Viebeck gets it (almost) right!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017

Maddow keeps pouring it on:
We thought about reviewing the Maddow Shows of the past two nights, in which a certain cable news star extended the culture of embellishment which has long since swamped her program.

There's a bag of squirrels inside this particular cable star's head, and the squirrels inside that bag just won't let her go. That said, reports about Maddow's constant embellishments can take a long time to formulate on an otherwise promising Saturday.

Let's look at Elise Viebeck's news report instead.

Viebeck's report appeared in Thursday morning's Washington Post. She addressed a nagging question, a question cable pundits have spent the past week avoiding:

Why do Republicans have to pass the Cassidy-Graham "health reform" bill by next Friday or not pass it at all? What sort of magic occurs on that particular date?

We thought Viebeck did a good job addressing this widely-glossed question. Near the start of her report, she formulated the question as shown below:
VIEBECK (9/21/17): [Republican leaders] face the challenge of persuading 50 people in the Senate to support [the bill] before the end of the month, which would set the stage for Vice President Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote.

There are many questions surrounding this process. But the timing is perhaps the chief source of confusion among congressional observers. Why is it necessary to pass the health-care bill by Oct. 1? Why do Republicans say they have to act in the next 11 days?
What kind of carriage turns into a pumpkin on October 1? By what type of necromancy does it take fifty votes to pass the bill now, but sixty votes to pass the bill after that magical date?

We've seen this question glossed on cable about a million times. (Explanations are boring, and hard! Speculation is fun!) We thought Viebeck, in her news report, (almost) got it right.

What happens on October 1? How does a need for fifty votes turn into a need for sixty?

You're asking a very good question. Among other things, Viebecks blames the folderol on "arcane Senate procedure," on the Senate's "mind-bending rules," on a ruling by the parliamentarian and on "conventional Senate wisdom."

Here's the releveant text from Viebeck's report, which left us with a few unanswered questions:
VIEBECK: The answer lies in a combination of Republican legislative strategy, arcane Senate procedure and ordinary partisan divisions.

[...]

McConnell and other Republicans can thank themselves for the deadline, which arose from their effort to pass health-care legislation without Democratic votes.

This is where the arcane Senate procedure comes in.

The Sept. 30 deadline exists because of a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows some fiscal measures to pass without the usual 60 votes. Republicans set this process in motion at the beginning of the year, when they passed a budget bill that included instructions for two committees to begin work on health-care legislation with the goal of saving federal revenue. By giving the health-care effort a fiscal goal, GOP leaders qualified that legislation to be passed by a simple majority.

But those instructions expire at the end of the fiscal year that’s covered under the budget bill. Senators could always write new instructions into their next budget, but they were planning to use that opportunity to direct a different legislative priority—tax cuts. Conventional Senate wisdom dictates that the chamber may consider only one legislative priority at a time under reconciliation.

Republicans would prefer to face no deadline at all. But these hopes were dashed on Sept. 1, when the Senate parliamentarian, who helps interpret the chamber’s mind-bending rules, said the GOP’s “reconciliation instructions” would end Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year. That is what McConnell mean when he said the opportunity will “expire” at the end of the month.
We're not going to summarize that. You'll have to do so yourself.

That said, we were left with two questions. First:

If reconciliation instructions expire at the end of the fiscal year, why did the Senate parliamentarian have to rule on this matter back on September 1? More significantly:

To what extent can "conventional Senate wisdom" actually "dictate" anything? If there's no explicit, unchangeable rule limiting reconciliation procedures to one topic per fiscal year, why won't McConnell simply brush conventional wisdom aside in the upcoming fiscal year? Why won't he simply say that health reform and tax reform will run on reconciliation?

We were left with that nagging question after reading Viebeck's report. On about a million occasions, we'd been left with incomprehension after watching our cable news stars. (Information is hard!)

Meanwhile, there was Maddow the last two nights, submitting to the many imperatives which seem to emerge from that bag of squirrels.

No one escapes from cable unharmed. Maddow has been transformed into an agent of squirrelly, ongoing distortions, entertainments and cons. We'll plan to give details next week.

Who is Elise Viebeck: She's eight years out of Claremont McKenna. As such, she's a ray of light within an often worrisome group—those youngish high-end reporters.

WHERE THE DEPLORABLES ARE: The Man From Hope!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017

Interlude—The journey away from bountiful:
Long ago and far away, the first Candidate Clinton won the White House. Two times!

He did so when it had started to seem like Democrats would never get there again. In a letter in today's New York Times, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason recalls the documentary she shot as part of that first campaign.

The film appeared in 1992. It was called The Man From Hope.

In fairness, that first Candidate Clinton didn't have to run against Vladimir Putin. He didn't have to run against James B. Comey (Comey the God), who hadn't achieved godlike status yet and hadn't even served his term chasing around in search of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal.

He didn't have to run against Maureen Dowd, who didn't yet have a column. He didn't have to run against years of her previous broken-souled columns.

Alas! Along with everything else, the second Clinton had to run against twenty-four years of demonization and pseudo-scandal. She had to run in the face of the code of silence, according to which the career liberal world had never raised its voice, or really said boo, about all that demonization.

(Dearest darlings, use your heads! Careers had hung in the balance!)

All this being said, the first Candidate Clinton had to run against a pretty fair dose of The Major Dumb too. Much of its came from within the mainstream press, especially at the start of his primary campaign.

This included the invention, by the New York Times, of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, the pseudo-scandal which gave its name to an entire era. It included a lot of silly stuff from a lot of silly people. (He said he didn't inhale!)

In the end, that first candidate prevailed. It's worth recalling some of the ways he managed to do so.

For starters, that film was called The Man From Hope, not Here Come Da Judge. As far as we know, he never offered an estimate of the number of fellow citizens who were deplorable, perhaps irredeemable, and thus on their way to Hell.

He adopted a more hopeful, welcoming tone, especially toward the tens of millions of people whose votes he hoped to attain:

He said we don't have a single person to waste. He said he wanted to work on behalf of people "who work hard and play by the rules."

His official campaign book bore this title: Putting People First. When those early attacks occurred in New Hampshire, he told Granite State voters that he would stand by them, in the face of the economic downturn, "until the last dog dies."

Years later, after two terms in the White House, he discussed his home state's white Pentecostals in his memoir, My Life. He discussed this particular home-state group long before quoting us on page 934, the climax of the book.

Long ago and far away,
we recommended that earlier portion of the first Clinton's book. As we said at the time, we think that portion of his book helps explain how the first Clinton managed to get to the White House.

It also helps us ponder the journey the liberal world has taken since then. It has been a natavistic journey—a trip away from bountiful.

Why was this ex-president talking about his home state's Pentecostals? His rumination started with his honeymoon trip to Haiti, where he and his wife observed voodoo ceremonies.

Why in the world did he bother with that? We'll let that first Clinton explain:
CLINTON (page 237): I describe my brief foray into the world of voodoo because I’ve always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature, and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are gone. Haitians’ understanding of how God is manifested in our lives is very different from that of most Christians, Jews, or Muslims, but their documented experiences certainly prove the old adage that the Lord works in mysterious ways.
He said he was discussing that experience because he's always been fascinated by People Who Aren't Just Like Him!

Shortly after his honeymoo ended, this same first Clinton was campaigning all over Arkansas for the job of attorney general. He soon attended a black church event in which the Reverend Robert Jenkins was inaugurated as pastor of Morning Star Baptist:
CLINTON (page 249): As Robert got into his sermon, the temperature seemed to rise. All of a sudden an older lady sitting near me stood up, shaking and shouting, seized by the spirit of the Lord. A moment later a man got up in an even louder and more uncontrollable state. When he couldn’t calm down, a couple of the churchmen escorted him to a little room in the back of the church that held the church robes and closed the door. He continued to shout something unintelligible and bang against the walls. I turned around just in time to see him literally tear the door off its hinges, throw it down, and run out into the churchyard screaming. It reminded me of the scene at Max Beauvoir’s in Haiti, except that these people believed they had been moved by Jesus.
Already, our modern lizards are loudly complaining about this man's overt racism. In this deeply atavistic reaction, we modern liberals keep displaying our own prehistoric state. We modern liberals know very few things, but we know them amazingly well.

It's at this point in the first Clinton's book that he turns to the Pentecostals. “Not long afterward, I saw white Christians have similar experiences,” he writes, “when my finance officer...invited me to the annual summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, about thirty miles south of Little Rock.”

Clinton describes a life-long interest that grew from that first experience. “I made that summer camp meeting every summer but one between 1977 and 1992,” he writes. “Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestations of the Pentecostals’ faith.”

For the record, we have no religious beliefs ourselves. Beyond that, this first Clinton isn't a Pentecostal.

Still and all, he took great interest in what he saw at those annual retreats. Did we mention the fact that this winning candidate was able to express affection and admiration for—was able to be fascinated by—People Who Weren't Just Like Him?

For Clinton, it wasn’t the ecstatic experiences of these white Pentecostals that mattered the most. In the following passage, we'd say this first Clinton reveals the breadth of spirit and curiosity that help explain how he got to the White House.

We'll highlight the main idea:
CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.
They disagreed with that first Candidate Clinton on abortion and gay rights; they didn't vote for him much. But that first Clinton was able to "like and admire" Those People because of the ways he saw them living their faith.

“Besides being true to their faith, the Pentecostals I knew were good citizens,” he writes. “They thought it was a sin not to vote.” After describing a compromise he reached with Pentecostal ministers about the licensing of church-run child-care centers, Clinton concludes the rumination that began with that trip to Haiti:
CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.
Say what? This first Clinton was able to say that Those People enriched his life!

They didn't vote for this first Clinton much, but he said they'd enriched his life. He didn't tell us how they answered that GSS survey question.

Bill Clinton was portrayed as The Man From Hope. Whatever his shortcomings may have been, he knew how to see the good in Those People, The Others.

He said we didn't have a single one of Those People to waste. He didn't estimate the number of people who were on their way straight to Hell.

Not many years later, a markedly different attitude has seeped through the liberal world.

The second Candidate Clinton was forced to run against twenty-four years of demonization. Those demonizations had worked quite well, in large part because the Chaits, the Maddows, the Marshalls, the Dionnes had persistently let them stand.

She ran and hid in 2012, when they came after Susan Rice and invented the Benghazi narrative. She ran and hid in 2016, when Comey the God unsheathed his terrible swift sword and hardened the email narrative.

We're speaking here of Cable Star Maddow, not of Candidate Clinton. But along the way, the admiring attitude of that first Clinton had given way to the ugly strain in which our tribe turns to cable every night eager to gulp down the tribal gruel in which we're encouraged to dream—Yay yay yay yay!—that They'll all end up jail.

In which we're told that half of Them are headed for Hell. In which we're told it's been proven!

Bill Clinton was advertised as The Man from Hope. Seven years earlier, Geraldine Page had won an Oscar for taking The Trip to Bountiful.

In the years since 1992, we've been on a journey away from that place. We've been trained in a tribal mandate, in which we're required to loathe.

Tomorrow, we'll return to that damning question, the one on the GSS.

Tomorrow: Black and white together!

Another advice column hits the Times!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017

They at the Times want to serve us:
Somehow, we'd managed to miss the debut of the New York Times' latest advice column.

The Times has two such columns in the Sunday magazine—an ethics advice column by Professor Appiah, the Dear Abby of ethics advice, and a spoof advice column by "Dr. John Hodgman," who is either a comedian or a humorist, depending on what source you check.

(By general agreement, a "humorist" is a comedian whose audience isn't drunk.)

Well sir, the Times has also started a weekly advice column in the Thursday Styles section. The column is authored by Cheryl Strayed, "an American memoirist, novelist, essayist and podcast host," and by Steve Almond, "an American short-story writer, essayist and author of ten books." The column seems to have started in July.

The new advice column is called The Sweet Spot; Almond and Strayed are referred to as the Sugars. This begins to suggest a tie between the new advice column and the motto of the amazingly dumb new daily format the Times unveiled this summer for pages A2 and A3:
You are the dumbest people on earth.
We at the Times want to serve you.
Is the new advice column part of an overall dumbing-down, in which the Times is eager to show its willingness to meet us on our own level? We couldn't help wondering when we read the sexy-time letter which occasioned today's advice.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Be sure to note the dumber-than-dumb way the sexy-time letter is addressed:
I Love My Fiancé, but Am Totally Crushing on a Co-Worker

Dear Sugars,

I am a 26-year-old woman and recently engaged.
I struggle with anxiety and so I figure being anxious about my engagement is to be expected, right? My fiancé and I met at work. I'm a server at a restaurant, and he was the manager (he's since moved on to another job). We kept our relationship a secret at first. It was romantic, thrilling, passionate and hot. We'd stay up all night drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. Once we became a couple, we started prioritizing our goals. We eventually moved in together, and our life now revolves around saving money for a house and future family. I'm still in love with him, but there's definitely less sex. Though I couldn't bear to be without him, I also feel more platonic for him than I used to. Is that normal?

A new guy was hired at the restaurant recently, and I'm attracted to him and we flirt. He's the bad-boy type. He asked me to get a drink and I declined, but I told him I had a crush on him. He seemed shocked and thanked me for telling him. Now I'm embarrassed. If I pursued him and my fiancé found out, I'd deeply regret it. I fear I'm going to sabotage my relationship. I've realized this co-worker is a symbol of the lust and passion I don't have anymore. I know I have to move forward, but I miss the past. I'm scared of starting this part of my adult life.

Anxious Fiancée
Yum, but also yay! "Anxious Fiancee" wants to get it on with the new bad-boy type at work! She's asking the Sugars to help!

Is this new column a deliberate part of a general dumbing-down? We decided it was when we read the first sentence of each savant's initial reply to this seeker of good sound advice, who may or may not exist:
Steve Almond: You can do the math here, Anxious.

[...]

Cheryl Strayed: Steve's right that so much of answering this question has to do with figuring out how strongly you feel the sense of loss you describe, Anxious.
Each of the "Sugars" knew enough to nick-name the writer as "Anxious." We suspected that we were looking at a corporate pattern right there.

In theory, it shouldn't matter if a newspaper dumbs two of its first three pages down, then litters its various sections with further tributes to the time-honored gods of The Dumb.

In theory, it shouldn't matter. In practice, given our failing discourse, we feel fairly sure that it does.

WHERE THE DEPLORABLES ARE: All over!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017

Part 4—Now for the rest of the data:
Might Hillary Clinton have won the election last year if she hadn't made her ill-advised comment about (one segment of) the nation's many deplorables?

Everything is possible! Candidate Trump drew an inside straight in the electoral college, thanks to wins by narrow margins in three "Rust Belt" states. In an interview with Jane Pauley earlier this month, Clinton said she didn't think her "deplorables" statement flipped the election's outcome:
PAULEY (9/10/17) There were some memorable verbal gaffes, too.

CLINTON (videotape): You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.

PAULEY: Why do you think that word "deplorable" had been circulating in your mind?

CLINTON: Well, I thought Trump was behaving in a deplorable manner. I thought a lot of his appeals to voters were deplorable. I thought his behavior, as we saw on the Access Hollywood tape, was deplorable. And there were a large number of people who didn't care. It did not matter to them. And he turned out to be a very effective reality TV star in our presidential campaign.

PAULEY: When you said "basket of deplorables," you energized—

CLINTON: No, but they were already energized.

PAULEY: But you offended some people who who didn't personally feel deplorable at all.

CLINTON: Well, I don't—I don't buy that. I don't buy that. I`m sorry I gave him a political gift of any kind.

PAULEY: It was a gift.

CLINTON: But I don't think that was determinative.
Was Clinton's comment "determinative?" We'd guess it probably wasn't, though you can never be sure. But just for the record, Clinton's apparent chronology was a bit shaky in this interview with Pauley, in that her "deplorables" comment preceded the Access Hollywood tape by roughly a month.

(Conservatives have been widely informed about that apparent error in chronology. On conservative sites, this apparent error was characterized as Clinton's latest lie. Needless to say, this is how our brain-dead discourse now works.)

In this interview, Clinton acknowledged that her comment was a "political gift." It just wasn't a big enough gift to have moved a sufficient number of votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she said.

Tomorrow, we'll compare the attitude behind her "deplorables" comment to the attitude behind some comments by her husband, who emerged as the winner of two White House elections. For today, though, we want to focus on her ongoing claim that her "deplorables" comment was actually right on the merits.

Was Clinton actually right when she said that half of Trump's voters were "deplorable/irredeemable?" She seems to make that remarkable claim in this part of her new book:
CLINTON (page 413): When I said, "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables," I was talking about well-documented reality. For example, the General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago found that in 2016, 55 percent of white Republicans believed that blacks are generally poorer than whites "because most just don't have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up and out of poverty." In the same survey, 42 percent of white Republicans described blacks as lazier than whites and 26 percent said they were less intelligent. In all cases, the number of white Democrats who said the same thing was much lower (though still way too high).

Generalizing about a broad group of people is almost always unwise. And I regret handing Trump a political gift with my "deplorables" comment." I know that a lot of well-intentioned people were insulted because they misunderstood me to be criticizing all Trump voters. I'm sorry about that.

But too many of Trump's core supporters do hold views that I find—there's no other word for it—deplorable.
Were half of Trump's supporters "deplorable," possibly "irredeemable?" Remarkably, Clinton has doubled down on that sweeping assertion, absurdly saying that her judgment is a matter of "reality"—of well-documented reality, no less.

The documentation she cites mainly involves responses to an inkblot-style question on last year's General Social Survey (GSS). She cites the percentage of white Republicans who answered that question in the "deplorable" way, but gives the numbers for nobody else.

Today, we thought you ought to consider the way other demographic groups answered that GSS question. This brings us in contact with "well-documented" survey trends which generally get suppressed, at least Over Here in our self-satisfied tribe.

Once more, we'll show you the text of the GSS question at issue. In our view, it's a poorly composed, "inkblot"-style question. In our view, sensible people won't be inclined to answer such questions at all.

That said, the question has been asked as part of the GSS for at least forty years, and it's been widely answered. Here's the question which, according to Clinton, turns a sweeping "political gift" into a matter of "well-documented reality:"
Question from the General Social Survey:
"On the [sic] average (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"
That's the question the GSS asked. Now, let's take a look at the responses they garnred.

Clinton is basically right in the number she cited, perhaps perfectly so. As we noted earlier in the week, this is the way Republican respondents answered that GSS question last year:
Responses by Republicans overall:
Yes: 53.3 percent
No: 42.8 percent
Don't know: 3.9 percent
In last year's GSS survey, 53.3 percent of Republicans answered that question in the affirmative. On the basis of those answers, Clinton has doubled down on the claim that those people are "deplorable," and she seemed to say, last fall, that they're "irredeemable" too.

In her book, she says that condemnation isn't a matter of (rather poisonous) opinion. She says it's simple "reality"—"well-documented" reality at that!

Personally, we find her statement astonishing—astoundingly dumb on the actual merits, amazingly dumb on the politics. We say that in part because we've looked at people's responses to many such questions down through the years, including the wider range of responses to that GSS question last year.

Fifty-three percent of Republicans gave the deplorable answer. Today, for whatever it may be worth, let's examine the way other demographic groups answered that ill-advised question.

Let's start with us the people as a whole. Here's the way three large groups of respondents answered:
Percentage giving the deplorable answer:
All respondents: 41.5 percent
U.S. citizens: 39.7 percent
Democrats: 34.4 percent
For now, let's take the most simple-minded analytical approach. If 53 percent of Republicans are deplorable, it looks like 34 percent of Democrats are deplorable too. So are 40 percent of citizens overall.

Such judgments can always be reached. But at this point, we've already encountered an important piece of "reality"—on the whole, Democrats and Republicans answered that question the same way. There was much more agreement than disagreement among respondents from the two light-v-dark groups.

It's certainly true that fewer Democrats turn out to be deplorable. But if half Trump's voters were deplorable, so were a third of Clinton's. It seems unwise to damn the half without even citing the third.

Certain eternal verities emerge in the fuller data set. As usual, women turn out to be less deplorable than men. Here are the relevant numbers:
Percentage giving the deplorable answer:
Women: 41.1 percent
Men: 41.9 percent
Adopting the most simple-minded interpretation, Clinton finds that 42 percent of men are deplorable, but only 41 percent of women!

Finally, we reach the part of the show which almost always get suppressed by the array of jugglers and clowns who serve as liberal sachems. How did respondents from our three largest "racial" groups answer that GSS question? If we adopt a simple-minded analysis, those heinous white Republicans may not look quite so bad:
Percentage giving the deplorable answer:
Whites: 39.8 percent
Blacks: 46.3 percent
Hispanics: 46.9 percent
As usual, white supremacy rules! Among our three largest "racial" groups, the smallest percentage of white respondents gave the deplorable answer. Just to put these numbers in context, let's sift the data like this:
Percentage giving the deplorable answer:
Republicans: 53.3 percent
Blacks: 46.3 percent
Hispanics: 46.9 percent
Hurray! Republicans are still the most deplorable group. But if we adopt the most straightforward analytical standard, blacks and Hispanics are almost as bad!

At this point, we confront a question which may seem puzzling. Why did almost fifty percent of black respondents answer that survey question in the deplorable manner?

Lizard brains across the country will quickly be able to answer that question in a way which preserves the manifest greatness of Clinton's denunciation of The Others. That said, the most honest answer to that question would be this:
Why did so many black respondents answer that survey question that way?
If you really want to find out, you'll pretty much have to ask them!
At any rate, 46 percent of black respondents gave the deplorable answer! So did 47 percent of Hispanics! Even men are better than that!

By the way:

What did all these people say when they were asked about the ability of other groups to overcome their manifest laziness and work their way out of poverty? As we noted at the start of the week, the GSS didn't ask! Who's deplorable now?

Why did all these people answer that inkblot question in the deplorable way? Tomorrow, we'll ponder that question awhile.

In the meantime, we'll only note this:

In her book, Clinton condemns half of Trump's supporters to Hell based on their response to that GSS question. Almost half of all black respondents answered the same darn way!

Tomorrow: Those Arkansas Pentecostals in an earlier day

Concerning the GSS data we've cited: For starters, you can click on this. After that, you should click on "Table."

From there, you're on your own. Note choices under "Breakdown."