Special report: Mark Twain’s ineffectual mob!
PART ONE—THE DUMBEST EVER LET LOOSE (permalink): Who won, who lost Friday’s budget agreement?
All around the liberal world, liberals agreed that the GOP, and John Boehner, had pretty much kicked major aspic. We wouldn’t necessarily say that ourselves, given the situation’s basic dynamics. But that’s how a string of major liberals seemed to see it—and it would be hard to claim that Boehner and the GOP “lost.”
Major liberals gave credit to Boehner for a serious win:
In TPM’s headline account of the deal, Benjy Sarlin tipped his hat to Boehner’s skillful performance. “Boehner's avoidance of a shutdown—while still securing significantly more cuts than his party originally demanded from Democrats—is by any standard an impressive feat of political agility,” Sarlin judged.
Ezra Klein also praised the skill of Boehner’s performance. “Boehner, of course, could afford to speak plainly. He’d not just won the negotiation but had proven himself in his first major test as speaker of the House,” Klein judged on his blog at the Washington Post. Ezra also offered this: “There is good reason to think that Boehner will be a much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton.”
At Salon, Steve Kornacki took readers through the ins and outs of Boehner’s two-month effort. He never explicitly cited the solon’s skill, but the judgment was rather plainly implied. And over at the Washington Monthly, even the reliably sycophantic Steve Benen gave kudos to the other team’s effort. Benen noted “the success Republicans had in setting the terms of this debate early on,” after which “they never looked back.” In a second post, Benen noted the size of the GOP win:
BENEN (4/9/11): Look, I realize the right didn't get literally everything it demanded, but Republicans managed to play a very weak hand and win a handsome prize. Democrats control the White House and the Senate, polls showed strong opposition to the priorities the GOP wanted to pass, and Republicans still got a favorable deal. For the right to whine about it now is absurd.
Benen was partly wrong about that “very weak hand,” of course. On Wednesday, April 6, a new Gallup poll had 45 percent of respondents saying that Obama and the Democrats in Congress “do not go far enough” in their proposals to cut federal spending. Only 15 percent said they were going too far; the GOP’s proposed spending cuts produced substantially better numbers. But at sites like Benen’s, liberals are only allowed to hear a few unpleasant facts at one time.
On balance, liberals seemed to feel that the GOP had kicked the Democrats’ ascots. In particular, the skill of Boehner’s performance was widely described. This must have come as a shock to liberals who watch MSNBC—especially to those who watch Rachel Maddow, one of the most incompetent political analysts ever let loose on TV.
How do liberals and Democrats manage to get their aspirations kicked so routinely? We’ll be asking that question all week, critiquing a string of major liberal players and liberal sectors in the process. But for today, let’s start with the utterly hapless Maddow, who has spent the past two months explaining how incredibly bad Boehner is at his job.
John Boehner is bad at his job? “Look who’s talking,” our analysts have often said as Maddow kept pushing this line for us rubes, basing her ridiculous judgments on the silliest matters possible.
The whole thing started on Tuesday evening, February 15. Maddow hadn’t been cosmically wrong for a couple of days, and her palms were beginning to itch. Right at the start of that evening’s program, she introduced a major new theme—a theme she would extend through the next several weeks.
As usual, “the Beltway press” was refusing to tell you the truth. In this case, the Beltway press just wouldn’t explain how bad Boehner is at his job:
MADDOW (2/15/11): Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you for that. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
I want to put forward a hypothesis here—a hypothesis that I realize nobody else is putting out there. But I’m only doing it because I can’t really figure out why nobody else is doing this. The reason I’m doing this is because for weeks now, I feel like I’ve been waiting for somebody else to say this—somebody else more likely, somebody in the Beltway press, for example, who obsessively covers Washington.
But so far, nobody has been saying it—and so, I feel like I have to. I fully expect that this will be debunked, that there is something else going on here that I just don’t see that will disprove my hypothesis. But we have been trying for weeks now on our staff to disprove it, and we just can’t.
So again, I realize nobody else really wants to say this, but I’m just going to say it: I think that John Boehner is really bad at his job.
Poor Rachel! She and her hopelessly numb-nutted staff had been bollixed about this matter for weeks! John Boehner was really bad at his job—and “the Beltway press” wouldn’t say it! And boy Howdy, Boehner was reeeeelly bad at his job! He was this bad, in fact:
MADDOW (continuing directly): John Boehner is the top Republican in Washington, speaker of the House, third in line for the presidency. He is running the only part of the government that Republicans control. And I realize this will probably sound rude, like I am being insulting or attacking towards Mr. Boehner. That is not at all how I mean it. I just mean it specifically in terms of his job performance, thus far.
I think he’s really outstandingly bad at his job. I think that everything he’s done so far has—what’s the opposite of the Midas touch?
Needless to say, the darling child didn’t want to sound rude.
What made Maddow think that Boehner was outstandingly bad at his job? The poor child cited a string of trivial matters—the type of inconsequential nonsense which grabs the attention of Beltway pundits and know-nothing tribal enthusiasts. Here are three of the troubling examples this hapless incompetent cited:
MADDOW: The very first day—the very first day that the Republicans were in control, on Day One, there was the very well-publicized Constitution reading failure. Remember the pages that stuck together in the three-ring binder and all the other passages that were just left out because the Republicans apparently didn’t like them? That was just the start.
During that first week, there was also the swearing-in failure—Ding!—where two of their members weren`t properly sworn in but they cast votes on the House floor anyway. That was embarrassing.
Then came the Republican pledge to always assert constitutional authority for everything they wanted to do, right? There’s this new rule—they would cite a specific passage of the Constitution for every bill they propose proposed. It was not true of the very first three bills they proposed. They said they would do it, and then the first three things they introduced, they broke the rule. And ever since then, they just kept blowing it off.
Remember the Constitution-reading? Maddow asked. We can now answer: Of course not! Nobody does! But no matter! Citing strings of piffle and palaver, Our Own Rhodes Scholar delivered an utterly silly judgment: “Republicans have been in control of the House for about a month and a half now—and it has been one disaster after another. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month and a half for John Boehner.”
Ezra Klein appeared as guest analyst. Skillfully, he worked his way around most of the nonsense with which Maddow had littered the field.
The next night, the nonsense continued, dumbing us liberals down in the process. Again, Maddow led the program with a long segment about Boehner’s astounding incompetence. Soon, she was using a “secret decoder ring” to help explain his “latest big mistake:”
MADDOW (2/16/11): If you do not like watching conservative media, you nevertheless have to understand what it is they’re doing over there in order to understand what Republicans are doing in politics. It’s like the secret decoder ring that makes otherwise totally non sequitur statements and political actions make some sense—at least make us understand what sense we think they’re making.
To that end, we have a slight revision to make. It is not a correction. It is a revision to our lead story on yesterday’s show.
It finally occurred to us today that we had not applied right-wing media decoder technology to what’s going on with the speaker of the House, the top Republican in Washington, John Boehner, in trying to understand his latest big political mistake.
As you know, John Boehner is not having an easy time as speaker. Republicans are having a hard time getting even basic legislating done, having a hard time doing the basic things that need to be done to run the House, having a hard time picking a message, and sticking with it, getting members to act as a unit, and instead acting like a bunch of 6-year-olds playing anarchist soccer—three teams, two goals. You decide.
But even with the hard time they are having, what John Boehner did this week is so bad politically, so contrary to what his party says it wants to be doing that it has to have some explanation. It’s like if somebody was trying to parallel park, and instead of— “Oh, hey, wait a minute, you sort of messed up! Your tire is on the curb here!” This is a guy parallel parking and, all of a sudden, the car is upside down. Something else has to explain this. You don’t make an error this big without some explaining.
What was Boehner’s latest mistake—the disastrous mistake that inspired our darling child to use her secret decoder ring? People! Boehner had said that Republican budget proposals might require the loss of some federal jobs! Boehner’s statement, as shown on tape: “Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke. It’s time for us to get serious about how we’re spending the nation’s money.”
That statement sounded crazy to Maddow—and so, as political ingénues do, she assumed that it would sound crazy to average voters. “If you are not part of the conservative movement, if you’re not in on the way they talk to each other in their media, this probably makes no sense,” she foolishly said, once again showing her cluelessness about the views, values, understandings and instincts of the American public.
At any rate, this became Boehner’s “latest big political mistake.” For the second straight night, Maddow began her program with this pleasing new theme.
On Thursday night, the big fun continued in Rachel’s Playhouse. For the record, this is the night when Maddow started her program with a ridiculous, weird, incoherent account of the state of Wisconsin’s budget situation. (Maddow: “I’m here to report that there is nothing wrong in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is fine. Wisconsin is great, actually! Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.”) Maddow kept repeating an inaccurate claim (Wisconsin “started the year on track to have a budget surplus”); in general, she presented an incoherent, bungled account of the state’s budget situation. (Politifact would score her account as “False,” while making one error itself.) But soon, Maddow was teasing another segment about Boehner’s latest big blunder:
MADDOW (2/17/11): All right. We thought that Speaker of the House John Boehner had sort of bottomed out this week already when he said to a bank of cameras that Republican policies would probably cost a bunch of jobs “but so be it.” That sort of seemed like he’d hit bottom. You can’t really do worse than that in politics right now.
It turns out the man is a miracle worker. You can do worse. He did it today. John Boehner is turning out to be an amazing speaker of the House. What happened to him today, next.
MADDOW: Right now, the House of Representatives is in such chaos, such dire dysfunctional disarray, that Speaker John Boehner must be brilliant. Are we being duped by some grand Boehner anti-plan? I will buckle the chin straps on my conspiracy hat, next.
After the teasing was done, the liberal world’s latest primal incompetent began detailing the evening’s indictment. The summary sounded like this:
MADDOW: This week, we have put forth the hypothesis that John Boehner, speaker of the House, is bad at his job. Not that he is a bad man or even that he has bad ideas, but that when it comes to doing what a speaker of the House does, he is bad at doing those things.
Mr. Boehner is bad at counting votes. What? We lost that?
Mr. Boehner is bad at passing legislation. He blew three things in 24 hours last week.
Mr. Boehner is bad at scheduling votes. The Republican freshman telling the press he didn’t even know what the Patriot Act vote was about before Boehner made him vote on it. A freshman?
Mr. Boehner is bad at making rules for the House that the House can keep to. “A constitutional citation in every bill—except for when we forget it all the time.”
Mr. Boehner is bad at talking to the press, in that he keeps saying things to the press that are really, really off message, off his own message. If some of those jobs are lost, “So be it?”
Yes. But as we have been reporting on all of this stuff this week, and as we have been looking into and documenting the things that John Boehner has been proven to be bad at as speaker, the evidence is so overwhelming that we are starting to experience an internal backlash on our show.
At our staff news meeting today, someone just said, “Wait a minute! He can’t be this bad at this much stuff. You don’t get to be speaker of the House by being this fundamentally incompetent. There’s got to be more than meets the eye here. There’s got to be something else going on. Maybe there is a method to this madness.”
And thus was born the Rachel Maddow Show’s "Maybe John Boehner isn’t that bad at his job, maybe he’s crazy like a fox" hypothesis.
Don’t worry—as usual, Maddow was simply snarking about Boehner being “crazy like a fox.” Here’s how the foolishness went:
The latest sign of Boehner’s incompetence was the fact that he had used the phrase “Read my lips” in a throw-away comment about the GOP’s determination to cut federal spending. (Boehner: “Read my lips: We’re going to cut spending. Thanks.”) Now that the GOP has cut federal spending, we might be able to see how stupid it was for Maddow to seize on this insignificant turn of phrase, in precisely the way America’s Big Dumb Pundits have been doing for decades now. Today, in the wake of the budget deal, no one on earth remembers the fact that Boehner once said, “Read my lips.” Nor was there ever any sign that voters found the phrase troubling. But so what? Maddow’s abused liberal viewers were forced to sit through a long, unintelligent history explaining “why the phrase ‘read my lips’ is famous in American politics”—explaining why Boehner was incomparably dumb to let such a phrase pass his lips.
Regarding Maddow’s silly snark about Boehner being crazy like a fox: She described the way Boehner was allowing House members to propose amendments to “this spending bill they are considering right now—this…stopgap spending bill.” Snarkily, Maddow suggested this would produce such a procedural disaster that it must be part of the GOP’s plan to force a government shutdown!
“Too conspiratorial?” she snarked at the end of the segment. And then, the screen went to black.
Maddow’s performance was the latest embarrassment—the latest display of the sheer incompetence driving herself and her staff. On Friday evening, February 18, she drove this theme for the fourth straight night, but now she added a new aspect—the claim that Republicans were obviously planning to force a government shutdown. This theme has of course turned out to be wrong; the GOP has agreed to a spending bill without creating a shutdown. But along the way, Maddow didn’t fail to share a laugh about Boehner’s numb nuts with a reliable guest, Gene Robinson.
Robinson was also impressed by how poorly Boehner was functioning. The pair shared a good cleansing laugh at the other tribe’s comical bumbling:
ROBINSON (2/18/11): I frankly believe at this point, John Boehner may rue the day he ever said, “We’ll have a much more open process and allow all these amendments.” And I’m not sure how much of this open democracy he is going to be able to stand for his caucus. They’re just going to drop.
MADDOW: He will never rue it more than he rued saying "Read my lips" this week.
ROBINSON: “Read my lips” is never a good thing to say. That we know!
MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post. Thank you, Gene. It’s great to see you.
Do you think Boehner has ever regretted allowing amendments or using that phrase? In such ways, the liberal world gets dumbed all the way to the ground.
Maddow continued her clowning about Boehner’s incompetence for the next two weeks. On Wednesday, March 2, she did a long segment on the topic which was almost spectacular in its dumbness, almost feral in its silly immaturity. Two of her teases:
MADDOW (3/2/11): There is fresh data for study in the “John Boehner is bad at his job” hypothesis project. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but this hypothesis is gaining steam, as you will see.
MADDOW: Next on this show, we have been hard at work on a new chapter in the “John Boehner is bad at his job” hypothesis. It’s now trending towards a dissertation. All new data is coming up shortly.
That Friday, Maddow gave us our latest embarrassing look at the embarrassing way her staff functions. As a courtesy, we’ll let that one go.
Meanwhile, let’s be fair. By now, it was becoming fairly clear that Boehner was kicking Obama’s asparagus in the unfolding budget fight, or that he was doing something that looked a lot like that. Maddow thus abandoned her “John Boehner is a hopeless incompetent” theme, without ever telling viewers that the “hypothesis” had perhaps been disproven. But when it comes to domestic politics, Rachel Maddow isn’t happy unless she’s getting something ginormously wrong. Last Tuesday, she introduced her latest theme, seeming to state it with absolute certainty, as she persistently does.
First, she offered a bungled complaint about “the Beltway press coverage of this potential budget shutdown”—a bungled account built on a flat misstatement about something published at Slate. Then, she offered a long, inane pseudo-argument, resulting in her latest bungled certainty. The GOP is seeking a shutdown, the child self-assuredly said:
MADDOW (4/5/11): In all of the Beltway press coverage of this potential budget showdown in D.C. now, you read over and over and over again about how desperate both sides are to avoid a government shutdown, right? In the Washington Post, quote, "Republicans and Democrats are eager to avoid a shutdown." At Slate.com today, quote, "No government shutdown. Why Republicans and Democrats will work to avoid the crisis."
This is the Beltway frame for what’s going on in the government shutdown fight right now. And it sort of sounds right, until you notice that Republicans don’t seem that eager to be avoiding this shutdown. I mean, Republicans themselves keep saying, “Oh, no, no, no, we don`t want a shutdown. It’s the Democrats who are talking about that.”
But then listen to what they have been saying about it. They have been promising a shutdown since before the midterm elections. They ran for office in November in part by saying they would shut down the government. They love talking about this.
This is a montage recently put together by the Web site, Think Progress:
[Clips of various minor Republicans talking about a government shutdown.]
MADDOW: Did they sound eager to avoid a shutdown?
Not only have Republicans been promising—promising by going, while going like this, promising to shut down the government for months now. Rationally, strategically, there is no reason why they wouldn’t. The Republican base is clamoring for a shutdown.
Do you remember that really famous chicken scene in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause?" James Dean and the other guys are in two different cars, they’re driving toward a cliff. They’re each trying to win this game of chicken. And the way you win this game of chicken is that you are the last one to jump out of your car before the car goes off the cliff.
Would you still enter into that game, and how on earth would you try to win that game if you knew that the guy in the other car was desperately suicidal?
If winning is being last out of the car and you know the other dude is not going to bail out of his car ever, and doesn’t even want to, how do you win this game?
The Washington Post reports that last night when Republican House Speaker John Boehner went to go talk to his caucus about the negotiations, when he made it clear that it looked like a shutdown was coming, how did the Republican caucus in the House respond to that? Worry? They gave him a cheering ovation!
This is not a group of people who are eager to avoid a shutdown, no matter what you’ve read. There is not a negotiation going on in Washington that is about avoiding a government shutdown. There is a reason that Speaker John Boehner keeps moving the goal posts in terms of what Democrats have to agree to in order to avoid this government shutdown.
Democrats keep agreeing to everything he demands. But that just means he has to demand more because the goal is not to get Democrats to do anything in particular. The goal is the shutdown itself.
This is the party that has just proposed getting rid of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular government programs ever, other than Social Security. And oh, wait until you hear what they want to do with that one!
When Republican Congressman Paul Ryan introduced his budget today, he said, "This is not a budget, this is a cause." And I know it sounds like I’m making that up. It turns out I’m not.
RYAN (videotape): This is not a budget, this is a cause.
MADDOW: This is a cause. It is about seeking a shutdown. It is not about avoiding a shutdown.
In that segment, Maddow noted that Boehner had been repeatedly “moving the goal posts”—and that Democrats had been “agreeing to everything he demands.” Presumably, it no longer made sensed to laugh and snark about how bad Boehner is at his job. So Maddow introduced a new theme. She said “the goal” of all this conduct “is the shutdown itself.”
Three nights later, the GOP agreed to a deal, avoiding a government shutdown.
Can we talk? When it comes to domestic politics, Rachel Maddow is as incompetent as anyone ever let loose on TV—sorry, on the TV machine thingy. But then, we liberals have swallowed a lot of incompetence down through these many years.
More on this pitiful topic all week. On Friday, we’ll look at Twain’s lynch mob—the pitiful mob which couldn’t lynch straight, the mob which was so ineffectual.