Thursday, February 4, 2010


Kurtz (TPM): Facts and Data Be Damned

I was pulling my hair out this morning reading this Washington Post piece. Titled "Despite his roots, Obama struggles to show he's connected to middle class," it's one of those classics of Washington political journalism where the thesis is unsupported by any hard evidence and where the anecdotal evidence is embarrassingly off-point, irrelevant, or insubstantial -- or, in this case, all three.

But in this case, it's even worse. The Washington Post's own polling data don't just undermine the premise of the piece; they refute it.

The article begins and ends with the usual trope, setting the scene of a President sealed off by the perks of office from the suffering of everyday Americans, but it goes farther than that and asserts that Obama himself is especially disconnected:

It is a tough sell for any president who lives inside what Obama refers to as "the bubble," but tougher still for Obama. His first year in office was defined in part by a paradox. He is a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it.

Then, amidst the cliched Obama anecdotes about arugula and bowling, we get the only hard evidence to support this thesis:

As he arrived in Nashua, nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that his economic policies had hurt the country or made no difference at all; almost half thought he did not understand their problems.

Almost half? Does that mean more than half thought he did understand their problems? Why, yes. Yes, it does. As Greg Sargent points out, the Post's own polling in mid-January shows that 57% of those surveyed agreed that "He understands the problems of people like you." Notably, that number has been above 50 percent for Obama's entire first year in office, including periods above 70 percent last year.

The Post's own polling also asks if Obama "shares your values." That number, too, has remained above 50%, most recently coming in at 55% in mid-January.

At this point, the article falls apart under the weight of its own misinterpreted data and well-worn anecdotes, but there's still room to squeeze in one more bit of Washington conventional wisdom, a homily to that plain-spoken man of the people, George W. Bush:

Those shortcomings were evident last month when Obama invited the previous two presidents to join him at the White House for a news conference about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. George W. Bush was simple and frank: "Just send us your cash," he said. ... In the two weeks since, Obama appears to have learned from his predecessors' trademark strengths.

It's a story that practically writes itself.

A vile vile man ...
Think Progress: Exclusive: Bush Lawyer Debunks Limbaugh’s Claim That Professors Wrote Obama’s Law Articles

In her interview with Rush Limbaugh which aired today, Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson asked the hate radio host what he thought of President Obama’s State of the Union address last week. “The State of Obama speech,” Limbaugh interjected, adding that he thought it “was defensive, petulant, immature, childish, sarcastic. He’s clearly angry, that he’s been rejected.”

Limbaugh — who had called Obama the “affirmative action candidate” during the 2008 campaign — claimed that Obama didn’t do his own work when he was a student:

LIMBAUGH: I think this is the first time in his life that there’s not a professor around to turn his C into an A or to write the law review article for him he can’t write. He’s totally exposed and there’s nobody to make it better. I think he’s been covered for all his life. The fact that his agenda failed this year is the best thing that could have happened to this country.

Sully: Calling The GOP's (And the Dems') Deficit Bluffs

In my view, every single Republican who appears on cable or radio and who complains about the debt and rules out any tax hikes should be directly and specifically asked every single time what they propose to cut. Specifically. Every single time. Equally, every single Democrat who says they want to tackle the debt needs to be asked every single time which taxes they propose raising. Specifically. Every single time. If the journalist looks like an asshole, get over it. It is our job to look like assholes. We are professional assholes. We get paid to be rude. In order to expose the truth.

One reason this country is in a fiscal crisis is that journalists are not doing their job.

They chase ratings and politician "gets" more than they chase the truth. Why did it take the president to expose the Republicans' appalling fiscal record and lack of seriousness on spending rather than the press? Why are these politicians allowed to go on the air without being pressed relentlessly for their actual proposals.

And by relentlessly, I mean - if they fail to answer, or offer vague generalizations, ask again. And again. And again. And again. On air. Refuse to move on. Put them on the spot. Both parties. Every time.

DougJ: Being right counts for nothing

I usually like Matt Yglesias, but I don’t like this kind of thing:

I wrote about “optimism inversion” back in January 2009, noting that over the previous five years liberal commentators had been consistently more pessimistic about the economy than conservative ones. I saw three factors at work:

1. I believe left-wing politics and pessimism are generally correlated traits.

2. Left-of-center commentators are generally smarter than right-of-center ones and pessimism was the correct position.

3. People inclined to be hostile to the incumbent administration are naturally disposed to believe that disaster looms around the corner.

This is one of those things I don’t understand in general: why is it necessary to psychoanalyze people when they arrive at the correct conclusion? We saw this with the war too, where it was claimed that liberals only opposed the war because Bush was for it. Not only were the anti-war people I spoke with smart to be against the war, their arguments against the war were completely correct—“we won’t be greeted as liberators”. Similarly, the pessimism I heard about the economy (from Krugman and from a friend on Wall Street) were of the form “we have a big real estate bubble and it’s going to burst”.

When people not only predict something correctly but also accurately assess the reasons why that something will happen, isn’t it enough to just “they were right” without wondering whether or not they’re naturally pessimistic or ill-disposed to the administration?

I’ll grant that number 2 goes partly to this, but I think the real answer here is that left-wing commentators, to some extent, engaged in reality-based economic prediction while right-wing ones did not. I’m not sure that makes the right-wing ones dumber though: how many of these right-wing commentators lost their jobs?

Reader J.W. emails to let me know about this item from MSNBC's First Read:

Yesterday, we really saw the Obama administration push back against the GOP critiques about 1) trying 9/11 suspected terrorists in civilian courts, and 2) that the alleged Christmas Day bomber stopped talking after he was read his Miranda rights. In fact, it was Maine Sen. Susan Collins -- of all people -- who delivered last weekend's blistering GOP radio address: "Abdulmutallab was questioned for less than one hour before the Justice Department advised him that he could remain silent and offered him an attorney at our expense. Once afforded the protection our Constitution guarantees American citizens, this foreign terrorist 'lawyered up' and stopped talking."

But as NBC reported yesterday, citing officials close to the case, Abdulmutallab has begun talking again. And the methods used to get him to talk, according to the administration, was longstanding FBI practices -- in this case using Abdulmutallab's family. The administration argues that Abdulmutallab would have been less cooperative had he faced an interrogator in a military uniform.

Of course, this won't end the debate; it just adds more nuance to something that it appears is never as black and white as some would like to believe. [emphasis added]

Well, actually, the facts aren't especially nuanced. Susan Collins made a fairly specific claim in a prepared, broadcasted text -- that Obama administration officials questioned an attempted terrorist for less than an hour, and then Abdulmutallab "stopped talking" after being made aware of his rights.

We now know that Collins was simply wrong. Her claims were proven false. She was, by any reasonable definition, either lying or grossly uninformed about her chosen subject. The Obama administration used a specific approach, and it worked just as it was intended to work.

Learning about reality doesn't "add nuance" to a debate, it ends the debate. Two sides made opposite claims, one of them was made to appear foolish by the introduction of additional evidence.

Is it really that hard for a major news outlet to note when a Republican is wrong, even when confronted with obvious evidence that the Republican made demonstrably false claims to the nation?

John Cole: Still Loving You

Love, your love, Just shouldn’t be thrown away. I will be there, I will be there:

McCain appears to shift on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

By Michael D. Shear- Wednesday, February 3, 2010; A09

Three years ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was pretty clear about his stand on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

A former war hero, McCain said he would support ending the ban once the military’s top brass told him that they agreed with the change.

“The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it,” McCain said in October 2006 to an audience of Iowa State University students.

That day arrived Tuesday, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen testifying to senators after President Obama’s announcement that he would seek a congressional repeal of the 15-year-old policy.

Mullen called repealing the policy, which bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving, “the right thing to do” and said he was personally troubled by effectively forcing service members to “lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Gates told the Armed Services Committee, “I fully support the president’s decision.”

In response, McCain declared himself “disappointed” in the testimony. “At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” he said bluntly, before describing it as “imperfect but effective.”

You just gotta love the Kaplan Test Prep Daily and the incessant McCain worship in our media. Why, yes, Mr. Shear, it does “appear” that he has “shifted” on DADT. In much the same way that the sun “appears” to rise in the east, and that John Edwards “appears” to have cheated on his wife, and so on.

Can you imagine for one second if this were Al Gore or John Kerry who had done the complete and total about face on an issue? There would be no such mincing of words about “appearing” to “shift” positions, they would be labeled wishy-washy and unfit to lead and flip-floppers.

Plus, Al Gore is fat. Also, too.

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