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What’s With Maddow?

October 14th, 2014

I’ve always liked Rachel Maddow. She’s right on the nose on so much stuff, and often times is ahead of the curve; she’ll see a national story developing well before it’s a national story, and will be there, in force, well before the crowd. She can also be overly persistent sometimes. Both of those qualities were on display with her coverage of the New Jersey Bridge Scandal, reporting on it long before it became “a thing.” And though it was patently clear something was going on, there just wasn’t enough of a smoking gun, and so the story died out. Maddow hung on, though, and although she has stopped covering the story on a daily basis, she still maintains that it’s alive and kicking.

Often times she will highlight a cause that really needs to be highlighted, championing a story that deserves attention but would never get it otherwise. A lot of people are not fond of her meandering connect-the-dots story intros, but I think they’re great, establishing context and/or apt analogies. Yes, Maddow is extremely partisan, but so long as you stick to the facts and give a story fair coverage, partisanship is not that big a deal, so long as you account for it.

So, long story short, I like Maddow, and watch her show regularly—it’s one of the few that is run in full, video and audio, in a podcast, commercial free. Nice for political junkies living overseas, like me.

However, recently Maddow has started staking out some pretty strange positions. For example, with the recent re-engagement in Iraq against ISIS, Maddow has glommed on to the air-strike strategy as being bogus. It’s clear that few people want “boots on the ground,” but are OK with air strikes and other support roles, as they are not as significant a commitment.

Maddow’s response, strangely, is to claim that the aircraft involved could be shot down, and once that happens… “boots on the ground!”

Um, yes… for a few hours, and then they’re off the ground. However, Maddow seems to be suggesting that planes going down in Iraq would somehow be equivalent to a ground war. Which is pretty weird. I mean, we had mostly air coverage in the Balkans under Clinton, and some aircraft went down. We got them out, and it never led to a ground war.

If Maddow wants to speak out against any engagement in Iraq, then OK. I think there’s a lot that could be said for that position, unpopular as it may be. But her current stance, which she hammers away at with her trademark persistence, is pretty groundless, if you’ll forgive the unfortunate pun.

Then today, she takes on Leon Panetta. After a long and less-connected-than-usual intro covering tell-all books under Reagan and Clinton, she essentially attacks Panetta as being an attack dog for Hillary Clinton. Though I’m not exactly sure how that works, but whatever.

However, in the midst of this takedown, one of her big, let’s-laugh-at-how-ridiculous-this-is pieces of evidence is that Panetta’s criticisms of Obama in his book clash with… Panetta’s statements when he was testifying on Obama’s behalf as Defense Secretary.

Really? Rachel, you do know that cabinet members commonly espouse positions they may not necessarily agree with, don’t you? That Panetta could easily have disagreed, but as Secretary of Defense, he pretty much had to represent the president’s point of view. But Maddow scoffs at this as if it is some huge act of hypocrisy on Panetta’s part.


Kinda bizarre.

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  1. Troy
    October 15th, 2014 at 12:53 | #1

    it’d be interesting if Obama really is the fuck-up he plays on TV.

    now, don’t get me wrong, on the “W” scale he’s been like a 0.2 out of 10, but he’s been pretty hapless as a Chief Leader Guy.

    I don’t blame him per se, he came out of nowhere last decade and got rolled by his former Senate colleagues in 2009-2011, and of course the electorate took whatever power he had away in the 2010 elections, just like they emasculated Clinton (so to speak) in 1994.

    But of course the difference being 1995-2000 was a pretty good economic upswing for whatever reasons, while 2011-now has been a grim grind trying to hold on to what we have.

    This economy needs more government activist intervention, but we’re not going to get it wit h the GOP holding the House, plus of course their blocking position in the Senate.

  2. Tim Kane
    October 18th, 2014 at 14:51 | #2

    Hi Luis.

    I think here you take on a very interesting, two very interesting topics.

    There appears to be a cleavage amongst the inside-the-megolopolis (as opposed to inside-the-beltway) Democratic apparatus.

    Let me take the last one first, and the first one last.

    On Panetta. He’s a Clintonista. The Clinton’s like Khrushchev did with Stalin, have decided the best way for Hillary to get elected president in 2016 is to disavow Obama.

    From Maddow’s view, this is very short sited. I think, she’s correct.

    In the current round of elections Democrats have taken to disavowing Obama, but for good reason: its the classic 6 year fatigue of a presidency in off year congressional elections. Many Dems are fighting for seats in traditionally Red states. So, disavowing Obama has certain tactical smarts.

    But what’s smart tactically in the short run may not be strategically smart in the long run.

    Particularly, the 2016 stands to be an election favoring Democrats. The shoe is going to be on the other foot.

    Second, Obama has had some significant achievements that progressives/liberals have long sought and which should not be separated from the brand: (near) Universal health insurance, Consumer Finance protection, Wall Street Regulation (less than it should be, but more than what can be expected), and by 2016, if current trends continue, Obama will have netted the creation of 10 million new jobs (maybe even 12 million) which is rather remarkable in that his first year the economy continued to lose jobs – around 4 million).

    (Krugman arguing on Obama’s behalf

    See: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/in-defense-of-obama-20141008?page=2

    And: http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60460939)

    (I submit that the current increase in Economic growth and recent up turn in job growth is a function of health the ACA coming on line. As Krugman points out, premiums have been coming in at 15% below expectations. I contend that the drop in premium and premium expectations had released purchasing power in the aggregate, injecting the economy with what it needs most, some sorely needed increase in demand).

    Running away from the Obama record makes some, limited sense now, because so many pols are running in red states. But it is only limited. And it comes at the expense of bragging about all that has been achieved… which will be much more important in 2016 as we get past the current election and Obama fatigue.

    Now on to Maddow’s anti-air war in Iraq position. I disagree with her on this point especially. Whether to get involved in the Middle East is always a dubious question – I agree with that. On the other hand, tolerance of Genocide is an enormous moral dilemma for us. How ever, the tactic of using air (and sea) superiority to influence outcomes on the ground is a strategy (or is that tactic) that has proved itself amazingly well during Clinton’s handling of the Balkan Wars mess. That mess included dealing with genocidal type of events too.

    The Balkans WAS THE, mess of the 20th century, in fact it was the mess than undid the 20th century and paved the way for the 20th century sorry mass of suffering. In the last quarter of the 20th century Bismark himself forsaw the mess in the Balkans as the undoing of Europe. All of Europe’s more far sighted elite saw it as thus, and none saw a way of undoing it’s potential. In the summer of 1914 all of that began to unwind: Serb nationalist assassinate the heir to the Austrian throne, Austria threatens Serbia, Russia threatens Austria, Germany backs Austria, France backs Germany, WWI ensues, the war ends in humiliation but NOT true defeat of Germany, as a result, Germany attempts to refight the war, this time with massive genocide, that war ends in bipolar ideoloigcal division of Europe, which imposes strong men on the Eastern side, when the cold war ends and all the wars in Europe have been seemingly solved by European integration, in the 1990s, you still have got Bismark’s original problem still going on in the Balkans.

    Clinton’s use of air/sea superiority allowed the U.S. to tip the bargaining scales in favor of fairness and decency, forcing all parties to the bargaining table to work out a solution, that has held up for roughly 20 years.

    The Clinton are doctrine solved a very long, deep and throny problem in the Balkans – so it’s reasonable to assume that a similar use of strategy/tactic in the Middle East could eventually bring about a similar outcome. The use of American lead air power to stop genocide and keep any one side from gaining hegemony, leading all parties to the bargaining table to work out a fair and equitable deal.

    I think the common thread in Rachel’s position is anti-Clintonistas.

    I think she might be able to understand Dems in red states disavowing Obama’s accomplishment, but for all other Dems it means disavowing progressivisms latest, greatest accomplishments – and you either have faith in it and believe in it or you don’t. The Clintonista’s having jumped onto the disavow Obama, means changing that from a local tactic to a longer term national strategy which means Dems in 2016 won’t be selling themselves on the things that they’ve done to improve the country – which is hair brained.

    So that has pushed Maddow into an anti-Clintonista camp in the Dem aparatus and as an extension of that, she’s disavowing the use of Clinton-doctrine that worked so well in the Balkans from working in the Middle East. It might not work. The situation is different. It will probably require pulling some different levers and what not.

    This all goes to illustrate that Obama was a progressive pragmatist, where as Maddow is more ideologically progressive.

    Right now, I’m agreeing with Krugman. I think Obama screwed up going too small on stimulus in January 2009 which helped the Republicans make a strong come back – but the achievements of Obama are still substantial. I would like to see Krugman and his kind try to trace the improving economy (in the U.S.) to the ACA lowering health care premiums. That might come with time.

    I agree with Maddow in that disavowing Obama is a huge mistake on the part of the Clintonistas (who want to appear more hawkish because TODAY Isis is a problem – to contrast themselves with Obama) but in 2016 Clinton won’t be running against Obama.

    I disagree with Maddow on the use of the Clinton doctrine for regional stabilization.

    I do think the Clintonista’s transformation of disavowing Obama from tactic to strategy may work against them, big time. In the Democratic party it creates a progressive void – most likely to be filled by Elizabeth Warren. Just as Hillary’s short sited war vote in 2003 sunk her in 2008, her short sightedness here is going to leave a huge void in the democratic party that could be filled by Warren, and if 2016 looks different from 2014, which it undoubtedly will (and the Clintons should know this more than just about any other people) it could mean Hillary’s birthright to be President, the first women President, will be upstaged and overturned again: last time by Obama, this time by Warren.

    Unbelievable when you think of it. And it all could be avoided if the Clinton’s didn’t tack so hard away from Obama’s achievements.

    Of course there’s always the chance that Clinton’s could be right – but I think their thinking is clouded by anger over Obama’s usurping of what they thought was their rightful claim to the thrown.

    This is unfortunate because the world has a lot of problems and could use the Clinton’s with all of their experience back at the helm. Also, Hillary is a street fighter (tactical oriented person) which is what I’d like to see confronting the Republicans. I also like to see her become President as reward for Bill’s great speach at the last democratic convention where he single handedly eviscerated the Republicans in one of American politics great historical moments.

  3. Tim Kane
    October 18th, 2014 at 15:00 | #3

    My font changes were supposed to be for only one word “THE” in the above posting, but it didn’t stick.

    Also I have a number of embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

    The most glaring is the the Bismark prediction. That took place in the last quarter of the 19th century, not the 20th (obviously to those who know who Bismark was). While, I don’t really like Bismark, I have to acknowledge his intelligence, talent and ability. Once Bismark unified Germany, he did an amazingly good job of helping to keep the peace of Europe afterwards – and essentially was aware how German unification created unease in Europe and compensated, somewhat, for that. It was tell tale sign that Wilhelm II fire him, setting things on a course that lead to 1914.

  4. Luis
    October 18th, 2014 at 15:09 | #4

    I think the key element is confidence. Democrats seem to have none. They wilt at even the idea that somewhere down the line there may be unhappiness among voters, and so they totally pass on winning ideas, policies, and strategies.

    Republicans, on the other hand, have total confidence, even when their ideas are outright idiotic lies so easily proven false that it’s hard not to see it as self-parody. And yet these morons keep winning–and not just because of gerrymandering. It’s because they have conviction.

    A confident moron with supreme conviction in transparent lies will always win over a principled but tepid and cowed person who has the people’s best interests at heart.

    As for Obama, he’s a different creature. He wants badly to be Reagan, but he lacks horribly in leadership capabilities. He speaks well, but can’t lead a dead hamster on a leash worth a damn. He negotiates by compromising halfway before he ever gets to the table, and the gives away the other half to placate an opposition who make it clear they’ll never vote with him anyway, and then keeps on doing the same thing.

    Had Reagan been a Democrat today (which, sadly, he kind of would be without changing too much), he would have done far better than Obama. He would have gone to the people from the beginning and hammered away, making conservatives afraid to lose, thus getting enough support to pass far more than Obama ever got passed.

    I am increasingly disillusioned with Obama. I think he means well, but he’s just another post-9/11 Democrat who presents himself better. He seems more interesting in placating people who refuse to consider being placated than he is in getting the job done.

    Mind you, he is a LOT better than having Bush, McCain, or Romney in that office–but that’s hardly difficult to accomplish.

  5. Troy
    October 18th, 2014 at 22:07 | #5

    Obama will have netted the creation of 10 million new jobs (maybe even 12 million) which is rather remarkable in that his first year the economy continued to lose jobs – around 4 million).


    is full-time employment divided by age 25-64 population, showing employment rate is still lower than the early 80s recession.

    Our economy is fundamentally f-, er, screwed.


    is a similar chart, comparing full-time jobs (blue) vs the age 25-64 population (red).

    This shows that we’re about 10 million jobs short of the full-employment trend (78% of the population).

    As for Obama’s turnaround in 2009, what happened was an immense boost in government spending 2008-now replaced the immense (trillion-plus) boost the economy was getting 2002-2007 from the housing bubble BS.


    is real (2009 dollars) per-capita (age 25-54) government spending.

    Government is spending over $40,000 per core working-age person now. That’s like one government job per person, almost (!)

    I’m not saying we need to cut spending, but we do need to understand how bizarre our economy has become. I don’t think anyone does, although the center-left media is starting to bang on the inequality drum, which is a start.

  6. Troy
    October 18th, 2014 at 22:13 | #6

    I am increasingly disillusioned with Obama. I think he means well, but he’s just another post-9/11 Democrat who presents himself better. He seems more interesting in placating people who refuse to consider being placated than he is in getting the job done.

    I was thinking about this more after my first reply. That was an angry response, and, like you, I think theres adequate reason for us liberals to be pretty angry now.

    But Obama doesn’t have the luxury of appearing angry; the last thing the electorate wants to see is a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton type haranguing them on the TV.

    Plus, showing anger basically means you’ve lost the argument.

    People have been bullshitted so thoroughly by the conservative message machine they don’t know up from down any more.

    Politicians can only be as effective and intelligent as the electorate that puts them into power.

    “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” — Winston Churchill

  7. Troy
    October 18th, 2014 at 22:22 | #7

    furthermore, my thoughts also went to how we need a real communicator in front of people, getting reality into their thick skulls.

    Someone like Robert Reich or Krugman, able to educate people with facts and stuff.

    The president did bring Austan Goolsbee onboard, and looking over his wikipedia page I’m quite impressed with his career.

    What we need is a leader who can spew the above commentators’ talking points effortlessly, and get the electorate focused on the actual problems we face, not all the bullshit diversions the conservatives throw out to defend our very broken status quo.

    Doesn’t help matters that Obama doesn’t really do press conferences. Then again, with so much of the media in the tank, they’re probably not that a productive use of his time.

    We can’t just defend all the time. We’ve got to start attacking again.

  8. Luis
    October 18th, 2014 at 22:36 | #8

    Thoughts on Elizabeth Warren? Heard a lot about her, she speaks well when I see her, don’t know much about her history or record. Tends to focus on very specific things, like student loans.

  9. Troy
    October 18th, 2014 at 23:34 | #9

    Warren is great on economics at least. She’s what the right pretends Hillary is.

    Only skeleton I’m aware of is the allegations of claiming minority status for some reason:


    but that looks resolved I guess

    Her The Two-Income Trap is a very important thesis that mainstream economics still doesn’t understand (e.g. the 1970s inflation was greatly driven by households gaining two full-time incomes).

    Without solving the economics issue we’re not going to have the luxury of worrying about all the other BS.

    Problem is the GOP is the party of “Got Mine F— You” which can work as long as they continue to get ~50% of the vote — the upper quintiles will always vote to keep what they have to keep the poors down, even if “the 1%” is making out like bandits behind the scenes.

  10. Tim Kane
    October 19th, 2014 at 00:20 | #10


    You were an early and strong supporter of Obama. I am surprised that now you grow disillusioned with him. The main problems were evident early – the negotiating with himself instead of against the GOP. I think Krugman’s assessment is broadly accurate: disappointing yes, but not without major accomplishments (and certainly better than the alternatives).

    Knowing what you now know, and feeling what you now feel, would you have preferred Hillary in 2008?

  11. Luis
    October 19th, 2014 at 00:41 | #11


    No, I don’t think Hillary would have fared much better. She’d have been tougher, but wouldn’t have had the chance to break through to a larger segment of the American people like Obama did. He had a chance, he just wasn’t the leader he showed promise to be. I figured him for a Reagan type, expected there to be “Obama Republicans,” not by choice, but because Obama would continue to take his message to the people. After he got elected, he stopped communicating with the people and got too engaged with the futile political game. I think the people would have been his only shot at making the political game work for him.

  12. Troy
    October 19th, 2014 at 02:11 | #12

    The arrival of the reactionary Tea Party is an under-appreciated force here. “You can keep your ‘Change’ I want my country back!”

    The right organized and fought back, putting very real fear in all GOP incumbents in 2010 by primarying out so many of them, not to mention talking out many Dems, good people like Senator Feingold.

    The left sorta wafted away, the Occupy protests a case in point. Dems can take our vote as a given regardless of what they do or don’t do. This pushes them to the right, like the Clintons, to “triangulate” towards the muddled middle “oh, I’m a small-I independent voter”.

    Truman was President 30 years after being an officer in WW I, and became President at age 60. Obama was a highschooler 30 years before 2008 and was elected just 4 years after catching his lucky break in his Illinois Senate race.

    The right pretends the media is dominated by liberal voices, but it’s obvious they have a monopoly control of it, really, since rich people sign all the paychecks, and anger-right radio plays better than worry-left radio.

    There’s no reality to be found in today’s discourse. The important stuff isn’t talked about.


    The last thing centrist Dems want to see is street protests; that turns away the muddled middle from the “Third Way Democrat” brand of centrism.

    Here’s a funny story of history about that that . . .

    In the 1925 German Presidential election, the electorate was 30% left (SDP), ~10% far-left (Communist!), 15% centrist and the rest reactionary right, from catholic cultural conservatives to Hitlerites (literally!)

    Nobody got a majority in the first round so for the second everyone re-coalitioned. The centrists and SDP coalitioned behind the centrist candidate and the right coalitioned for war-hero Hindenburg, who saved Prussia from the Russians in 1914 and almost beat the West in 1917-18.

    Problem was the center-left coalition needed the communists to win, and there was nothing but bad blood between the SDP and the communist party from Weimar’s early days (the SDP was running the show when the communists were trying to overthrow the Weimar Constitution) (and also Stalin didn’t want communists to join forces with Germany’s left since Stalin’s modus operandi was Autocratic Centralization not the give-and-take of multi-party politics)

    So the communists voted Communist, throwing the election to Hindenburg. 10 years later Hitler had taken over from Hindenburg, outlawed the Communists and threw all he could find into the new concentration camps.

    Separately, politics and economics are weird. Together, they are utterly bizarre!

  13. Tim Kane
    October 20th, 2014 at 19:29 | #13


    I agree on your assessment of post election Obama.

    I did not originally have the hope for him that you and others did. After he was sure to win the nomination, I placed my hopes in him nonetheless.

    Then, within the very week after being elected Obama said, rifting on his hope and change meme “Change in the economy means from the bottom up, not the top down.”

    My biggest problem with the American policy has been the concentration of wealth, since around 2002 or 2003. This is the kind of thing that destroys civilizations not to mention it destroyed a decade or decade and a half of my livelihood and overall happiness.

    Anyway, at that point I was off the fence. It was also the last time that Obama said anything progressive about the economy (or much else) until he began running for re-election.

    I began to accuse Obama of a “phoning it in” presidency.

    In January 2009, I was with Krugman on the stimulus is too small thing. South Korea implemented a stimulus equal to 25% of their GNP over 4 years. They were one of only 2 advanced economies to grow in 2009 (0.2%) (Australia, I think, was the other). By 2010 they had 3% unemployment, and the local press referred to the recession of 2009 like it was ancient history – one quarter in 2010 they had 7% growth, and 6% overall for 2010 (I actually think they fudged figures downwards out of an embarrassment of riches compared to other countries).

    A similar stimulus in the U.S. would have been $4 trillion over 4 years. (America has a big economy, if you aren’t comfortable with big numbers, you are in the wrong line of discussions). Any stimulus less than $1 trillion just wasn’t serious. We got around $800 billion, nearly half of which was tax cuts, which arguably is what caused the collapse of the economy to begin with.

    Had Obama gone full throttle, and did as you said, the Reagan thing, going to the people, he could have had a bigger stimulus. A bigger stimulus would have saved more people and more families in time for the 2010 election. A full recovery by 2010 might have kept Republicans from gaining the house.

    Obama, I think, likes to phone it in. He only gets energized when his own job is at stake. I personally know families that were once decent middle class that have been utterly and completely destroyed by the economic collapse – I mean emotionally, morally and physically destroyed.

    Furthermore, he talked all of us progressives into accepting “public option” as a substitute for single payer health care insurance – then, upon getting elected, threw public option under the bus in an act of negotiating with himself.

    Nonetheless, Krugman is right. He has some significant accomplishments but only during this first two years. We got stimulus light and healthcare light, and that’s better than nothing.

    I want to point out, that when the bye elections came up in 2002, George Bush was everyhwere campaigning for Republicans. I hate to give Bush any complements or credit for anything, but even he had a harder work ethic than Obama when it came to doing the political thing.

    Also, I don’t mean to advocate for Warren. I’m only positing the idea that a Hillary that moves too hard to the right, too early, creates a vacuum in the democratic party for a progressive to step into – a vacuum that need not be there. Pragmatically speaking, a democrat should tack to the left during primary season and tact to the right during the general election season. Hillary is tacking to the right already – that in and of itself invites a challenge from her left. Maybe not Warren, but maybe someone. If it were Warren, then I’d expect other’s to charge into the fray too, because Warren would split the female vote – Hillary’s current bedrock. She could end up being sandwiched in by a conservative democratic male candidate to her right.

    I agree with Maddow in that Democrats should not choose as a strategy the backing away from their progressive achievements, although as a tactic in 2014 it might be justified.

    I disagree with Maddow on the efficacy of the Clinton doctrine for the use of air superiority as a catalyst to force local, regional parties to a solution that everyone can live with.

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