A new study  by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation confirms [that] the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan would result in six out of ten seniors paying substantially more for the same Medicare benefits they receive today.
- GOP pol spreads a lie; and people listen.
- Fancy fact-checker fact-checks; and none of the “low information voters” who matter pay attention.
Isaac Chotiner has an issue with the volume of Pussy Riot coverage:
I don’t want to undercut the reporters who have chronicled Russia’s long, miserable record on free speech. Locking up a band for criticizing the president, or the church, is terrible. But I can’t help but think there’s something a little off-kilter in the sheer amount of attention Pussy Riot is getting. The coverage is morphing into the human-rights equivalent of the blanket coverage afforded to the lone white girl who goes missing on a tropical vacation.
Of course, you can’t measure every story by whether it is more or less outrageous than the slaughter of 22 bus passengers who happened to come from the wrong religious sect. But the media frenzy does make me think that for many people in the news business, the story of the band is appealing in large part because of its name and the camera-friendliness of its members–not to mention the celebrity of Pussy Riot defenders like Madonna, Sting, and Paul McCartney.
No doubt the latter point is a big part of the volume of coverage, but I think this complaint is misguided. The reason why all this coverage is happening is because the story is pretty easy to explain, it has deep and obvious political implications, and is incredibly, almost comically, unjust. It shows so much about the Putin regime, both the brutality and the insecurity behind it, the shambles of a justice system and the lack of liberal institutions in Russia generally. And those three young women are at the center of the story doesn’t hurt in drawing attention.
I do believe that America ought to maintain good relations with Russia, as well as with every other government that we can. But at the same time, it’s not exactly a great place to live, as Masha Gessen and others have compellingly argued. Putin’s regime isn’t the worst in the world, but it is a living hell for a lot of people, and this story draws awareness to some significant details of the picture. I would argue it’s the watershed moment that has eluded Putin’s critics for years, the moment where the rest of the world realizes exactly who this man is. Plus, the notion that there are so many other stories about human rights activists and dissidents being squashed by attention to Pussy Riot is laughable, it’s probably just replacing another story about Paul Ryan’s washboard abs. The media simply has no interest in this stuff unless there’s a damn strong hook to it, and fortunately this time there are several. It’s telling that the only other successful attempt at popular awareness of human rights violations in recent memory is the Kony 2012 campaign, a viral video that media sources had to catch up with. Only the Kony 2012 people sweetened the story to be more easily absorbed, which is not really the case here. This is, much as nobody wants to hear it, an example of the media doing something right.
This got some attention yesterday, but I wanted to add something to it:
But what is most striking about the contest is not just the negativity or the sheer volume of attack ads raining down on voters in swing states. It is the sense that all restraints are gone, the guardrails have disappeared and there is no incentive for anyone to hold back. The other guy does it, so we’re going to do it, too.
Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his vice presidential running mate seemed like an opportunity for both sides to pause and reset after one of the ugliest weeks of the year. Instead, this week has produced the harshest rhetoric and the angriest accusations of the campaign. [...]
Both Romney and Obama talk about this campaign being about big choices. That’s certainly true, given the candidates’ opposing worldviews. But fear and anger motivate each side’s activists. Partisans imagine the worst will happen if the other side wins. That, in turn, animates the strategies unfolding now.
I do think it’s true that “all restraints are gone,” but what’s more interesting about that is that it’s Democrats and liberals who are tolerant, if not enthusiastic, of tough-knuckled attacks against Republicans that eight years ago might have sent many to feinting couches. I think that’s the more interesting story here, one I have yet to see thoroughly reported, though one obvious theory presents itself: Democrats are simply furious at Republicans for adopting and out-and-out rejectionist stance toward Obama; for heh-indeeding hateful and easily-debunked conspiracy theories regarding his place of birth, parentage, ideology, and career accomplishments; and for engineering much of the climate that exists today, for the sole reason of defeating Obama. This is a form of blowback, ultimately, and one that is hard to argue isn’t merited by the past few years. And it’s been devastatingly effective in dismantling Romney’s campaign–arguably at this point, it’s merely the crummy economy keeping things competitive for Romney.
The reason why this election is this way doesn’t take much in terms of sophisticated explanation: it’s a close race in which the public isn’t incredibly enthusiastic about either candidate. The basics therefore point to a campaign much like this one. I don’t think it’s illegitimate for partisans to emphasize the consequences of the other side’s victory, it seems just as valid as anything else. Especially when one considers that the likelihood of a transitional next for years is minor: an Obama second term would probably greatly resemble the past two years (not counting the outside chance that Democrats retake the House), and Romney has never shown any taste for controversial, tough-minded stands (indeed, he’s ruled out massive spending cuts right off the bat), so it’s clear that neither side really wants to talk much about what they would do because the answer is basically nothing. Doesn’t mean the choice doesn’t matter–just think about HHS Secretary Rick Santorum getting to write regulations on contraception mandates–but it does inject a dreariness into the campaign, to be sure.
The truth is that the column itself isn’t very problematic–it’s factual, if a bit sanctimonious in tone. But the basic premise is wrong here. The notion that elections ought to be “conversations” with the purpose to educate is seriously misguided. I can see why the fallacy persists, but let’s be honest here. Education is someone giving you something, namely knowledge. An election is someone asking you for something, namely, your consent to exercise power on your behalf. These are separate things, indeed, nearly opposite things. I can see the idea that elections ought to be an outlet for educating voters, what with all that money flying around on media purchases, but that sort of thing would get in the way of the actual things campaigns are supposed to do, which is why it doesn’t happen. Educating the voters ought to be the province of the media, ultimately. That is their job. Possibly the biggest problem with this way of thinking is that the public conversation doesn’t end–if anything, it’s stronger in non-election times than otherwise. Election campaigns actually tamp down on the public debate because they reduce it to a small number of issues that intersect with all manner of PR ephemera and random circumstances, and our grotesquely long election cycles have become a drag on American civil society. For example, marriage equality has made enormous inroads over the past decade, but it hasn’t been due to election campaigns. Instead, personal persuasion appears to be mostly accountable for the shifts. Most other countries are able to handle all this election stuff in a couple of weeks, but America weirdly continues to drag it out for over a year. That should be changed in the interest of democracy, though I have little expectation it will.
I haven’t written about the tragic shooting in Aurora, Co. I really can’t think of much to say about it, so I’ll go ahead and move on to the tangentially related story of reactions to it. This shooting has been especially bizarre in that the main media narrative hasn’t been whether or not we should have more gun control to avoid more things like this happening, but whether having a conversation about it should happen. I have to admit that the right-wing did some masterful work here in rapidly boxing Democrats in on this issue. Somewhat less effective, though, in convincing the public that the left is the side politicizing the issue when the right has rushed so rapidly to politicize it. I always try to imagine what a politically disengaged person will think about political controversies and current events, and if they were paying attention, I tend to think that a deadly shooting, followed immediately afterward by right-wingers blaming the victims or gun control regulations (thanks, Rep. Gohmert!), somehow, just isn’t going to sit well with them. It’s bizarre, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s evidence of a faction too used to being on the attack, relentlessly beating back threats, that it can’t hold back and take the prudent course. And then there’s this, via the Maddow Blog:
Apparently Warren has done some hedging since then–he’s a bit more image-conscious than a Pat Robertson–but no matter. What this is, basically, is an attempt to shut down public debate. There’s no way to respond to this logically, because it makes no sense. Europe has far less religious observance than America, for example, but not a higher level of indiscriminate violence (Anders Breivik notwithstanding, though that sort of proves the rule). The point isn’t to win an argument, it’s to ensure that no argument takes place. To turn this issue into another emotionally charged culture war skirmish, with the same old dynamics. That’s where they’re comfortable.
Thing is, though, that the right-wing response to Aurora hasn’t really depressed me. It’s actually reaffirmed my belief that the right-wing is in decline in America. Factions that are vibrant don’t try to shut down debates, they try to win them. But virtually every media institution on the right tries to keep debates from happening, and they’ve developed a number of sophisticated techniques to do it. Of course, the combination of opportunism, media manipulation, and a bad economy has given the right-wing a new chance to do the same old things, but the best you can hope for with this type of strategy is to bottle up these debates and the inevitable changes that come with them. Southern conservatives, after all, managed successfully for decades to avoid having a real debate about civil rights, but in retrospect their actions were clearly just delaying tactics (and, actually, were recognized as such by those doing them).
This is from a few days ago, via:
Glenn Kessler is a fact checker. His official job is to evaluate whether politicians’ claims are true or not. But this suggests he sees his job as not evaluating whether the Bain outsourcing claims are true, but what the motivations are for people disclosing them. That’s not his remit, folks. He is a fact-checker. And even if the SEC Commissioner was providing the information out of a sense of partisan gain, so what? Doesn’t make it any more or less factual. Does Deep Throat now retroactively not count because he wasn’t really Henry Kissinger? And his complete black-and-white view of the matter doesn’t suit the complications of the issue, I agree entirely with this.
I remember reading a book by the guy who took over IBM in the mid-90s, Lou Gerstner. IBM was in serious trouble when he took over–its core PC business was pretty much toast–so he turned it into a service-oriented company instead (his successor even sold the PC business later on). He talked about how the biggest obstacle to this transformation was the culture of IBM, how certain ways of doing things–which had once been good, smart ideas–wound up becoming calcified dogma so that they became an end in themselves, even if they didn’t work. People forgot that they were just ideas that people had to solve specific problems. Bipartisan balance in the press is much like this. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was a sign of professionalism, of having abandoned the nasty, dubious, self-interested partisan practices of yesteryear. (And, of course, the parties basically agreed on everything, so there wasn’t much of a downside!) But as the decades have passed, and several generations of newspeople have come of age imbued with the amber glow of balance, it’s gone from being a best practice sort of thing to an end in itself. Kessler’s hilarious obliviousness just shows how D.C. journalists can’t really make an argument for balance because it’s not something that journalists argue about. It’s like gravity, it’s just there. Problem is, the nation and the media are in very different places now than they were during Eisenhower’s era–the nonpartisan, mainstream media is being edged out by opinionated news and commentary. Its level of trust has been on decline for as long as I’ve been alive, and it’s only getting worse. These are the problems. But the ideology of this crowd is not fixing the problem–the mainstream media has, if anything, become even more obsessed with balance in recent years, and it hasn’t fixed the decline. I do not believe the public only wants opinion and commentary, but whatever they want from the news, the media simply isn’t providing it. This is a group that desperately needs to question its assumptions and to do some soul-searching right away, because what it’s doing just isn’t working, and every Glenn Kessler is just one more brick in the wall. I have zero confidence they will do this, though–being as Thomas Mann and Norm Ormstein were completely ignored for suggesting that Republicans have manipulated Washington to their advantage, this generation of journalists shows little ability for introspection or often even critical thought, so the decline will continue, little by little, because they’re unwilling to listen and too comfortable with the boundaries of their world to change. Yup, it’s like an ersatz version of late-period The Sopranos.
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