It’s nice in the privileged bubble

28 Oct 2015 02:06 am
Posted by: Donna

Governor Ducey (or someone on his staff), in a manner consistent with the forced sunnily optimistic tone of his administration, praised this story in the Weekly Standard about a couple from the East Coast, author and neoconservative think tank associate Cita Stelzer and her husband, economist Irwin Stelzer, who are now snowbirds and having an idyllic time with the evangelical Christians in the outer suburbs of Phoenix.

We never thought we would find ourselves stocking a pantry in Arizona. But now that Phoenix is our winter base, there we were, on line at the deli counter of a supermarket located in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that we love because they are home to thrusting small businesses as well as huge anchor tenants like the store we were in. After waiting awhile, we realized we were in a take-a-number queue. We remedied the oversight and got number 61. We both remember it because of what followed. When a customer who’d arrived after us, but taken a number promptly, was called, she nodded toward us and told the clerk, “These people were here before me. They just forgot to take a number. So serve them first.”

This prompted remembrance of things past. Some four decades before, Irwin took his son, Adam, then about 10 years old, with him on a business trip to Phoenix. His ever-gracious clients provided a pair of tickets to a Suns basketball game, during which Adam, by then a veteran of Madison Square Garden, went to buy a hot dog. He returned in a state of amazement: “No one pushed me!”

All of which set us to thinking. The driver in the family had noticed that when entering Highway 101 (Phoenix’s Beltway, only without road rage), she was waved on by drivers of fast-moving oncoming vehicles. The non-driver, exiting a Starbucks, passed a woman who said, “Have a nice day.” He stopped her, told her he was a newcomer, and asked her why she had done that. “Because it’s a nice thing to do, I suppose.”

We decided to satisfy our curiosity by eating at a Chick-fil-A—the originally southern fast-food chain that was fiercely attacked a few years back for its owners’ support for groups promoting old-fashioned marriage. As soon as we walked in, we spotted an area set aside for little kids to play with toys rather than grow restless while their parents lingered over lunch. Nice again. Nicer still, we watched a boy of about 6 hold the door for a little girl maybe 4 when they were both going into the play area. He wasn’t born courteous, so something was happening at home.

And the longer we stayed in the area, the more often we encountered not just “Have a nice day” but “Have a blessed day,” offered by shop clerks and waitresses. There was something inexplicably warming about it. What was going on?

Having lived in many other places besides Arizona, and having grown up in the DC area and returned for visits several times since moving away, I find it interesting that the first time the Stelzers have routinely encountered basic courtesy and accommodations for children in public spaces has been in Arizona but, okay, whatever. Good story, Cita and Irwin! Unsurprisingly, things took a hard WTF turn after they got the niceties out of the way:

Disconcerting as it was to us East Coast types, we decided that what we were encountering was civility, and we were noticing it because we were accustomed to its absence in Washington, a place we had recently fled. Phoenix is a town where you don’t need a permit to carry a gun, where Hispanics, legal and otherwise, make up a large part of the workforce, and where the heat should surely cause personal temperatures to boil at the slightest microaggression—so why here? Our answer: the large number of church-going, family-valuing, socially conservative members of the population.

Let’s examine the claims about Phoenix the Stelzers made in that one paragraph, that in their minds would reasonably lead one to conclude it to be a hostile place. See if you can identify the item which seems, erm, a tad out of place among the three:

1. No permit needed for a gun.

2. Lots of Hispanics, “legal and otherwise”, in the workplace.

3. High temperatures.

Why would the presence of a large number of residents and workers of Hispanic descent cause semi-retirees like Stelzers to quake in their boots? I’ll leave that to them to answer. Also to Governor Ducey to explain to us whether he agrees that Hispanics, by their very existence, are a potential public menace, since he (or a staffer but what’s the difference?) thought the Stelzers were peddling such a good story.

As far as the Stelzers and the Governor thinking everything’s wonderful in Arizona and that conservatives are winning the culture war because of their big, old-fashioned married church-y (*cough*white*cough*) families holding sway over the rest of us, I’d say that’s a function of their deliberate choice to be in a self-imposed bubble of privilege and fake “civility” passing for empathy and community. That’s not a slam on whatever communities they live in, as there are kind and generous people (and jerks) to be found everywhere in America. No, it’s a sense that the Stelzers and Governor Ducey are able to justify Arizona’s brutal, devil-take-the-hindmost policies toward people who are not like them by convincing themselves that those people deserve whatever they get for not being morally upright enough.

Stanford University vs the State of Arizona. A contrast in priorities.

26 Oct 2015 02:23 am
Posted by: Donna

I accompanied Mark to his 1980 undergrad class reunion at Stanford this past weekend. It was my first visit to the campus and had me wishing I could commandeer a DeLorean to get me back to 1980s Donna Gratehouse (I’m still stuck on that decade lately) and get my teenage shit together so that I could be celebrating my 1990 graduation from that institution as well.

Mark and I ran into a former classmate of his, an Arizona native now living in Seattle, who said that outgoing Stanford President John L. Hennessy had visited Washington to raise funds for Stanford’s endowment and that Hennessy’s stated goal was in the billions. That’s with billions with a B. This is money going to one (admittedly excellent) college in California.

This is not wishful thinking on Hennessy’s part. Get a load of the cash Stanford has on hand:

Stanford endowment

And get a load of Stanford’s annual budget:

In 2015-16, Stanford is a $5.5 billion enterprise. This figure represents the university’s consolidated budget for operations, a compilation of all annual operating and restricted budgets that support teaching, scholarship and research, including the budgets of all schools and administrative areas and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

$5.5 billion a year to operate one university in California with a little over 7000 undergraduates and somewhat under 10,000 graduate students. Roughly 18,000 students. And again, a really great university! I don’t begrudge them one cent of it. But let’s contrast this with the entire state budget of Arizona (emphasis mine):

With little fanfare, Gov. Doug Ducey formally signed on Thursday the $9.1 billion budget for fiscal 2016 he expects will put the state on a three-year path to financial balance without raising taxes.

The governor has trumpeted the budget as a “fiscally responsible” plan that forces the state to live within its means. His opponents call it unnecessarily austere.

I agree with Gov. Ducey’s opponents, since Arizona’s whole budget (in non-inflation adjusted dollars) was $10.6 billion in 2008 and is now $9.1 billion for a population of roughly 6.7 million people. Arizona’s education investment per K-12 pupil, unsurprisingly, ranks at the bottom of the nation.

Stanford (2015): $305,600 per student.

Arizona: (2013) $7,208 per K-12 pupil.

Arizona: (2015 average) $4,400 per college pupil (slated to go down to the even less impressive sum of $3,600 next year).

You can argue with me that this is not a fair comparison because of the high tuition at Stanford, but I would counter with their own statistics about their income, of which a mere 16% comes from the students. Basically, one college in California is single-handedly kicking the entire state of Arizona’s ass, education-wise. Shame on us.

Possibly most hated woman by Republicans admonished for acknowledging that they hate her. Okay.

22 Oct 2015 02:54 am
Posted by: Donna

sleeping with the enemy
Why do you have to be so strident about this, Julia? Calling him your “enemy” is so divisive!

At the end of last week’s Democratic debate, Anderson Cooper asked the candidates the following question (link autoplays):

“You’ve all made a few people upset over your political careers. Which enemy are you most proud of?”

Note that “enemy” was Cooper’s word choice. Here’s how all of them answered:

Lincoln Chafee: I guess the coal lobby. I’ve worked hard for climate change and I want to work with the coal lobby. But in my time in the Senate, tried to bring them to the table so that we could address carbon dioxide. I’m proud to be at odds with the coal lobby.

Martin O’Malley: The National Rifle Association.

Hillary Clinton: Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians. Probably the Republicans.

Bernie Sanders: As someone who has taken on probably every special interest that there is in Washington, I would lump Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry at the top of my life of people who do not like me.

Jim Webb: I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to.

Only Webb used “enemy” in his response, and rightly so, since he was talking about someone who was actually trying to kill him in combat. But only the most literal-minded person wouldn’t have realized that Cooper was being hyperbolic with the use of “enemy”, in the same way you understand that your obviously well-nourished co-worker isn’t really on the brink of death from malnutrition when she declares, “When is lunch? I’m starving!” It was clear from the answers the first four candidates gave that they were describing political adversaries, not actual enemy combatants they intended to send hellfire missile drones after. Hillary Clinton was clearly not characterizing Republicans as such when she laughingly tacked them on at the end of her answer, though she was absolutely correct that she has been a target of Republican enmity for decades.

Clinton’s uncontroversial (to most Democrats) observation about Republicans and their unhinged crusade against her went unremarked upon for over a week until both Jim Webb and Joe Biden(!) felt the need to clutch pearls about it.

“I really respect the members up there and I still have a lot of Republican friends. I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.”

Ugh. I think Biden may (understandably) be feeling magnanimous toward Republicans on the Hill because of the outpouring of sympathy they have shown him due to his son Beau’s tragic death a few months ago. There’s also the fact that both he and Webb are affluent straight white guys, which tends to help tremendously in the Congressional collegiality department. Biden also hadn’t officially declared a Presidential candidacy yet and was basking in the kind of goodwill and high approval ratings that Hillary Clinton enjoyed not so long ago as Secretary of State, a situation that would have reversed abruptly had he declared.

Finally, and most importantly, Biden is not a Clinton. He’s not facing yet another sideshow spectacle interrogation before a Congressional committee full of his Republican “friends” and dedicated to the ongoing Benghazi Bullshit-athon as Hillary is this week. Honestly, had Clinton declared Republicans to be her enemies in a sincerely enraged nostril-flaring emulation of her SNL parodist Kate McKinnon, no one would have grounds to lecture her for it. They really are her enemies, which has been patently obvious since 1992. She didn’t start it and her acknowledging it is not the same as her wishing her opponents harm. It simply means she understands they are a threat. Expecting Hillary Clinton to pretend that is not so is patently absurd and is like rooting for Julia Roberts’ character to lose against Patrick Bergin’s character in Sleeping With The Enemy.

For once, lack of evidence stops an anti-choice law

21 Oct 2015 03:01 am
Posted by: Donna

Evidence pyramidIllustration and explanation: Chelsea B. Polis, PhD

Pro-choice forces won two victories in Arizona last week. One was the federal court striking down a ban of off-label use of abortion medication (known to be safer than the original FDA protocol) and the other was the court blocking a new law requiring doctors to give abortion patients dubious information about the possibility of “reversing” a medication abortion.

It gets even better with the latter decision, per Jessica Mason Pieklo, Senior Legal Analyst for RH Reality Check:

Attorneys for the State of Arizona asked the court to postpone the trial, in part because its primary expert to defend the law lacked the “publication and research background and experience” to be qualified as an expert witness.

Federal courts are required to determine whether an expert is qualified to testify, including whether the expert’s methodology is sufficiently reliable to support the proposed opinions. The court must further decide whether the expert’s proposed testimony will, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, assist the court in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue.

Dr. Mary Davenport of El Sobrante, California, is the State of Arizona’s principal witness in support of the measure. A member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Davenport bases her claims that a medically induced abortion can be reversed on a single anecdotal study of six patients, four of whom Davenport claims were able to carry pregnancies to term, despite ingesting mifepristone, by taking a dose of progesterone shortly after ingesting mifepristone.

No other scientific data exists to support Davenport’s claim.

This lone publication is not enough to qualify Davenport as an expert to testify in federal court, nor is it enough for the court to accept as evidence in support of the GOP-backed mandate that doctors tell patients that their medication abortion can be reversed because it cannot meet the court’s requirement that the state put forward evidence based on “reliable methods” that have “widespread acceptance.” Arizona’s anti-choice lawmakers did view it as enough evidence, however, to enact the “abortion reversal” mandate.

H/t to RH Reality Check commenter, epidemiologist Chelsea B. Polis, who provided a link to her post explaining why Dr. Davenport makes a terrible expert witness.

While this legal development on “abortion reversal” gratifies me, as a cranky cynical feminist I am bugged beyond belief at how so many other similarly evidence-free “safety” restrictions on abortion (waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, unnecessary hospital admission privilege requirements for abortion doctors, surprise inspections of clinics, etc.) have sailed through Arizona’s and other state’s legislatures and have gotten what amounts to a free pass in the courts and the courts of public opinion. Recall AZ Republic columnist Bob Robb opining on abortion restrictions a few months ago:

I’m generally pro-life and support most legislative restrictions on abortion. I don’t think exploring the limits of Roe v. Wade through litigation is a waste of time or resources.

Many of the Arizona restrictions struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have been upheld in other jurisdictions. Arizona lawmakers shouldn’t be idle simply because Arizona is stuck with the most liberal federal appeals court in the land.

Since many of the recent restrictions have been passed under the guise of “safety” and Robb, an attorney, is surely smart enough to grasp that, the only possible conclusion to draw is that Robb is fine with dishonesty in the service of channeling the female chattel into their proper breeding role.

Except even he demurred at the “abortion reversal” stuff:

That goes beyond regulating what doctors can do or what reasonably constitutes informed consent. It requires doctors to state as a medical fact something many of them believe isn’t true or prudent.

The state has no business telling doctors what medical advice or conclusions to provide. Doctors should have the right to independent judgment and free expression.

In reality, doctors and medical experts were already having their judgment overridden by several of the other laws, and Robb was not bothered by them, but the “abortion reversal” one was plain goofy. Physicians are a group that includes men (important professional men, at that!) and the mere thought of them being forced through such an indignity must have been simply too much for Bob Robb to countenance! Seriously, note the absence of any concern whatsoever for the women who might possibly be harmed by the bogus advice.

Sadly, despite the evidence invariably falling solidly on the pro-choice side, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights will continue (with few noteworthy exceptions). There’s just too much of a vested interest in shaming and controlling women to allow facts and best practices to hold sway

For Democrats, it seems the 1980s are (finally!) over

16 Oct 2015 02:32 am
Posted by: Donna

I love Michael J. Fox but good riddance to this cat.

Stipulation: This post is about perception and the perspective of one person, namely yours truly. You may have experienced the debate differently. You may not have the same feeling about the ’80s that I do. It may have been your heyday. Or maybe you wore black and listened to punk bands and never watched TV. That’s fine. This isn’t about you. You may disagree with my take on facts and historical events. That is also fine. I am not tackling every possible angle of facts and events that I possibly could, either, because that would make for a really long post.

I’ve been elated since Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, and not because of any particular candidate’s performance (I have my preference but this isn’t about that). What pleased me was the overall tenor of the answers the major candidates gave, both rhetorically and in terms of policy positions. It was evident in the affirmation of Black Lives Matter, the embrace of family leave and a healthy minimum wage increase, the unequivocally strong statements on climate change and energy independence, the denunciation of corporate greed, and standing up to the gun lobby. No one paraded their religious views! There was even a brief discussion of socialism vs. capitalism that didn’t devolve into red-baiting. What all that signified to me was that the longest political era in most of our lifetimes – the 1980s – appears to be coming to an end, at least for the Democrats.

I’m almost 47 so I came of age in the chronological 1980s, that puketrain of padded shoulders, crispy hair, terrible sitcoms, and Just Say No backlash bullshit. The jeans. God, people, the jeans! They were hideous. You think this new retro trend is bad?

200 bucks at Saks in 2014

Try squeezing into them without the Lycra! The struggle was real, kids.


The fashions may have changed by the next decade (luckily, I was still young when the ’90s came around and they were more my moment, fashion-wise) but the politics forged in the ’80s proved stubbornly resilient. I realize it was a conservative political realignment that began decades before but, in my personal, visceral memory, it began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. I wasn’t familiar then with a word I now use a lot, “reactionary”, but my teenage self sure knew that the country was being directed toward rejecting those dirty hippies in a big way. As David Sirota wrote in his book about the ’80s, Back to Our Future:

Through politics and mass media, a 1960s of unprecedented social and economic progress was reremembered as a time of tie-dye, not thin ties; burning cities, not men on the moon; LBJ scowls, not JFK glamor; redistributionist War on Poverty “welfare,” not universalist Medicare benefits; facial-haired Beatles tripping out to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” not bowl-cut Beatles chirping out “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”…

…The media industry of the time followed with hypermilitarist films blaming antiwar activists for America’s loss in Vietnam (more on that in the chapter “Operation Red Dawn”), and magazine retrospectives basically implying that sixties social movements were anti-American. As just one example, a 1988 Newsweek article entitled “Decade Shock” cited the fact that “patriotism is back in vogue” as proof that the country had rejected the sixties–the idea being that the sixties was wholly unpatriotic.

But while flag-waving can win elections and modify the political debate, it alone could not mutate the less consciously political, more reptilian lobes of the American cortex. So the 1980s contest for historical memory was also being waged with more refined and demographically targeted methods.

For teenagers, The Fifties(tm) were used to vandalize The Sixties(tm) through a competition between the Beatnik and the Greaser for the mantle of eighties cool. As historian Daniel Marcus recounts, the former became defined as “middle-class, left-wing, intellectual and centered in New York City and San Francisco”–that is, defined as the generic picture of weak, effete, snobbish coffeehouse liberalism first linked to names such as Hart and Dukakis, and now synonymous with Kerry, Streisand, and Soros. Meanwhile, the Greaser came to be known as an urbanized cowboy–a tough guy who “liked cars and girls and rock and roll, was working class, usually non-Jewish ‘white ethnic’ and decidedly unintellectual.”

I can attest to the effectiveness of that concerted effort by “liberal” Hollywood in the 1980s to aggrandize the military. Thanks to movies like Rambo and Top Gun it became cool to join the military again, which I did at age eighteen in 1987.

Obviously Reagan and the Republicans profited hugely from the smearing of ’60s liberals, anti-welfare sentiment, and the increasingly bellicose foreign policy stance, but Democrats also felt the need to go along with it, in the interest of self-preservation, if nothing else. Thus triangulation was born, which was the strategy that Bill Clinton used with precision to defeat George H. W. Bush in 1992. While Clinton’s presidency was progressive in many ways, and he ran for reelection in 1996 under the slogan “Bridge to the 21st Century”, he still drew heavily from ’80s political themes and continued harsh and failed policies such as the War on Drugs, while signing a welfare reform bill considered brutal by poverty advocates.

If the politics of the ’80s groaned on under Clinton, they roared back with alacrity under the George W. Bush administration, which was chock-a-block with former Reaganites, including Vice President Dick Cheney. A flurry of anti-choice, anti-environment, and anti-worker policies were implemented, mostly in furtherance of the ethos of the Reagan era. Then in 2001 two major cities were attacked by planes, led by a guy who had been funded by the US to fight the Russians in the, ahem, 1980s. Vigorous hippie-punching ensued, which helped to convince shock-addled Americans and (some) cowed Democratic leaders to support the Iraq invasion, a neocon wet dream that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks or a serious nuclear threat.

(Personal disclosure: As much as it pains me to admit, I briefly supported the Iraq invasion in the initial run-up to it. I wasn’t knowledgeable about the complications in the Middle East at the time, and was barely five years out of the authoritarian environment of the Navy and too young to remember Vietnam. It was unfathomable to me that a President, even a Republican one I didn’t care for, would lie so blatantly about the need for a war. This was despite, and maybe because of, the distrust and blistering hatred shown toward Bill Clinton by the guys I was in the Navy with, who considered him a dirty fucking hippie and not a real President like Reagan and Bush Sr. I was quickly straightened out about Iraq when I did my own research. I still feel duped but I take comfort in the fact that a lot of people, including many much smarter than I, were similarly fooled. It was a very stupid time in America.)

Imagine, if you will, any of the Democratic candidates (aside from Jim Webb, who stuck out like he had a mullet and was wearing parachute pants) on the stage last Tuesday having recently praised Ronald Reagan as a “transformational” figure, as then-candidate Barack Obama did in 2008. It did cause consternation among Democratic activists back then, including some of the older people with whom I was working on the Obama primary campaign. I didn’t get amped up over it, since it seemed inevitable to me that anyone who was a young adult in the ’80s would cite Reagan as a major influence. I got it, like totally.

But that seems unthinkable now and that is likely in no small part due to Barack Obama’s presidency, in which he spent his first term pursuing post-partisan transformation in good faith and was thwarted at every turn by Republicans who undoubtedly believe themselves to be obstructing the Kenyan Satan in the holy name of Saint Ronald of Reagan. President Obama appears to be done with that now, and so do the rest of the Democrats. The GOP may continue to prop up the Gipper’s corpse in perpetuity but Democrats, as much as we’ll still bicker among ourselves, no longer have to be under its shadow. Goodbye, 1980s, and good riddance. Hallelujah.

Buh bye!

Former AZ GOP Chair wants to disarm African-Americans. Guess who else supposedly did?

13 Oct 2015 10:32 pm
Posted by: Donna

pullen gun tweet

If there were any lingering doubt that all the posturing about the Second Amendment and “liberty” that right wingers do is mainly about white people having unfettered access to guns so as to menace everyone else, let this tweet by “CEO, ; Goettl Good Guys Board; Treasurer, AZHFA; Former Treasurer, RNC; Former Chair, AZGOP; CPA; Former Partner, Deloitte & Touche” Randy Pullen remove all doubt.

But this is still a startling admission since I’ve been reading for years from gun nuts how any gun safety laws whatsoever are a slippery slope to the kind of tyranny and terror perpetuated by these likes:

After the Civil War, the defeated Southern states aimed to preserve slavery in fact if not in law. The states enacted Black Codes which barred the black freedmen from exercising basic civil rights, including the right to bear arms. Mississippi’s provision was typical: No freedman “shall keep or carry fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition.”

Under the Mississippi law, a person informing the government about illegal arms possession by a freedman was entitled to receive the forfeited firearm. Whites were forbidden to give or lend freedman firearms or knives…

…Despite the statutes, and at the suggestion of Reconstruction governors and other leaders, blacks often formed militias to resist white terrorism. For example, in June 1867 in Greensboro, Alabama, the police let the murderer of a black voting registrar escape; in response, a freedman who would later serve in the Alabama State Legislature urged his fellow freedmen to create a permanent militia. “Union League” militias were formed all over central Alabama.

The freedmen slipped from white control. One planter protested that his workers were “turbulent and disorderly,” coming and going when they wished, as if they had a choice whether or not to work. The Union League, protested another ex-master, was advising freedmen “to ignore the Southern white man as much as possible…to set up for themselves.”

The next spring, the Ku Klux Klan came to central Alabama. The Klansmen, unlike the freedmen, had horses, and thus the tactical advantages of mobility. In a few months, the Klan triumph was complete. One freedman recalled that the night riders, after reasserting white control, “took the weapons from might near all the colored people in the neighborhood.”

Looks like Randy wants to, er, reconstruct a bygone era.

Will the first Democratic debate be boring? No.

13 Oct 2015 02:20 pm
Posted by: Donna

Tonight’s Democratic debate, held at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, has been pronounced in advance to be a snoozefest, as it will likely be heavy on policy and light (to nonexistent) on the exciting personal attacks and stupefyingly dumb and/or dishonest statements we’ve grown to expect from the GOP debates. And though Hillary Clinton is said to be going in with “high expectations” (heard that phrase a lot from the cable pundits this morning), they have already declared her the loser. She will perhaps commit a terrible, campaign-derailing gaffe or she will be flawless but boring by talking about policy too much. Or she’ll try to connect with the audience emotionally and that will be characterized as insincere. Or whatever. It’s been decided amongst the pundit class that Hillary Clinton cannot win.

It’s often jarring how policy-averse some of the most prominent people covering Presidential campaigns can be. I first really noticed it in 2000, when the MSM had grand, giggly lark focusing on Al Gore’s “stiffness” and supposed exaggerations, while contrasting that with George W. Bush’s alleged affability and ease around people (especially reporters). Policy discussions were treated as an annoying obstacle to the theater and costume criticism, as we can see in Evgenia Peretz’s 2007 Vanity Fair recollection of how Al and Tipper Gore were savaged by the media in the 2000 campaign.

Perhaps reporting in this vein was just too gratifying to the press for it to stop. As Time magazine’s Margaret Carlson admitted to Don Imus at the time, “You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get into the weeds and get out your calculator, or look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us.”

A study conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 76 percent of stories about Gore in early 2000 focused on either the theme of his alleged lying or that he was marred by scandal, while the most common theme about Bush was that he was “a different kind of Republican.”…

…One obstacle course the press set up was which candidate would lure voters to have a beer with them at the local bar. “Journalists made it seem like that was a legitimate way of choosing a president,” says Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. “They also wrongly presumed, based on nothing, that somehow Bush was more likable.” Chris Matthews contends that “the likability issue was something decided by the viewers of the debates, not by the commentators,” but adds, “The last six years have been a powerful bit of evidence that we have to judge candidates for president on their preparation for the office with the same relish that we assess their personalities.”

Maureen Dowd boiled the choice between Gore and Bush down to that between the “pious smarty-pants” and the “amiable idler,” and made it perfectly clear which of the presidential candidates had a better chance of getting a date. “Al Gore is desperate to get chicks,” she said in her column. “Married chicks. Single chicks. Old chicks. Young chicks. If he doesn’t stop turning off women, he’ll never be president.”

“I bet he is in a room somewhere right now playing Barry White CDs and struggling to get mellow,” she wrote in another.

Meanwhile, though Dowd certainly questioned Bush’s intellect in some columns, she seemed to be charmed by him—one of the “bad boys,” “rascals,” and a “rapscallion.” She shared with the world a charged moment between them. “‘You’re so much more mature now,’ I remarked to the Texas Governor. ‘So are you,’ he replied saucily.” And in another column: “You don’t often get to see a Presidential candidate bloom right before your eyes.”

As the Daily Howler noted, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams went after Gore’s clothes at least five times in one week. “Here is a guy taking off his suits.… This is the casual sweater look—what’s going on here?” … “He would have been in a suit a month ago.” … “He’s wearing these polo shirts that don’t always look natural on him.” Williams’s frequent guest Newsweek’s Howard Fineman later chimed in: “I covered his last presidential campaign, in 1988. One day he was in the conservative blue suit, the next he was playing lumberjack at the V.F.W. hall in New Hampshire.”

It really was that bad. Put in perspective, it puts a brighter outlook on this election for Democrats. In the fifteen intervening years, social media has grown to be an exponentially more powerful check on the MSM than it was in 2000. While I’d never say it was impossible, it is certainly much more difficult for the GOP to pull off the “compassionate conservative” con job while smearing the Democratic nominee this time around.

As for the “boring” Democratic debate, Amanda Marcotte of Salon points out that the last GOP debate was mostly a three hour yawn punctuated by a few shockers (like Carly Fiorina’s imaginary Planned Parenthood video). There was nothing substantive to it, just the GOP candidates regurgitating the same right wing talking points with little variation. There are enough real differences between the Democratic candidates to keep tonight’s debate interesting and most of the stances they are taking on a variety of issues are actually very popular with the general public. I’ve seen all of them speak and each does a capable job of communicating values and speaking in broad strokes about policy without getting into wonky details (which can admittedly be boring). It won’t be a drinking game debate but it won’t be dull either.