I have a piece at CNN.com today about what the press did and didn't learn from its performance leading up to the war that I wanted to expand on a little. You might remember Donald Rumsfeld's philosophical musings on "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," which I think offers a good way to look at how so many people got so much wrong, with such tragic results. There were things they knew they didn't know, but they decided that those things didn't matter (or that they just didn't care), and there were things they didn't know they didn't know. That applies to the Bush administration, its supporters, the frightened Democrats who went along, and to the press. Here's a bit of what I wrote:
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state.
Last September, about 60 Vermonters met in the chambers of the house of representatives in Montpelier to celebrate the state’s “independence spirit” and to discuss the goals of “environmental sustainability, economic justice, and Vermont self--determination.” The speaker of the house had given up the space free of charge for the one-day conference. First at the podium was a Princeton-educated yak farmer and professor of journalism named Rob Williams, one of the organizers of the event, who at 9 A.M. opened the proceedings by acknowledging what he called “some unpleasant and hard truths.” Amid the twin global crises of peak oil and climate change, the United States was “an out-of-control empire.” It was “unresponsive to the needs, concerns, and desires of ordinary citizens.”
After Democrats lost the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, many on the left argued that part of their problem was that they approached politics through an often bloodless perspective centered on issues, while Republicans knew it was all about character. As one of us used to say when talking about this problem, in one election after another, the Democrat would come before the voters and say, "If you read my ten-point plan, you will see that my solutions are superior." The Republican would then point at the Democrat and say, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." Republicans understood that politics isn't about issues, it's about character and identity.
Every year, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a huge report called "The State of the News Media," and this year's installment contains some surprising results, far beyond what you'd expect about declining newspaper revenues and the generalized slow death of journalism (though there's plenty of that). In particular, television news is undergoing some rapid changes, most of which are driven by finances and many of which look seriously problematic.
Let's start with local TV news (we'll get to cable in a moment)...
On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatchop-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked, "what if his son weren't gay?
In the post-Reagan era, at least, liberals have always been plagued by a “DMV” problem. Every state has a Department of Motor Vehicles, and the general view is that they’re terrible. No one looks forward to the DMV and for good reason: The lines are long, the forms are complicated, and the service is poor.
After months of Republican resistance, the House of Representative finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) late last month. What many casual political observers may not know is that there were always enough votes in the House for the bill to pass, but it couldn’t get a vote because of something called the “Hastert Rule”—an informal practice in the House by which only legislation supported by a majority of the majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to come to a vote. How Speaker John Boehner got VAWA passed tells us a lot about what the next two years is going to be like in Washington.
This past January was the deadliest month in Chicago in more than a decade. Forty-two people lost their lives on the city’s streets, most of them to gun violence. For 2012, the total number of homicides was 509, of which 443 involved firearms. While most of the shootings could be attributed to gang feuds, innocent people were caught in crossfire that often erupted in broad daylight and on public streets.
It’s too late for Tonisha Howard, the mother of three in Milwaukee who was fired for leaving work to be with her hospitalized two-year-old. And for Felix Trinidad, who was so afraid of losing his job at Golden Farm fruit store in Brooklyn that he didn’t take time off to go to the doctor—even after he vomited blood. Trinidad, a father of two who had stomach cancer, continued to work until just days before his death from stomach cancer at age 34. But for workers in Portland and perhaps Philadelphia, paid sick days just got much closer to becoming reality.
For 2013, the American Conservative Union tagged their annual CPAC conference with the slogan "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." Presumably the organizers realized that the GOP's demographic troubles from 2012 spelled future trouble for the conservative movement. But Friday afternoon the panel trotted out the same old broken horses who ruined the party in the last election.
When President Obama got Republicans to raise taxes on the top one percent of income earners as part of the January deal that ended the threat of the fiscal cliff, some Democrats gloated that Republicans had been made to go back on the famous Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes. It appeared that Obama, fresh from his November victory and taking advantage of Republicans’ divisions, had won big.
“Our biggest problems over the next ten years are not deficits,” the president told House Republicans Wednesday, according to those who attended the meeting. The president needs to deliver the same message to the public, loudly and clearly. The biggest problems we face are unemployment, stagnant wages, slow growth, and widening inequality—not deficits. The major goal must be to get jobs and wages back, not balance the budget. Paul Ryan’s budget plan—essentially, the House Republican plan—is designed to lure the White House and Democrats, and the American public, into a debate over how to balance the federal budget in ten years, not over whether it’s worth doing.
Today was the first day of CPAC, and thus another chance to see the GOP’s complete disinterest in reforming itself or its message. Each of today’s speakers, from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, to former Rep. Alan West and Dick Morris (world’s worst pundit), represents the right wing of the Republican Party.