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Troublesome Creatures

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A recent piece by Glynnis MacNicol of The Business Insider website led me to the conclusion that Shepard Smith deserves an award.  You might recognize Shep Smith as The Normal Guy at Fox News.  In case you haven’t heard about it yet, a controversy has erupted over a 20-minute crank telephone call made to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by a man who identified himself as David Koch, one of two billionaire brothers, famous for bankrolling Republican politicians.  The caller was actually blogger Ian Murphy, who goes by the name, Buffalo Beast.  In a televised discussion with Juan Williams concerning the controversy surrounding Wisconsin Governor Walker, Shep Smith focused on the ugly truth that the Koch brothers are out to “bust labor”.  Here are Smith’s remarks as they appeared at The Wire blog:

It’s all political isn’t it?  Isn’t it just 100% politics? … Have you looked at the list of the top 10 donors to political campaigns?  Seven of those 10 donate to Republicans.  The other three that remain of those top 10, they all donate to Democrats and they are all unions.  Bust the unions, it’s over … . And this started when?  It started with the Koch brothers.  The Koch brothers were organizing…

*   *   *

I’m not taking a side on this, I’m telling you what’s going on … The facts!  But people don’t want to hear the facts … let them get angry, facts are troublesome creatures from time to time.  The Koch brothers, and others, were organized to bust labor, it’s what big business wants to do … this isn’t a new concept.  So they gave a bunch of money to the governor’s campaign.  The governor’s campaign is over.  Now, away we go!  We’re going to try to bust this union up, and that’s what they’re doing … this is political and everyone in the middle is a pawn.

Those “troublesome creatures” called facts have been finding their way into the news to a refreshing degree lately.  Emotional rhetoric has replaced news reporting to such an extreme level that most people seem to have accepted the premise that facts are relative to one’s perception of reality.  The lyrics to “Crosseyed and Painless” by the Talking Heads (written more than 30 years ago) seem to have been a prescient commentary about this situation:

Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out

Budgetary disputes are now resolved on an emotional battlefield where facts usually take a back seat to ideology.  Despite this trend, there are occasional commentaries focused on fact-based themes.  One recent example came from David Leonhardt of The New York Times, entitled “Why Budget Cuts Don’t Bring Prosperity”.  The article began with the observation that because so many in Congress believe that budget cuts are the path to national prosperity, the only remaining question concerns how deeply spending should be cut this year.  Mr. Leonhardt provided those misled “leaders” with the facts:

The fundamental problem after a financial crisis is that businesses and households stop spending money, and they remain skittish for years afterward.  Consider that new-vehicle sales, which peaked at 17 million in 2005, recovered to only 12 million last year.  Single-family home sales, which peaked at 7.5 million in 2005, continued falling last year, to 4.6 million.  No wonder so many businesses are uncertain about the future.

Without the government spending of the last two years — including tax cuts — the economy would be in vastly worse shape.  Likewise, if the federal government begins laying off tens of thousands of workers now, the economy will clearly suffer.

That’s the historical lesson of postcrisis austerity movements.  The history is a rich one, too, because people understandably react to a bubble’s excesses by calling for the reverse.  When Franklin Roosevelt was running for president in 1932, he repeatedly called for a balanced budget.

But no matter how morally satisfying austerity may be, it’s the wrong answer.

Leonhardt’s  objective analysis drew this response from Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism:

Did a memo go out?   Leonhardt almost always hews to neoclassical orthodoxy.  This is a big change for him.

Those “troublesome creatures” called facts became the subject of an opinion piece about the budget, written by Bill Schneider for Politico.  While dissecting the emotional motivation responsible for “a dangerous political arms race where the stakes keep escalating”, Schneider set about isolating the fact-based signal from the emotional noise clouding the budget debate:

Many of the programs targeted for big cuts by the House Republicans have a suspiciously ideological tinge:  Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Agency, funds to implement the new health care reform law, National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, President Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, money for a White House climate change czar.  The Washington Post calls the House budget “an assault on bedrock Democratic priorities.’’

The public is certainly worried about the deficit.  But do people believe the deficit is a crisis demanding immediate and radical action?  That’s not so clear.

In a Pew Research Center poll taken this month, the public was split over whether the federal government’s priority should be reducing the deficit (49 percent) or spending to help the economic recovery (46 percent).  What economic issue worries people the most? Jobs tops the list (44 percent). Fewer than half that say the deficit (19 percent).

Yes, there is an economic crisis in the country.  The crisis is jobs.  So Republicans have to argue that spending cuts will create jobs — an argument that mystifies many economists.

Let’s hope that those “troublesome creatures” keep turning up at debates, “town hall” meetings and in commentaries.  If they cause widespread allergic reactions, let nature run its course.


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A Base Hit

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September 4, 2008

Throughout John McCain’s Presidential campaign, he had been unable to enlist the support of the coveted Republican “base”.  His choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, appears to have been a big hit with those people.  At the Republican Convention, she received an adoring response from the audience.  Perhaps Jay Leno had it best when he said:  “As an Alaskan, she must have felt right at home there.  She could look out from the podium, over an endless sea of white.”

Sarah Palin has indeed won the hearts of the “hard right” Republican voters and politicians.  At this point, the only obstacle to the acceptance of her as the candidate, seems to be: getting everyone familiar with her name (literally).  Geriatric Jo Ann Davidson, Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee, referred to the Vice-Presidential candidate as “Sarah Pawlenty” before the Convention audience.  This provided Jon Stewart with yet another “Moment of Zen”.

As reported by Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes in the September 3 Washington Post, Palin’s acceptance speech was written by Matt Scully:

An initial version of the address, which speechwriter Matthew Scully started crafting a week ago for an unnamed male vice presidential pick, included plenty of attacks aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama along with ample praise for McCain, aides said.

It is ironic to observe that Matt Scully (a former speechwriter for George W. Bush) is an outspoken defender of the rights of those animals considered prey by human hunters.  The “Annie Oakley” image of Sarah Palin as a moose hunter, seems to make her the kind of person Scully wouldn’t @font-face { font-family: “Calisto MT”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }necessarily like.  She’s lucky Scully wrote that speech before he knew she would be the one delivering it.  Worse yet, Palin’s pleasant persona will likely result in the targeting of Scully for the factual misrepresentations contained in the speech (i.e. that Obama will raise taxes for all Americans).  Rather than “shoot” the charismatic messenger, critics may choose to level their attacks at Scully himself, as the author of the speech.  It would serve him right for not going along on the moose hunt!

It remains to be seen whether McCain’s secondary strategy in choosing Palin (to win the support of the disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton) will work.  Susan Page and Martha Moore of USA Today have been following this subject and how it is playing out in the polls.  Page and Moore reported:

In USA TODAY polls, McCain’s standing among women didn’t budge with the pick of Palin. He was backed by 42% of women in a poll taken before the convention, another on the day of her announcement and a third taken Saturday and Sunday.

Whether these numbers hold as the campaign progresses, will be another matter.  In the mean time, the Democrats cannot afford to be pulling their punches as Palin establishes her own style of pugilism on the stump.  Time will tell whether she can live up to the expectations and the enthusiasm of the Convention crowd, the Republican base and the McCain team itself.  Her most likely problems (aside from the “abuse of power” scandal) will result from the video clips of her saying things inconsistent with the message du jour.   There will be plenty of opportunities ahead for negative campaign ads, especially as Republican luminaries continue to get caught, on the record, disclosing their low regard for McCain’s selection of Palin.  Over an open microphone during a commercial break on MSNBC, Peggy Noonan expressed dismay that the McCain camp “…  went for this – excuse me – political bullshit about narratives.”  Noonan later defined the term “narrative” as:  “The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself and communicate to others.”  Is that really it?  Or, is the “narrative” in this case, Palin’s life story, which is supposed to endear her to us.  Noonan is promoting that bullshit herself, so it’s hard to imagine her objecting to it.  Peggy Noonan also complained about how Republican leaders believe that “whatever the base of the Republican Party thinks is what America thinks”.  At this point, Sarah Palin is doing fine with the Republican base.  Meanwhile, the rest of America will be reading about Palin’s track record on “earmarks”, the unfolding “abuse of power” saga, as well as whatever important information the McCain camp never read in the local Alaska newspapers.  Whether we admit it or not, we will all be anxious to see if the National Enquirer can outdo its John Edwards exclusive with its juicy tale involving this new darling of “the base”.