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No! We Were Owed the Comedy…

[ 0 ] September 8, 2007 |

The most risibly frivolous lawsuit since Bill O’Reilly’s attempt to prevent AL Franken from using the term “fair and balanced” has been dropped. Too bad; the judicial opinion dismissing the case could have been funny…

Fraud Caucus Down A Man

[ 0 ] September 8, 2007 |

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Oh. Goody.

Hagel’s out. One the one hand, this means an open seat for the GOP to defend. On the other hand, “Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, president of the New School University in New York City, has voiced interest in returning to the Senate.” I guess if only for counting purposes virtually any Democrat is better, and it’s not like Kerrey’s straightforward demagogic support of perpetual war in Iraq is substantively different than Hagel’s nominal, never-applied ambivalence, but gad do I not want Bob Kerrey back again. Any of our midwestern correspondents know anything about Mike Fahey?

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.”

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