Morning Joe Reads A Book

morning joe

Or maybe he got someone else to read it for him? In any case, the New York Times Sunday Book Review asked Joe Scarborough to review a serious book of political history, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage. in the February 17, 2013 edition.

How low has the Sunday Book Review sunk that it would not only publish an essay by Scarborough, but also highlight the brief review with a separate “Up Front” introduction? I haven’t seen the cover of the print edition, but it sounds as if Scarborough’s piece was printed on page 1!

Charles Pierce wrote a pithy reaction to the Times’ decision in his “What are the Gobshites Saying These Days” post on Monday.

…let us pause for a moment and congratulate the editors of The New York Times Book Review for handing a serious work of popular history to whatever’s left of Joe Scarborough after Paul Krugman picks the rest out from between his teeth….

the Review has fallen on some pretty hard times when they have a story meeting and someone says, “We got this new book on Eisenhower and Nixon. Who should we get to review it?” And someone else says, “I know. How about that guy who runs the Morning Zoo on MSNBC? He’s really popular with the people who get drunk in front of the TV and pass out during Rachel’s show the night before.” And this is what you get for an author ID.

Joe Scarborough is the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Lovely. They should let Barnicle review the next Royko anthology.

At least Mike Barnicle used to be a working journalist.

Pierce links approvingly to this post by Dan Kennedy at Media Nation: Joe Scarborough doesn’t know much about history.

If you’re going to try something as cheeky as letting cable blowhard Joe Scarborough review a serious book about political history, you should at least make sure you’ve got a safety net in place. But the New York Times Book Review doesn’t even bother, letting Scarborough step in it repeatedly in his review of Jeffrey Frank’s “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage.”

Here’s the first paragraph of Scarborough’s review:

It may be the closest of political relationships, but it rarely ends well. Vice President Thomas Jefferson challenged President John Adams for the top spot in the vicious campaign of 1800. President Andrew Jackson mused sardonically about executing Vice President John C. Calhoun. In the modern era, Lyndon Johnson seethed at slights real and perceived during John Kennedy’s thousand days, then turned around and humiliated his own vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Even Dick Cheney and George W. Bush fell out by the end of their tumultuous terms. But perhaps the most intriguing — and dysfunctional — political marriage in history was the one between the subjects of Jeffrey Frank’s meticulously researched “Ike and Dick.”

Kennedy wonders if Scarborough knows that

the Constitution originally stipulated that the candidate who received the most votes from the Electoral College would become president and that the person who came in second would become vice president. Perhaps that’s too much math for the famously innumerate Scarborough.

I didn’t know that either, but I think if I were writing a review for the New York Times, I would have found out before using that as my introduction. Kennedy explains that Jefferson and Adams, who couldn’t stand each other, ran against each other in 1796. Adams got more electoral votes and so they were forced to serve together, but their mutual dislike did not grow out of their political alliance as Scarborough implies.

Ike and Dick fishing at Camp David

Ike and Dick fishing at Camp David

Kennedy points out two other more serious misstatements in the review. In the paragraph above, Scarborough suggests that Lyndon Johnson’s insecurities stemmed from Jack Kennedy’s mistreatment and that led Johnson to humiliate his own Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Scarborough isn’t really clear about this, but he seems to be drawing analogies to the Eisenhower-Nixon relationship. He seems to claim–perhaps based on his reading of Frank’s book–that Nixon’s neuroses stemmed from his difficult relationship with Eisenhower. But Nixon was a psychologically troubled person long before he met Ike and suggesting otherwise is inaccurate. Likewise, Johnson had plenty of psychological issues before he got involved with Jack Kennedy. Dan Kennedy writes:

As anyone who’s read Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power” knows, Johnson, like Nixon, suffered from a world-class case of insecurity long before he ever met John Kennedy. The truth is the opposite of what Scarborough claims: both Nixon and Johnson were uniquely unsuited to suffer the slights that are inherent to the vice presidency long before they assumed the office.

Finally, Kennedy points out the ludicrousness of the following passage from the Scarborough piece:

A fascinating subplot in Frank’s story details Nixon’s role in pushing the administration on the issue of civil rights. Long criticized as the author of the Republican Party’s racially tinged “Southern strategy,” Nixon is shown by Frank to be a determined advocate for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, as well as a trusted ally of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson.

Yes, Nixon was supportive of Martin Luther King during the 1950s, and did try to get Eisenhower to push for African American civil rights, but Scarborough completely ignores Nixon’s later rejection of King during the 1960 presidential campaign and his [Nixon's] development of the “Southern Strategy” in 1968. If those later events weren’t included in Frank’s book, a competent reviewer would have called attention to them. In fact, if Scarborough had googled, he could have quickly found an article by Franks himself that points out Nixon’s later involvement in blatant racism. Franks writes in The Daily Beast, January 21, 2013:

There once was a real connection between the two men, but it more or less ended with RN’s spineless behavior during the 1960 presidential campaign, after Dr. King was arrested on phony charges stemming from a traffic violation. Coretta Scott King had been terrified; she worried with good reason that her husband might be killed en route to Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, and she appealed to the Nixon and John F. Kennedy campaigns to intervene.

Nixon, however, demurred; he said that it would be “grandstanding” to speak out, according to his aide William Safire. Nixon’s real motive, though, seems clear: it was a close election and he was willing to lose black support if it meant gaining a new harvest of white votes in the once-Democratic south. Eight years later, this approach became the carefully considered “Southern strategy.”

The Kennedy brothers then stepped in to help King.

John and Robert Kennedy helped to win Dr. King’s release, and soon enough their campaign distributed two million copies of a pamphlet titled “‘No Comment’ Nixon Versus a Candidate With a Heart, Senator Kennedy” to well chosen voters. It can’t be proved that this made the difference in an election in which the popular vote turned out to be the closest ever (Nixon and Kennedy were separated by about 112,000 votes out of sixty-nine million cast), but it’s a fact that President Eisenhower in 1956 got some 40 percent of the black vote and that Nixon in 1960 won just 32 percent—not bad by modern Republican standards, but still a steep drop. Four years later, facing Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson won 94 percent of the black vote, which set a demographic pattern that endures.

We already knew that Morning Joe doesn’t understand economics; we now know he’s history-challenged as well. In addition, I have some problems with the clarity of his writing. Here are a couple of examples.

Paragraph 2 begins:

Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president memorably said that being No. 2 was in effect not worth a bucket of warm spit.

Which vice president? FDR served with three: Henry A. Wallace, John Nance Garner, and Harry S. Truman. If you said John Nance Garner, you’re correct. And he didn’t qualify the judgment with “in effect” either. Was Scarborough just to lazy to look up the quote?

This reminds me of problems that many college freshmen have in their writing–they either don’t provide enough context or they assume knowledge the reader may not have. They also tend to use unnecessary qualifications instead of just making straightforward statements.

In paragraph 3, Scarborough writes:

“Ike and Dick” is a highly engrossing political narrative that skillfully takes the reader through the twisted development of a strange relationship that would help shape America’s foreign and domestic agenda for much of the 20th century.

Really? Perhaps that judgment came from the book; but it’s a pretty sweeping statement that needs to be backed up with specific examples. But Scarborough doesn’t offer any. When he does provide more context, as he does in paragraph 5, he leaves out important details. He briefly mentions a “secret Nixon fund” that led to Eisenhower trying to dump Nixon from the ticket in 1952, and says that Nixon survived; but Scarborough never even mentions what saved him–the Checkers speech!

The entire review is only a little over 1,000 words. Surely Scarborough could have added a few more historical details and specific examples to back up his assertions.

If I were grading this review for a college course, I’d probably have to give it a C+, or maybe a B- in these days of grade inflation. The grammar and sentence structure are okay; but the review itself is short on context,  the historical inaccuracies are problematic, and the lack of specific examples makes for rather boring reading. Frankly, I’m disappointed in the New York Times for publishing it.


Thursday Reads: The Southern Strategy on Steroids

Good Morning!!

Over the past few days, Mitt Romney has stepped up his race-baiting with patently false ads focusing on welfare. On Tuesday in a speech in Chillicothe, Ohio, Romney projected his own rage at having his own policies and those of his designated VP criticized onto his critics by lashing out at President Obama with the most vile personal attacks I can ever recall from a candidate for President–normally the attack dog role is reserved for the VP or surrogates. Here are some samples from Romney’s speech:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday delivered a harsh indictment of President Barack Obama’s re-election strategy, accusing the president of running a “campaign of division and anger and hate.”

“His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose,” Romney told a crowd of thousands standing outside the Ross County Court House in southern Ohio.

Romney referred to Vice President Joe Biden’s remark to a heavily black audience in Virginia that the Republican ticket wanted to put people “back in chains” by repealing Wall Street regulations. Although he didn’t cite other examples to support his harsh rhetoric, his campaign pointed to the controversial ad that linked Romney to a steelworker’s wife’s death from cancer and an Obama spokeswoman’s suggestion that Romney might have committed a felony if he didn’t tell the truth in federal filings about his activities with his former company.

….

“His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency,” Romney said. “This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like.”

Romney really needs to learn to quit whining and act like an adult. He’s a typical bully–he can dish it out, but he can’t take it. He doesn’t like being reminded that when Bain Capital loaded up companies with debt and drove them into bankruptcy, real people suffered. Well, boo hoo hoo. When you run for President on being a “successful businessman, you shouldn’t be shocked when your opponents examine your business record.

NBC news has more whining from the speech:

“This is an election in which we should be talking about the path ahead, but you don’t hear any answers coming from President Obama’s re-election campaign,” Romney said. “That’s because he’s intellectually exhausted, out of ideas, and out of energy. And so his campaign has resorted to diversions and distractions, to demagoguing and defaming others. It’s an old game in politics; what’s different this year is that the president is taking things to a new low.”

“This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like,” Romney said. “President Obama knows better, promised better and America deserves better.”
“Over the last four years, this president has pushed Republicans and Democrats about as far apart as they can go,” Romney continued. “And now he and his allies are pushing us all even further apart by dividing us into groups. He demonizes some. He panders to others. His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces.”

This from the man who wants to make 95% of Americans pay more in taxes so he can cut the taxes of the top 5%. This from the man who repeatedly called Obama’s ideas “foreign” and whose surrogate John Sununu said Obama needed to “learn to be an American.”

During the primaries when Newt Gingrich complained about the barrage of negative ads run by Romney’s campaign and Romney supporting superpacs, Romney dismissively lecture Gingrich with the old saying “Politics ain’t beanbag.” (h/t Buzzfeed) The relevant quote comes at about the 2:40 mark.

On another occasion, Romney said “there’s no whining in politics.” (h/t Buzzfeed)

Mitt Romney is running on an updated Southern strategy in which the race and culture baiting is directed not just at African Americans, but also at Muslims, Hispanics, Palestinians, and pretty much anyone who isn’t Caucasian.

Let’s face it, Romney’s false claims that Obama has “gutted welfare reform” are deliberate efforts to appeal to racial bigotry–by emphasizing that Obama is {gasp!} black and to play on the false beliefs of many ignorant people about the racial composition of welfare recipients. Greg Mitchell articulated this pretty well at The Nation:

Just on a factual level, the new charges (which seemed to originate with the right-wing Heritage Foundation) —Obama trying to undermine the work ethic by granting waivers to certain states—fell apart quickly. The White House quickly denounced the meme as “dishonest” and pointed out that two of the five governors who requested the very limited waivers were Republicans. Also (surprise): Romney had backed such waivers as governor.

And this morning, PolitiFact delivered the harshest of its judgements on the ad and campaign statements —”pants on fire,” or one-big-lie. But its conclusion also, if a bit coyly, referred to what may be the most significant, and enduring, aspect of the new Romney focus: “The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance.”

What they are obliguely referring to, of course, is the old, long-lasting, portrayal of welfare by conservatives, Southern Democrats and many in the media as (1) mainly for lazy folks who won’t work and (2) mainly a program for black Americans (and other minorities). Facts never got in the way but it was a way to flame racial and class resentments. Nixon put his welfare recipients in Cadillacs and Reagan famously denounced “welfare queens.”

You still heard a lot today about “Reagan Democrats” and the battle between Obama and Reagan for their souls, but few point out that the origin of this subgroup can be traced back at least partly to Reagan’s race-tinged welfare bashing.

Anyone who can’t see what is going on here is either utterly ignorant of American history, is simply being deliberately obtuse, or is OK with this kind of ugly bigotry.

OK, I’ve said my piece. Now I’ll refer you to a few pieces on this topic by other people who expressed these points better than I can.

First, a brief but pithy piece from the Auburn Journal: Romney Revives the Southern Strategy. Referring to the Sununu and Romney statements implying that Obama isn’t “American”:

This kind of language acts as a dog whistle for bigots. It is a more subtle version of birtherism, and reflects the kind of exclusionary definition of American national identity embraced by far too many on the right. It is the exact opposite of Barack Obama’s conception of our national identity, one that emphasizes national unity as well as inclusion, and seeks to strengthen ties among Americans across lines of race, culture, and religion.

When John Sununu said that President Obama was not an American – and make no mistake, that’s what he said – he wasn’t saying anything his boss hadn’t said before. Mitt Romney has made the same kind of remark on too many occasions to be able to deny that his campaign has made a clear decision to do what John McCain refused to do, and what any politician with a sense of honor and patriotism would refuse to do.

Mitt Romney is running on hate.

Salon’s Joan Walsh has a new book coming out called What’s the Matter with White People. Here’s a review of the book by Andrew O’Hehir: Joan Walsh: GOP has “doubled down on whiteness”

Joan Walsh’s family, as she writes in her new book “What’s the Matter With White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was,” participated in two of the great migrations of 20th-century American history. Joan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but mostly grew up in suburbia (first on Long Island and later in Wisconsin). As that happened she watched many of her Irish-American family members morph from bedrock New Deal-JFK Democrats into Nixon-Reagan Republicans. In her book, Joan tries to wrestle with this legacy as honestly and forthrightly as she can, without betraying either her family’s complicated lived experience or her own passionate commitment to social, racial and economic justice.

“What’s the Matter With White People?” is sure to provoke much discussion during the fall campaign, with its personal and historical approach to one of the most toxic issues in American politics: How and why the white working class became the Republican base, in defiance of its own economic interests, and whether the Democrats can ever win it back.

And Joan Walsh herself writes: Joe Biden Was Right.

By now everyone knows that the vice president told a Virginia audience Tuesday that once Mitt Romney “unchains” Wall Street from Dodd-Frank reforms, “They’re going to put you all back in chains.” Since his audience was mainly but not exclusively African-American, the pearl-clutchers in the GOP and media claimed Biden was accusing Romney of wanting to reinstate slavery, denounced him. “The press pounded Palin when she talked about ‘blood libel,’” Ari Fleischer wrote on Twitter. “What will they do about Biden’s ‘chains’ remark?” The Romney campaign likewise tweeted its outrage.

Romney himself attacked the Obama-Biden campaign in multiple interviews. “The president’s campaign is all about division and attack and hatred,” he told CBS, adding, “And the comments yesterday by the vice president I think just diminish the White House that much more.” Even some nominal liberals joined the Biden-bashing. “Of course the GOP has done nasty racial stuff this campaign (esp newt). But Biden’s ‘chains’ statement was still absurd,” Peter Beinart tweeted Wednesday morning. There were widespread demands that the vice president apologize.

But he didn’t. Biden clarified his remarks, noting the frequency with which Republicans use “unchain” and “unshackle” metaphors to describe the way they’d “liberate” Wall Street from Obama-era regulation and reform.

The whole post is well worth reading.

New York Daily News: Who’s playing racial politics in this campaign? It’s Mitt Romney. The article focuses on the first of the Romney welfare ads:

Romney accuses Obama of gutting welfare reform by granting waivers to state governments in how they choose to implement the law. It’s a charge that is completely without merit; spun from whole cloth; an invented attack line. But again, lying on the campaign trail about President Obama’s record is the rule, not the exception, for Mitt Romney.

Among the accusations made by Romney is that under Obama’s non-existent, made-up welfare plan, “you wouldn’t have to work,” “you wouldn’t have to train for a job” because “they just send you a welfare check.”

What’s most striking about the ad are the visuals – workers wiping their brow; working class Americans toiling away at manufacturing jobs. And coincidentally all the people in the ad … are white. This might not mean much, except for the fact that, as anyone who has followed American politics for the past 45 years knows, criticisms of the welfare system from the campaign trail have habitually always been used as racial code in attacks on Democrats for coddling blacks. It is the symbol of wasteful government spending, rewarding poor Americans for not working and creating a culture of dependency.

Since the 1960s, Republican politicians – along with the occasional Democrat – have used assaults on the welfare system to stir up white resentment toward blacks, poor Americans and other minorities for allegedly lazily living off the largesse of hard-working tax-payers, like those visually portrayed in Romney’s ad. That the current President happens to be African-American (and is also visually featured in the ad) is again just another of those odd coincidences.

Indeed, this ad and in fact this whole line of attack is one of the most blatant uses of racial coding in a presidential campaign since the Willie Horton ad of 1988.

It’s nice to see that the corporate media is beginning to call Romney out on his race baiting.

Here’s another example from U.S. News and World Report: Romney’s the angry one, not Obama.
Referring to Romney’s Tuesday speech in Ohio:

Obviously Romney has forgotten who his buddies are, and who are pulling his strings: the Republicans who are bending over for the Tea Party and Grover Norquist and for their rich financial campaign backers.

Has Romney forgotten the “diversions and distractions” of those who were questioning the president’s citizenship and place of birth long after he was elected? Has Romney forgotten the “defaming others” like what was done when House Speaker John Boehner said the president hadn’t worked a day in his life?!

….

I must say I was most shocked, although not surprised, by Romney’s accusation of the president “dividing us all in groups.” Isn’t wanting a baby born here of an undocumented immigrant not receiving citizenship divisive? Isn’t not wanting healthcare for the poor divisive? Isn’t wanting to cut programs that benefit middle- and lower-income women and families divisive? Hmm…sounds like Romney and his camp to me more than Obama. And with the addition of Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential candidate, the race has become more polarized, more—dare I say—divisive?

I’ve focused on Romney/Ryan’s race-baiting strategy in this post, but I know there are lots of other stories I should I read today. I look forward to your suggestions.


Send in the Clowns

For decades, the GOP has been courting racists, anti-women’s rights activists
, anti-gay bigots, and fundamentalist christian extremists, in an effort to become the majority party in the U.S. At this point, they may have succeeded, but at what cost?

As Dakinikat has said frequently, this isn’t the Republican Party of Eisenhower, Nixon, or even Reagan. Today’s GOP has become a job without a punch line. Anyone with any basic intelligence is laughing at the party’s presidential candidates! Even Karl Rove has been arguing that most of them are too far right to win a national election. From Fox News on August 15, 2011:

This is the guy who famously encouraged the christian right to believe the Bush administration would fight to enact their most extreme policies, while calling them “nuts” behind their backs.

But it just doesn’t work to invite crazy, intolerant people into your inner circle and then try to remain apart from them. An organization takes on the character of its members. In the years since Nixon’s won the presidency in 1968 with the Southern Strategy, the GOP has consciously chosen to welcome the most hateful, bigoted, and even demented people into the party power structure and now they are reaping what they sowed.

Today Rove lamented the “debate” that Donald Trump is supposedly organizing. (So far the only candidate who has confirmed he’ll attend is Newt Gingrich). Rove wants the RNC to discourage GOP candidates from attending the debate.

Veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove said Monday that the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) should step in to “discourage” presidential candidates from attending the upcoming debate moderated by Donald Trump.

“Here’s a guy who is saying, ‘I’m going to endorse one of you,’ ” Rove said, criticizing the choice on “Fox & Friends.”

“More importantly, what the heck are the Republican candidates doing showing up at a debate [whose moderator] says, ‘I may run for president next year as an Independent’? I think the Republican National [Committee] chairman [Reince Priebus] should step in and say, ‘We strongly discourage every candidate from appearing in a debate moderated by somebody who’s gonna run for president,’ ” he said.

Trump, promoting his new book, released this week, confirmed earlier on the show that he is planning to endorse and that if the candidate he prefers does not win the GOP nomination, he might consider an Independent bid following the conclusion of his reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

But’s it’s too late. If Karl Rove wants to get back in control of the Republican Party, he’ll have to start over from scratch. The party of Bush has already moved so far to the right that Bush now looks like a moderate, semi-reasonable guy.

Donald Trump as powerbroker? Today a new poll was released showing that New Hampshire voters would be less likely to vote for any candidate endorsed by Trump. Trump was on MSNBC this morning to talk about the poll.

Yesterday, I was rereading Chris Hedges terrific book about the christian right, American Fascists; and I came across this famous quote by Karl Popper:

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

That seems very relevant not only to the GOP, but also to today’s Democratic Party, which is once again welcoming in misogynists, anti-choicers, supporters of torture and anti-constitutional uses of executive power. When you “tolerate the intolerant,” you head down a slippy slope toward a hateful and uncivilized society. It’s seems to me that we are already quite a way down that slippery slope. Send in the clowns indeed.