The Decline of the Chattering Class and the Rise of the Discussion Class.

You’d never know Barack Obama has an approval rating in the mid-60s. Higher if you poll among Ds and Is and exclude Rs.

I say this because there appears to be no lack of people who are either pundits themselves, or can command the attention of the media, with all manner of advice on how Obama should be talking or behaving (substance appears to be utterly irrelevant). The latest is Bill Clinton, who thinks Obama needs to “sound more hopeful.” I refer to this group of talking heads who with the rise of the cable news networks and the 24 hour news cycle have enjoyed a lengthy run as opinion leaders as the “Chattering Class.” To fill the time — and cut back on actual news reporting, which costs money — the talk radio folks, the cable news shows, and now even the newspapers have created a class of pundits, experts, and analysts who exist for the sole purpose of supplying chatter to fill up the space. Indeed, I am always amused at the criticism that the rise of the blogs means the death of news because the hardcore news folks switched from mostly news to mostly chatter some time ago.

For years, the Chattering Class has controlled and framed debates around policy for most Americans. And, as one might expect, chattering about style and insider games takes precedence over actual substance. Not only is it cheaper and easier, as it requires no expertise, it is self-re-enforcing. This has corresponded, not coincidentally in my opinion, with the general disinterest by an increasing number of Americans in politics and public policy.

But what the Chattering Class talk about and how they frame winners and losers has become so disconnected from the reality people experience that folks have begun to notice. Not merely those “whacky left-wing totally non-mainstream” bloggers at TPM and elsewhere. Frank Rich observed in an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NYT that the Washington press corp has degenerated into the equivalent of a high school clique obsessed with their petty gossip and insular rules that define who is in and who is out.

This is why Bill Clinton, a man who in his prime ranked as one of the most gifted political campaigners to grace the national stage,feels the urge to give some “helpful advice” to the man who not only won the election, but is still clocking in with approval ratings that bespeak of enormous popularity. It is why the news continues to focus on things like whether the stimulus is actually a “loss” and is only gradually, and reluctantly, turning to the question of its anticipated impact. And it is why the Chattering Class is, after unquestionable dominance of public opinion for nearly 20 years, starting to lose it’s ability to frame the issues.

More below . . . .

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Katrina: Mass murder or merely depraved indifference?

I have been working on a long essay about New Orleans and may be I’ll finish it up and post it some day. Although that seems like a rather paltry contribution to make to the effort of cleaning up the wreckage. Better that I spent my time doing something concrete, as Harold has been doing. So I’m going to see about helping with housing some of the evacuees who have been sent to Otis Military Reservation.

But even as the nation goes about the business of trying to heal this ghastly wound, we need to forthrightly investigate and find out what happened. There have been news reports that Bush was briefed by Max Mayfield, head of the Hurricane Warning Center, last Sunday night, August 28.

If that is true, and I see no reason to think that it isn’t, then we have for a president either a catastrophically incompetent human zero, or a sociopathic criminal willing to let die tens of thousands of his fellow citizens out of mere petulance. My money is on the latter.

For, after hearing what the National Hurricane Center had to say, anyone who was neither a zero nor a sociopath would have done all that he could have to urge people to leave, ensure that they had the means to leave, and prepare for immediate rescue operations the moment the storm had left the region. Bush did none of these things.

What I want to know is, did Bush refuse to send help to New Orleans in order to spite the Democrat governor (who refused to cede jurisdiction)? That is my reading of the tea leaves, and it nauseates and terrifies me. Bush’s Katrina ploy is looking more and more like a political action from the Saddam Hussein or Hafez Assad playbook.

The congress of the United States has no higher duty right now than to investigate this matter. I hope I’m wrong about Bush’s motives, but God help us all if I’m right.

Confessions of a Reluctant Unitarian

I’m a member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard. We have part-time minister and members of the society are regually recruited to fill in & give talks on Sundays. I was shanghai’d a while ago and finally gave my talk last Sunday.

The minister had originally suggested that I talk about “creativity” and “being a writer” or similar. Which is precisely the kind of crap I hate about Unitarianism: navel-gazing passed off as meaningful spiritual activity. So instead I delivered a rant about everything I don’t like about my own so-called religion.

Text below the fold. A few notes follow.

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Wedding announcement musings

I live on the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard, which is an island vaguely associated with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where gay marriage recently became the law of the land. Last Sunday the weather was particularly fine. I was on the back porch, setting up for a cookout, when my neighbor Andrew came crashing through the underbrush that separates our houses. He had just come from a meeting with the minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, during the course of which he had discovered that my wife and I are members of that church.

“We’re getting married in your church,” Andrew said. “Now that it’s legal, you know. I’m Jewish and Ron is Methodist and we wanted some kind of religious thing, so we said, ‘Let’s see what the Unitarians say about it.’”

“Maybe the rainbow flag on the church flagpole gave a clue?” I said.

“Well yes. And we just met your minister, and she was great, and it’s all set up.”

My wife Betty joined the conversation and gave Andrew a hug when she got the news.

“What’s the date?” she asked.

“September 11,” he said. “We have decided to reclaim that date from the haters. It will be a day of joy.”

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