The Weekly Roundup of Morning Joe and Chris Matthews
Here is another roundup of short items that are in the news, some of which are just part of the buzz and so will have a very short half-life, but nonetheless raise long continuing issues that deserve comment.
McDonald’s is subject to short term walkouts because fast food workers want a substantially higher minimum wage. Conservative critics say that will raise the cost of food. There is no way around the law of supply and demand. My view is that “the law of supply and demand” is being invoked in a metaphysical fashion. That “law” does not demand that McDonald is guaranteed its profit margins and so has to balance off wage hikes with price increases. Profit margins for this vastly successful company can just come down because it has matured as an industry to the point that its labor force is no longer high school students but adults. Public pressure may be enough of a goad to increase the minimum wage but there is also the possibility of union organization and for over a century now collective bargaining has been regarded as compatible with a free market. People can combine in units to negotiate for wages just as companies that buy goods in bulk can negotiate for a discount. That is a long way from creating a monopoly of labor. American unionists do not call general strikes or political ones, just strikes within one or another industry whose individual companies, by the way, had already worked in collusion to see to it that people who were unionists in one company did not get a job at another company. So the reinvention of anti-union ideology is just another awakening of a long term Conservative bias and probably without sufficient knowledge of labor history. Steve Rattner, Joe Scarborough’s favorite economist, could educate him about this if Joe cared to listen.
Not just Conservatives deserve criticism for being glib however much one may sympathize with all those talking head broadcast people who have to supply hours and hours of talk about whatever seems to be or is created as breaking news. But we all have our different jobs to do. Chris Matthews, who prides himself on his well earned reputation for knowing about politics, nevertheless finds it necessary to place himself in the middle so as not to seem a ranter. He does so by regularly invoking the Democratic candidacies of McGovern, Mondale and Dukakis as times when the Democratic Party went too far to the Left just as the Republican Party is now going to far to the Right. That is a misreading of political history. No one knows how the ’72 race would have gone if Republican operatives had not interfered in it. Muskie might have been the nominee who went on to defeat a not all that popular Richard Nixon. And Jimmy Carter was elected. And Walter Mondale was probably one of the people best prepared ever to take over the Presidency. He was the first Vice-President to be given serious responsibilities by the sitting President and was the inheritor and leader of the Farmer Labor coalition whose shining light had been Hubert Humphrey. Mondale was a Liberal, but hardly a bomb-thrower, no more so than McGovern, whose crowning achievement, aside from being a war hero, was the food stamp program which Republicans are still trying to unravel. And while Dukakis was hardly inspiring, he was indeed what he claimed to be, a technocrat who would have provided sound government.
What defeated the Democrats was Ronald Reagan. He was always charming even when he mouthed awful things he made up, like the Chicago welfare queen driving in her limousine to pick up her check, or beginning his successful Presidential run in the town where Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman had been killed. Reagan, once elected, turned over government to his first rate cabinet until he engaged in the impeachable offense of trading hostages for weapons. But Democrats did not have the stomach for another impeachment and the country wouldn’t have stood for it even though Reagan had violated one of the central tenets of a democratic society: that the parliament has the power of the purse over foreign policy.
The other reason the Democratic candidates were defeated was because the Southern strategy was so successful. The South had gone Republican because of the passage by LBJ of civil rights legislation. That is still a key divide between the parties. The Republicans think the bad days are over even as they try to suppress the vote and Democrats think that eternal vigilance and oversight is the price of free elections. So Republicans shouldn’t get high and mighty or bolstered in their convictions about past Democrats they consider Lefties, especially when the present day Rightists are truly off the deep end. This country would have managed to survive those Democratic nominees, who were serious and sober men, while Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and their ilk are peddling the same ideas from which we thought the union movement and the civil rights movement had liberated us. Do you want either one of them running foreign policy? The current crop of Right wing Republican candidates is just empty ranters. There is no use in Chris Matthews trying to be even handed.
Moving on. NBC and CNN have announced projects on Hillary. Rance Priebus is against them. He wants to have debates on networks that support his party. So much for a free press. It isn’t a question of the conflict between the news and entertainment divisions of a network. It is whether networks can program what they like. Doe the RNC chairman also want to send a representative to NY Times editorial meetings to help them select what stories should be placed where? That I take to be the main object of newspaper journalism in that the information can be gotten in other places but the judgment about what is important rests with the news departments of the Times.
Morning Joe chimes in to say he can’t think of a Conservative who is the hero of a movie about Presidents. That may be the result of the fact that Conservatives prefer to make pictures about soldiers rather than politicians. The movies about MacArthur and Patton were about Conservative heroes. So is any John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie. And movies about Liberal Presidents are hardly all that flattering. Remember Primary Colors? Clinton came across as awfully sleazy. It took someone left of Liberal, Oliver Stone, to make a movie that showed George Bush II to be appealing and Stone even pulled off that same trick for the much less appealing Richard Nixon. (Isn’t it interesting that there has never been a major motion picture about Eisenhower? There was a not bad television movie, but nothing very grand.) Joe and his friends are just not up on movie history.
And anyway, that’s the breaks. You take popular culture as it comes. Ronald Reagan said he had never played a villain and that stood him in good stead with voters. Should his movies have been banned from the airways once he went into politics? This is about free speech. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to be saying that free speech stops at the edge of an election when, of course, that is the time when we need it most, let the chips fall where they may, as they did into the lives and candidacies of Gary Hart and Anthony Wiener.
Final topic. The new math and reading scores for New York City school children were announced in today’s Times. They show a precipitous decline. The Department of Education says that was to be expected because a new test was introduced which set higher standards. Teachers and students will have to work toward those higher goals, even if there are many parents who would prefer higher test scores to higher degrees of educational accomplishment. But that controversy masks the real issue. A new measurement of a condition is not therefore a treatment for that condition. Measuring your blood sugar doesn’t reduce your blood sugar even though it might inspire you to diet. Is that the argument the Department of Education is making? Students will be motivated to do better because they are doing worse on the tests? Seems counterintuitive to me.
The key issue and the very longstanding one that reaches back a very long time is that we have no great technological breakthrough that makes it possible for low performing students to make substantial progress. Those who begin badly wind up learning very little and those who are graced with the gift for learning turn out well in most environments. How to select those in poor neighborhoods with the gift for learning so that they can be sent to more demanding schools is more important than making incremental progress so that kids who are reading on the third grade level by the time they get to high school will be reading instead on the fourth grade level when they get there. They are still very likely to drop out as soon as they can.