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Image courtesy of Washington PostTaking as read that Bill Kristol is evil and that he’s wrong about everything, the three legitimatish reasons you, a mainstream media organization, hire him to provide commentary are as follows:

  1. He’ll create “buzz”.
  2. He’ll inoculate you from charges of liberal bias. “Hey, we hired Bill Kristol, after all! You can’t say we’re liberal.”
  3. He has lots of sources in conservative politics and could thus bring valuable insights to your viewers.

The problem with Kristol is, while these might be true of some conservative commentators, they’re hardly true of Kristol. Point one has been tried, with his New York Times column from six years ago. He wrote there for a year and I have a hard time recalling anything he actually wrote at the paper, and they let him go after one year when his contract was up, which rarely happens with the Times op-ed page, though arguably it should happen much more often. Point two has also been tried many times, notably with CNN’s dubious hiring of Erick Erickson. The problem is that “charges of liberal bias” aren’t something you inoculate yourself against. This argument has become far too important to conservatives to ever think of modifying or giving up the argument that the media is blatantly and hopelessly biased against them. Too many peoples’ livelihood depends upon this being widely accepted on the right. Obviously, the basic premise of FOX News is that conservatives need their own media apparatus because of this bias, so that bias must continue to exist in order for FOX News to exist. If there were clear and transparent criteria for MSM outlets to meet to be deemed “unbiased,” and media outlets met them, how would FOX be able to continue to market itself that way? How would conservative talk radio? I get that media outlets highly value the impression that they are thoroughly unbiased and objective, but so long as the conservative media marketplace remains as lucrative as it is–and as trusted as it is among conservatives, which is to say nearly unanimously–they will not be able to get this from the right. Obviously, the best thing for these outlets to do would simply be to accept this as fact and simply try to report news as factually as possible, but in reality they have had a hard time giving up on the dream of regaining FOX viewers, hence stuff like Lara Logan’s embarrassing BENGHAZI! revelation that revealed nothing, and which only hurt CBS’s brand in news even more.

The third point requires a bit more analysis. On the surface, it’s true that Bill Kristol could bring unique insights to ABC’s viewers. Problem is, he’s a terrible commentator because he’s not disinterested. Kristol frequently uses “disinterested” commentary to push the causes of politicians he likes and that he’s invested in. Throughout 2007 and 2008, he wouldn’t shut up about Sarah Palin, though nobody much was interested in her until his longtime pal John McCain selected her for his vice presidential candidate. Kristol also managed to have one of his faves named the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012. Kristol has a habit of using theoretically disinterested commentary to push the interests of himself and his allies, which means that if he were to say on-air something like, “Tom Cotton is the future of the Republican Party,” informed observers would be forced to wonder whether this is because Kristol has been speaking to some of his high-level sources and getting the lay of the land, or that it’s because he’s a close friend and ally to Cotton and thus in his interest for Cotton to be thought of this way. (Also, betting on Tom Cotton being the 2016 Republican vice presidential nominee seems like a sound bet given recent history.) This essentially makes him worthless as a commentator on the conservative universe since he has proven over and over again that he’s incapable of avoiding conflicts of interests where his friends and allies are involved, and since he’s terrible at commentating about mainstream politics, you have to ask yourself why ABC would hire him. One suspects because he’s part of the politics “club” in D.C. and thus automatically worth hearing from in the minds of media executives, in which case it’s hard to believe their whole edifice is crumbling.

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Hope your week was better than Chris Christie’s.

A brief look at the ol’ Presidential Approval Minus Rasmussen Chart, courtesy of TPM Polltracker:

approvals

Now, obviously, there are two ways of interpreting this. The first way is that the worst of it is behind us, that at his lowest point Obama was at -12 and now he’s at -6, so if the trend continues 2014 might not be such a disaster. The second way is that even three months after the healthcare.gov issues–a time period which has included Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, MLK Day, and numerous other social and cultural controversies, he’s still polling anemically and while healthcare.gov appears to have been a debt ceiling-sized debacle in terms of the president’s numbers, this time he doesn’t have a clown-car Republican primary and several hundred million dollars of paid advertising to help him rebound. On the first hand, the economy is a lot better than it was three months after the debt ceiling, so all things being equal, presidential approval should eventually rebound a bit higher. On the second hand, all things are not equal, and that the approvals are still so bad might reflect permanent damage done to the public’s opinion of Obama as a manager. Or might not.

What would be unprecedented would be if Obama met the 2014 midterm elections with, say, 50-42 approval/disapproval. As you can see from the chart outside of “getting” America’s greatest enemy, or the aftermath of a presidential election, Obama has not really been able to consistently post those kinds of numbers. Obviously, the economic problems have not entirely gone away, particularly problems relating to employment. But the overall picture has improved, and the American public has not seemed very inclined to credit Obama much for it. Bit of a problem for those of us who don’t want to see Republicans win any more power this year.

I really wish I knew why President Barack Obama is so obsessed with exploiting as much dirty energy as he possibly can. Obviously Obama has done some things to help the climate but he’s also done any number of things to hurt it, and the end result is sort of an inchoate mess that’s annoyed everyone as well it should. Here’s Jeffrey Bell on the basic problem of his “all of the above” strategy:

That tension is the conflict between those who want to make the nation’s energy system more self-reliant—or, to quote another Washington standby, to make the U.S. “energy independent”—and those who want to make the nation’s energy system less carbon-intensive. Domestic coal, oil, and natural gas are, by definition, American. But, at least compared to renewable energy, they’re not, in the sense of their carbon-dioxide emissions, “clean.” [...]

And, despite regulatory moves on the climate, the Obama Administration has been resource extraction’s friend:

This past August, as the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevadas was burning in Yosemite National Park, where John Muir invented modern environmentalism, the Bureau of Land Management decided to auction 316 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River basin. According to the Center for American Progress, the emissions from that sale will equal the carbon produced from 109 million cars.

Even on questions you’d think would be open-and-shut, the administration has waffled. In November, for instance, the EPA allowed Kentucky to weaken a crucial regulation, making it easier for mountaintop-removal coal mining to continue. As the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles said, “It’s dismaying that the Obama administration approved something even worse than what the Bush administration proposed.”

And what have they gotten for their troubles:

Coal country is fuming. In December, Senator Mitch McConnell held what he called a “pro-coal listening session” in the town of Pikeville, Kentucky to give his constituents a chance to vent about the administration’s “War on Coal,” as he put it in a statement. “Yes, we need an ‘all of the above’ strategy to develop our domestic energy sources. But coal provides 40 percent of the country’s electricity and over 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity,” McConnell said in the statement. He added: “Clearly this administration—with its radical regulatory ideology—wants to eliminate coal as a viable fuel source and they don’t care who it hurts.”

Given that resource extraction industries tend to be big Republican backers–particularly dirty energy types–what payoff could there possibly be for this? Not politically, since you’ll never out-whore the Bush Administration on energy. Sure, there are a few Dems around (*cough Mary Landrieu) who are big oil boosters, but there are also a few Democrats who oppose abortion and you hardly see Obama giving them this kind of substantive ground. So why has he been so flaky on such important stuff?

  1. The overwhelming pattern of Obama is to give ground on things in order to build good will. See: healthcare, stimulus, debt ceiling, et al. Some call it poor negotiating, which it is, but typically it’s more a desperation move to try to get something to happen. I’m sure we all recall the Administration’s silly idea that ramping up deportations would make Republicans more sympathetic to immigration reform. Believing that a massive dirty energy surge might make oil and coal CEOs more receptive to climate change regs seems well-founded in his governing M.O., and it’s been about as successful as in all those other cases. See: the McConnell quote, which seems to be pretty common in coal country.
  2. It could be about JOBS! Maybe. That actually would make the most sense. Keystone XL has largely been sold as creating jobs, after all. But that’s the sales job: nobody in Washington really seems to care about unemployment except as a political football, and it would not be rational if Obama both believed in the urgency of climate change as a long-term problem and heightened the problem just for a couple thousand short-term jobs. This would require embodying some serious multitudes.
  3. Other possibilities include the popular in some quarters theme that Obama has simply been captured by rich people and does their bidding (which I think is true in certain specific cases but I don’t accept generally) or that Obama was always a lousy environmentalist, which I don’t really accept, as his much stronger climate plan was the major reason I supported him in the first place in 2008.

Of course, the most likely option is the first: Obama’s governing strategy, time and again, has been to try to reach out to right-wing interests, make conspicuous sacrifices in hopes of bringing them into the mainstream fold, and then moderation and collaboration will reign supreme. It should be noted that this strategy has never, not even once, worked: GETTING THE DANG BORDER UNDER CONTROL! hasn’t made immigration reform any more likely, it’s just pissed off Hispanics and emboldened Republicans who can argue that he’s nicked their idea, and that they’re winning. Filling the stimulus with tax cuts earned no Republican votes, it just made the stimulus less effective. I tend not to think that Obama is evil or a secret plant, merely that his ideas on how to approach politics are so consistently, incredibly wrong that it just seems that way.

I really wish I knew why President Barack Obama is so obsessed with exploiting as much dirty energy as he possibly can. Obviously Obama has done some things to help the climate but he’s also done any number of things to hurt it, and the end result is sort of an inchoate mess that’s annoyed everyone as well it should. Here’s Jeffrey Bell on the basic problem of his “all of the above” strategy:

That tension is the conflict between those who want to make the nation’s energy system more self-reliant—or, to quote another Washington standby, to make the U.S. “energy independent”—and those who want to make the nation’s energy system less carbon-intensive. Domestic coal, oil, and natural gas are, by definition, American. But, at least compared to renewable energy, they’re not, in the sense of their carbon-dioxide emissions, “clean.” [...]

And, despite regulatory moves on the climate, the Obama Administration has been resource extraction’s friend:

This past August, as the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevadas was burning in Yosemite National Park, where John Muir invented modern environmentalism, the Bureau of Land Management decided to auction 316 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River basin. According to the Center for American Progress, the emissions from that sale will equal the carbon produced from 109 million cars.

Even on questions you’d think would be open-and-shut, the administration has waffled. In November, for instance, the EPA allowed Kentucky to weaken a crucial regulation, making it easier for mountaintop-removal coal mining to continue. As the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles said, “It’s dismaying that the Obama administration approved something even worse than what the Bush administration proposed.”

And what have they gotten for their troubles:

Coal country is fuming. In December, Senator Mitch McConnell held what he called a “pro-coal listening session” in the town of Pikeville, Kentucky to give his constituents a chance to vent about the administration’s “War on Coal,” as he put it in a statement. “Yes, we need an ‘all of the above’ strategy to develop our domestic energy sources. But coal provides 40 percent of the country’s electricity and over 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity,” McConnell said in the statement. He added: “Clearly this administration—with its radical regulatory ideology—wants to eliminate coal as a viable fuel source and they don’t care who it hurts.”

Given that resource extraction industries tend to be big Republican backers–particularly dirty energy types–what payoff could there possibly be for this? Not politically, since you’ll never out-whore the Bush Administration on energy. Sure, there are a few Dems around (*cough Mary Landrieu) who are big oil boosters, but there are also a few Democrats who oppose abortion and you hardly see Obama giving them this kind of substantive ground. So why has he been so flaky on such important stuff?

  1. The overwhelming pattern of Obama is to give ground on things in order to build good will. See: healthcare, stimulus, debt ceiling, et al. Some call it poor negotiating, which it is, but typically it’s more a desperation move to try to get something to happen. I’m sure we all recall the Administration’s silly idea that ramping up deportations would make Republicans more sympathetic to immigration reform. Believing that a massive dirty energy surge might make oil and coal CEOs more receptive to climate change regs seems well-founded in his governing M.O., and it’s been about as successful as in all those other cases. See: the McConnell quote, which seems to be pretty common in coal country.
  2. It could be about JOBS! Maybe. That actually would make the most sense. Keystone XL has largely been sold as creating jobs, after all. But that’s the sales job: nobody in Washington really seems to care about unemployment except as a political football, and it would not be rational if Obama both believed in the urgency of climate change as a long-term problem and heightened the problem just for a couple thousand short-term jobs. This would require embodying some serious multitudes.
  3. Other possibilities include the popular in some quarters theme that Obama has simply been captured by rich people and does their bidding (which I think is true in certain specific cases but I don’t accept generally) or that Obama was always a lousy environmentalist, which I don’t really accept, as his much stronger climate plan was the major reason I supported him in the first place in 2008.

Of course, the most likely option is the first: Obama’s governing strategy, time and again, has been to try to reach out to right-wing interests, make conspicuous sacrifices in hopes of bringing them into the mainstream fold, and then moderation and collaboration will reign supreme. It should be noted that this strategy has never, not even once, worked: GETTING THE DANG BORDER UNDER CONTROL! hasn’t made immigration reform any more likely, it’s just pissed off Hispanics and emboldened Republicans who can argue that he’s nicked their idea, and that they’re winning. Filling the stimulus with tax cuts earned no Republican votes, it just made the stimulus less effective. I tend not to think that Obama is evil or a secret plant, merely that his ideas on how to approach politics are so consistently, incredibly wrong that it just seems that way.

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I finished up reading Gabe Sherman’s book about Roger Ailes last night. It was fascinating and addictive as a read, and valuable in terms of the information it provided, even if it oversold Ailes’s political power a bit. Still, inevitably, it leaves some gaps. Ailes’s transition from a moderate, civil rights-supporting Republican in the 1960s and ’70s to a racebaiting right-winger in the 1980s made some sense–he moved from fields (television and the theater) where he was inevitably exposed to different points of view, to the field of right-wing media and political consulting where he wasn’t and could abstract all liberals much more easily. Still, the ever-increasing paranoia of his later years seems a different phenomenon entirely, one which isn’t explained by the actual narrative of his life presented in the book. I wondered about that a bit. Was it a factor of wealth and success alienating him from others, something psychological, or what? Of course, completely explaining a person is not possible, and any attempt will be include gaps. Shining a light and uncovering bits and pieces is the best you can do, and Sherman’s book finds a lot.

Ultimately, though, the story is all too familiar: decent guy corrupted by power and money, until he ends up pitiable, isolated, wealthy and powerful but without a whole lot of humanity visibly left. The stuff about his (failed) attempts to become the boss of the small town in New York where he chose to live–and attempting to use FOX tricks on his neighbors–are the most damning, they show a hilariously short-tempered man of privilege who falls to pieces when he doesn’t get his way on everything, caught in a vicious circle of paranoia followed by abandonment followed by paranoia. The whole thing is extremely reminiscent of Citizen Kane in numerous ways. A man who pulls out all the trees on his property because he’s afraid of leftist guerrilla teams attacking his home and wants to be able to see them coming is living in a pretty terrifying world, one to which he’s offered a passport to millions via FOX News. Someone with his talents could have accomplished much of value, rather than indifferently smearing people and commoditizing hatred and fear, and above all, making it as hard as possible for a divided America to have any kind of civil discussion about anything. It’s so sad to see someone live a life so accomplished but just so largely wasted.

Lev filed this under: ,  

I finished up reading Gabe Sherman’s book about Roger Ailes last night. It was fascinating and addictive as a read, and valuable in terms of the information it provided, even if it oversold Ailes’s political power a bit. Still, inevitably, it leaves some gaps. Ailes’s transition from a moderate, civil rights-supporting Republican in the 1960s and ’70s to a racebaiting right-winger in the 1980s made some sense–he moved from fields (television and the theater) where he was inevitably exposed to different points of view, to the field of right-wing media and political consulting where he wasn’t and could abstract all liberals much more easily. Still, the ever-increasing paranoia of his later years seems a different phenomenon entirely, one which isn’t explained by the actual narrative of his life presented in the book. I wondered about that a bit. Was it a factor of wealth and success alienating him from others, something psychological, or what? Of course, completely explaining a person is not possible, and any attempt will be include gaps. Shining a light and uncovering bits and pieces is the best you can do, and Sherman’s book finds a lot.

Ultimately, though, the story is all too familiar: decent guy corrupted by power and money, until he ends up pitiable, isolated, wealthy and powerful but without a whole lot of humanity visibly left. The stuff about his (failed) attempts to become the boss of the small town in New York where he chose to live–and attempting to use FOX tricks on his neighbors–are the most damning, they show a hilariously short-tempered man of privilege who falls to pieces when he doesn’t get his way on everything, caught in a vicious circle of paranoia followed by abandonment followed by paranoia. The whole thing is extremely reminiscent of Citizen Kane in numerous ways. A man who pulls out all the trees on his property because he’s afraid of leftist guerrilla teams attacking his home and wants to be able to see them coming is living in a pretty terrifying world, one to which he’s offered a passport to millions via FOX News. Someone with his talents could have accomplished much of value, rather than indifferently smearing people and commoditizing hatred and fear, and above all, making it as hard as possible for a divided America to have any kind of civil discussion about anything. It’s so sad to see someone live a life so accomplished but just so largely wasted.

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