Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Fail Whale

Okay, this is going to be my last post on politics for the month. I'm getting burned out on them and this is supposed to be a fun blog to read.

My friend Greg and I have a long running debate about whose governor is worse. I'm living in Jersey, and have Chris Christie and Greg lives in Louisiana and has Bobby Jindal. Greg reserves special animosity for Jindal because Greg teaches at a university down there and Jindal has eviscerated the state higher ed system.

I posted the following on Facebook (Dear Louisiana, I trust you saw Chris Christie's keynote speech last night? How does it feel to have only the second craziest governor in the union? Your move,New Jersey) and included a link to a blog post with a great title dissecting Christie's self-aggrandizing speech, and how he went off-script to promote himself rather than serve in his appointed role as Romney's designated fluffer. The title of the post was a riff on the famous Western, the Outlaw Josey Wales. It was called The Outlaw Jersey Whale.

Artist's representation

When I asked Jen if she had seen my post, she wasn't terribly amused, saying that it would be better to point out the flaws in his policies than it would be to make fun of the man. But here's the thing. No one cares. I could tell them how he's made teachers into villains in my state, how he's about half a step up from a mob lawyer, how he silences his critics through intimidation, how his policies on education (and everything else, really, but especially and specifically education) are short-sighted and destructive. But nobody cares. We're at a point in our discourse where the truth is not enough.

NPR is held to be politically liberal, but I only think that's true insofar as reality has a liberal bias. Meaning the media coverage in this country continues to skew rightward, but NPR has largely resisted that tendency, and, as its position has remained unchanged across the years, the country has shifted around it, much like how John Paul Stevens, appointed by Nixon to the Seventh Circuit and Ford to the Supreme Court, was considered liberal by the standards prevailing in the Court when he retired.

Now, they're certainly not perfect  and the Right has been working the refs for a long time, and NPR capitulates to the pressure more often than I'd like.  Our modern media are terrible. They are so enamored of the idea of themselves as neutral arbiters of the debate that they find it unseemly to call out blatant lies. Dear Nightly News: Abandoning any pretense of analysis,  throwing up your hands and bleating some mealy-mouthed apologia about how "both sides do it" is not reporting. I don't know if I agree with Anne Frank that people are basically good, but I do think we're fundamentally social animals and we don't like upsetting those around us unnecessarily. Of course it's important to be civil to one another. However, this civility should not come at the expense of honesty.  

As Paul Krugman put it: "If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical."

I think one of the most pernicious lies perpetuated by the media is that the truth can be calculated like the arithmetic mean, that it always lies smack in the middle, that if Democrats say the sky is blue and that Republicans say it's red, that we should just agree that it's purple and move on.  As they say, "It's good to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out." Not all claims are equal. Sometimes, people are mistaken. Other times, they lie.

Back to NPR.  They did do a good job dissecting Paul Ryan's speech. They played a sound bite,  the host interjected why this claim was untrue or misleading and then they continued on to next spurious claim.

Compare that to CNN's coverage:

Blitzer: So there he is, the republican vice presidential nominee and his beautiful family there. His mom is up there. This is exactly what this crowd of republicans here certainly republicans all across the country were hoping for. He delivered a powerful speech. Erin, a powerful speech. Although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will. As far as mitt romney’s campaign is concerned, paul ryan on this night delivered.

Burnett: That’s right. Certainly so. We were jotting down points. There will be issues with some of the facts. But it motivated people. He’s a man who says I care deeply about every single word. I want to do a good job. And he delivered on that. Precise, clear, and passionate.

What role are these people supposed to be filling? Are they emcees?! Was Ryan Seacrest unavailable?

Jesus wept.

(And while we're on the subject of Paul "Randroid" Ryan, this joke always makes me laugh: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.")

But back to Christie. He's a thug. He's a bully.  Every one of his actions is calculated to make him more appealing as a candidate in 2016. His speech was empty rhetoric. I could point out all the lies, but he makes them faster than I can correct him. And in these circumstances, politicians deserve to be mocked. They deserve to be ridiculed They lend their claims credibility by cloaking them with gravitas, so how better to strip away that unearned legitimacy than by pointing out how ridiculous those making the claims really are?

I saw an interview with Mel Brooks  that explains my thoughts perfectly.

Q: On the surface, The Producers is simply good, silly fun. But do you take personal pleasure in the subversive element of making fun of Nazis? There are Nazi jokes in many of your movies.

A: Yeah. If you can make them seem foolish and silly, then you’ve won. But if you get on a soapbox and go head to head with Herr Hitler and Goebbels, you’re not going to win. They’re good at that shit. But they’re not good at comedy.

And before the Right-Wingers come crying about getting their fee-fees hurt, no one is calling Chris Christie a Nazi. He's a horrible human being, everyone in this state will be suffering the consequences of his actions for years to come (though mostly the poor), he's a coward, a thug and bully who revels in the very empty rhetoric he accuses his opponents of employing, but he is not, in fact, a Nazi*.

However, the same principle applies. You're never going to outshout someone like him. And while measured discourse has its place, if you can't even agree on basic, demonstrable facts,  it will never lead anywhere. So that leaves ridicule. I think it works best in conjunction with the facts, with the end goal of proving that Christie's platform is not merely wrong, but ridiculous, ludicrous, the product of a mind divorced from reality, to say nothing of humanity, and that those who espouse it should never be trusted with power over their fellow human beings again.

* I mean, there's no way he'd fit in to the uniform, for starters.


  1. Yes! Hardly anyone in the media challenges politicians on their flat out lies. It makes me insane.

    Jindal vs. Christie for worst governor is a tougher battle than Jedi vs. Dalek. You've summed up Christie perfectly. He is awful, and he has done an incredible amount of damage. My mother can't even say his name at this point. She calls him Fred Flintstone. However, Jindal disgusts me, so I have to disagree with you on this one. We share the same alma mater. I'm horrified by this on a level far beyond what I should be. I don't know if it's because he's such a bad person and a bad governor, and that makes me annoyed that we went to the same college because I don't want to have anything in common with him, or if it's because he's a huge hypocrite about his schooling. He worked hard to get into the best college he could and has benefited from his education. Now he calls everyone else with whom he graduated elitists. But he's not one. Hm. I don't have any great loyalty toward my school, but it annoys me all the same when he bashes it. Jindal also seems particularly ignorant when it comes to science in a way that Christie doesn't, but Christie probably just hasn't exposed that facet of his awfulness yet.

    Maybe objectively Christie is worse...but then you have things like the ridiculous volcano remarks Jindal made in that State of the Union rebuttal. I guess he didn't benefit from that education after all. Yeah, I'm siding with your friend on this one.

    I think the thing that most depresses me is that I don't see how political discourse in this country is going to get any better. When politicians can lie and no one calls them out on it, people who don't think for themselves are going to be fooled.

  2. Jindal versus Christie really is tough to call. I could probably take one of the paragraphs from the original post, swap out Christie's name for Jindal's, and not feel like anything is out of place. Perhaps the "biggest" difference between the two governors is how they bully and intimidate anyone who disagrees with them. And the difference is very slight. Christie will shout in the person's face, a la his calling former SEAL and law student William Brown an idiot at the top of his lungs. Jindal won't do that. But he still silences his opponents, usually through stripping funding or other strong arm tactics. This past budget cycle, Jindal eliminated 900,000 in state funding for local libraries, which is pretty much all of it. The rationale was that the state is prioritizing education and healthcare, which is absurd on its face, as libraries are obviously an integral part of any education system. The administration glossed that over by saying that local libraries could pick up the tab, but naturally many won't be able to do that, and it's the poor rural parishes that are going to feel the cuts the most. And this is just the tip of the ice berg on the things I know about Jindal.

    I do have to laugh that Jindal is crying about the amount of disaster funds available after crying like the rest of the GOP for those same funds to be axed from the federal budget. The man has no shame. I'm still not sure if that makes him worse than Christie though.

  3. I wrote a post on Google+ I think you might like...

  4. Hey if I'd known you'd be posting, I would have mentioned your governor, who's certainly a contender for the worst in the nation.

  5. Add Martin O'Malley to the list, please. Maryland's healthcare exchange has more problems with the roll out than the federal. The economy here us pretty bad too, but that's most of the country. And the guys lining up to replace him are even more incompetent.