The use of the lower classes

Brad Delong’s (re)post provides a nice example of how capriciously the media create by analysing the ‘spin’ they keep telling us it’s their job to cut through.  In this no-man’s land primeval biases can run wild.  One such bias is that the right are ‘sound’, that it would be somehow unworthy and frivolous to report too heavily on the style of a the right, a distraction no less from the ‘real issues’. But progressives are more fair game. Likewise a progressive that breaks rules, well that’s a much scarier proposition than a conservative that does it.  Or as Oscar Wilde put it at the beginning of the Importance of Being Earnest, “What on earth is the use of the lower classes if they’re not prepared to set us an example”. 

Shorter Adam Nagourney and Peter Baker:

We lied about George W. Bush for eight years–pretended he was a competent president running a rational administration when we were dining out on stories of his and his administration’s fecklessness all across Washington–and now that we have a competent president running a rational administration, we’re going to lie in the other direction for the next eight years.

Todd Gitlin:

“Enervating”: The president was “not…fiery and inspirational,” write Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney in the morning NYT. “Placid and unsmiling, he was the professor in chief, offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs — often introduced with the phrase, ‘as I said before’ — sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell.

“This was Mr. Obama as more enervating than energizing.”

In one Baker-Nagourney sentence, even a compliment is only a prologue to a dig that, come to think of it, might help explain why they’re so petulant:

He showed his usual comfort with a wide array of subjects, even as he excluded the nation’s big newspapers from the questioning in favor of a more eclectic mix.

My italics but their pique. Take that, Barack Obama, you pompous pedagogue, stringing together whole sentences and indeed paragraphs as if Americans were entitled to hear a line of reasoning. Take that if you dare to exclude “the nation’s big newspapers” even as they prove less big every day.

Contrast, for a moment, NYT coverage of George W. Bush’s first press conference, on Feb. 22, 2001, a month into his first term. Bush, wrote Frank Bruni in the operative clause of his lede, “sought to redirect public attention to, and amass public support for, his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut.”

That is, Bush had a political goal and pursued it. He was purposeful. His style of pursuing it wasn’t Bruni’s prime subject. The fact that some of his statements made no sense, or worse, was not worthy of notice.

Take a look at the transcript of Bush’s press conference. Here’s one exchange in the midst of a discussion of Iraq sanctions:

Q. How would you characterize sanctions that work, sir?

MR. BUSH. Sanctions that work are sanctions that, when a — the collective will of the region supports the policy. That we have a coalition of countries that agree with the policy set out by the United States. To me, that’s the most effective form of sanctions. Many nations in that part of the world aren’t adhering to the sanction policy that had been in place. And as a result, a lot of goods are heading into Iraq that were not supposed to. And so a good sanction policy is one where the United States is able to build a coalition around the strategy.

This wasn’t just a syntactical and logical mishmash. It was a clue–a mighty revealing one, as it turned out–to the mind of George W. Bush. Note: When pressed, Bush defined “work” as “agree with the policy set out by the United States.” Things are good when they go our way. Effectiveness means toeing the American line. Long before September 11, George W. Bush was displaying his definitive assumption about how to rule. But that tree fell in the forest when Frank Bruni wasn’t paying attention. Rather, Bush’s press conference, Bruni wrote,

offered Mr. Bush an opportunity both to be heard over the din of questions about the Clinton pardons and to test his dexterity in front of scores of reporters with something of a safety net beneath him. “To test his dexterity.” From what Bruni wrote, Bush must have passed the test, since the fact that Bush’s answer about sanctions overtly made no sense (though covertly signaled something important) was not deserving of notice.

But at least when George W. Bush stood tall in the White House we didn’t have any of that persnickety, fussy, lugubrious, pompous, professor stuff, and the nation’s watchdogs fidgety students weren’t bored out of their gourds “waiting for the ring of the bell.” 

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Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

I have to say I find Brad’s criticism of the Bush quote a bit overwrought, and internally inconsistent. The overwrought part is obvious – but elided by Brad’s clever phrase.
Brad take II: When pressed, Bush defined [getting US/UN sanctions] to work as build[ing] a coalition around [our] strategy”, which is of course textbook multilateralism of the kind of which we all cheerily approve.

But we got Brad take I who seized on the fact that Bush spoke directly in terms of a coalition which agrees with US policy instead, and made something of it. I am still not sure what – is there a national leader who didn’t think of coalitions in terms of getting them to agree with that nation’s aims??????????

Maybe I am missing something.

The internal inconsistency comes from the fact that not only has he got excited about nothing, but he has done so by carefully parsing the words he has just described as ‘a syntactical and logical mishmash’. Which would suggest that it might not be appropriate to parse them so carefully.

But Brad is rather nasty about people he disagrees with, as most recently noted in the comments you note and again here:

My view is that we are not now bound by golden fetters–that by and large we know what to do and how to do it to keep the world economy out of a depression. But, I would say, there are three groups of people who are trying to handcuff us with today’s equivalents of the golden fetters that constrained economic policy and made the Great Depression so great. Each group is doing so for its own reasons:

1.

Out of ignorance: the modern-day Chicago School of economists, which is arguing against effective use of policies to manage aggregate demand because they have never read Metzler or Friedman (or Keynes), and never thought at all seriously about the transmission mechanisms by which changes in monetary policy (and fiscal policy) affect the price level in the long run and affect output, employment and demand in the short run.
2.

Out of malevolence: [cut for boringness, basically Republicans reflexively opposing Democrats. I wonder if Brad thought this of any Democrats over the past eight years, especially when Social Security came up].
3.

Out of justice: [people who just can’t understand that we have to give money to the banks because they are the banks].

Well, I am glad he leaves us justice, even if he gives people in that category short shrift as fundamentally stupid. But might there not be anyone out there opposing his preferred bail-out plans out of principle? I mean, I actually broadly support his preferred bad-bank model but I can imagine people opposing it out of principle rather than misguided sense of justive, malevolence or ignorance.

Down and Out of Saigon
Down and Out of Saigon
12 years ago

Maybe I am missing something.

Yes, you are. DeLong’s target here is journalism as it is practiced in the United States, and not Bush. He’s accusing the hacks and the airheads of superficiality (a fair point), of feelings of entitlement (ditto) and of double standards to the Dems and the GOP (your mileage many vary).

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Fine, except I think he misses the mark even there, because I think he essentially wanted Mr Bruni to read something into Bush’s remarks that wasn’t really there. Ie, his complaint is lack of partisanship, something he shows little danger of judging by his other comments excerpted in my comment.

Down and Out of Saigon
Down and Out of Saigon
12 years ago

<blockquote…[H]is complaint is lack of partisanship…

You mean “[H]is complaint is lack of partisanship”?

Down and Out of Saigon
Down and Out of Saigon
12 years ago

That came out garbled. Let me try again.

If I’ve read you right, you’re asserting that [Brad DeLong’s] complaint is lack of partisanship [with regards to Bruni and the rest of the journos in the states]. Am I correct?

I think you’ve got things backwards. Brad’s problem (well, one of them) is that many journalists are partisan in practice. His main problem is that they’re incompetent.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Take that, Barack Obama, you pompous pedagogue, stringing together whole sentences and indeed paragraphs as if Americans were entitled to hear a line of reasoning. Take that if you dare to exclude the nations big newspapers even as they prove less big every day.

Be comfortable in the knowledge that every outburst from a newspaper in response to Obama happens exactly the way Obama planned it. Trying to outsmart Obama in media savvy is a bit like solving a Rubik’s Cube in each hand whilst challenging a Russian chess master.

Brad is rather nasty about people he disagrees with…

That’s not nasty, this is nasty:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1165129/RICHARD-LITTLEJOHN-What-earth-Gordon-Brown-doing-Brazil.html

Brown is still banging on about spending his way out of recession, but simply doesnt have the money.

Thats why hes been reduced to printing it, further devaluing a currency which has already collapsed to historic lows on the foreign exchanges.

If this was a casino, Brown would have been escorted from the tables and thrown into the street, his line of credit long since exhausted.

Yet still he has the brazen audacity to pose as the saviour of the world, a fantasy kept afloat by the fawning coverage of the boys in the bubble, who have long since abandoned objective reporting and are now reduced to taking dictation at the back of the bus.

You can count me as one of those people too stupid understand that we have to give money to the banks, just because they are the banks. The concept of “justice” was not created as a feelgood thingy, there’s a very good reason for us to treat this concept with far more respect than we do (and certainly far more respect than we treat bankers and economic soothsayers). The reason is simple: if you reward failure, you enshrine a future of continued failure. If you reward unjust and irresponsible actions, you are teaching the “lower classes” that they system does NOT work for them and that it NEVER WILL work for them. They respond in a logical and rational manner by opting out of the system in any way they can find.

The social and mental scar of seeing clearly undeserving people using their privilege to protect themselves from their own mistakes is the ultimate proof that any concept of personal responsibility no longer applies. This will live on far longer than any financial hiccup or banking crisis, and it will be no good thing.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

Tel, in fairness to DeLong, I think he wants to give money to banks to save banking, but he also wants to avoid the moral hazard and, if I correctly recall, DeLong is pronationalisation.

He certainly is rude about the economists he disagrees with.

I must say I never had the feeling that Bush and the GOP got favoured treatment in the media as a whole.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

… he wants to give money to banks to save banking

What is the meaning of this “save banking” ? What exactly are you suggesting here?

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

He wants to keep the banks lending Tel and fears that without support they will not be able to lend because they will be insolvent.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Where “the banks” presumably means some particular set of banks?

As opposed to “banking” in general which might be any bank, using any sort of lending system.

May I suggest:

people who just can’t understand that we have to give money to the banks because they represent the status-quo and embody the current power structure.

Seems to capture the reality just a little more sharply.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

As usual, forgot to preview my quotes.

pedro
pedro
12 years ago

Yes and no. There’s liberal dose of snark in that quote don’t you think. DeLong is not advocating money for banks because they are powerful but because they are necessary.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

What I’m trying to say is that although banking in general (the abstract concept) is useful, any particular bank or any particular detail of how that bank operates can be done away with, and we can still have a banking industry (running on slightly different lines). The trouble here is that the particular banks in question all have high level political connections, part of a cosy club who know one another and all look after one another. So what we are really protecting is one particular powerbase rather than any generic part of the economy.

I accept that building the banking industry back up from scratch would involve some inefficiencies and “friction” as you guys call it, but then again, so does propping up an existing structure that is obviously disfunctional (and which would fall in a heap without intervention). The longer you go propping up something that does not do the job, the more you spend and still don’t get the job done.

Having said all that, I’m reasonably confident about the Australian banks, my snark is primarily directed at the US banks who have held way too much political power for way too long.