Meme Watch

Friday, March 13, 2009


Two political memes ran through the media this week: one from the right about President Obama being a socialist, and one from the left about Rush Limbaugh leading the Republicans. We asked Northwestern University Professor Andrew Koppelman, Politico reporter Ben Smith and Democratic strategist James Carville to weigh in.

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Comments [25]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Well, as I read along, I was rooting for Mike Ward, hoping everyone would support Obama's policies and consider opposing them unpatriotic. I certainly liked his point about the distinction between Carvelle withdrawing his plan before 9/11 and Limbaugh's behavior.

Unforunately, Terry and David destroyed every other argument he made. And, look Bob, you and Brooke get to bloviate quite often so, really, just cool it with that term, o.k.?

Mar. 20 2009 03:33 AM
Rob Lovett from Charlotte, NC

I want somebody to focus attention on the offensive habit that 'everyone' has fallen into lately of starting every public/media remark with "Look, ..."
What this meme really means is something along the lines of: "Look, you imbeciles out there, stop wasting my time and listen up good, because I'm right and I'm only going to say this once...."
I'm sure some linquist or language-watcher has noticed this, but I have not heard or read any discussion of it.

Mar. 19 2009 05:52 PM
David from Rhode Island

So Mike Ward, want to see how wrong you are, again? definition of socialism from Merriam-Webster:
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

1: a theory advocating elimination of private property

Wow, sure look the same to me, no private property. As I said, the definition of socialism has clearly evolved to differentiate itself from communism, but your statement that "...and there certainly was never a time in which the terms "socialism" and "communism" could sensibly be used interchangeably." is clearly wrong.

And I will repeat for good measure, your statement that this situation is similar to 9/11 is just ridiculous. Wanting policies to fail that you think will actually make things worse is NOT the same thing as wanting the country to fail. Wanting the President to lose the war on terror to the Islamic extremists IS wanting the country to fail, since their stated goal was to destroy America. Wanting the President to use different policies to win that war is a whole 'nother thing. That is what wanting Obama's economic policies to fail is more analogous to. So simple.

Mar. 19 2009 02:36 PM
David from Rhode Island

My daughter seriously considered Northwestern for her university choice. If Andrew Koppelman is a typical example of the level of intellectual rigor they have there, I am very glad she did not. He says that people who want socialism mean they want capitalism abolished and the state to own the means of production. HUH? Rachel is right, that is communism and they are not at all the same. In this country at least, socialism is widely accepted as the government redistribution of wealth to some greater or lesser degree, but not the complete appropriation of wealth and government control. Granted that the original use of the term was more about state control, but that usage has not been employed in this country since the 1950's for the most part. As the Europeans went to a more and more confiscatory system, but short of actual state control, this became generally accepted as socialism, differentiad from communism. As a professor at a highly regarded university, Koppelman should know this. Relying on outdated yet technically correct definitions that do not comport with the understanding the public has when they hear that term is a poor way to argue a point.

Mar. 19 2009 02:21 PM
David from Rhode Island

Second, Mike Ward. Sorry Mike, but you are failing in logic and just about every other category here. Wanting policies that you think will actually make things worse to fail is NOT the same thing as wanting the country to fail. Is that too hard for you? Let me know I can explain it further, but I think that is pretty clear. Ok, a quick analogy, if somewhat extreme. Maybe you are working for a company and really like being there. A new president comes in and institutes a policy of giving away all the products for free. Are you hoping the company will fail because you oppose this new policy that you are sure will cause the company to go bankrupt? Yeesh, and they actually let you out during the day?

And in your question to Rachel: "I'm sorry, rachel, who just said socialism means nationalizing industry? " Well, if you listened to the show at all you would know the guest, Andrew Koppelman, did say that and more. See my next comment for that one. but Rachel has it exactly right, I was thinking the same thing listening in my car to the podcast. She beat me to it, but I will expand on it anyway, you lucky people.

Mar. 19 2009 02:08 PM
David from Rhode Island

Hardly know where to start with this one either, LOL. I didn't listen to the podcast until late, so piling on late also. First, Bob's favorite new word is apparently bloviator, bit he only uses it to refer to conservatives, apparently. When I hear him use it to describe Olberman and Maher, then I will get off this one. But, Loretta Dameron (post 9) Rush is a bloviator. Doesn't make hiim right or wrong, just is an accurate description technically. However, when it is not equally applied by Bob, then it is every bit as wrong as what he complains about Rush doing every day on the radio.

Mar. 19 2009 01:58 PM
Terry from Silver Spring, MD

Mike Ward, you said: "the conduct of limbaugh and the republicans would be like opposing FDR during world war ii; such people's patriotism was questioned then, and those who hope obama fails now, when we're facing economic collapse, should be similarly questioned now. just my opinion."

I'm glad you brought that up. I oppose FDR's internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. For that, you say my patriotism should be questioned. I oppose the FDR's refusal to end separation of races in the Army during WWII and FDR's refusal to support anti-lynching legislation. For that, you say my patriotism should be questioned. I oppose the needless civilian bombings of Hamburg and Dresden and... For that, you say my patriotism should be questioned.

But how about the times when it wasn't a war, but merely an economic crisis worse (we hope) than the current day's. I oppose FDR's attempt to eliminate the pension of half a million vetarans and their widows when he first entered office. For that, you say my patriotism should be questioned. I oppose FDR's attempt to pack the Supreme Court with extra Justices so they would deem all his New Deal programs/legislation constitutional. For that, you say my patriotism should be questioned.

I could go on, of course, but hopefully my point is made. Now these things I opposed BECAUSE I was patriotic. But you say my patriotism should be questioned... and that's just your opinion, which you have a right to have.

Myself, I think Limbaugh is wrong in his views a lot of the time. But I'm okay with him hoping certain policies of Obama fails, even if I want some of those policies to succeed. Why? Because he has a right to that view. It's what many Americans have fought and bled and died for. And I think it's wrong to form some "new deal HUAC" to start questioning the patriotism of everyone who disagrees with Obama's policies. Just MY opinion.

But go ahead and question my patriotism, Mr. Ward. You do have that right.

Mar. 18 2009 12:27 PM
Mike Ward from Northern Virginia

I'm sorry, rachel, who just said socialism means nationalizing industry? and what are you saying about communism? and what are we supposed to be asking europe?

communism is an abstract, imagined egalitarian superstate to which authoritarian socialist states tend to aspire. true communism has never existed in practice and probably never will, and there certainly was never a time in which the terms "socialism" and "communism" could sensibly be used interchangeably.

however, the nationalization of industry is the typical solution capitalist, democratic systems employ in time of crisis. FDR nationalized domestic industry in world war ii to co-opt america's manufacturing resources for the making of war materials. these resources were returned to fully private hands after the conclusion of the war.

we need to start using these terms in ways that make sense, rachel, and not only in ways that make us feel better about ourselves by putting down our perceived political opponents.

Mar. 17 2009 01:31 AM

Did he just say socialism means abolishing capitalism and nationalizing industry? I would consider that communism. Perhaps at one time those two terms could be interchanged, but now they are completely separate things. Just ask Europe.

Mar. 16 2009 11:34 PM
Mike Ward from Northern Virginia

you continue to ignore the distinction between hoping the president fails in a time of relative peace, and hoping the president fails in a time of crisis. railing against clinton in the prosperous 90s or railing against bush before 9/11 is totally different from railing against bush in responding to a devastating terrorist attack, or opposing obama during an economic collapse. the conduct of limbaugh and the republicans would be like opposing FDR during world war ii; such people's patriotism was questioned then, and those who hope obama fails now, when we're facing economic collapse, should be similarly questioned now. just my opinion.

the second part about e-trolls wasn't directed at you, necessarily, but i am noticing that the proportion of right-wing posters on this comment board is far broader than their proportion in the population, which makes me suspect some sort of organized effort, yes. i won't run out of "reasonable response" until you actually answer my points, because until you do i can simply reiterate them.

Mar. 16 2009 03:55 PM
Virginia Gentleman from Richmond, Virginia

Mr. Ward - Your collapse of the destiny of this nation with the policies of a single president is precisely my point and the problem with the adulation heaped upon President Obama. They are not identical and neither the original framers of the Constitution nor the most revered leaders in our history made such a terrible conflation. Your failure to see the distinction reveals only your misunderstanding of our foundational documents; your reverting to calling me an e-troll simply an example of high-level name calling, what one does when there is no reasonable response.

Mar. 16 2009 03:29 PM
Mike Ward from Northern Virginia

VA gent: wanting obama's policies to fail is identical to wanting him to fail, and by extension, the country -- since he is president -- to fail. i don't see what the distinction you're drawing there is supposed to be. what exactly does a president do besides propose and enact policies? and i notice you dont hit on the distinction between wishing failure on the president in times of relative peace and in times of crisis. carville changed his position when it became clear the country was in turmoil. limbaugh and the republicans did not. that distinction is totally clear, and i think it reflects a disastrous lack of patriotism on the part of those on the right.

incidentally, has OTM gotten on some freeper e-trolling list? i notice most of these posts seem to really focus on the favored bugbears of the far right -- the supposed left-wing bias of the "MSM," for example, and the radical, fallacious redefinition of the word "socialism" to refer to any and all public-sector spending aside from defense and law enforcement.

if OTM has incurred the wrath of the far right, chalk it up to a case of making all the right enemies. keep rockin', OTM.

Mar. 16 2009 12:59 PM
Virginia Gentleman from Richmond, Virginia

I happened to hear Mr. Limbaugh's initial comment about wanting Barak Obama's POLICIES to fail. He said that clear and clean, and has repeated this without end. OTM/NPR and the MSM continues to misrepresent him. The only thing that does not surprise me is OTM/NPR continuing to shill for James Carville while ignoring one other major point - that he wanted President Bush to fail, not just President Bush's POLICIES to fail, up until the morning of 9/11/01... and then the media colluded with him to shelve this story angle. As far as I can tell from the comments so far, OTM has very little genuine crediblity left to lose.

Mar. 16 2009 12:51 PM
Mike Ward from Northern Virginia

Well, Maxwell, isn't Carville's qualifying his statement about bush failing like limbaugh's saying that he also hopes obama fails in a time of national crisis, with the only difference being that Carville had the decency and patriotism to change his position in light of the 9/11 crisis, whereas limbaugh and the republicans he leads continue to wish obama would fail despite the nation being in dire economic crisis?

i thought it was the job of the opposition to wish for the opposing party's failure in prosperous times, but to pull together in times of crisis. the story you relate seems to imply that this is true of democrats, but that the republicans hope that the democrats fail even if this comes at the expense of the country as a whole.

Mar. 16 2009 12:38 PM
Rick Greenblatt from San Diego

It is notable that 'On the Media' does not seem to find it necessary or desirable to have an actual, self-proclaimed socialist comment on the recent prominence of socialism in the media. Why is it that there is a virtual, but unspoken blacklist on socialist commentary in the U.S. media, especially 'now that we are all socialists'? Could it be that the socialist old mole is not as dead as some would like?

Mar. 15 2009 11:17 PM

Maybe it wasn't this segment, but somewhere in this week's show, I heard the phrase "former Senator Norm Coleman" - does Bob know something about the recount results the rest of us are still waiting for?

Mar. 15 2009 08:34 PM
Loretta Damron from Pine Forge, PA

Mr. Rowe has it.

When you can't challenge the facts, attack the person, as did Bob Garfield in describing a media figure as a "right wing bloviator". If this is supposed to be an example of incisive, objective analysis, it falls far, far short of the mark. Interesting that we did not get a similarly charged warning before being subjected to the poorly disguised political viewpoints of Prof. Koppelman. OTM damages its own credibility when it uses the show to promote the personal viewpoints of its hosts and to discredit and decry the opposing one --- particularly shameful for an entity supported by taxpayers of every political stripe.

Mar. 15 2009 07:54 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

President Obama sure fits Milton Friedman's definition of socialism. Funny Mr. Koppleman has already forgotten the academic work that answers Bob's questions in a way not compatible with Mr. Koppleman's political agenda. I find it to be an act academic malpractice and intellectual dishonesty in the extreme.

Mar. 15 2009 02:23 PM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

Dear Ms. Gladstone-

I'm not trying to convince you that the media is getting memos. I'm asking you to suggest that a *journalist* investigate - you know, report.

Ben Smith himself said that is what not like a meme in that it was not so mch organically transmitted as it was injected - more like warfare! All I'm saying is, someone should find out how every media outliet was totally in sync instantaneously on "Limbaugh is head of the GOP."

Why not ask, "James, any media outlets on your call list?"

Mar. 15 2009 01:44 PM
Brooke Gladstone from Brooklyn, NY

Mr. Maxwell, do you really believe this is a question of one person using the same empty words as another? The issue here is how Carville has in fact made Limbaugh's comments a liberal talking point. He's done it the same way conservatives have made "Obama is a socialist" a talking point: By putting it in the mouths of politicians and talking heads on TV. If the anointed phrase is repeated often enough, a reporter will pick it up - as in the case of the NY Times reporter asking about socialism. (Hardly a case of liberal lap-dogism.)We looked at both cases this week.
Mr. Rowe, we described who was getting the calls in the case of "Limbaugh is head of the GOP" - liberal groups across the country. Ben Smith says it on our program.
If you want to believe that journalists are getting "the memos" too, well there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise.

Mar. 15 2009 11:03 AM
andrew hennessy from DC

James Carville is not the left? He is the conservative media's limit to what the left is allowed to be.

Mar. 15 2009 08:44 AM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

Yeesh. Media Matters a watchdog on the press? It sounds like they and the media lick each other! I'd have no problem with these guys if they were focused on policy, but Carville was practically waxing his mustache in front of you guys, attacking people more than policies... and you gave him an total pass.

Mar. 15 2009 06:19 AM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

Let's get Boelhert back! It sure gives this exchange new light:

BOB GARFIELD: Do I have that right, that the Center for American Progress and Media Matters were formed to fight the vast right wing conspiracy with the vast left wing conspiracy?

ERIC BOEHLERT: [LAUGHS] We prefer infrastructure building. I mean, clearly the Republicans, conservatives through the Reagan years and even through the Clinton years, they were able to continue to accelerate sort of their infrastructure building mostly through D.C. think tanks which conservatives had long dominated. And on the liberal side and the progressive side, there wasn't really anything.

BOB GARFIELD: But the right would say that the left has always had that infrastructure, called “the media.” [LAUGHS]

ERIC BOEHLERT: Right, and then that’s certainly been sort of the talking point and the propaganda from the right for almost four decades. But I would just go ask any veterans from the Clinton Administration if they thought for eight years the D.C. press was sort of on their side, as they chased down Whitewater [BOB LAUGHS] and impeachment and Travelgate.

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. ...Now that a presumably sympathetic Obama Administration is in power, with a presumably sympathetic Democratic Congress, does this take some of the wind out of your sails? What are you going to be doing for the next four to eight years?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Oh, that’s easy. I mean, at Media Matters, you know, I mean, it’s always about being a watchdog on the press and looking for conservative misinformation. I mean, within hours of Barack Obama’s election, I mean, countless instances of pundits and columnists suggesting whatever Barack Obama does, don't try to govern from the left because this is a center-right country, it’s a conservative country and, you know, the last thing he should do is adopt progressive policies. That was within hours of his [LAUGHS] landslide blue state victory.

Mar. 15 2009 06:19 AM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

Mr. Maxwell has it!

Let's get this straight. Carville dreams this thing up about Limbaugh as head of the party and thinks it would make a great talking points memo to give to the press to distract them from the economy AND take a shot at the Republican party with, well, one shot. It works. Even OTM gets the memo (albeit second-hand? Who knows? Garfield was there for CPAC and OTM said that the question of Limbaugh was one "the White House was more than happy to discuss.")

So where is the classic OTM outrage. Um, what's significantly different here from the old administration giving memos directly to Fox News? We heard only weeks ago that "Former Clinton staffer John Podesta is heading up Barack Obama’s transition team, but he’s made it clear he will not be pulling a Dick Cheney by sticking around when the administration goes live. Instead, he'll be going right back to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank he started in 2003." And this is what he's up to? This 8:45 call sounds more like the plumbers who were out to destroy individuals than affect policy.

And who is getting their calls? No interest at OTM where their memos go, or about who in the administration knows about and gets contacted about these talking points (about which they are more than too happy to discuss?)

Mar. 15 2009 06:16 AM
John Maxwell from West Jordan, Utah

How shameful. Having James Carville commenting on Rush Limbaugh without addressing the big scoop: that he had the cooperation of liberal reporters not only to strategize the bashing of the Bush Administration on the morning of 9/11, but to cover up that the meeting ever took place for nearly eight years. Carville said, "I certainly hope he doesn't succeed." When news of the attacks on the WTC reached the meeting, Carville said to the reporters, "Disregard everything we just said! This changes everything!" You put yourselves at OTM in the position of media watchdog but are apparently just another Carville lapdog. Do your job ethically and professionally or find other employment.

Mar. 14 2009 10:11 PM

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