Thursday, February 05, 2009

The slow, agonizing death of the American press

Resistance is futile!

Lately I'm sometimes surprised at the stuff I see that I've written down. Like when I talk about our press commentariat as being Pod People from planet Fomalhaut b. And I wonder if the self-editing world of blogging is making me careless and saying completely silly things without intending to.

Then I read something like today's pronouncement from The Dean Of All The Pundits, David Broder, A Cabinet Loss and Gain Washington Post 02/05/09. And I realize that anyone who isn't gobsmacked by the chronic bizarreness of our mainstream pundits must either be not reading or hearing them at all, or else is as clueless about current events as they are. I hate to sound like I'm just cloning Bob "Daily Howler" Somerby's ideas about press problems. But most homo sapiens just don't process the information they receive from the world outside their heads the way our Pod Pundits do.

Whatever talents Dean Broder has - someone remind me again what they once were - helpful political analysis is no longer among them, if it ever was. Apparently, the way terrestrial politics looks to travelers from Fomalhaut b, it's by definition a good thing for a Democratic President to have three Republicans Cabinet members. Saying why those individuals might be good is pretty much irrelevant. Celebrating Sen. Judd Gregg's appointments as Secretary of Commerce, the Dean assures us that "the payoff on Gregg ... will be substantial down the road.".

Grumping that actual news got in the way of the column he was writing to praise Judd to the high heavens, the Dean explains why he so adores this new Republican saint.

Why, he's "one of the smart guys on Capitol Hill," declares the Dean, "especially when it comes to fiscal policy". Why that's going to be a long-term payoff for a Commerce Secretary is not clear. But what has revealed to the Dean's incisive mind Judd's brilliance is this:

Gregg and North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, respectively, have been pushing for the creation of a bipartisan commission that would tackle the looming bankruptcy of the three big entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
I need to brush up on the financing of Medicare and Medicaid, because the Reps, the insurance industry and their marks in the press will be raining down disinformation about them when Obama's main health insurance plan becomes a central issue.

But the notion that Social Security is facing bankruptcy, much less "looming bankruptcy", is so factually false that it's amazing that the Post, which still aspires to be considered part of the quality press, allows even their columnists to make such a claim in their paper.

Whether the Dean's column reads the way it does because he's become a conservative old Republican who wants the world to go back to being the wonderful way he remembers it being when he was a little boy, or because he just drifts with the flow of Beltway conventional wisdom, or because he's just dumb, or some other reason, I don't know.

But he's mad at seeing Daschle, who had indifferent success as leader of the Senate Democrats, go down on the Cabinet post, because "Daschle was the best-credentialed, best-connected Democrat slated for the Cabinet. He was one of the earliest Washington establishment figures to endorse Obama, and he provided from his old staff many of the people who helped Obama rise." (my emphasis) His years an an unofficial lobbyist for the health-care industry made him "a skilled legislative craftsman who made health policy a specialty in recent years".

And the Dean manages to get in a shot at Bill Clinton - they just can't help themselves, it seems - and complain that Daschle's problems were all Obama's fault. "This is a blow to Obama's credibility that will not be easily forgotten," he says, which in PodPunditSpeak means that its now Beltway wisdom that Obama is no longer "credible" - to the Pod Pundits, that is. Gosh, it took five years, massive corruption, torture, and other criminal acts, a needless war of choice in Iraq, the Valerie Plame case, and multiple disastrous failures for the punditocracy to decide that George Bush and Dick Cheney had a credibility gap. I'm just saying.

Broder doesn't seem to give a rip about all this health-care jabber he's hearing from these dang liberal hippies who are all over town now. But he does care a lot about getting rid of those annoying New Deal and Great Society programs that only lazy poor people could possibly care about, i.e., Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The last six paragraphs of his column are devoted to looking forward to the epic fight to send those programs to the dustbin of history. He seems to think Obama is all for that, even though Obama is committed to expanding health care availability, not slashing the current availability. But Obama is going to have to bravely stand up to ... those nasty Democrats, of course:

The problem is likely to be in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains opposed to the [bipartisan] commission idea and where Republicans are adamantly against considering tax hikes along with benefit reductions in any kind of "grand bargain."

It will be a heavy lift, but there are willing hands.
Since "let's set up a commission" is a time-honored political tactic to kick the can down the road, I'm not necessarily concerned about a bipartisan commission on "entitlements" as such. Unless it's staffed exclusively by conservative think-tanks, it will shoot down for the upteenth time the Social Security "looming bankruptcy" nonsense. And whatever dumb ideas it produces for cutting Medicare and Medicaid, Obama and the Dems can just ignore those.

But the economic emergency is making painfully clear how so much of the Establishment press (hey, if Dean Broder can use "establishment" so can I!) cannot deal realistically with urgent political priorities and the events driving them. The Post could outsource its punditry chores to India and Mexico and get better commentary for a lower price.

Because I'm afraid the opposite is beginning to happen, i.e., that our press standards are beginning to catch on in other countries whose publics would then have to suffer as we do.

Like this Spiegel Online commentary datelined Washington by Gabor Steingart, Krisenrezepte: Was Obama von Deutschland lernen kann 05.02.2009. It's basically a recitation of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) economic platitudes, which are conservative, though "conservative" in Germany doesn't mean what the American Republican predator-state version does. Still, it's phoning-it-in style whining that doesn't amount to much more than: balance the budget, keep savings high, both of which are pretty much absolutely worthless in thinking about how to put the American economy on the road to recovery. Oh, and all this New Deal nonsense from the 1930s is what caused the problem anyway. No, it doesn't get dumber than that. Well, except among our own American Pod Pundits.

Has Steingart been assimilated by the Beltway Borg? Tragic to think about.

My advice to our foreign friends: you've seen Bush and Cheney take down the American finance system and most of the world's along with it. The same thing could happen to your press if you let your pundits and reporters become part of the Fomalhaut b cult!

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