Monday, August 24, 2015

"... while Governor Bush's attire was tastefully sheer and minimal"

As mentioned before, the mainstream press faces a difficult choice. For reasons of substance and style, most members of the press would very much like to see Trump drop out, but over the past few years they have gotten so reluctant to call out Republican politicians (who tend to push back), that they have essentially signed off on most of the same policies that makes Trump objectionable.

Here's how I summed up the situation before:
Over the past couple of decades, the press has gotten stunningly good at not noticing things they don't want to notice. You can get journalists to ignore all sorts of lies and bigotry if you just give them an out, but that's just the thing Trump refuses to do. His whole campaign up to this point has depended on being as memorable and entertaining as possible, the ultimate reality show villain in what is arguably the ultimate reality show.

There have been other naked emperors on the stage recently but they've all played it at least a little coy. Trump is basically running around, grabbing his crotch, shouting "Hey, baby, do you want a piece of this?" then skipping away singing "I'm naked, naked, naked."
Barring a sudden outbreak of journalistic self-aware, the two most likely responses to Trump are ignoring the other naked emperors on the stage or pretending that the other emperors aren't naked, which brings us to...

Dueling Town Hall Meetings Add Distance to Jeb Bush-Donald Trump Gulf

[emphasis most definitely added.]

MERRIMACK, N.H. — At a serious and sober town hall meeting here Wednesday night, Jeb Bush dropped statistics like New Year’s Eve confetti.
Indeed, a mere 20 or so miles separated them on Wednesday: the bombastic developer from Queens, and the wonky son of a president.

But the dueling town hall events here by Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush, who are polling at No. 1 and No. 2 in the state’s crucial Republican primary, highlighted just how wide a gulf exists between the two men — in substance, style, experience and temperament.
Mr. Bush, taking a different tack, was measured and thoughtful, even in his attacks on Mr. Trump, choosing to focus on a record that he warned was insufficiently conservative.

First off, to acknowledge the elephant in the room. This is an inexcusably biased piece of reporting. Bush is sane, sober, thoughtful, measured, and wonky. (It was that last one that set Dean Baker off.) The article leaves no question as to whom the authors want you to vote for, but it still tries to maintain the pretense of objectivity. An editorial trying to pass for a news story.

I can understand writers' concerns over Trump (I share some of them), but that is no excuse for them lowering their standards and ethics. The single best defense against bad candidates is good journalism. Unfortunately, mainstream political journalism, particularly at the New York Times, has gotten so bad that fixing the flaws would be tremendously difficult and painful and would require a great deal of soul-searching.

Instead, the NYT and company are largely operating on the assumption that they can wiggle their way out of this situation but dropping their standards even further, basically hoping that the new lapses will cancel out the old. We get a Steven Rattner op-ed piece that consists entirely of headless clown arguments where Trump is singled out for holding positions that all of the other Republican candidates share and we get puff pieces like this.

Worse still, it's not even an honest puff piece. The authors could have done a slanted but otherwise respectable pro-Bush article focusing on immigration and diversity. The serious/thoughtful/wonky angle, on the other hand, has got to address the point raised by Jonathan Chait:

Jeb Bush has made the ludicrous promise that, if elected, his still to-be-determined economic program will launch the United States into 4 percent economic growth. Reuters reported out the genesis of this promise a few months ago. “There were no fancy economic models or forecasts when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush first tossed out the idea that 4 percent annual growth should be the overarching goal for the U.S. economy,” it revealed. Just a bunch of guys on the phone pullin’ numbers out of thin air:

    That ambitious goal was first raised as Bush and other advisers to the George W. Bush Institute discussed a distinctive economic program the organization could promote, recalled James Glassman, then the institute's executive director.

    "Even if we don’t make 4 percent it would be nice to grow at 3 or 3.5,” said Glassman, now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In that conference call, “we were looking for a niche and Jeb in that very laconic way said, 'four percent growth.' It was obvious to everybody that this was a very good idea."

(George W. Bush’s policies didn’t produce anything close to 4 percent annual growth, but the Bush Institute has made 4 percent growth its major theme, in keeping with the general Republican practice of acting like the Bush administration never happened.)
At the risk of over-sharpening the point, serious, thoughtful, wonky politicians don't base their campaigns on wildly unrealistic numbers they simply mode up.

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