GRADING ON A CURVE

Charles Pierce is usually On, although like all of us I've gotten the feeling that he's struggling to think of what to say at this point about this election. I know he's taken a look at this site at least a few times, and I'd like to think that my post from Saturday was his inspiration to use the term "fee fees" (although I'm sure it's just two stellar minds thinking alike) in his latest missive. But his description of the media treatment of Trump (and conservatives in general) cannot be improved upon.

There is an accomplished woman saying something everybody knows is true and there is a vulgar talking yam who apparently could set his own dick on fire and not pay much of a price for it on television. That is grading on the curve, but it's nothing new. Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution. We graded him on a curve during Iran Contra on the grounds that he was too dim to know what was going on around him. We graded W on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid, when they played footsie with the militias out west and with the heirs to the White Citizens Councils in the South. We graded them on a curve every time they won a campaign behind Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or the late Terry Dolan back in the 1970s. We talked about how they were "reaching out" to disillusioned white voters who'd suffered in the changing economy, as though African-American workers didn't get slugged harder than anyone else by deindustrialization. We pretended not to notice how racial animus was the accelerant for the fire of discontent in the "Reagan Democrats." That was, and is, grading on a moral curve.

I'd be grumpy that I was working on something along these lines and now it's irrelevant, but the "grading curve" is so much better a metaphor than anything I was coming up with that I can't even be mad. Sometimes you just take a bow.

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29 Responses to “GRADING ON A CURVE”

  1. mago Says:

    Glad Chuck visits your site.

    Grading on a curve . . .

    Heh, David Brooks' moral universe.

  2. other bill Says:

    *applause emoji*

  3. wetcasements Says:

    I'm gonna vote for HRC. I might throw a few dollars her way. In my own small way, I do what I can to convince fellow ex-pats to register and vote against the Circus Peanut Satan here in lovely South Korea.

    But the exhaustion is palpable. There really is something different about this election. I'm willing to give Hillary more credit than you are, Ed, because I do think she'd make a perfectly decent president and surround herself with the people who won't (literally!) risk starting World War III.

    I do think when the dust settles in November and Hillary wins it, and with a chance at getting the Senate back, and with two to four SCOTUS picks in play we might all let the scales fall from our eyes and feel at least a little better about who we've got it the White House. We might be able to say the election sucked, but at least we sucked it up and got an adult elected who will for the most part follow in Obama's foot-steps (good on domestic stuff like gay marriage and SCOTUS, hopefully minimum wage increase, and terrible on foreign policy re: unending war, but not quite as bad as, ahem, nuclear armageddon).

    But yeah, taking hundreds of thousands from all those corporate speaking gigs has permanently soured me on her a bit. (Just how many millions does a 68 year old need, anyhow?)

    But hey, this is why the FSM created alcohol, right?

  4. Waspuppet Says:

    I dunno anymore whether it's more accurate to say Trump is being graded on a curve than to say they're being given different tests: "Well, Hillary only got an 85 on the calculus final, while Trump got a 95 on that 3rd-grade addition-and-subtraction quiz! Sure, Hillary's test was a bit harder, but numbers don't lie!"

  5. NickT Says:

    I remember Clinton trafficking in some pretty thinly veiled racist dog-whistling in the last stage of the 2008 primary – and I remember thinking that it ought to disqualify her from office as a Democrat – but probably wouldn't because the DNC and similar institutions were stuffed with people who would give her a pass because they basically agreed with her. The problems the Democrats face aren't just because of Clinton, although she is a wretched candidate, but because they've moved away from any sort of smart, aggressive, local politics for decades now. There's a limit to how long you can run on the moderate, milque-toast not as bad as the nasty GOP over there platform and not have voters wonder what the point of it all is. I want to believe in Clinton and the Democrats – but they make it very hard to do so.

    The only cure for America's increasing dementia seems to be for the greedy old party and the tainted enabling older centrists to die off. Whether they will do so quickly enough to allow saner, younger people a chance to right the ship seems doubtful to me.

  6. c u n d gulag Says:

    Conservatives in America aren't graded on "a curve."

    They're graded on 'A FUCKING SWITCH-BACK!'

    They do a "180" nearly every day, and the MSM just yawns.

    But, let a liberal/progressive/Democrat sigh, or roll his/her eyes, and it's disrespectful of conservatives!

    I swear, I'm exhausted!
    If America wants t-RUMP as Preznit, then we deserve every bad thing that that 'vulgar talking yam' will bring.

    I'm voting, and soon, will help GOTV in my area. But my part of Upstate NY is fairly blue…
    Oh, fuck it!!!

    Just help GOTV in your area(s)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. ronzie Says:

    Every time I think I've had a new idea I Google it and discover that hundreds, even thousands, have had it before me. Perhaps they should call themselves "Humbler"? Damn it, humbler.com has already been taken!

  8. postcaroline Says:

    I first read this dude's name as "Charles Peirce." Ha ha! But maybe that's just funny to me.

  9. Tim H. Says:

    If any of my metaphors would help… "The GOP has lain down with dixiecrats and got up with pick handles and inappropriately used sheets".

  10. greatlaurel Says:

    "The past is never dead. It's not even past" William Faulkner

    The United States, like every patient in therapy, has to face the real reasons for our problems. The election of President Barack Obama and now the candidacy of the first major party female candidate are ripping the bandages off the festering sores of misogyny, racism and classism that have been used to keep the majority of citizens from joining together to throw off the shackles of these scourges so they can reach for their full potential. Divide and conquer has always been the tool of sociopaths to maintain control of the masses. This tactic is being laid bare for all to see. The GOP is now resorting to openly calling for the assassination of HRC in their desperation to maintain control. The latest from the Kentucky governor shows just how desperate these sociopaths are to maintain control.

  11. Tim Says:

    The archive is "down for repair" so I can't find it, but one of my favorite Tom Tomorrow cartoons contrasted George W. Bush being asked to spell "cat," spelling it with a "k" and getting praised by the swooning commentators for getting so close to almost right. OTOH, Al Gore was asked what was the nature of light: particle or wave? He is then harshly criticized for "waffling" in his answer that it may be composed of both.

  12. Skipper Says:

    Wow — this sounds almost like a conspiracy theory – not taking the story at face value and all that. Real "Jill Stein territory."

  13. Emerson Dameron Says:

    As little respect as I have (grudging or otherwise) for Rush Limbaugh, he really found a glitch in the matrix with his conservative-identity-politics, playing-the-victim crap. The US right has been spoiled rotten for ages and the media are inexplicably terrified of their relentless mau-mauing.

    DFW nailed it as usual:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/04/host/303812/

    @wetcasements:

    I worry that Clinton will be undone by her pervasive paranoia. I have mixed feelings about radical transparency, but it's the way things are going and she refuses to get with that program, at a steep reputational cost. Every weird little secretive, passive-aggressive move on her part will be a years-long faux controversy and she will encounter Bill's challenge of not being able to get anything done.

    That doesn't mean she's not perfectly qualified or that she won't do a decent job. Now that some of the smoke has cleared from the primaries, I feel okay about voting for her. I just wish she would get with the times so that the right-wing histrionics won't be so "sticky," you know?

    I suppose I'm grading on a curve, too, in assuming that anyone should have to cater to their cynical mood swings.

  14. JDM Says:

    It's not paranoia if they're really after you, especially when they've been after you with BS for the last quarter of a century.

  15. old white person Says:

    @Emerson Dameron:

    "Every weird little secretive, passive aggressive move on her part will be a years-long controversy…"
    Also every transparent admission/revelation from HRC will be a years-long controversy. She can't win on that front.

  16. SiubhanDuinne Says:

    "Fee-fees" is in common usage at Balloon Juice and has been for years. Charlie Pierce has been known to show up over there on occasion.

  17. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @old white person:

    A lot of people have absolutely conspired to bring down the Clintons and that is something HRC has to deal with, more than other politicians.

    It would just be awesome to hear her say, "I have pneumonia. It sucks. Deal with it." She's going to take disproportionate crap from the right regardless. Show them their damned Birth Certificate and make them look like the idiot assholes they are.

    That's not her style, but her style seems frustratingly old-school in 2016.

  18. old white person Says:

    @Emerson Dameron:

    I totally agree. I felt the same when Bill said, Yes I smoked dope but I didn't inhale. Give me a break. I wanted him to say, yeah I did, so what?

  19. Khaled Says:

    Trump is the natural, logic, inevitable Republican candidate. A "politician" who isn't a "politician", a "strong leader" (who's actually not that strong or smart, but is playing the part), and has completely divorced himself from reality. Republicans have been playing fast and loose with facts and reality for at least a generation, if not longer. Thank Saint Reagan for bringing it all to national politics. Ever since the Laffer Curve, the Republican Newspeak of Economics and Political Philosophy has dealt with fiction that panders to the rich and uses dog whistles to connect to the lower and middle class white voters. Cutting taxes means more revenue! Deficits are bad when Democrats are in office! Government spending is bad unless it's on weapons! Government is terrible, so elect me to govern! Patriots are for sedition against democratically elected governments! Racism doesn't exist to keep minorities down, but invisible government regulations keep me and my fellow upper-middle class white people from being rich!

    If all politicians "lie", then facts no longer matter. I think it was a interview that NPR did in Altoona, PA, that people knew that Trump couldn't bring back coal jobs (what, is he going to put the coal back into the ground? Is he going to render all the technology of the past 100 years illegal and obsolete and toss it all into volcanos in Hawaii, so that we have men pushing up rail carts of coal up the mines again?) but they just liked to hear him say it. Of course they did. These people don't want to hear about real policy positions or detailed plans on how to improve the economy through using government spending with the highest return on investment, they want to hear that the brown and black people are dragging them down. Or that Trump will "Make America Great Again", whatever the hell that actually means.

    Politics is no longer about actual policies, and the political press don't actually care about how the government actually works or runs. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney in 2012 had policy proposals which were laughably inaccurate, full of terrible assumptions and BS accounting. So what. Almost no one, except for reporters and true believers, actually read them. And those that believed them did so because of tribal identities. Politics, and the horse race coverage that it gets, is insulting to the actual act of running a government. The political press would rather focus on "both-siderism" rather than call out the Right Wing on obvious lies because they are scared of having "liberal media bias" and are more concerned about ratings. So why should Trump have policy proposals? It's not as if anyone will care.

    And as for political tribal identity, consider that Republicans in Mississippi were complaining that in the run-off between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel in the 2014 Republican primary that Cochran must have been cheating because "black people" came to the polls. Not that black people could actually be Republicans, it was seen as more likely that the Cochran campaign bribed "others" to get elected. I've been told lots of stupid jokes and listened to tons of dumbass whines from white people over the years because people assume I'm a racist Republican because I'm white, all of which got worse when Obama got elected. I was even told that I "make too much money to be a Democrat" by a boss of mine, he was convinced that only black and poor people could be Democrats.

    Clinton Rules are in full effect, but more than that, it is almost like the press can't help itself. Every insane, stupid, uniformed rant by Trump and his minions are plastered about, and rational, reasonable people can't believe it is actually happening. But since we have tribal identities when it comes to politics, he gets 30-40% of the support of the country because he's a "Republican". The flirting with the White Supremacists is just part of the power grab. I dunno if Trump even believes everything he says, he just says it all to get attention.

  20. mothra Says:

    Also every transparent admission/revelation from HRC will be a years-long controversy. She can't win on that front.

    My partner in crime and I were talking last night about Hillary's campaign's foolishness in trying to keep the pneumonia diagnosis under wraps last night. I said that they should have just said that was what her cough turned out to be and she thought she could power through it because every single worker bee in the country knows what it is like to force yourself to work when you are sick. But then my partner had a stroke of brilliance and said that Hillary just needed to schedule a press conference and say "I got the walkin' pneumonia and need a shot of rhythm and blues!" and then just blast Chuck Berry singing Roll Over Beethoven. It would be HIlarious and what the fuck could anyone do but smile?

  21. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Khaled:

    I'm not a registered or loyal Democrat. As a thought experiment, I wonder if seriously hardcore DNC Dems who think Debbie Wasserman Schultz is super cool would support an objectively dishonest, delusional, incompetent Democrat (say, Cynthia McKinney), against a fairly boring Republican (say, Romney).

    I am not sure that they would in significant numbers. I really think the modern GOP is special that way.

  22. Emerson Dameron Says:

    PS: I realize that some Republicans believe that HRC is "objectively dishonest, delusional, [and] incompetent," even compared to Trump. Let's be serious for a second, though.

  23. mago Says:

    Wow, Khaled outdid himself, and that's saying something.

  24. Khaled Says:

    @Emerson Dameron

    Traficant in NE Ohio would suggest a good number would support him. He was corrupt as the day was long, but kept getting reelected because, as one person I asked about it, he was corrupt for the area. Remember that one person's "pork barrel politics" is another regions "jobs program". However, I'm not sure how much of a "Democrat" he really was, since he pretty much was hated by his own party, and I'm betting Trump will carry the Mahoning Valley.

    @mago

    By outdid myself, do you mean the tl;dr wall of text or the persistent snark?

  25. Arjun Jobil Says:

    No mention of the third-party candidates for pres and vp. OTOH, i suppose their chances are as good as my cat's chances of catching the fly buzzing around my living room.

    BTW, anyone notice that "Make America Great Again" is not so different from the Chinese propaganda slogan of "Realize the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation? The Chinese have used that one for decades.

  26. geoff Says:

    Bob Cesca, a former Clintonite, also cannot resist the grading on a curve meme:

    http://www.salon.com/2016/09/13/media-misfeasance-on-the-campaign-trail-free-pass-for-trump-on-his-taxes-and-health-but-hillary-is-hounded/

    I think "the curve" is a natural outgrowth of the media's "both sides do it" false equivalency (h/t Driftglass). You know, "real" news outlets (we'll let Fox off the hook here; they are after all Fair and Balanced) have to avoid even the appearance of "left-wing bias" and so at least TRY to avoid pointing out that one of our two (USian) political parties has gone insane over about the last forty years. And that the other party now essentially occupies the former policy space of its rival: neoliberalism (in domestic policy) and neoconservatism (in foreign policy).

  27. geoff Says:

    @Arjun, I think you have just proved that Ronald Reagan really WAS a Communist dupe, thanks!

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/donald-trump-is-americas-stupidest-person-has-never-heard-of-google-20150325

    (Matt Taibbi on the Giant Evil Baby's claim that he coined the "make America great again" phraseology, when in fact it was Reagan's campaign slogan in 1980, something easily verified by looking it up on the goddamn internet, or maybe just remembering 1980.)

  28. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Khaled:

    Aside from being one of the weirdest US political figures in modern times, Traficant did line a few people's actual pockets – having the right criminal in office is great for some people.

    By contrast, Trump is transparently full of it, for no purpose beyond bolstering his ego and serving as a spokesman for idiot rage. His supporters must realize that he can't and won't do anything for them – if not, they are so gullible that I'm not sure how I'm supposed to maintain a veneer of respect for them – but they will vote for him anyway because Mah Feels.

  29. Talisker Says:

    I'll just note for the record that Obama is also saying "You don't grade the presidency on a curve": https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/13/barack-obama-donald-trump-anger-hate

    Most likely he borrowed that from Pierce or came up with it independently, but I like to think of Obama relaxing with G&T after a hard day's presidenting.