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More on Vanity Fair on Gore

[ 0 ] September 7, 2007 |

There are a couple more passages worth highlighting from Evgenia Peretz’s fine Vanity Fair article about the War on Gore. First, some of you may have seen this quote, but the wider the circulation the better. If you don’t believe me that 2000 campaign coverage was scandalously lazy, shallow, and partial, just ask ubiquitous tee vee and print presence Margaret Carlson:

Perhaps reporting in this vein was just too gratifying to the press for it to stop. As Time magazine’s Margaret Carlson admitted to Don Imus at the time, “You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get into the weeds and get out your calculator, or look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us.”

And it’s been just as fun for the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, let me tell you! However, that last sentence should read “people like me making up another Gore whopper out of whole cloth is greatly entertaining to us.” This, from Chris Matthews, is just as instructive:

One obstacle course the press set up was which candidate would lure voters to have a beer with them at the local bar. “Journalists made it seem like that was a legitimate way of choosing a president,” says Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. “They also wrongly presumed, based on nothing, that somehow Bush was more likable.” Chris Matthews contends that “the likability issue was something decided by the viewers of the debates, not by the commentators,” but adds, “The last six years have been a powerful bit of evidence that we have to judge candidates for president on their preparation for the office with the same relish that we assess their personalities.”

The boldfaced projection is a remarkably precise inversion of reality. Viewers who watched the debate thought Gore had won. It was the commentators, and people who got their debate information mediated through them, who preferred Bush. It was the commentators who decided that Gore’s sighing was more important than Bush telling baldfaced lies about his reactionary policy proposals. Peretz, moreover, explains where this narrative originated: “The trivial continued to dominate during the postmortem following Gore and Bush’s first debate, on October 3, 2000. The television media were sure Gore won—at first. But then Republican operatives promptly spliced together a reel of Gore sighing, which was then sent to right-wing radio outlets. Eighteen hours later, the pundits could talk of little else.”

What’s important to remember, however, is that wherever the sighing nonsense originated, the blame rests entirely with the ostensible journalists who ran with it. One can hardly blame GOP operatives or conservative media hacks for trying to focus on trivia after a debate in which their candidate has been substantively obliterated; that’s their job. But for reporters for major newspapers to go along is unforgivable.

The Political Failure of Libertarian Tax-Cut Justifications

[ 0 ] September 7, 2007 |

Brian Beutler has an intelligent intervention into the discussion surrounding Jon Chait’s new book. To add on a bit to his argument, I’d like to address this from McArdle:

My quarrel is with the notion that supply-side theories have enormous influence on Republican policy. Supply-siders haven’t had the kind of influence that Chait describes since the Reagan administration. And that’s because everyone observed the Reagan tax cuts opening up huge deficits. Supply side theories are window-dressing–bad, horrible window-dressing, but still, just window dressing. You don’t need it to construct an argument for tax cuts, which is why, contra Chait, getting rid of the supply siders would not much change the desire for low taxes among Republicans. Nor do I think you even need supply-side arguments to sell the tax cuts to the public. The benefits of tax cuts to the public are quite evident: you send less money to the government.

The central argument here — that the Bush administration’s ideological program and public justification of the same would be strongly influenced by impartial empirical evidence — is…problematic. But leaving that aside, the argument that supply-side arguments are superfluous because the value of tax cuts is directly obvious also doesn’t fly, at least when we’re talking about federal income taxes. The distribution of the Bush tax cuts, in particular, is such that the overwhelming majority of the benefits go to a group that is already predominantly Republican and does not come anywhere near an electoral majority. More importantly, the claim that “you’ll get to keep more money” is insufficient as a political justification for tax cuts has empirical support. Mark Smith’s research — now available in convenient book form — found that framing tax cuts in more libertarian terms was politically ineffective. Rather, they became a potent weapon when they were linked to strong claims about their role in promoting economic growth.

Admittedly, McArdle is right that this argument does not require the very strongest supply-side claims about tax cuts paying for themselves — although Republican politicians and public intellectuals have tended to make them anyway — but greatly overstating the economic impact of tax cuts is in fact integral to their effectiveness as a political tool. Appeals to libertarian principles or naked self-interest were never sufficient.

The Dianetics Theory of Taxation

[ 0 ] September 6, 2007 |

Seems about right. Still, let there be no doubt than Fred Thompson and John McCain are figures of immense seriousity and gravitude.


[ 0 ] September 6, 2007 |

John Judis has a rundown of the 2008 Senate races, noting that in the long run Warner leaving is a lot more important than Craig’s resignation. I agree that the Dems are very, very likely to win Colorado and New Hampshire. The most interesting category to me is the “could win” one:

Moderate Republican incumbents Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Susan Collins in Maine, and Gordon Smith in Oregon could be in trouble because they are running in states that are expected to vote strongly Democratic in 2008. If the Iraq war drags on, and the Republicans are identified nationally with it, these candidates will have to run against their own party. Coleman and Smith are both unpopular in their states but face relatively inexperienced, although by no means incapable, foes. Collins remains popular in Maine, but she faces a popular Democratic congressman, Tom Allen. These races could hinge on voter disgust with the national Republicans and who runs the best campaigns.

Here, I’m a touch less optimistic. I’ll be interested to see how Allen looks; I’ve generally assumed that, while GOP control of the seats will end with the end of their tenures, that Snowe and Collins have their seats for as long as they want them. I’d be pretty skeptical about Democratic chances there. Minnesota seems the most promising. I don’t know what to make of Oregon; it seems like a good pickup theory in principle, but Smith seems oddly popular. (I would definitely like to see his “disapprove” numbers get over 50% before I’ll be too optimistic…)

The bottom line, I guess, is that while the Dems are in good shape because they have a lot of opportunities for states where things can break right, we shouldn’t forget how hard it is to beat a GOP incumbent even in a blue state. This is why Warner resigning helps a lot. I would be surprised if the Dems could pick off more than 1 of the above three incumbents, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they all held on.

Send the Flowers, Call the Hearse

[ 0 ] September 6, 2007 |

Well, that’s the end of that; the only remaining AL question is whether the Yankees will play the Angels or the Tribe. (Well, I suppose the Tigers could get hot, but they’re no going to make it given the schedule the Yankees have.) I wonder if Murray Chass still thinks the Mariners were brilliant not to make any effort to sign Rodriguez? (And I’d like him to explain why, if Hicks signed such a bad contract, why Slappy is going to opt-out and get a better deal after this season.)

Well, it could be worse; I could be a Phillies fan

Almost As Funny As Stomach Cancer Column of the Day

[ 0 ] September 6, 2007 |

Mr. Richard Cohen. (But his elementary school teachers think he’s funny! And his mother thinks he’s cool!) More here.

The War on Gore

[ 0 ] September 5, 2007 |

Until Bob Somerby gets a book contract, this fine Vanity Fair article on the history-changing media war on Al Gore will do. In particular, what’s important about the piece is that it’s not just about the “right-wing noise machine” but calls out, by name and with detail, figures in the so-called “liberal media,” not just columnists but reporters, who spread tall tales about Gore. Particularly egregious was the inept and grossly unprofessional work of Ceci Connolly in the Post and Kit Seelye in the Times. For example, creating the bogus “Love Canal” story out of a straightforward misquote:

On December 1, 1999, Connolly—and Seelye—misquoted Gore in a damning way. Their error was picked up elsewhere and repeated, and snowballed into a political nightmare. Gore was speaking to a group of students at Concord High School, in New Hampshire, about how young people could effect change. He described a letter he had received as a congressman in 1978 from a girl in Toone, Tennessee, about how her father and grandfather had gotten mysteriously ill. He had looked into the matter and found that the town was a toxic-waste site. He went on:

“I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee. That was the one you didn’t hear of, but that was the one that started it all.… We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dumpsites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country.… It all happened because one high-school student got involved.”

Jill Hoffman, a high-school senior in the audience who was helping to film the event, says, “I remember thinking, I really, really like what he has to say.” But what Seelye and Connolly zeroed in on was Gore yet again claiming credit for something he didn’t do—”discovering” Love Canal (which was, in fact, discovered by the people who lived there). In addition to mischaracterizing his somewhat ambiguous statement, they misquoted him, claiming he said, “I was the one that started it all,” instead of “that was the one that started it all.” The next day, Seelye offered a friendlier account of Gore’s visit to the school. Connolly repeated the misquote. In an article titled “First ‘Love Story,’ Now Love Canal,” she wrote:

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie “Love Story” and to have invented the Internet says he didn’t quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: “I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal.” Gore went on to brag about holding the “first hearing on that issue” and said “I was the one that started it all.”

There is, sadly, plenty more where that came from. [Via Kevin Drum.]

Mainstream Movie Report: Apatow Edition

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

I’m way behind on my movie blogging, so the two Apatow movies seem like a good place to start. Asthetically, they’re evidently both extremely funny. The first two-thirds of Knocked Up are more consistently funny as any Hollywood movie in a long, long time. Perhaps even more relevant than Freaks and Geeks (and the underrated Undeclared) is Apatow’s involvement in the best television comedy of my lifetime; it’s nice to see the art of the multiple good one-liners come back. It does sag a bit towards the end. I wasn’t surprised that, having systematically recycled the most exhausted sitcom cliches for his clever ploy to demonstrate the ineptitude of most television critics Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Aaron Sorkin climaxed with a childbirth plot — highly appropriate because whereas most cliches are cliches because they used to be good hooks as far as I can tell a childbirth plot has never led to a comedically or dramatically good episode of television ever. The last part of Knocked Up isn’t nearly as bad, of course, but it does tail off noticeably as things move to the hospital. Even with that, it produces so many more laughs than the typical comedy that it seems churlish to complain. Superbad doesn’t peak as high and is more consistent, although it does overdo the sitcommy reaction shots and as many people have noted the cop subplot gets too much screentime. Obviously, the evolution of the teen sex comedy is unusually rapid: Porky’s-American Pie-Road Trip-Superbad is a lot of progress.

One potential complaint about both, which bleeds into the quality of the films, is that Apatow & co. haven’t created enough movement with the gender paradigm. Enjoying Knocked Up as much as the quality of the comedy merits does require getting over the utter implausibility of virtually every aspect of the central relationship. (This isn’t to say that any aesthetically mismatched relationship will be implausible, but this one isn’t convincing in its details.) Interestingly, Ezra tries to salvage Superbad from similar charges with a charitable reading of the conclusion. I would like to agree but while I’m open to change my mind on a second viewing I don’t really buy it. IIRC Jules carefully avoids giving Seth even a sub silento permanent rejection at the party and the conclusion does nothing to negate the possibility of a mutual pairing-off rather than Jules strictly running interference.

Admittedly, it must be said that tensions derived from mismatches are a fruitful source of comedy, as both of these movies ultimately prove. Still, it would be nice to see some fruitful tensions other than the “shlubby guy scores with smart, nice, extremely hot woman for no obvious reason” relationship. At least Superbad avoids the “girl who looks like a model portrayed as ugly because she wears glasses and inevitably looks better before the makeover than after” routine…

Suckered By Specter

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

While this certainly doesn’t let Dianne Feinstein off the hook for casting the decisive vote to let Southern-Fried Alito Leslie Southwick onto the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Christy Hardin Smith argues that Judiciary Committee Chair Pat Leahy could have preempted the nomination from coming to a vote. He failed to do so as part of a gentleman’s agreement with Arlen Specter and then let the Republicans browbeat Feinstein into focusing on Southwick’s personal qualities rather than his judicial record (also, you’ll remember, the strategy with Alito: “He likes baseball! He’s nice to his grandmother! He doesn’t raise his voice! How could he be the doctrinaire conservative that his judicial record makes clear that he is?”) Depressing stuff.

State Subsidy Libertarianism

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

Great stuff from Mark Schmitt about the massive-state-subsidies-for-me-but-not-for-thee rural western version of small-government conservatism and self-reliance, from Larry Craig’s likely replacement:

A year ago, Risch was the acting governor of Idaho. He told this newspaper’s Oliver Burkeman how he viewed the victims of Katrina:

“Here in Idaho, we couldn’t understand how people could sit around on the kerbs waiting for the federal government to come and do something. We had a dam break in 1976, but we didn’t whine about it. We got out our backhoes and we rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields and got on with our lives. That’s the culture here. Not waiting for the federal government to bring you drinking water. In Idaho there would have been entrepreneurs selling the drinking water.”

Taken on its own terms, this is a cruel and unsympathetic statement, assuming that the deeply impoverished people of a city that had washed away could and should have just taken care of themselves. But if you look at what Risch was talking about, it’s truly astonishing.

The dam that broke in 1976 was the Teton dam, built on the Snake River just a few months earlier, at a cost of $100m. (That’s worth almost $500m today.) Built not by entrepreneurs, but by the federal government’s bureau of reclamation. It was built at the political insistence of a few millionaire ranchers and potato-growers, whose political allies had persuaded the government to build a series of dams that transformed a desert into some of the richest and wettest agricultural land in the country. And it was built despite predictions that it would fail.

And when it did fail, it was not the self-sufficient entrepreneurs of Idaho who “rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields.” It was, once again, the federal government. According to the government’s official history of the incident, federal agencies quickly rebuilt all the irrigation systems, and paid more than $850 million in claims to about 15,000 people who had lost property in the flood.

This, not Larry Craig’s awkwardly closeted sexuality, is the hypocrisy that matters. This hypocrisy consists not in a failure to reconcile public and private life, but in two public positions that are in absolute contradiction to one another: The belief that people must make it on their own, with no “whining” and no help from government, coexisting with a staggering, slavish dependence on government – and the federal government, and thus taxpayers of the rest of America, in particular.

Indeed. Cf. also “States’ rights and the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

Catastrophe Keeps Us Out of the Playoffs

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

Admittedly, you always had to make Little Orphan Annie look like a cynic to think that the Mariners would make the playoffs, but still, even I didn’t expect a collapse of quite this immediacy and magnitude. And things figure to get worse before they get better.

Note to self: Pedro “Better Than Koufax” Martinez is coming back today; put it on, and then lock the remote away somewhere to protect against any twisted desire you might have to turn to the Yankees/Mariners game…

…wow, no commercials between the half-inning so you can watch Pedro’s warmup tosses! Cool. Nice thing to own your own network, I guess…

just as I have predicted all along! All hail King Felix! Yankees are the suxxor!!!111ONE11!! When it comes to signing Roger Clemens I can only agree with Suzyn Waldman!

Once More Back to the Well

[ 0 ] September 2, 2007 |

I was just about to write a post noting that virtually every commenter to this post ignored the actual point of the post and simply returned to argue again and again the peripheral question of whether the police had the formal legal authority to make the request, and noticed that aimai largely beat me to the punch:

This thread seems to me to be interestingly off point for scott’s actual post which was not a criticism of Craig’s arrest (or applause for it) but simply a straightforward amplification of something that female posters have been posting here which is that this kind of stuff happens to women *all the time* and we are not expected or encouraged to demand police protection from guys seeking consensual sex from us–even if the solicitation interferes with our use of public space. Its fascinating to me that the usual suspects (the very posters who got most hysterical about the “threat” to them personally of being solicited for sex by a gay man, mostly just skipped over Scott’s basic point to continue wrestling the sex-in-bathrooms-wrong point.

No one contends that private sex acts in shared public spaces is wrong, possibly uncomfortable, and kind of selfish–that’s what all privatization of public spaces is and it really doesn’t matter whether it is a single smoker taking over an entire restaurant with his cigar smoke or a sexually active couple taking over a library table in a public library. So much we can all agree on.

But the actual solicitation for sexual contact? That not only shouldn’t be illegal *its not illegal*. Things have to go way past “hey babe, wanna do it” before the police usually get involved. And men robustly defend their right to dominate public space with cat calls, winks, lears, and hey babe’s *when they imagine their own rights would be infringed by some other cultural/legal regime that would penalize that* and they routinely *call for more enforcement an dpunishment* when they imagine the women in their lives are subjected to the harrassment.

Its just a double or even quadruple standard in which the gender of the participants, the nature of the public space, the timing of the event, the desirability (race, gender, religion) of the harrasser *all* come into play.In fact its not possible to come up with a single acceptable “rule” about public solicitation fr sex and its badness. You would actually need some kind of spreadsheet which could be read up or down, across or sideways, to predict whether a given act would create discomfort in a given guy if it hypothetically happened.

This is correct. Two more points:

  • Nowhere have I said that I’m especially sorry about Craig’s political fate. To reiterate, the double standards that stigmatize homosexual set and make the constant sexualization of women irrespective of context are ones that Craig has largely devoted his political life to upholding. It is also true, however, that these double standards are wrong, and the vast majority of gay men subject to harassment and women subject to public harassment considerably worse than anything Craig did on a routine basis have nothing to do with creating these social norms. So I also don’t see much taking much pleasure in his downfall. So now Idaho will have a Senator probably without the double life and equally odious political positions. So now what? What are progressives supposed to be celebrating here?
  • The other major counter-argument of the thread was reliance on the frail tautology that Craig was possibly signaling a willingness to engage in illegal activity and hence violating the law that therefore all analogies with the treatment of women are null. Obviously, the idea that double standards should be beyond criticism as long as they’re reflected in the writing or application of laws is too silly to even merit a substantial rebuttal. But as for the idea that Craig was being treated equitably, two words: David Vitter. Moreover, it’s not just that he’s been permitted to remain in the Senate; he hasn’t been arrested although he’s guilty of criminal behavior that is usually a more serious offense on the books and at least arguably involves economic exploitation while Craig was engaged in purely consensual and non-commercial behavior. And it’s not as if Vitter’s exemption was the result of a de facto decriminalization, which would be fine with me; the people who provided him with the illegal sex work certainly aren’t exempted from punishment. The comparative political and legal treatment of Craig and Vitter makes the attempt to assess the former’s situation in an entirely decontextualized manner makes no sense.

See also Hilzoy.

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