There is more truth in this seven minute segment of the Melissa Harris-Perry show than you will see in the eleven hours of Sunday morning news shows programming and highlights a few of my personal bugaboos about the dishonesty of the state of American media.
There are legitimate issues that affect this country. In the wealthiest nation in the world, there is no reason that we should see the level of poverty that we see. And poverty touches on so many other areas as well: the cost of health care, food insecurity, social development, social safety nets, jobs, housing, etc.
And yet who do we see discussing poverty and solutions? Nominally, it's Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, who sneer and smear those living in poverty, employing the well-trod myths of the welfare queen and the lazy looking for a hand out. It's the same people, week after week, framing the debate.
But you know who never gets a seat at the table? Actual people living in poverty. People who have struggled with homelessness, food insecurity, health care affordability and the rest of the struggles that come with poverty.
Meet Tiana Gaines-Turner, a mother of three children and member of the advocacy group Witnesses to Hunger. Twice homeless, Tiana now points out that these lawmakers (and Democratic politicians are not immune to this, either, their silence is complicity) are making judgments and laws without knowing the real world impact:
“Invite me to the table, invite my brothers and sisters to the table,” she said. “Don’t assume you know what it’s like.”[..]
People who have waited for years for Section 8 housing, who have used government food benefits, Gaines-Turner told Harris-Perry, “know the solutions” and act as “mythbusters,” who can counter assumptions many people have about who lives in poverty.
“Until we can all sit at more tables like this, nothing is going to happen,” Gaines-Turner said.
The entire show was an amazing and sadly rare intelligent and honest discussion. If you missed MHP, you can watch segments via the MSNBC homepage.
Here's Young Ezra moderating a panel at yet another one of Pete Peterson's "fiscal summits."
This is what drives me crazy about the media today. Ezra Klein, who made his bones as a liberal blogger, scales the heights of establishment to helm the Washington Post's Wonkblog. Television soon follows and even the hint of having his own show. And with that elevation of visibility, so too, goes Klein's need to represent the liberal point of view, falling backwards into some weird Broderism in his column. He, after all, anointed Ayn Rand devotee Paul Ryan a "serious" budget person.
I don't think Ryan is a charlatan or a flim-flam artist. More to the point, I think he's playing an important role, and one I'm happy to try and help him play: The worlds of liberals and conservatives are increasingly closed loops. Very few politicians from one side are willing to seriously engage with the other side, particularly on substance. Substance is scary. Substance is where you can be made to look bad. And substance has occasionally made Ryan look bad. But the willingness to engage has made him look good. It's given some people the information they need to decide him a charlatan, and others the information they need to decide him a bright spot. It's also given Ryan a much deeper understanding of liberal ideas than most conservative politicians have.
And therein lies the problem. Ryan doesn't have a deep understanding of anything. His entire world view is filtered through a terribly written and economically ridiculous novel by a sociopathic hypocrite. It is incumbent upon journalists to make this truth known -- especially the token liberal columnist for the paper of record in the nation's capitol. By not doing so, Klein validates this false equivalency: that conservative and liberal ideas are of equal value.
Don't look now, but Klein's done it again. This time, his "target" is David Brooks, a columnist who exists solely to be mocked for his omnipresent wrongness, as my colleague Driftglass demonstrates weekly. Ezra makes a point that he disagrees with Brooks, but then simply gives him more column inches to back off on some of more ridiculous points without acknowledging that Brooks simply doesn't know what he's writing about.
EK: On that point, one theme in your column, and in a lot of columns these days, is this idea that the president should, on the one hand, be putting forward centrist policies, and on the other hand, that if he’s putting forward policies that the Republican Party won’t agree to, those policies don’t count, as they’re nothing more than political ploys. But while I agree that some level of political realism should enter into any White House’s calculations, it seems a bit dangerous and strange to say the boundaries of the discussion should be set by the agenda that lost the last election.
DB: In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque: They’d govern from the center; they’d have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe, and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that’s awful, the White House really did come out with a centrist plan.
EK: But I’ve read Robert Rubin’s tax plan. He wants $1.8 trillion in new revenues. The White House, these days, is down to $1.2 trillion. I’m with Rubin on this one, but given our two political parties, the White House’s offer seems more centrist. And you see this a lot. People say the White House should do something centrist like Simpson-Bowles, even though their plan has less in tax hikes and less in defense cuts. So it often seems like a no-win for them.
DB: My first reaction is I’m not a huge fan of Simpson-Bowles anymore; I used to be. Among others, you persuaded me the tax reform scheme in theirs is not the best. Simpson-Bowles just doesn’t do enough on entitlements. For sensible reasons, they took health care more or less off the table. I don’t know where Rubin is right now. I held him up as an exemplar of Democratic centrism, but if he had a big tax increase and entitlement reform, I’d be for that.
There are times when I think the White House offered Republicans plans they were crazy not to take. I wrote that in 2011. And I hope Republicans look back on that as a gigantic missed opportunity. So I agree with you they shouldn’t be given veto power over the debate, but I still think that if you look at what moderates want the administration to do, they have not gone far enough.
Did you catch all of that? How many times did Brooks claim ignorance of facts, backtrack and hold up what he suspects of centrism absent any data?
This is not a serious person. He deserves no such attention in national debate. His opinions are based on what he feels like writing, not on facts.
And instead of pointing this out, Klein simply validates his existence in the punditry world.
It's amazing what you catch when you're trying to detox from too much David Gregory. After Meet the Press ended, I was in the process of gathering my notes from the show of what clips we would highlight this Sunday and a local show called "Press:Here" came on, which looks at media issues centering around the San Francisco Bay Area. Anat Shenker-Osorio, an Oakland-based consultant, has written a book entitled "Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy" featuring my personal favorite bugaboo: framing issues. (I've had the book on my radar for a few weeks; I'll try to get Anat here for a chat in the near future)
Anat's thesis is that the way the media frames issues like the economy can unconsciously change the way we react to the news. When we speak of the economy as some sentient entity, capable of feelings and actions, we absolve ourselves of our collective responsibility as part of the economy. When we speak of unemployment rising and falling, we lose sight of the individuals affected by having their jobs taken from them or employers seeking out more people for more production. From a DKos book review by SusanG:
[A]s Shenker-Osorio discusses in her new book, Don't Buy It, she sees progressives make these same mistakes over and over and over again. In particular, the progressive messaging on the economy—especially the metaphors we adopt in discussing it—have contributed to a massive communication failure.
In a nutshell, when we insist on talking about the financial meltdown and its effects in terms of an unstoppable force of nature–like I just did with meltdown, in fact, or as many, many other well-intentioned liberals discuss it in terms of a crash, an earthquake, a "flood of bad mortgages," "the perfect storm" of circumstances—all these terms cry out that we must hunker down and pray instead of actively work for change.
Body metaphors are little better—an "unhealthy economy," a "sluggish recovery"—these too imply outside agency swooping in and destroying us, usually from within, like germs or cancer. But these scenarios are flatly wrong.
The economic crisis was neither an act of God nor a natural disaster, not an attack by microbes or internal organ breakdown. It was the result of choices—bad ones—made by specific human beings who benefitted from human-created policies at the expense of a majority of the population. And if our language does not reflect that this crisis is human-made, it follows that it cannot be human unmade either, which plays into the shrugging, no-fault stance of conservatives.
I've said again and again: He who frames the debate wins. It's time for us to take back the framing and help people understand the debate on progressive terms.
One of the biggest problems Democrats face in the messaging wars that Republicans have been waging for more than 30 years, is the fact that we are always playing defense. Republicans ascribe a label to us and we quickly scramble to explain how that label isn't true and why. But as we all know, our message gets lost in the middle of the rebuttal.
The best way to combat this is to start taking control of the dialog ourselves and put Republicans on the defense for a change. Democrats need to start calling Republicans out for who they are and what they stand for politically. To do that, we'll need both new terminology and the ability to turn their own memes back on them.
Here are three things we can begin going on the offense about immediately:
1. Republicans are legislating a Daddy State.
Republicans across the country are using their state legislatures to reach into every aspect of our lives; from restricting our access to basic health care, giving our employers the right to pry into our personal medical needs and refuse us insurance coverage they "morally" object to, and forcing women to endure invasive and unnecessary medical procedures against their wills. Republicans are legislating government control of women's health care all across this nation. And Democrats see this as a gross violation of the freedoms and liberties that we love about living in America. (Adapted from words used by Rep Steve King re the Patient Protection Act.)
The Republican Party would love nothing more than to turn this great country into a Daddy State, where "the man of the family" not only gets to set the rules, but they get to punish us when we're "bad" in their eyes.
It's that "Strict Father" mindset that radical conservative regressives use to shape their own families. And they want to bring that structure to America as a whole, by implementing what George Lakoff calls The Santorum Strategy.
Well we've got news for them, right, Dems? They aren't our Daddies and we aren't going to let them act like it, either!
When The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was first introduced and debated in Congress, polling on the individual parts saw an overwhelming majority of Americans approving. Well, with Democrats in charge of our framing, we all knew that wouldn't last.
Enter Frank Luntz and the Republican Dirty Framing Machine and we got Death Panels killing grandma and it was all over but the funeral.
Democrats screwed the pooch on this because in the 30+ years Luntz has been teaching Republicans how to talk, Democrats have refused to fight back with equally compelling language that illustrates our policies using our moral frames.
This may be a battle that is so long into the siege that it can no longer be won, but I'm not going to go down without fighting for what I believe is the best way to turn this conversation around and start winning back all those people who liked what was in the bill in the first place, but have been talked out of supporting the bill by the Fright Wing Party of America.
President Obama is a brilliant man. But like anyone else on this planet, he's also capable of being led astray. I don't know who advised him to try to "own" the pejorative "Obamacare," but they were dead wrong. Dead wrong. The president's little Twitter hashtag game completely backfired when Republicans started using it to continue their disparagement of it in the nastiest terms possible. "Obamacare" is no more embraced by those who would potentially support it if they understood it than it was last summer.
And there was nothing about that hashtag that would have made it look utterly stupid for someone to be objecting to!
That's why I'm proposing that we forget "Obamacare," and that we even abandon the here-to-fore "official" name, The Affordable Care Act. That's become a joke now, too. "Affordable care — yeah, right. My premiums went up 20 percent the minute the damn thing passed!"
But how ridiculous does it sound to oppose Patient Protection? Who (in their right mind) could be against that?
So I have a challenge for each and every one of you:
Fire up your Twitter accounts and start tweeting the hashtag #PatientProtectionAct, along with something it protects. Here's a list of my tweets using it — copy them and tweet them yourselves. And post your own here, too, so the rest of us can copy and tweet them, too.
Let me begin with a personal anecdote, one my father told me. He grew up in the very poor South, dropped out of school by the time he’d reached fifth grade to help his father work their farm, and eventually went into the military. He was an intelligent man, but as a young sailor back in the 1950s, he was woefully ignorant and naïve. One evening, at a bar, one of his mates said, "Hey, Curt! Are you gay?" My father, who’d had a couple of beers, replied, "I’m feeling pretty happy right now, so yeah, I suppose I am." The resulting laughter puzzled him. He resolved thereafter to be more cautious if he wasn’t sure what a word meant. A week or so later, someone asked him, "Hey, Curt! Are you anti-Semitic?" Still stinging from the last faux pas he’d tripped over, he replied, "Well, I might be, if I knew what it meant…"
The resulting hoots of derision took his resolve a step further. He bought a dictionary, and started reading. Voraciously. He went to night school, got his high school diploma and eventually earned a college degree. And he taught his daughters the power of words. Today, I hold a Master’s degree in English – and yet I still struggle in the war of words. We all do. Particularly against those who use words as weapons. It’s no accident that the etymology of the word "dictator" comes from the Latin dictatus – to speak. Nor is it just a matter of dreary semantics - he who controls the word controls the world. And there are no dirtier, more malicious or ruthless opponents in this vital war of words than the American right wing.
Earlier this week, Karoli had an excellent post on one of these adversaries, Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist who excels in manipulating political messages. Don’t call it the "middle class," he told members of the Republican Governors Association in Florida. Call them "hardworking taxpayers." Don’t call it "compromise," say "cooperation." Sure, it means the same thing, he said, but "compromise" infers selling out your principles. Don’t call it "government spending," call it "waste." Waste makes people angry, and diverts them from the fact that government spending pays for such "wasteful" things as schools and roads and police and fire-fighters and medical care. And above all else, for heaven’s sake, don’t ever use the word "capitalism." Luntz isn’t sure yet what to substitute in its place, maybe "economic freedom" or "free market". But capitalism is being increasingly seen for what it is – an immoral economic system that supports the 1 percent Haves at the expense of the 99 percent Have Nots.
The right wing has spent decades refining definitions and controlling the language of politics, keeping the left constantly on the defensive. Conservative politicians ever since the 1950s have twisted the word "liberal" to give it sinister connotations it never had. John Lukas noted that "the history of politics – more, the history of human thinking – is the history of words", and examined what happened to the term "liberal", so leeched of its real meaning as the right increasingly used it as an insult to define their opponents. James G. Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, said, "I never use the words Republican and Democrats. It’s liberals and Americans."