More Conservative Hysteria on Economic Discussion

The right wing continues to practice what Mark Halperin and John Harris described as the freak show in The Way to Win. Today they are going wild over a YouTube video dug up by Matt Drudge–which is the first sign it should be questioned. A heavily edited segment from a 2001 interview is distorted to claim Obama supports redistribution of the wealth in a Marxist sense. The full show, which sounds quite different from the segments taken out of context by many right wing bloggers, can be found here.

Obama uses what Ben Smith accurately describes as “professorial talk” about “redistributive change.” The conservative writers who are distorting Obama’s statements in this interview appear ignorant of such language and fail to understand that redistributive change occurs under capitalism and does not necessarily indicate Marxism. Such ideas are really nothing more radical than can be found in the works of Adam Smith. It is a perversion of capitalist ideas in recent years by the extreme right to claim that any form of economic assistance to the poor represents socialism.

Much of the economic aide to the poor which Obama actually talks about in the interview is using tax funds for education for the poor. The far right might object to this, but this is hardly socialism. Obama is bound to support things which the far right oppose, and even things which I disagree with, but such plans come far short of redistribution of the wealth. On irony of this is that in many ways Obama is actually making a fairly conservative argument. A key point he makes throughout the interview is that such economic policies need to be handled at the legislative level as opposed to through judicial action. One would think that conservatives who are frequently attacking judicial activism would back Obama on this point.

Just as they did with his response to Joe the Plumber, conservatives are distorting a statement from Obama to attempt to portray him as a socialist. Besides originating with Drudge, there are other clues that this should not be taken very seriously. With all the interviews Obama has given, and all he has written, it is strange that they have to rely on an obscure interview from 2001, and then heavily edit it to give the impression they desire to give. To understand Obama’s views we must consider the full body of his statements on his economic beliefs as well as his specific proposals at present. The “redistributive change” he actually advocates is a tax cut to the middle class and reversal of the Bush tax cuts for families making over $250,000 per year. This falls far short of Marxism.

By relying on the politics of the freak show the right wing has wound up reducing McCain’s chances to win. If McCain had run as a reasonable moderate he might have had a shot. By making absurd claims about Obama palling around with terrorism and being a socialist the Republicans have lost all credibility among voters who are concerned about seeking solutions to our current problems in place of partisan attacks. This type of attack will go viral and excite the far right, but will further alienate the independent voters who the Republicans have lost.

Update: As the day went on, there has been more comment on this from beyond the right wing blogosophere. Ben Smith has the response from the Obama campaign. Cass Sunstein also posts at The New Republic. More discussion from Greg Sargent, Marc Ambinder Matthew Yglesias, Michael Scherer at Swampland, Justin Gardner, and Andrew Sullivan.

Update II: With all the responses to these charges, I’ve added a second post on the topic containing debunking from The Fact Checker and from Joe Klein.

The End of the Freak Show and the Conservative Arguments Against Obama

Guy Benson ( and Mary Katharine Ham ( have posted what they consider to be The comprehensive argument against Barack Obama at Hot Air. Their inability to come up with anything more with more substance than this, along with the lack of any positive argument to vote for John McCain, demonstrates why Obama is now so far ahead in the polls. The post consists of a lot of distortions and repetition of standard right wing talking points which I and others have debunked multiple times throughout the campaign, and which voters are ignoring this year.

Their arguments consist of the type of freak show politics which Matt Drudge has promoted in recent years as described by Mark Halperin and John Harris in The Way to Win. The failure of such smears to gain traction points to a change in the political climate discussed by Eric Boehlert today as he discussed how Drudge has lost his influence compared to that described by Halperin and Harris in The Way to Win. Eric wrote:

Why the misfires? As Halperin himself noted in 2006, “Matt Drudge is not doing stories on policy, on welfare, on healthcare. He’s doing stories on the most salacious aspects of American politics. When that drives the dialogue, that’s where the country heads, that’s where our political coverage heads.”

Thanks to our current economic crisis, “the most salacious aspects of American politics,” as Halperin put it, have taken a vacation during the closing weeks of this campaign. And the press can’t even pretend that those “salacious aspects” are remotely newsworthy, which means the second part of Halperin’s claim, about Drudge driving the dialogue, no longer applies.

Halperin’s writing partner John Harris admitted as much recently while addressing students at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. In an article on Harris’ speech, the local paper reported: “The Republican Party’s ‘Machiavellian’ style of attack politics hasn’t struck a chord in this election, Mr. Harris said, leaving John McCain to shift strategies nearly weekly.”

The so-called comprehensive argument against Obama represents a futile attempt to restore the freak show to its dominance in selecting presidents at a time when the electorate has moved beyond this and wants a serious candidate who has meaningful positions on the real issues.

I have already discussed many of these arguments in depth and will only quickly outline the flaws in the these arguments against Obama. Their arguments would only be persuasive to those who lack a moral compass and accept the authoritarian mind set and dishonesty of the far right or who are ignorant of the issues and Obama’s actual positions. They pretend to be providing information by utilizing video clips, but they repeatedly take comments out of context and surround them with outright untrue statements and misinterpretations in what amounts to a crude hatchet job and not meaningful political discourse.

Their first point comes the closest to being over a real issue. While they grossly distort Obama’s views, repeat the usual right wing nonsense on partial-birth abortions, ignore Obama’s opposition to late term abortions unless the health of the mother is in danger, and even repeat the smear that Obama supports infanticide, there is a real differences between the parties on abortion rights. What they fail to understand that a majority reject the view of the authoritarian right that they have the right to control the bodies of others. A majority agree with Obama on abortion, and reminding them that John McCain would return us to the era of shirt-hanger abortions will not help him pick up any votes. Even many who oppose abortion rights would not go as far as John McCain and Sarah Palin in ignoring exceptions based upon the health of the mother or rape.

Their second point distorts Obama’s views on taxes, distorting his words and claiming that Obama’s comment to “spread the wealth around” does not sound like the words of a tax cutter. An objective comparison of the tax policies of Obama and McCain was reviewed here. They miss the point that by spreading the wealth around Obama means giving a tax cut to the middle class. They also erroneously claim that increases in capital gains taxes decreases tax revenue, and vice versa, along with ignoring the fact that Obama’s proposed increases in capital gains taxes will only affect couples making over $250,000 per year, and the tax would still be less than under Ronald Reagan. Changes in the capital gains rate primarily changes how investment income is structured and changes where the taxes come from far more than the total tax revenue raised, making it easy to play politically motivated games with the results of a rate change. The ability to distort the consequences of tax rates on investment income is further complicated by the fact that more taxes are brought in when the market is rising. Tax revenue will increase during a strong bull market if the capital gains rate is raised, lowered, or remains the same.

Their third point is to again raise the debunked claims of radical associations which I have already discussed in numerous posts. The ironies in this attack are that 1) John McCain is the one who really has associations with extremists, and 2) these McCarthist attacks on Obama have wound up backfiring against McCain, providing serious people with a real reason to stay clear of the authoritarian right.

Bringing up foreign policy judgment was a poor choice considering that Obama was right on opposing going to war, regardless of how much they want to minimize this. Obama was also right about the surge, regardless of how they want to distort his actual position. Opponents of the surge predicted a decrease in violence with an increase in troops, but the real issue is achieving a political settlement which allows us to leave rather than remaining in Iraq for one-hundred years. While John McCain might be okay with this strategy, the majority of American voters are not.

Similarly they distort Obama’s position on negotiations, appearing to not even understand what “precondition” means diplomatically. While Obama is not demanding preconditions as to the outcome of negotiations, he is not supporting negotiations without any preparation or conditions as they falsey imply. They quote Hillary Clinton and John Edwards’ politically motivated opposition to Obama’s position during the primaries but ignore the support for diplomacy recently expressed by five former secretaries of state. Most voters will feel more comfortable with a candidate who wants to talk to Iran and realize that singing “Bomb, Bomb. Bomb Iran” as McCain has only worsens the situation.

Their claims of disdain for the heartland and playing the race card based upon statements taken out of context and creative interpretations of his meaning, are total nonsense which will have no traction. Their claim of lack of accomplishments ignores Obama’s actual accomplishments. Besides, this a rather bizarre argument to still bring up against Obama after John McCain picked Sarah Palin, who has a fraction of the experience which Obama has, to be his running mate.

More importantly in terms of the election, American voters have seen Barack Obama and John McCain together in three debates besides watching both on the campaign trail. It has been clear that Obama, despite (or perhaps because of) less years in Washington, Obama has far better understanding of the issues, better judgment, and holds the positions held by a majority of voters. Such attempts to revive the freak show will not work as voters are now looking for the candidate who can best solve our actual problems, not the types of problems which only haunt the imaginations of those on the far right. These attempts to replay the politics of past elections when voters have moved beyond such nonsense is exactly why Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and why John McCain is unlikely to be elected president.

Mark Halperin Continues To Spread Republican Talking Points

When Mark Halperin was political director of ABC News he would put out The Note every day which all too often wound up repeating Republican talking points. Today Halperin was back at ABC as a member of the panel on This Week and he still was repeating Republican talking points. Halperin declared that the flap over John McCain not knowing how many houses he owns would turn out to be a key moment in the campaign–and that it would help McCain.

Halperin’s logic is that by Obama hitting McCain on the house issue it opened the door for McCain to suddenly go negative himself and hit Obama with Rezko. There are some problems with Halparin’s logic. Even the average voter realizes that it was McCain who first went negative in this campaign, as a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll demonstrated. It was inevitable that the Republicans would bring up Rezko, but hopefully the harm will be limited as their accusations against Obama related to Rezko are untrue, as recently demonstrated by

Update: Think Progress and Talking Points Memo are also commenting on Halperin’s statements.

John McCain Remembers William Jennings Bryan

John McCain appears to be demonstrating his long memory in an interview with USA Today:

“I believe that people are interested very much in substance,” McCain said. “If it was simply style, William Jennings Bryan would have been president.” (Bryan, a noted orator, lost three presidential elections as the Democratic nominee in 1896, 1900 and 1908.)

It might be interesting to hear McCain’s recollections about the 1896 presidential campaign. I would also be interested in hearing John McCain’s childhood memories of John Adams after watching the HBO miniseries.

Joking aside about what this example might say of McCain’s age, it is amazing to see that the same candidate even got a shot three different times. That certainly would not happen again. Richard Nixon got a second shot, but not many politicians could even do that today. Maybe Al Gore could win the nomination a second time if he sought it considering both the unusual circumstances surrounding his loss and the way in which he has changed over time. A second loss would certainly close the door even for him.

As for McCain’s argument in the interview, he is making a serious mistake if he underestimates the substance of Barack Obama. Mark Halperin has listed the many ways in which McCain is mistaken for underestimating Obama. For example, number thirteen:

13. How powerful debates might be when the allegedly inexperienced Obama of allegedly questionable judgment goes toe-to-toe with McCain, even on national security, and is therefore deemed of sufficient strength and stature to be president by many.

Momentum Shifts Back In Obama’s Favor

The last week was not one of the best periods for Obama’s campaign, but over the past day momentum has suddenly shifted back in Obama’s favor as the news has been dominated by stories which do not help Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post did some fact checking on Clinton and gave her Four Pinocchios for her false claims about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1996. Here’s a picture of her being greeted by snipers:

It appears that Clinton was greeted in the manner Dick Cheney erroneously predicted we would be greeted in Iraq, while Clinton falsely claimed she was greeted in Bosnia as Americans are actually greeted in much of Iraq.

From there it gets worse. The Washington Post also looked at her overall experience:

While Clinton’s advertisements have boasted that she is best prepared for a 3 a.m. crisis phone call, the schedules contain no evidence that Clinton was at the table during major national security decisions. They do not list her as attending National Security Council meetings or joining briefings in the Situation Room. She did not have a national security clearance. And the documents make clear that at moments of major crisis, Clinton was often busy with her own agenda.

If that isn’t bad enough, a story from The Politico which basically argues that Clinton has already lost has been widely quoted today. They report that not even Clinton’s people believe she has a meaningful chance to win:

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

If Clinton has any chance, it will be even harder as it now appears her campaign is in the red:

Despite a strong month of fund-raising in February in which she brought in $35 million, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton finished the month essentially in the red, once her campaign’s outstanding debts are factored in, as well as her personal loan, according to filings submitted late last night to the Federal Election Commission.

Losing the endorsement of Bill Richardson to Obama doesn’t help Clinton either. Her campaign looks even more foolish for claiming that it doesn’t matter considering that Both Bill and Hillary called Richardson as recently as eight days ago attempting to get his endorsement.

Speaking of Bill–it looks like he is at it again:

Adding a bit of fuel to the political fire, Bill Clinton made a bizarre comment on Friday, leaving the impression that he believed Barack Obama’s patriotism would be a general election issue.

MSNBC is reporting that on the campaign trail today in Charlotte, North Carolina, the former president said a general election matchup between his wife, Sen. Clinton, and Sen. John McCain would be between “two people who love this country” without “all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”

It’s difficult to determine exactly what Clinton meant by this. Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the former president was not implying that Obama didn’t love America. As for “this other stuff,” that Clinton referred to? He was talking about “the politics of personal destruction,” said Wolfson. “He was lamenting that these kind of distractions ‘always seems to intrude’ on our politics.”

Not everyone had the same interpretation. MSNBC, for example, was quick to suggest that the former president was implying there were doubts about Obama’s patriotism, and that those doubts would play a role in the general election. Which seems, on its face, hardly a stretch.

With all this bad news Mark Halperin presents a list of fourteen painful things Hillary Clinton knows, or should know. Obama is also well on his way to reversing one of the more serious obstacles in recent days as a CBS News poll shows his speech on race was well received:

Sixty-nine percent of voters who have heard or read about Obama’s speech say he did a good job addressing the issue of race relations, and 63 percent of voters following the events say they agree with Obama’s views on race relations. Seventy-one percent say he did a good job explaining his relationship with Wright.

Mark Halperin Still Worships Drudge

In case anyone is interested in whether Mark Halperin has changed his ways since he wrote about what was wrong with political coverage last month, you can take a look at what he had to write at Time’s site today. He’s still worshiping Matt Drudge:

Editors, anchors, executive producers, reporters, and campaigns are instantly aware when Drudge posts something political. And with just days to go before the voting — with everyone so busy, so tired, so manic, and so vulnerable — political and media actors are more easily turned chasing in whatever direction Drudge points them. Or, more specifically, in whatever direction Drudge’s spoon-feeding sources point them.

Drudge is only a big deal because journalists like Halperin, who has compared Drudge to Walter Cronkite, make him big. Halperin regularly writes about the freak show in which Drudge posts something and it becomes news. If journalists would practice sound journalism and only go with stories based upon a legitimate, and preferably more than one, source, then Drudge would not have any influence.

What is really strange is that when journalists such as Halperin turn the responsibility over to deciding what is news to someone like Drudge, then they are really showing that their own jobs are no longer necessary. There’s no need to bother with journalists who simply regurgitate Drudge’s rumors when anyone can go directly to Drudge’s site.

Mark Halperin Realizes What Is Wrong With Political Coverage, Again

Deep down Mark Halperin knows what is wrong with political coverage. The problem is that, despite realizing it, he continues to make the same mistakes. In The Way to Win Halperin described the freak show which dominates political coverage. He noted how Matt Drudge often presents unsubstantiated information as fact which is then repeated elsewhere. However instead of using this knowledge to improve political coverage he called Drudge “the Walter Cronkite of his era” and continued to repeat unsubstantiated claims from Drudge, along with many Republican talking points, as news.

In an op-ed in The New York Times Halperin again shows that on one level he knows what is wrong with political coverage which concentrates on the horse race as opposed to whether the candidate is capable of making a good president. He admits he was wrong in presenting past coverage which cared more about whether a candidate like George Bush could present the illusion of being principled than what he was actually advocating and whether he was qualified to be president.

The question is not whether Halperin can articulate what is wrong with political coverage but whether he can change. Based upon his response to understanding what is wrong with the freak show in the past, I’m not very optimistic.

Mark Halperin’s Standards of Accuracy and Objectivity

Anna Marie Cox writes about a talk Mark Halperin gave about problems in political journalism:

Shockingly, “absurdly kowtowing to whoever happens to be in power” was not on the list. He did lay into bloggers, who apparently sometimes “taint” their analysis by “engaging in ad hominem attacks.” Also, the blogs of “mainstream” publications are not up to Halperin-approved journalistic grade. Did you know, for instance, that the “New York Times regularly puts stories on its website that don’t make it into the next day’s paper”? Halperin suggested that this disparity stems from the online stories not living up to the printed edition’s rigorous standards…

As for those bloggers, the ones “tainted” by having ideological motives — unlike our patriotic politicians, mind you — Halperin generously allowed that “I don’t mind if people blog — but they should apply high standards of journalism,” and “they should focus on news organizations when they fail to meet the standards of the profession,” i.e., accuracy and objectivity. In fact, he said, “the best solution is for serious consumers of news to write letters to the editor.”

His comes from the guy who wrote that Matt Drudge is “the Walter Cronkite of his era.”  As political director of ABC News, Halperin would regularly pass on the latest rumors from Drudge, despite acknowledging that Drudge regularly posts unsubstantiated material. Halperin also regularly repeated Republican talking points as fact  when he was responsible for writing The Note. Halperin is in a poor position to accuse anyone of failing to meet standards of accuracy and objectivity when he regularly failed at both.

Mark Halperin Changes Hat at ABC

Mark Halperin, who has faithfully promoted right wing talking points and unsubstantiated Drudge reports as news as political director of ABC News, is changing jobs. Editor and Publisher reports that he is moving from political director to analyst in order to have more time for writing.

I see this as sort of a lateral move for Halperin, but a more honest move. Instead of promoting right wing ideas and his opinions while pretending to be in news, Halperin will be operating more openly as an analyst. Hopefully it will be made clear to viewers that he is analyzing from his right wing perspective such as George Will does and he is not promoted as an objective political analyst. More importantly, I hope that his replacement, David Chalian, performs his job with more objectivity and journalistic integrity than we have seen from Halperin.

I also wish Halperin luck in this new phase of his career, as long as he is honest and open about his conservative bias as he provides his opinions. While I have many disagreements, such as with his comparison of Matt Drudge to Walter Cronkite, I did find his recent book, The Way to Win, to be one of the better conservative political books I have read in a long time. At least Halperin avoids the excesses seen by conservative pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh when giving the conservative viewpoint on current politics.

The Problem With Fox is Not Simply Bias

Cenk Uygur of Air America believes Fox Has Jumped the Shark. It actually isn’t that Fox recently jumped the shark but that the Democratic Party is finally acknowledging it by not allowing Fox to host the Nevada debate. Uygur links to several sites with examples of their bias, including these memos and this recent collection of screen grabs. I’ve discussed Fox News many times many times here, with a collection of my older posts added here.

What is important in comparing Fox News to legitimate news organs is that Fox, like Air America and talk radio, is designed to advocate a particular point of view and is not by any meaningful definition of news a news organization. The problem is not simply that Fox is biased but that it is a propaganda outfit. ABC might regularly repeat right wing talking points under political director Mark Halperin but there remains some attempts at objective reporting. While NBC is also overly friendly to conservatives, they do not match Fox as a propaganda outlet. Republicans might see Tim Russert as one of their best ways to get out their spin, and MSNBC might have had a quota system to limit liberal guests, but now Keith Olbermann gives some balance to their many conservative shows. CNN took a sharp move to the right after Ted Turner sold it, but even right wingers like Wolf Blitzer rarely match the propaganda efforts of Fox.

Conservatives try to excuse Fox by claiming that they offer a lone conservative viewpoint. They typically see any news that is either objective or mildly right of center as having a liberal bias, expecting “news” to reinforce the common Republican talking points failing to realize they are often factually incorrect. Conservatives are wrong in both ignoring the conservative leanings of the other broadcast networks and in failing to realize that purposely expressing such a political viewpoint is counter to the idea of presenting news. You cannot be a news outlet when your major function is to further the aims of one political party, especially when you are willing to present falsehoods to achieve this goal.

To counter the harm done by Fox, it is necessary for viewers to realize that this is not just a news source with a conservative bias but an outright propaganda outfit. As Uygur concludes:

Fox has jumped the shark. Fox News needs to come out, as professional wrestling did, and finally admit they are fake. It’s just entertainment, not the real thing. The World Wrestling Federation eventually changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Fox has it even easier. The name will almost be the same as before. Fake News Channel.