mickey's assignment desk



Hit Parade--8/11:
Updated at all hours

Morris vs. Shrum: The lines are pretty clearly drawn: Dick Morris says Gore is making a "mistake of historic proportions" if he centers his campaign around Robert Shrum's patented populist "'us' vs. 'them' rhetoric." ... Isn't this--not whether there's a fundraiser at the Playboy mansion--the big issue of the Democratic convention? It looked as if the Lieberman nomination might mean an end to Shrumism, but then Lieberman started to campaign. ... On the other hand, Gore's father was a populist, so it's not as if the rhetoric is being inauthentically imposed on him. ... And what would Morris have Gore talk about? Equally phony "social populist" railings against Hollywood? ... It's hard to run a campaign that says, "We're both centrists, but I'm more competent," even if that's the real reason to vote for Gore. And unless the vacuum is filled by something, it might be filled by the Real Gore--who, as revealed in Nicholas Lemann's New Yorker interview, is someone who may begin babbling about the "self-sameness principle" at any moment. ... Kausfiles' free advice? Back (or lure) Bush into a corner in which his Social Security plan becomes the test of his competence, then take apart the Social Security plan. Bush has already been a bit shaky under fire about its details. ... But, yes, drop the cheap populism! Morris' arguments--that the voters are too sophisticated to, for example, despise drug companies--seem right. ... (8/11)

A NYT op-ed explains why child abuse is down nationwide since the 1996 welfare reform. ... But you knew I'd link to that one. (8/11)

Linkalinkalismism: Slate's "Today's Paper" feature is especially good today. Nearly every paragraph points out something I wouldn't have realized even if I had actually read the papers. ... The varied background of TP's Scott Shuger pays off. As an ex-military guy, he knows about the flaws in classified reports! As a .. well, for some reason he also knows about Playboy clubs! He knows what HMFIC means (I didn't). ... This is Web Value at its most Added! ... (8/10)

Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" feature is now hopelessly biased against Bush and the Republicans. If you have any doubts, check out the "Cross-Dressing Elephant Edition." ... George, Steven, Jonathan--I know what you're up to! Cut it out! ... (8/10)

Third-bounce Liebermanalysis: There are more Muslims than Jews in the U.S., notes WSJ's John Fund. Muslims and Arab Christians are especially important in pivotal Michigan. "Mr. Lieberman's staunch support of Israel," writes Fund, "may not endear him to this constituency." Delicately put! ... (8/10)

Sen. Moynihan deserves his Presidential Medal of Freedom (even though in this space he's been compared to ... well, Satan). But it's a fair punishment that Moynihan had to get his medal at the same ceremony where Marian Wright Edelman, whose politics Moynihan despises, received hers. (Moynihan blames the antipoverty left for helping to sink his Nixon-era guaranteed-income plan. I'd say the left unintentionally did the country a favor.) ... (8/10)

The teen birth rate has fallen to its lowest level in 60 years. "The most dramatic drop came among black teens, whose rate dropped 38 percent from 1991 to 1999," reports WaPo. ... Pssst! Isn't welfare reform one of the possible causes of the cultural shift to birth control and abstinence? Getting teens to postpone childbirth was one of the goals of that policy change, after all. Yet there seems to be a bias against admitting that sometimes reform might have intended consequences along with unintended ones. ... The stats are also another vindication of the Marxist paradigm! Change the economic substructure (a booming labor market and no more easy welfare) and the rest of the culture, even something as seemingly deep-seated and non-economic as sexual behavior, will change too. ... (8/9)

Liebermania! Slate's Jacob Weisberg explains that Lieberman really was non-partisan and effective at Sen. Thompson's campaign-finance hearings, unlike, say, Sen. Torricelli. Weisberg hopes Lieberman's selection serves "as a pivot that allows Gore to reorient his candidacy" away from its previous "shrillness and populist posturing." ... Best Liebermanalysis so far. (8/8)

The excitable right: Jonah Goldberg wonders if Lieberman was picked not because he will help Gore but because by bringing out the Jewish vote he will help Hillary. ... (Today's question: 'Is it good for the shrew?') ... Peggy Noonan ... well, let's just say Peggy Noonan is very, very happy. ... She also points out that "Christian conservatives love Joe Lieberman." Too bad the religious right is fading! ... (8/7)

Bwana James Atlas, always on the lookout for "intellectual" life in the teeming veldt of American culture, tracks Al Gore in the NYT. Atlas's initial objection: Gore's ideas are from the '60s. But since Atlas never tells us what's wrong with these '60s ideas, this amounts to sneering that Gore doesn't know Derrida, which Atlas himself realizes is silly and snobby. So he drops the '60s complaint, and simply argues that Gore should state his ideas "plainly and forcefully, not dressed up" in fancy "intellectual platitudes." Fair enough. But a) Gore doesn't talk about Niebhur on the campaign trail, just to egghead journalists like the New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann. For example, Gore does make plain and forceful (if unconvincing and slightly bullying) arguments in favor of affirmative action; b) Atlas, too, could have made his point much more plainly and forcefully without meandering through a lot of fancy names that mostly show what an intellectual Atlas is. ... Atlas' '60s complaint is a bit off the mark anyway, since Gore talks to Lemann about "fractal" theory, evolutionary psychology and parallel processing, which I suspect are '90s (or at the earliest, '80s) fads, not '60s fads. ... What's my reaction to Lemann's must-read profile, which has soured many of its readers on Gore? Well, Gore is weird, allright, and I wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of time with him, but nothing he says is BS, and some of it is even insightful. I say let the real, odd, abstract, and ultimately not-very-inspiring Gore stay in the closet, and let's judge the fake, inauthentic, political Gore. (8/7)

The decline in CNN's fortunes under Rick Kaplan continues--Fox News beat Ted Turner's network in the 25-54 category on the last two nights of the convention, reports. An eager public is still waiting for WaPo media reporter (and CNN pundit) Howard Kurtz's hard-hitting coverage of this fairly important ongoing development on his beat. ... Howie: So what if you lose the TV gig? There's always webcasts! And chat! ... (8/4)

WaPo's Edsall claims to find a "sharp division over affirmative action policy between the prospective Republican presidential candidate and retired Gen. Colin Powell," but he fails to document any strong anti-affirmative action stance taken by George W. Bush. ... Racial preferences in Texas higher education were overturned by the courts, not Bush. Isn't the real story that Bush (and now the GOPs under Bush) have in fact already abandoned principled opposition to affirmative action as part of their rush to the center, and their attempt to win at least some black votes? ... Kausfiles eyewitness report: There was actually sharp applause in the convention hall for the cutting pro-affirmative action line in Powell's speech. This applause was a mystery to kausfiles and many other observers--since Powell was basically saying "F--- You"--but one possibility that can't be dismissed is that the delegates were actually sincere in supporting affirmative action, whatever the GOP platform says. ... (8/2)

Imperfect Storm: Mike Allen of WaPo refers blithely to "the storm over the [Bush] ticket's junior member." But is there really a "storm" over Cheney? Journalists' wishing doesn't make it so! Quayle in '88 was a "storm." This was more like some sharp, well-coordinated attacks by Cheney's opponents, which may or may not be working. ... Gore's attack ads against Cheney did feature his cheerleading for OPEC ("Cheney, an oil company CEO, said it was good for OPEC to cut production so oil and gasoline prices could rise")--a story featured early on in kausfiles. (Did kausfiles break the story? Not exactly. I was tipped off by an e-mail from an alert reader, who saw a posting about it on Then I tipped off a friend in the Gore camp. Faster Politics in action!) ... (7/31)

Alan Wolfe leans on sociobiology as a way of explaining the surprising popularity of estate tax cuts. (Wanting to leave an estate is in large part about devotion to kin who share your genes). ... So does Wolfe take back all those nasty things he's said in the past about the sociobiologists? For example, in The New Republic four years ago, Wolfe snipped that "sociobiology offers occasionally interesting illuminations about how human practices came to be, close to no illuminations about the ways specific societies or individuals behave, and no illuminations at all about how ethical and moral issues ought to be resolved." But hey, it sure comes in handy when the NYT op-ed page beckons! ... Wolfe's op-ed piece is actually an illuminating contrarian take, arguing more generally that Americans support unencumbered inheritance on moral grounds, as a means of generosity and solidarity "among people they know." ... (7/24)

Jeffrey Toobin joins Jerry Oppenheimer, Renata Adler, J.H. Hatfield and Binjamin Wilkomirski in Martin Arnold's honor roll of sloppy, inaccurate, and "fictitious" nonfiction books ... Note to Arnold: Expect heavy back-down pressure from Random House and editor Ann Godoff. Be strong! What can they do to you? ... Wait, don't answer that ... (7/20)

Strange wet-blanket assessment of welfare reform by one of its supporters, Douglas Besharov, and Peter Germanis in the Summer 2000 Public Interest. Their main heresy: They say "the strong economy--and massively increased aid to the working poor--almost certainly have had more impact than welfare reform per se" in causing the recent dramatic (more than 50%) caseload decline. But Besharov and Germanis have no answer for the point made by GOP welfare expert Ron Haskins--that we've had a strong economy before, and welfare caseloads haven't fallen (indeed, in the 1980s boom they rose a bit). Even the econometric studies cited by B & G say welfare reform gets 30 to 45 percent of the credit while the economy explains only 15 to 25 percent of the decline. And B & G themselves describe the "dramatic" changes in the culture of welfare offices that encourage potential recipients to get into the labor force. So why do they strain to reach a counterintuitive conclusion their article doesn't support? ... Of course, "massively increased aid to the working poor" was an integral part of welfare reform ("Make Work Pay"), at least as far as its Democratic supporters (and not a few Republicans) were concerned. ... (7/15)

Pretty good WSJ story Tuesday on GM's failing, pathetically bland mid-size Saturn "L" series cars--a failure predicted in kausfiles back when it wasn't even kausfiles! GM will lose $800 million on the car this year, almost wiping out its overseas profits, according to the Journal. ... A couple of points: 1) Reporter Gregory White says "GM was so proud" of the Saturn brand. The real story, kausfiles still suspects, is that Saturn's success in building a reliable car (in part by relaxing rigid work rules) embarrassed the rest of the company and its union. So the GM bureaucracy slowly killed the brand by moving production of the L-series out of Saturn's high-quality, flexible Spring Hill, Tennessee, facility into a tired old-style UAW factory in Wilmington, Delaware, and making the car a retooled Opel instead of a fresh design; 2) The biggest reason nobody is buying the L series is its lame styling, which the WSJ attributes to idiot executives who overrode the warnings of the Saturn design staff. But all Saturns were mysteriously uglified last year, even the zooty models, so the design staff is probably to blame as well (unless the brand-wide ugliness was ordered up by execs as part of the insidious kill-Saturn conspiracy!). ... (7/11)

"'I'm sure Subaru sells a heck of a lot of cars to people who aren't gay, too.'" I mean just because you drive the car doesn't necessarily mean you're gay. "Certainly, many Subaru drivers are heterosexual." Really, there are lots of them. ... WaPo's "Style" section explores the niche marketing campaign of the car known to some as the "Lesbaru." The car company's latest campaign: ads with the slogan "It's Not A Choice. It's the Way We're Built." The idea is that "straight people don't know what's going on," says one of the campaign's developers, a Mr. Poux. They just think the ad is about four-wheel-drive. ... Problem: What happens to Subaru's under-the-radar campaign once everyone reads "Style" section articles about it? Will straights buy it if it becomes branded as "the gay car"? I bet the optimistic quotes in WaPo from various gay-niche marketers about the number of homosexual Subaru buyers give a wildly inflated picture of the size of the gay market. If Subaru loses the breeders, it goes broke. ... Of course, it varies by model. The Legacy is still pretty straight, apparently. But the Impreza, and the Forester... you know what "Forester" means, don't you? ... Thanks to Scott Shuger's "Today's Papers" for highlighting this story. ... (7/4

Finally the NYT wakes up to the turnaround in America's ghettos--partially carrying out a long-standing assignment from Mickey's Assignment Desk. ...Pam Belluck's front page piece ("Blighted Areas Are Revived As Crime Rate Falls") isn't very deep or detailed, but it's a start. You can guess my major complaint: Belluck credits crime reduction, the economy, tax incentives and the "dismantling of huge crime-plagued housing projects," but she ignores the other huge change in the political economy of the ghetto, namely welfare reform. When you turn a neighborhood filled with struggling welfare mothers into a neighborhood filled increasingly with struggling working mothers--as welfare reform in a booming economy has done--you don't change only those families who have left welfare. You change the character of the whole community, no? I'm not saying welfare reform is the whole story; I'm saying it contributes crucially to the virtuous circle Belluck describes. ... The way the NYT now covers the ghetto-turnaround, we get Belluck-type pieces that ignore the role of welfare, while the effects of the 1996 reform are covered by Jason DeParle's narrow-focused stories, which concentrate mainly on the impact of reform on a few mothers already on welfare--and don't report much on the effect on the larger ghetto community, which includes those mothers who now never go on welfare in the first place. (For more on this point, click here.) A recognition of the larger social role of welfare reform falls between the NYT's cracks ... (5/29)

Kausfiles Piles On!: Someone has finally dared to take on Howie Kurtz, the ominpresent WaPo media critic. Franklin Foer's piece in The New Republic doesn't kill Kurtz, but it's a start. Kurtz is an energetic reporter, a nice guy, and a Stakhanovite worker. But Foer makes the essential criticism of him, which is that he approaches his job "like an East German figure-skating judge, docking reporters for technicalities"--especially minor conflicts of interest--rather than judging their product on more varied criteria (truthfulness, judgment, insight, writing quality, etc.) the way a book critic judges a book. ... Foer might have added three other points: 1) While Kurtz snipes at penny-ante conflicts--he recently wrote a "gotcha" item about kausfiles because I made $1.92 [misprint?--ed Nope.] in disclosed commissions when people went to from my site and bought a book I'd favorably reviewed--he himself is a giant, walking conflict-of-interest, holding down a presumably remunerative job as host of a TV show on CNN-Time-Warner-AOL, one of the major organizations he is supposed to report on. (I don't think Kurtz would pull his punches because of this, but it's a bigger temptation than $1.92, and perhaps worth some prophylactic restrictions.) 2) He's pretty clueless about the Web. For example, he seemed to have learned from my pathetic little disclosure that Web sites often get a cut of book sales--even though there is an extensive Web debate about this practice, which is engaged in by big Web players such as the New York Times. 3) While I think Kurtz is an honest reporter, he's stretched so thin these days that he can be extremely sloppy. In his piece on this column, to pick a random example, he misread and misreported both my conflict-of-interest disclosure and an e-mail I sent him. The next week he printed a correction, and fucked the correction up too! It's lucky I'm not bitter and vindictive about this. ... (Kurtz did send placatory e-mails saying "You're entitled to be pissed off" and "I do feel badly about this.") ... Update: Jonah Goldberg seems to defend Kurtz, but he really agrees with Foer--he just thinks the sort of media criticism Foer wants is already being widely practiced, on the Right. ... (5/5)

Guess what's a totally legitimate issue in the 2000 election that never gets talked about? Welfare reform. The 1996 welfare reform law expires in 2002, meaning it will be reauthorized--and amended, perhaps significantly--by the next Congress. The Left knows this, and is already gearing up--see this piece by Frances Fox Piven in The Nation. So where's the Right? ... Hey, Hastert! You don't have to talk about unpopular tax cuts or education. You don't have to break new ground. You can trot out ol' reliable! Do we really want Charles Rangel (chairman of Ways & Means if the Dems retake the House) rewriting the welfare law? ... Welfare is actually a more legitimate issue than education. Education is still mainly a state and local responsibility. Welfare has historically--since 1935, at least--been shaped by federal mandates. ... (4/25)

Still worth reading:

"Is there a Mrs. Peanut?" "Does the Pillsbury Doughboy actually make the cookies, and if so, are they made from parts of himself?" Salon's Ruth Shalit makes hilarious dry fun of the "brand managers" of corporate icons. Update: There's a Part II. ... (3/23 )

Click to purchase Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point"

Metaphor Sucks!
Gore's strange obsession is getting to me. ...

Posted Saturday, August 12, 2000

Is Gore's boldness in picking a Jewish running mate such a great "metaphor" for his leadership that we have to hear about it constantly? ... Sometimes a metaphor is just a way to avoid having to describe reality ... Go to item 

Pseudo Retreats Pay no attention to that Newsweek story!

The Emperor's New News Does anybody actually watch

G.W. Bush, Egalitarian! He's stripped the condescension from his view of poverty.

Get Your Instant Lieberman CW Here! Looks likes "Clinton fatigue" isn't a myth ...

Cheney and the Oil Cartel: Episode II That's just the way the "markets" are down there in Texas. ....

Cheney: Cheerleader for OPEC Let those Yankees in key Midwest battleground states freeze in the dark!

Bush and Cheney: The Secret Transcripts

Crock of Goldstein WaPo reporter falls for Brookings spin, and worse.

The Real Hillary Scandal Mr. and Mrs. Clinton forgot to get their stories straight.

The Gift of Nader Gore could use a rival on his left.

Rehnquist's Scandalous Shmatte Cashing in on impeachment?

What's He Hiding? Notes Toward a Unified Bush Theory

Looking for Mr. Good Death Mickey's Assignment Desk #8.

Crosswired Politics Why the parties are trading places on some issues.

Toobin's Cave-in Special Gloating Edition

Drew's Cluelessness Please don't let her anywhere near the First Amendment!

Now She's Done It Maybe that nice centrist Mrs. Clinton really is against welfare reform.

Pardon Our Reporting Clinton left the door wide open!

The Compleat Gore Fib-File A campaign resource.

Boomers Against Death Why the shift against the death penalty isn't necessarily a shift to the left.

Is Robert Wright a Marxist? Not that there's anything wrong with it!

Hit Poems A kausfiles contest.

Bill Clinton Wants You On Welfare! Is this the dole administration after all?

Yes, There Are Easy Answers! The NYT and WaPo find a quick fix for affirmative action.

Just Buzz Me! Synergy City! Harvey Weinstein plans a TV show based on Talk.

Drudge Report
80% true. Close enough!
Main home page.
Not always awful.
New Republic
Gore, now and forever!
What's left.
N.Y. Observer
That orange thing.
Page Six
Too good to check?
Goldberg File
Indulgent, but viciously funny.
Boy are they angry.
Fab bigthink on man's destiny.
Shake that ketchup bottle!
Daily horror stories.
John Podhoretz
The Pod is hot these days.
Washington Monthly
Includes "Tilting at Windmills"
Jim Pinkerton
Quality ideas from quantity ideas.
Andrew Sullivan
He asks; he tells!
Dick Morris
Best thumbsucking toesucker.
Weekly Standard
See them snipe at Bush.
The Occasional
Bright young 'wingers.
Politics Reader
Excellent reefer site.
Steve Chapman
Ornery but lovable libertarian.
He still ain't got no transcripts.
Walter Shapiro
Politics and ... neoliberal humor!
Gone left, but good.
Lloyd Grove
Don't let him write about you.
Jeannette Walls
Her free newsletter's fun too.
John Tierney
NYT's non-lib metro columnist.
Le Show
America's funniest man?
N.Y. Press
Good dirty Bushie tab.
Join the mailing list!
Enter your email address below, then click the 'Join List' button, to be notified whenever a new item is posted:

Powered by ListBot
Are We Branded Yet?

Copyright 2000 Mickey Kaus.