberal sites were shrieking with praise for the cable star's brilliance. Town criers praised the inspiring way she had described Manchin's perfidy in the case of the April 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal.
As we noted on Wednesday, Maddow's account of this matter was stupendously inaccurate. On its face, it didn't make any sense.
If we hadn't seen her do this sort of thing before, we would have found it hard to believe that her angry, sarcastic account could be as bogus as it was. That said, the star's account was stupendously bogus—utterly, manically, crazily inaccurate, misleading and false.
It may be that the star's devoted staff wrote the material, and she simply performed it. But as a service to future historians, even if they're huddled in caves, we thought we ought to create a record of what this TV star said.
Luckily, we found a site which had transcribed the bulk of the TV star's rambling remarks. The TV star's corporate owners no longer provide that service, for reasons which strike us as perhaps being blindingly obvious.
Today, we offer a quick review of The Case of What The Cable Star Said:
The Manchin-Toomey proposal was a late-gasp attempt to move an expansion of background checks for gun buyers through the Senate. Technically, it was an amendment to a pre-existing, more extensive proposal which, as everyone knew by that time (by April 2013), was plainly doomed to defeat,
The proposal was endorsed and supported by President Obama. In this report, the New York Times named one of its co-sponsors (headline included):
STEINHAUER (4/10/13): A Senator’s Search for an Ally Keeps a Gun Bill Alive
The politics of the deal are so fragile that Mr. Toomey asked that one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the amendment, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, not appear at a news conference Wednesday morning, Senate aides said. Mr. Schumer agreed, and told Mr. Manchin at the 50th-birthday party of the television host Joe Scarborough that he would not be attending.
Schumer was one of the measure's co-sponsors. The politics of the matter were extremely fragile.
At any rate, the proposal was supported by President Obama—and it was hotly opposed by the NRA. After the proposal failed to achieve the required sixty votes in the Senate, Obama angrily condemned by the NRA for having lied about its provisions.
On April 17, the proposal failed, despite receiving 54 Senate votes. All but five of the Senate's 55 Democrats voted in favor of the Manchin-Toomey proposal—and one of the five was Majority Leader Harry Reid, who supported the proposal but voted against it on the basis of one of the Senate's three million arcane procedural rules.
(To peruse the roll call, click here.)
On the other side of the aisle, all but four of the Senate's 45 Republicans voted against the proposal. In other words, Manchin-Toomey was a Democratic Party proposal. It was opposed by almost all Senate Republicans, in line with the NRA. It was Senator Toomey, not Senator Manchin, who was behaving as a "traitor to his class."
None of these facts was ever mentioned during Maddow's lunatic presentation. The presentation made so little sense that it's hard to find a few key nuggets to quote. Below, you see the way the crazy diatribe started.
All across the liberal web, believers rushed to praise the star for her brilliant presentation. If there actually is a future, and if that future includes historians, we think such scholars should take note of what this overwrought crackpot said about Manchin's role in this failed Democratic proposal.
We offer this note to future historians. This represents the state of our failing nation's lapsed intellect as of March 23, 2021:
MADDOW (continuing directly): After Sandy Hook, Vice President Biden put in charge of a task force which moves with incredible alacrity, incredible speed, to come up with concrete proposals for things that can be done to try to reduce the number of people killed by guns in this country.
President Obama proposed just what you heard there, universal background checks. Background checks should be run on the buyer any time anybody wants to buy a gun in this country.
Ninety percent-plus support for that among the American people. And it's simple. You have to have a background check if you want to buy a gun. That's a simple idea. Overwhelming support, near unanimous support among the American people.
But Republicans in Congress, including Republicans in the Senate, are not among that 90 percent plus, apparently. And they decided instead that they would go for something even lower than that smallest, unambitious, simple goal.
Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, both with A ratings from the NRA, they said that they wouldn't pursue, they wouldn't allow the pursuit of a simple rule that there ought to be a background check if you want to buy a gun. Instead, they had their own idea and they said they could get it done.
They had their own way. They had something that they said they could pass. We wouldn't actually do what more than 90 percent of the country wanted to do. We'll instead just do a tiny little piece of it, because they said so.
So instead of that simple thing, saying you have to have a background check in order to buy a gun, full stop, Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey said, "No, no, no. We think that's a terrible idea. We're against that. We know that more than 90 percent of the public is for it, we're against it, but we've got another idea.
"Our idea is that the law will be changed to just say you have to have a background check if you buy a gun at a gun show or on the Internet. We'll only extend background checks that far. Gun show purchases, Internet purchases. That's it."
It is hard to imagine a smaller reform, but that is what they said they would do. That's what they said they could do. And so the rest of the country, again, more than 90 percent of whom just want fricking background checks for gun sales, full stop—the rest of the country stood back to let these very serious, very credible senators pursue this basically rinky-dink, tiny reform instead, because they said that was something they could get done. And they failed.
They couldn't even get that done. Not through the United States Senate. Not even right after the Sandy Hook massacre,
Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey were convinced. They convinced the whole political class that they had magic gravitas on this issue to show that the legislative process in the United States Senate can be trusted to work to do at least the smallest imaginable thing on an issue of overwhelming public concern.
They were wrong. They could not even do that one pitiful thing. Not in the U.S. Senate. Not with filibuster rules in place that say a majority vote doesn't count. And so nothing happened in American law. No law changed. Nothing made it through Congress.
The star was just getting started at this point, but the lunacy was already apparent. For starters, let's note one tiny factual point:
The cable star said, again and again, that Manchin had "an A rating" from the NRA. For the record, that was true at the time of the Manchin-Toomey proposal.
That was no longer true after the Manchin-Toomey proposal. When Manchin ran for re-election in 2018, the NRA gave him a D rating and endorsed his Republican opponent, complaining about the way he had conspired with Obama to extend gun control.
(Luckily, Manchin was able to hold on to his Senate seat, if by a narrow margin. Had he lost, Mitch McConnell would still be running the Senate. President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan—Senator Manchin voted for it—would never have come up for a vote.)
In other words, Manchin sacrificed his NRA rating in the course of trying to extend background checks. The cable star never mentioned this fact. We'll guess that her staff didn't include that fact in the lengthy, soap opera-style diatribe they prepared for the star to perform.
The omission of that fact was comical but ugly. Now, let's consider the overall lunacy of what the cable star said:
The cable star made it sound like it would have been a simple thing to pass the initial, "unambitious" proposal for universal background checks. That's like saying that your neighbor's cow could easily jump to the moon.
In fact, the need for Manchin-Toomey arose after it had become clear that the original measure couldn't possibly garner sixty votes. On the Democratic side of the aisle, everyone from Obama on down stood in support of Manchin-Toomey because it was clear that this would be the best they could possibly hope to do.
On Tuesday evening, the cable star disappeared this obvious point. Instead, she offered a crazy account, in which Manchin and Toomey, by some unexplained act of legerdemain, persuaded Majority Leader Reid to forget the original "unambitious" proposal and vote on their measure instead.
You'd have to be crazy to think that made sense, but that's what the furious cable star said—and all across La La Land, liberal sites sang the praises of her obvious brilliance. Other career liberals—career liberals who knew how stupid this was—also knew that they mustn't say such things about a tribal star.
This cable star has performed this way again and again and again and again down through the annals of cable news time. We're sure that she's a good decent person away from her need for wealth and fame, but she also seems a bit unstable, and she seems to possess almost zero political judgment.
(She's been bashing red-state Democrats in ridiculous, unintelligent ways ever since her corporate bosses put her on the air.)
Her crazy episodes have been many. Some have been episodes of commission; others have been episodes of omission and avoidance. But The Crazy runs riot on this corporate cable news show as we liberals roll over and die, in thrall to Storyline.
The cable star is a corporate confection. She was sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar, and she's extremely skilled at the process known as "selling the car."
Meanwhile, we the people are fairly sure that those French cuffs made all the difference. As a result of these manifestations, Future Historians Weeping In Caves often come to us, always late at night.
"It all began with those dick jokes in 2009," they despondently say, referring to the cable news star. "Jon Stewart even told her to stop!"
("Is this the upshot of your experiment" We suspect that they're working from that.)