Monday, September 19, 2016

The Vast Conspiracy of Forgetting: E.J. Dionne

Lethe Beach

As I may have mentioned once or twice or 3,114 times over the last 11 years:
...once our political, social and media institutions decided to preserve their status and fiscal well-being by playing make-believe with ugly truths about themselves and their own behavior, they become hostage to the habit. And once it became clear that media personalities and politicians could openly and repeatedly lie to the public without swift and brutal consequences -- once they gave themselves permission to flush their own incompetence, cowardice and complicity down the memory hole with impunity – we were well and truly screwed. 
Because after all, from what position of factual, experiential or moral superiority would people who lie more-or-less continuously about the last 30 years of American political and cultural history pass judgment on people who lie about where the President was born? Or Death Panels? Or…anything? 
Once you take that Faustian bargain, it doesn’t matter how fine your suit is or how surgically superior your tits may be; you’re just another grifter, straining a different grade of ethical sludge for krill. 
And so we find ourselves drowning in a vast conspiracy of forgetting.
And so today we turn in our hymnals to the Washington Post and we find David Brooks' kindly, media-friendly liberal NPR side-kick -- Mr. E.J. Dionne -- writing something which sounds so terribly reasonable that we wamt to believe it is true:
Spiro Agnew’s ghost lives on in the 2016 campaign

Anti-media sentiment had long been bubbling on the right when Agnew targeted what were then the Big Three television networks for representing “a concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history.”

“The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government,” Agnew declared in a 1969 speech in Des Moines. “Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government?”

Agnew was unrelenting. With help from William Safire and Pat Buchanan, gifted Nixon speechwriters (and, later, columnists), he coined many memorable phrases, including the alliterative “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Rarely has a concerted political effort been more successful. Ever since, reporters, editors and producers have incessantly looked over their right shoulders, fearing they’d be assailed as secret carriers of the liberal virus.
But the 2016 campaign has brought an intense progressive counterattack on media timidity toward the right. Coverage of Donald Trump has become the occasion for a new crisis of credibility.
But no. And no.  And no.

Mr. Dionne somehow manages to forget the progressive counterattack on the media after the GOP failed to destroy the Clinton Administration over a bad land deal.  After they failed to witch-hunt the Clinton Administration to death over trivia and conspiracies invented out of whole cloth by The American Spectator.

Mr. Dionne also forgets the progressive counterattack on the media after the GOP dragged enough $20 bills through enough Arkansas trailer parks to finally gin up a Juicy!Sex!Scandal!, which they turned into a Worse!Than!Watergate!And!Teapot!Dome! constitutional crisis worthy of impeachment.

Sure, for Mr. Dionne's colleagues it was a fun bender and made the careers of many ghouls and
hobgoblins who still haunt the Sunday Shows to this very day.  But for the rest of us it was one more nail in the coffin of the fairy tale that the Republican party was sane or that the media could be trusted

Of course, after Mr. Dionne's colleagues woke up with a hangover and serial-adulterer Newt Gingrich's dick in their mouth, there was the OMFG moment:  a walk of shame and a general sense that, holy shit, did we really just to that?

And that shameful realization that they had been played for dupes by the Right lasted right up until Mr. Dionne's colleagues decided it would be fun to judge Al Gore and George W. Bush by two wildly different standards because Gore was a boring old pill and Bush seemed like the kinda guy who knew how to par-taaaaay!

At this point, it is tempting to leap right on over to the Iraq Debacle as a collective media failure of the media so public and catastrophic that the prosecution does not need to haul any more evidence up to the bar.  However, before George W. Bush was elevated by the Right to demigodhood, it is instructive to remember the Incident of the Giant Tax Cuts, in which Dubya proposed to use to whittle down that terrible budget surplus that the Clinton Administration had left behind.

Mr. Dionne apparently forgets the progressive counterattack on this disastrous scheme to plunge the country back into deficits -- a scheme being led by the same deficits-hysterics who has spent the previous eight years screaming that Bill Clinton was not cleaning up Reagan's big, steaming pile of "legacy" fast enough.  Spearheading the progressive counterattack was a guy named Paul Krugman who very unfairly used the Mighty Power of Arithmetic to demonstrate that Dubya's magic "budget" only worked because Dubya was spending the same money twice:
Reckonings; Guns And Bitterness
FEB. 4, 2001

But isn't the federal government awash in surpluses? Hasn't Alan Greenspan told us that our big economic problem is how to give the money away, lest politicians end up owning the stock market? If there's plenty of money for tax cuts, why won't the administration give the military at least some of what it wants and promise to keep its hand out of the Medicare cookie jar?

Because someone in the White House is aware of the truth, which is that there isn't plenty of money after all.

Here's the arithmetic: the Congressional Budget Office has projected a 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. (I don't believe it, but never mind.) Take the Social Security and Medicare surpluses off the table, however, and you are left with only $2.7 trillion. That may sound like a lot, but the projected cost of Mr. Bush's tax cut has also grown, for reasons that are important but too boring to explain. It would now use up around $2 trillion of that surplus.

And what's left depends on the totally unrealistic assumption that federal spending, including defense spending, will not grow at all over the next decade, despite a growing population and a growing economy. Give the military what it says it needs, and we're already well into deficit -- and that doesn't include missile defense, not to mention prescription drug coverage, new education programs and all that. Oh, and what about the trillion dollars of Social Security money that Mr. Bush has proposed to spend twice?

Nonetheless, Congress is about to go into a tax-cut feeding frenzy, adding huge tax breaks for corporations to Mr. Bush's proposal. The spectacle will be distressing, but it will be over quickly. Pretty soon, quite possibly as soon as this summer, we'll be worrying about deficits, not surpluses.
And who do you suppose was helping to marshal the forces of Conservative media to bend the Beltway to its will by lying about the Bush tax cuts?

None other than  E.J. Dionne's kindly, media-friendly Conservative NPR side-kick -- Mr. David Brooks  -- writing in the Weekly Standard, over and over and over again:

Mr. Brooks, March 19, 2001:
Yes, There Is a New Economy
Thanks to once-in-a lifetime productivity gains, Bush's plans are easily affordable
This year's tax and budget debate really comes down to one essential question: Is the money going to be there? The Congressional Budget Office projects surpluses of about $ 5.6 trillion over the next 10 years. The Republicans insist that those projections are conservative, so the government can afford to return $ 1.6 trillion to the taxpayers and still have money left over for Social Security, Medicare, and an $ 800 billion contingency fund. The Democrats cry that projections are notoriously inaccurate, that the tax cuts will blow a hole in the budget, and that the Bush administration's risky scheme (which sailed through the House last week) would cast us back into the days of piling debt.
...even if today's productivity improvements are only on the scale of, say, the improvements our economy saw after World War II, we may be in for a long and sunny ride. There is a rough historical pattern here. A new technology is invented. It takes a long time before people figure out how to use it. The electric motor was invented in the 1880s, but it didn't transform factories until the 1920s, economist Paul David has noted. Once the technology is fully deployed, however, there are decades of positive results. Daniel Sichel of the Federal Reserve points to previous technology-driven surges that lasted 10 and 25 years. That suggests we may still be near the beginning of this particular period of bounty.

If we are, an occasional period of slower growth or even a recession may occur, but the U.S. economy is fundamentally strong, and both laymen and legislators have good reasons to believe it will remain strong for many years. Industrial productivity is surging. Americans are not only the hardest working people on earth (the average American works about 10 weeks a year more than the average European) but also the most productive workers -- by far. If you measure value added per hour worked, Americans do about 20 percent better than Germans and the French, and 40 percent better than the Japanese.

In other words, if you wade through the economic literature, it's hard not to agree with the Cleveland Fed's Jerry Jordan: We are living at a once-in-a-generation moment of economic opportunity. As productivity grows, the economy will grow. As the economy grows, revenues will grow, maybe beyond what the CBO projects. The real question about the Bush tax cuts, then, is not, Can we afford them? The real question is, Why are they so small?
Mr. Brooks, September 10, 2001:
The New Stupid Party

LONG AGO, the Republican party was nicknamed the Stupid Party, and at times Republicans have done their best to live up to the label. But after the past week, it is perhaps time to acknowledge that when it comes to brainless, self-destructive behavior, the Democratic party has achieved a level of excellence that will be unsurpassed in our lifetime.

Last week the Congressional Budget Office came out with a budget forecast. The report immediately got submerged in a chatterstorm about whether Congress or the White House would dip into something called the Social Security trust fund, but the essential facts are these: The CBO economists estimated that the federal government will run a surplus of about $150 billion in 2001. That’s a lower surplus than the CBO estimated a few months ago, before the economic slowdown, the Bush tax cut, and the recent congressional spending splurge. But even in these adverse circumstances, the surplus is still projected to grow to about $200 billion a year in 2004 and close to $300 billion a year by 2006.

The Democratic party proceeded to work itself up into a collective aneurysm. Dick Gephardt—who, when given the chance to play the demagogue, never goes halfway—said that the United States now faces "an alarming fiscal crisis." Democratic national chairman Terry McAuliffe said on Face the Nation that it had taken Bill Clinton eight years to build up the surplus, but Bush was able to "blow it in eight months." Other Democrats rose up en masse to declare that the Bush administration was going to bankrupt Social Security/the federal government/western civilization because the administration was going to have to "raid the Social Security trust fund."
Mr. Brooks, November 18, 2002
The Pelosi Democrats

Are they going to become the stupid party?

ARE THE DEMOCRATS about to go insane? Are they about to decide that the reason they lost the 2002 election is that they didn't say what they really believe? Are they about to go into Paul Krugman-land, lambasting tax cuts, savaging Bush as a tool of the corporate bosses? Are they about to go off on a jag that will ensure them permanent minority status in every state from North Carolina to Arizona?
The postscript to this little-remembered bit of Conservative tax-cuts and deficits kabuki comes from Dick Cheney, who gave the game away in 2004 when he told Paul O'Neill, "You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due."

Because of course they lied.  Lying is what Conservatives do.  And of course David Brooks carried water for them all the way to a job-for-life at the New York Times, because that is what David Brooks does.

The media's dawning, shameful realization that they had helped elevate the least competent man in history to the highest office was short lived once 9/11 happened, and rightly so:  at a time of national disaster we needed to come together and speak with one voice.

Unfortunately that "one voice" quickly went from "And the people, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon” to "Screw bin Laden -- we're going to Iraq!"

And of course another massed barrage of bloody and unforgivable Conservative lies followed --

-- which Mr. Dionne apparently forgot was met every step of the way with a sustained progressive media counterattack, most especially from the Liberals blogs since so many of Mr. Dionne's colleagues were so deeply complicit in helping the Bush Administration lie uns into war.

The progressive media counterattack was, in turn, met with the sustained collective slander and derision of both the Conservative media and the Beltway media.  And that slander campaign continued right up until all the Bush Administration lies started collapsing in front of the whole world and included -- surprise! -- none other than  E.J. Dionne's kindly, media-friendly Conservative NPR side-kick, Mr. David Brooks.

Once again Mr. Dionne's colleagues woke up with a hangover and serial-traitor Dick Cheney's dick in their mouth.  Once again there was the OMFG moment.  Once again, a walk of shame and a general sense that, holy shit, did we really just to that?

And once again it lasted only until Dick Armey showed up with his magical, universally-absolving Bush Off Machine that overnight turned millions of loyal Bush Republicans into "independent Tea Party" members who had never even heard of George W. Bush.  Who all reacted to the election of Barack Obama the same way -- by running screaming into the streets to "Take their country back!"

This obvious re-branding scam was dutifully rhapsodized about by all the usual Very Serious People as a rise of a brand-new, rising "independent" movement of plain, ordinary, non-political citizens who were darn sick and tired of...

...Both Sides!!!

And no one was more dutifully rhapsodic in his reportage of this uprising of these humble, patriotic Murricans against Both Sides than E.J. Dionne's kindly, media-friendly Conservative NPR side-kick -- Mr. David Brooks. 

Are you noticing a pattern yet, Mr. Dionne?

Conservative lies, followed by Beltway complicity, followed by, yes, a sustained progressive counterattack?

Followed by a shit-storm of unremitting dismissal and slander by both the Conservative media and most of Mr. Dionne's colleagues in the Beltway media.

Followed by the collapse of those Conservative lies.

Followed by Mr. Dionne's colleagues waking up with a hangover and the dick of some depraved lunatic in their mouth.

Followed by the OMFG moment, the walk of shame and the general sense that, holy shit, did we really just to that.

Followed by David Brooks getting another promotion and Newt Gingrich re-appearing on American political teevee as a serious thinker.

Sorry, Mr. Dionne, but all available suggests that most of the people at the top of your profession are simply incapable of learning from this simple lesson, no matter how many times you hit them in the head with the same 2x4.  Because the professional and financial rewards for collaborating with America's domestic enemies are just too great and their moral compasses just too damaged.


bowtiejack said...

Excellent. Just excellent.
I have somewhere on my bookshelves a copy of the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, a large coffee-table type tome.
It is essentially a catalog of dead religions and their beliefs.
In reading it, one is struck again and again by the idea, "How did anyone ever seriously believe THAT"?
The obvious fate which awaits the scrivenings of our revered pundits and "public intellectuals".
The sooner the better.

moeman said...

Pure fucking genius. All of it.

Sandman said...

And now, it looks as if they're just a few more lies away from electing Greg Stillson to the White House. I'd relish the thought of watching all these idiots getting what they so richly deserve if I didn't already know that we're all standing on the same deck of the same ship with the same iceberg just within striking distance. I never imagined that the media would be complicit in the greatest political con game ever devised, but I guess there really is no point low enough that won't go just a little bit lower for an extra couple of dollars.

Riccardo Cabeza said...

you're laying a lot of shit on E.J.'s lap that doesn't belong to him and you gotta reward progress where you see it. all that crap about bobo wasn't interesting

bowtiejack said...

Does anyone not realize that the whole Trump Campaign is a recasting of Arrested Development (without the boring sane character of Michael)?

Gob?                           DONALD JR.
Buster?                       ERIC 
Lindsay?                     IVANKA
George Bluth Sr.?     TRUMP

Tobias?                      JARED KUSHNER
Barry Zuckerkorn? STEVE BANNON

Jimbo said...

Dionne's a Canadian. He is fairly feeble on the NewsHour with Bobo and in the WaPo but the problem is that there really is no serious media outlet for either liberals or progressives on the TeeVee and print media anymore.

dinthebeast said...

"Rarely has a concerted political effort been more successful. Ever since, reporters, editors and producers have incessantly looked over their right shoulders, fearing they’d be assailed as secret carriers of the liberal virus."

Yeah, it was so successful that a pair of reporters took down a sitting president right after Agnew resigned in disgrace.

-Doug in Oakland

Fiddlin Bill said...

Watergate was, um, 1973? And although the break-in was reported prior to the 1972 election, it was pretty much ignored by all until a bipartisan Congressional hearing got going after Nixon was elected. The press did cover the hearing, due to the dramatic character of many of the principals--Sam Ervin comes to mind, and also his Republican counterparts, Weiker and Howard Baker. Back in those distant days, Republicans, or some of them, did not view partisanship as their most important duty. Today Eric Erickson says it's ok to vote for Trump, just don't admit it.

Cugel said...

Of course the media cannot tell the truth to the American people. Because what is the truth? That Richard Nixon in 1968 got the white working class and rural America to reject the Great Society which promised to end poverty in America, and to substitute the War on Crime for the War on Poverty. And ever since that day the Republican party has existed solely and exclusively by pointing the finger at black and brown people and screaming "you're what's wrong with America!" If only we could get "those people" in line - by putting them in prison, outvoting or disenfranchising them somehow, then everything would be fine. And this strategy of winning elections by demonizing non-white people has been going on now for nearly 50 years. Only there's two little problems with the GOP's "Southern Strategy" now:

1. It's one thing to point your finger at 12% of the voters in 1968, but another to point your finger at 28% of the voters in 2012 and 30% of the voters in 2016 and blame them for everything that has gone wrong with America.

2. Because of #1, Obama won 2 national elections. And the result of that was that all the bigots in America lost their minds about the President being a "Kenyan Muslim usurper", thus preparing the way for Trump.

So now if Trump loses there is no way back to the great media lie that cannot confront this simple reality. The entire media has to pretend this hasn't been happening for 50 years, that what everybody in America can see is happening right now every day on national TV never happened at all, and that all the bigots can be conveniently shoved back under the rock Trump has lifted.

And then we can wax poetical about the "economic distress" that motivated the GOP base, not pure-blind race hatred of course, conveniently ignoring that the "economic distress" was a RESULT of the deregulation of capital pimped by that same GOP party, with gleeful support from the MSM.

So, of course, it was never the GOP base that was racist, but the "Trumpites" who have to be satisfied with going back to dog-whistles .

But, there's this little problem of "a remainder of an unbalanced equation that if unchecked an escalating probability of disaster." Too many people, particularly black and brown people have seen all the bigots come out and dance in the sun and scream in rage "make me a taco bitch!" at small Latina women outside Trump rallies. They're not going to forget that. The GOP is essentially dead to virtually every non-white person in America. And that isn't going to change until and unless the GOP has a come to Jesus moment where they confront the ugly truth about their racist history and come clean.

But, what if the media told THAT truth? That the only way forward is to acknowledge that we've got more than 40 million un-reconstructed bigots right out of Lester Maddox circa 1963, who still think Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and they vote in Republican primaries, and what do we do about that little problem?

How do we deal with generations of endemic racism and religious bigotry in a country that is becoming a minority majority country by sometime around 2050?

But, if they admitted that, a lot of VIP people would lose their very lucrative media jobs. Probably starting with Phil Griffin and Jeff Zucker. And we can't have that.

But the problem isn't going away until it's dealt with so the GOP is going to have to lose several more elections before they wake up.

keith gargus said...

My eye caught the Friedman unit committing an act of journalism in that Rumsfeld video. Amazing.

SamB said...

If David Brooks is an enabler then E. J. Dionne is an enabler of the enabler. It's so annoying to listen to the two of them on NPR. Thanks for putting Dionne in your sights.