May 04, 2003

Notes: Sisyphus Shrugged

Sisyphus Shrugged has some wise reflections on William Bennett's vices.

Posted by DeLong at May 4, 2003 01:07 PM | TrackBack


I think that there is something inherently right-wing about the tendancy in the media these days to focus on superficial/moralistic/"character"-based-interpretation/style-over-substance stories.

It tends toward creating a society whose information on politics is virtually irrelevant to policy and irrelevant to electing officials who serve their interests. Therefore politicians, like Bush, can lie about policy with impunity, since it will not be reported. Of course he can maintain his approval ratings with a public style of "character," which will be reported ad nauseam.

This is of course an alternative telling of society to the type of serious discussion of policy, philosophy, history, statistics, data, and general scholarly search for truth that occurs on, say, Brad DeLong's blog, Krugman'sa column, etc.

I wouldn't say that this second one is inherently left or right wing, but the first I think lends itself very much to the success of the conservative right.

Bill Bennett is obviously part of this. You can see this tendancy in the press's relentless and ridiculous harping on Al Gore for slip-ups like "creating the internet," where they try to pretend that this sort of thing is actually important. The latest example is the press louding Bush for his aircraft-carrier/flight-suit stunt. Since it makes for good politics and appearance, the press reports it as if this makes it virtuous as opposed to the cheap exploitation that it is.

Anyway, I think that liberals must begin to point out that this superficial style of reporting the news is a form of conservative bias, and that it must cease in the interest of balance and an informed society.

By the way, I realize that these thoughts aren't entirely logical yet, and I would appreciate commentary to develop them.

Posted by: Bobby on May 4, 2003 02:10 PM

I is Bill the Bennett, righter than right, more moral than moral. Buy my spiel, so I can lose another $8 million gamboling. I is Bill the Right Bennett, saving the heathen from from from from folks like me?

Posted by: jd on May 4, 2003 02:13 PM

Here's a better way to say it: I think that a society that is uninformed and pliant leaves itself vulnerable to extremists from both the left and right. These days it is the far right that is the danger. The aforementioned superficial style of the media of course aids them by perverting our political priorities towards style and appearance, and failing to disperse important information, especially on policy.

Posted by: Bobby on May 4, 2003 02:19 PM


I think your remarks quite interesting and telling. They are worth arguing with friends and developing as an essay. Bill Bennett has been a master of the politics of righteous intimidation, especially so of the press. Billy has been pushing the "liberal" press bias for years, to assure an eventual right wing bias. As one and another of these moral hounds, they may be false as false can be but they have been increasingly effective at right wing intimidation. Enough.

By the way, $5 billion dollars of the funds voted by the House of Representatives for AIDS assistance, one-third of the assistance, has to be devoted to the teaching of sexual abstinence before marriage. We must learn them peoples.

Posted by: jd on May 4, 2003 02:31 PM

That reminds me. Another example of policy substance not reported by our presscorps is this nugget:

Josh Marshall's blog says that the AIDS in Africa assistance is paid for by taking money out of programs to prevent other diseases in Africa. Once again the press reports only what Bush says to keep up his own "compassionate" appearance, and they ignore what he actually does:

"Just where is the administration getting all that new money to prevent and treat AIDS in Africa?

There's certainly some new money. But a closer examination seems to show that there's also a lot of robbing from Peter to pay Paul.

There's a new policy analysis up on the Brookings website and it seems to show that a substantial amount of the new money is coming out of money we're already spending to wipe out other diseases in Africa. Here's a key passage (see the italicized section) which comes toward the end of the paper ...

Table 1 clarifies that for the combined total of the Global AIDs Initiative and the Child Survival and Health account (which includes the bulk of HIV/AIDs assistance in H.J.RES.2), the Administration’s request for fiscal 2004 shows no net increase relative to the fiscal 2003 funding in H.J.RES.2. This is because the Administration’s increase of $450 million for the Global AIDs initiative is offset by a $470 million shortfall in its Child Survival and Health request relative to the fiscal 2003 appropriations bill.
What's going on here? I give the administration its due. As the rest of the paper makes clear, there is some new money. But a lot of it seems to be coming out of money we're using to fight malaria, malnutrition and various diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. Why isn't more being made out of this?

-- Josh Marshall"

Posted by: Bobby on May 4, 2003 02:42 PM

Bobby, it's deeper than that, although you do have a good point. The mass media deliberately chose to not probe beneath the surface of Bush's photo-op, just like just about everything he's done in his life. The same media had no problem running long investigative pieces on each and every minute of Clinton's life. If things didn't pann out, they'd just dig deeper, while bad-mouthing Clinton *because* they couldn't come up with dirt that'd stand the light of day.

The focus on 'character' only benefits the right because the media shines a soft and fuzzy light on these guys.

Posted by: Barry on May 4, 2003 04:14 PM

Moralism and hypocrisy go together. Whenever someone spouts off about more moral than thou, bells and whistles should go off.

It is interesting that the icon of Christianity, Jesus was not a moralist, other than driving the money lenders from the temple. The founder of the Christian Church, Paul, was a moralist who tried to show how Christianity could fit in with and sustain the moralism of the local cultures in his correspondence. (Slaves be loyal to your masters). Since Jesus never wrote anything and Paul wrote numerous letters, the Bible is filled with the moralism of Paul and a few paultry quotes from Jesus.

Bennett is more like Paul than Jesus. Paul, the moralist, is the model for the Christian right in the US.

Posted by: bakho on May 4, 2003 09:32 PM

Note also Michael Kinsley's comments in Slate and today's Wash Post Op-Ed.

Posted by: Matt on May 5, 2003 06:52 AM


Thank you for the fine posts. Really gave me some interesting ideas.


Posted by: anne on May 5, 2003 10:22 AM

Your welcome :)

Posted by: Bobby on May 5, 2003 11:55 AM

"...wise reflections on William Bennett's vices. "

Vices? I'm not sure I even see one here. I thought gambling was a legal form of entertainment.

If gambling is a vice, then can somebody tell me why our state governments spend so much money on advertising that urges poor people to do it through state lotteries that pay off at a so much such lower rate than any casino?

After all isn't government pushing vice on the citizenry en masse, and financially exploiting it in the process, a bit worse than a millionaire spending his own extra money as he likes on himself?

(Then we can move on to issues like governments exempting themselves from truth-in-advertising laws to push gambling in ways that would send any private sector gambling operator to jail. And goverments regularly continuing to sell lottery tickets even after prizes have already been won...

"Since 1996, California has sold millions of dollars worth of scratch-off tickets even after the top prizes offered up to $100,000 were already won. The tickets are the state lottery's most popular product.

"State lottery officials, who admitted the practice last summer, have said that state agencies are exempt from false-advertising laws... ",2933,41423,00.html

Now there's a couple vices, IMHO. Show me the pundit who has been worried enough about gambling as a vice to go on record as being upset about *these* things before taking a shot at Bennett, and I'll consider the possibility that he's sincere.)

Posted by: Jim Glass on May 5, 2003 09:14 PM
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