The eternal dumbness of our media

On Sunday the Wisconsin State Journal featured a brief and mostly self-congratulatory history of itself, written by editorial page editor Scott Milfred.

What’s going on, we asked. Is it time for the annual Wisconsin Newspaper Awards? Where Wisconsin newspapers give awards to one another? But no, it’s not. It’s the State Journal celebrating. They are old — 175 years old.

Did you know that 154 years ago the State Journal endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President? Apparently they did. (Spoiler: Lincoln won.)

It goes without saying that our editorial page editor, Mr. Milfred, was not around for the Lincoln endorsement, so, personally, he gets no credit for that. But credit where credit is due… Mr. Milfred did endorse George W. Bush. Both times… the second time being just extraordinarily foolish.

paul Ryan 1Milfred retained his job, however, and even today he is turning out new nonsense such as “Make it happen, Paul Ryan” which we shall discuss below. It’s a sort of master class in “how to forget everything that’s known and imagine, instead, a UNICORN!”

The ‘Make it happen’ editorial imagines that Ryan, in his new role as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, might reshape tax policy to benefit ordinary citizens. That is hugely unlikely. Simply not plausible. In fact, we’re going to call it dumb, willfully dumb. It might be nice to imagine… sort of a momentary flight-of-fancy? But no.

Here’s the problem.

1. Paul Ryan is 44 years of age. His values are well-established. Mr. Ryan has never proposed a budget (or one of his “road maps” to a quasi-budget-framework) that wasn’t highly favorable to the richest among us and unfavorable to the many. That’s just a fact.

And his very public infatuation with Russian-American novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand should make it clear that Ryan, for whatever reason, instinctively admires the wealthy and the powerful — the “makers”. He’s not alone, of course. Veneration of the rich is a mark among Republican office holders, as both a personality trait and a general ideological stance.

Stephen King In 2012  Stephen King (yes, the author) wrote

They simply idolize the rich. Don’t ask me why; I don’t get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just can’t seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber.

See? By comparison, our language at The Daily Tissue is actually quite measured. Fans of Ranting (FOR) may enjoy the whole thing from King. Not surprisingly ranting by professional writers is among the best there is.

 

2. Paul Ryan’s jobsite is Washington D.C. Even if he wanted to rewrite tax law to help the “ordinaries” (He doesn’t. see above)…  even if he were a good-hearted Bernie Sanders and really did want to help the ordinaries, he wouldn’t be able to.

There’s a certain formulation that says, “gub’mint doesn’t work.” But that’s not accurate. The truth is it works well for some, and not so well for others. Is this just bar room grumbling? No, there is research.

In a widely reported study, Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page compared American’s polled preferences to actual results in 1,779 instances of government policy-making. Their study covered 20 years, at the federal level, with these results:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

Gilens and Page don’t write as colorfully as Stephen King, but, of course, they’re pretty much not allowed to. Still they conclude

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Finally, it’s particularly noteworthy that Gilens and Page were looking way back at twenty years of policy-making from 1981 to 2002. Should we suppose that the federal government hasn’t grown even more attuned to the preferences of the wealthy and business elites in the last 12 years?

If you can believe that, there’s a guy from the State Journal with a unicorn to sell you.