Punditry

The Elephant in the Ointment

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

(sigh) This feels familiar:

Here we go again. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) say their proposals for repealing and “replacing” the Affordable Care Act will be ready really, really soon. Next month, in fact.

And they swear this won’t be like the other million times Republicans have made the same promise and failed to follow through.

Trump and Ryan made their comments at separate news conferences on Thursday, a few hours apart. Ryan’s came after a closed-door House meeting in which he and his lieutenants presented the broad brushstrokes―again―of what they are calling a “repeal plus” strategy.

(Young and Cohn)

So, a couple things go here. Like a personal note: This was disappointing. When the first chyrons broke, it seemed at least as if everyone was gearing up to finally have it out about the mythical Republican plan. And for at least a few minutes, readers and pundits tried to pretend they were. But that leads to the second, which might have something to do with Congressional Republican leadership, because apparently “repeal plus”, the replacement for “repeal and delay”, which was the longer, lazier route compared to prior advocacy for “repeal and replace”―and we keep getting signs this approach isn’t working―is probably a better name than “repeal and stumble around”.

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Exceptionally American

Huang reflects on a mission barely accomplished. (Darker Than Black, ep. 14)

Do we really get to be surprised?

In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

(Silverman)

The Americans who did this did it to themselves; we ought to remember this in coming years. It sometimes seems amazing how many age peers do not remember the history of their youths a quarter century ago, so let us keep our fingers crossed for what people might recall of this election come, say, November, 2018.

It is easy enough to predict that they will blame the press they refused to believe, and scorn liberals and Democrats for failing to stop them, but the real question will be how they manage to convince themselves. The requisite neurotic matrices might seem nearly superhuman, but the simple fact of these considerations at this time reminds without question that we should never underestimate American ego defense.

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Silverman, Craig. “This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook”. BuzzFeed. 16 November 2016.

The Further Misadventures of Dinesh D’Souza (Blame Baby Blame)

Dinesh D'Souza (Detail of photo by JonesFoto, 2012.)“P.S. Obama turned out fine.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Salon is one of several newsish websites leading the field for overwritten headlines, for certain, but Mary Elizabeth Williams has a point in explaining, “Dinesh D’Souza, adulterous felon and disgraced academic, really embarrassed himself this time”.

Dinesh D’Souza isn’t just a convicted felon and adulterer. The filmmaker, right-wing pundit, defender of Donald Trump’s right to access beauty pageant contestants’ dressing rooms, and world’s most racist amateur comedian is also generous in his praise toward those who are in his estimation great judges of character―in babies.

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Clinton|Trump|Deux

So after a couple days like that, Donald Trump turns up zombified and sniffing.

There is no point to the observation, yet, as we have yet to see if he brought anything other than concussed spite. But the first bit has been, shall we say, strange.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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Your Quote of the Day: Murphy on Trumptastic Genius

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)“Trump is a genius at stepping on his own messaging, and I don’t think there’s a force on Earth, at least without heavy weaponry, that can ever separate Trump from his ability to tweet. I think everybody in that campaign is trying to pry the smartphone away from him, and it’ll never happen.”

―Mike Murphy, 4 October 2016

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Image note: Detail of photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters.

Something About the Speaker (Footnote Fury)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI01) speaks at his primary night press conference, 9 August 2016, in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“The new Paul Ryan tax cuts make the Bush tax cuts look like socialism.”

Jonathan Chait

Steve Benen frames the issue well enough:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has largely pulled off an impressive public-relations gambit in recent years. The Republican leader has recast himself as an anti-poverty crusader, without making any meaningful changes to his far-right agenda, simply by using the word “poverty” a whole lot.

But it’s occasionally worthwhile to look past the rhetoric and focus on the hard data ....

.... Ryan’s tax plan is crafted in such a way as to give 99.6% of the benefits to the wealthiest of the wealthy by 2025. The other 0.4% would be divided up across the other 99% of us.

This is a feature, not a bug, of the House Speaker’s approach to economic policy. Ryan genuinely believes that massive tax breaks for those at the very top will spur economic growth that would, in time, benefit everyone. For the Wisconsin congressman, trickle-down policy, its track record notwithstanding, remains the most responsible course to broad national prosperity.

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The Donald Trump Show (Total Devastation)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), at left, joins Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump during a press event at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Super Tuesday, 1 March 2016. Christie, who suspended his own presidential campaign in February has been widely ridiculed for endorsing Trump.

“A spokesman for Christie denied he was a manservant.”

Andrew Kaczynski

Two important points:

• Do you really want to know what that sentence means?

• Okay, look, the thing I still can’t figure out about the phantom candidate conspiracy theory is why. Still, though, it occurs to wonder at the actual reason Donald Trump has every appearance of trying to destroy the Republican Party. The bizarre bits and pieces we hear about Chris Christie seem nearly emblematic. Whatever hell the New Jersey governor’s reputation had already discovered one wonders at the penance of such humiliation in Donald Trump’s shadow. That the Republican nominee apparent is so vicious is beyond doubt, but what does Mr. Christie think he’s doing? Or Republicans, for that matter? The RNC, many congressional Republicans, and various prominent voices in the conservative discourse seemed to shrug and roll, shuffling in line behind their party’s primary winner. And then what happened? Look at what Donald Trump is doing to conservatives. This is astounding. This is unimaginable. This is your Republican Party, and if it wasn’t for the fact that they were Republicans we probably ought to pity them right about now. I mean, sure, for a lot of the rest of us our diverse grievances against and disputes with Donald Trump are pretty clear, but what the hell did the GOP do to piss him off this badly?

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Kaczynski, Andrew. “Scott Brown Says He Won’t Fetch Trump’s McDonalds Like Christie (Reportedly) Did”. BuzzFeed. 15 June 2016.

A Monday Tease

Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, appears on Face the Nation in 2014. (CBS News)

“Well, if Bill Kristol has a memo, what could possibly go wrong?”

Steve Benen

The only real question is whether you really want to know. Yeah. One of those.

Benen’s sketch is pretty straightforward: Bill Kristol, third party, Tom Coburn, Rick Perry, some sarcasm here, the RNC there, and the question remains whether or not you really want to know.

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Image note: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, appears on Face the Nation in 2014. (Detail of frame from CBS News)

Benen, Steve. “Anti-Trump forces start eyeing possible third-party candidates”. msnbc. 21 March 2016.

The Republican Message

"Meet Merrick Garland" ― Detail from screenshot of GOP.com.

Let’s talk about messaging.

Okay, we get that President Obama is the big bad villain and all that, but am I the only person who noticed that the GOP “oppo dump” against Judge Merrick Garland, besides being utterly flaccid, is filed under “Hillary Clinton”?

(sigh)

Here. Consider this note, please, from Greg Sargent, offered a couple days before the president nominated Judge Garland:

Republican operatives will “vet that person and put their real record on display.” Ideally, of course, this is what would happen if the Senate were to hold hearings on that person. But that might afford the nominee a chance to directly respond to his or her Republican cross-examiners in a high profile setting (as opposed to only having Democratic groups mount all the pushback, which of course they will also do, once there is a nominee). Direct exchanges between the nominee and Republican Senators, alas, might reflect well on that person. And so the only “vetting” and examination of the nominee’s “real record” will be undertaken through the RNC and associated GOP-aligned groups.

That’s not meant as sarcasm. It’s the actual Republican party-wide position right now. Remember, Senate Republicans themselves have told reporters that they don’t want to hold hearings explicitly because it would risk drawing the wrong kind of media attention to the nominee, thus making it harder politically for GOP Senators — particularly vulnerable incumbents facing reelection in states carried by Obama — to oppose that person later.

It also seems a good time to reiterate Stuart Rothenberg’s recent reflection on this year’s U.S. Senate races. No, really. Trying to tie it all together is an exercise in futility, because it’s almost like a harm reduction scheme implemented in advance of scheduled self-harm. And, yes, that sentence is supposed to read so ridiculously; that’s kind of the problem.

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Image note: Detail of screenshot from GOP.com, taken 19 March 2016.

Republican National Committee. “Meet Merrick Garland”. GOP.com. 16 March 2016.

Rothenberg, Stuart. “Dem Senate Takeover Probable, If Cruz or Trump Nominee”. Rothenblog. Roll Call. 13 March 2016.

Sargent, Greg. “In Supreme Court fight, Republicans lead with their chins”. The Washington Post. 14 March 2016.