GELFAND’S WORLD - Meet the Press likes to tell us that it is the longest running television show. On Sunday, Chuck Todd retired after 9 years of hosting, leaving the reins to another NBC reporter, Kristen Welker. Todd finished his last show much the way he had run so many previous shows, with an interview with an elected politician, then a panel of supposedly knowledgeable reporters and editors, then with a presentation of data via an electronic board, and finally with some more interviewing.
I only introduce the structure of the show to illustrate one point. On Meet the Press, politicians are expected to act with civility and to provide some sort of answer to each of Chuck Todd's questions. In response, Todd is himself the epitome of good manners. He will on occasion ask a hard question, but he doesn't press the point if the pol wants to evade and avoid. Todd has traditionally pointed out the evasions but doesn't do the follow up questioning. Political chatter without deep honesty is considered among the acceptable levels of conduct on this show.
For example, a standard Republican line is to dignify the continuing attacks on Hunter Biden, but without providing details. A standard Democratic line is to refer to Joe Biden's first term results, again without a lot of detail.
The result is what NBC and Meet the Press seem to think politics ought to be. It doesn't have to be enlightening, and it certainly doesn't have to be candid. It just has to be quietly polite. When you go on Meet the Press, you are entering a long ago world where Republicans and Democrats debated on the floor of the House and the Senate, but went out drinking together after legislative business hours were over. (Some of them drank a lot, and they bragged about it in their memoirs.)
That time is thought of as some sort of golden age by a certain generation of reporters. Mind you, there weren't many women in either chamber, and civil rights legislation was largely absent, but southern gentlemen in the Senate and House were not, in general, forced to fight over such things. They got to argue over how many tax dollars went to the highway system or how many millions were to be appropriated to enlarge a shipyard along the southern Mississippi.
Rarely did they fight to defend women's reproductive freedom or to support integration. Covering the medical bills of old people wasn't on the agenda either. It might have been a golden age for some, but not for you and me.
The system worked great if you weren't a member of some minority, or something other than Protestant. It didn't help to be old, or a woman. If you were a well to do business owner, male and middle aged, the system was just right for you, and your demographic was represented enormously well. If you were all those things and getting old, you were represented awfully well by the House and Senate leadership.
That's the picture I was getting as I watched that last Chuck Todd performance on Sunday night. Chuck has tried to explore and explain the realities of modern day politics, which largely consists of conservatives pining for that golden age and liberals failing to defend against the attacks on Hunter and the Afghanistan retreat and so many other targets of right wing derision.
Here is what was missing, not only on Sunday's show but in so much that passes for political dialog in our country. I'll simply refer to a short piece by Kevin Drum which lists 6 lies that Republicans believe. They still answer that climate change is a hoax and that Trump won the 2020 election. They defend these canards on Meet the Press and on other news outlets when given the chance, and there are few people who call them out for the lies.
I don't think I have to work very hard to make a case that times have changed, even if television coverage of politics is still in the middle Pleistocene. Times have changed so much that women are represented in both parties. We have a Civil Rights Act, even if the old white reactionaries still resent it.
But Meet the Press thinks that conservative and liberal, male and female, gay and straight members of the legislature can all come on the show and somehow coexist.
I tend to think that this is not a good model of the real world. In a more moderate (and intelligent) real world, the members of the majority party wouldn't be at war with each other over whether or not they are going to shut the government down. Again.
Allow me to offer a suggestion for future televised dialogs. The next time some Republican talks about the reality of impeaching Joe Biden, let's hear the host point out that this is not only asinine, it is contrary to known facts and just petty vindictiveness. Being a jerk is something that is worthy of being pointed out.
Let's consider one more misleading remark that wasn't cut down by the host last Sunday. The easy going Republican senator repeated the old line about how Social Security could become insolvent, resulting in a 24% cut in payments. This is, of course, a threat that generations of Republicans have been making, even though Social Security continues to make payments and is easily fixed to remain solvent. The host allowed this line to go through. Let's hope that the next host will jump in and call out every such misrepresentation.
Meanwhile, the longest show in television history gives us a view of some of our elected leaders in the flesh and provides a window into what the conventional wisdom thinks is going to be the future. Our thanks to Chuck Todd for giving us that half a loaf.
The Neighborhood Council Congress: Still no rest for the weary (of corruption, that is)
A while back, I pointed out that in at least one vote, the Los Angeles City Council gave strong signals that it violates the Brown Act with impunity. In that vote to turn down the appointment of an excellent candidate to the Ethics Commission, the City Council showed in public that it must have some secret method for informing Council members that they are supposed to vote a particular way -- the way that leadership designates.
In 32 seconds by the clock, the acting chair steered the vote from an obvious Yes to a very non-obvious No, and without so much as a word of discussion. Every person I've showed this clip has reacted in the same way -- that the vote was rigged, predetermined, and sleazy.
That they all voted "in lockstep" would be too mild a description. One effect is that the Ethics Commission was left without a quorum and therefore helpless to take action.
So, within a few hours after this disgraceful performance, I called the chair of the neighborhood council congress (to be held September 23) and asked for a session where we could talk about exactly this issue -- plus a few other matters of corruption that scream out to be heard. I even mentioned that request in a column that appeared in these pages.
This is a matter of importance if we are going to expect any standard of ethics on the part of the voting members of the City Council.
So, what did I hear from the esteemed members of the Congress planning group?
Nothing. Nada. Nil. Bupkis.
Your tax money is going to pay for this congress, something in the order of half a hundred thousand dollars, but the Congress won't be representing your interests in good government. For the most part, you can find sessions that will teach you how to behave as the elected officials and department heads would like you to behave.
They did give me one little token. Those who have been to previous editions of the Congress will remember that city agencies and other nonprofits that do good works are allowed to have tables that line the 3rd floor rotunda in the City Hall, there to distribute ballpoint pens and tote bags with their logos. Guess what? The planners have agreed to supply me with one of those tables so that the reform movement can have a chair.
So, if you are interested in reform of government, that's what we are allowed to have. Perhaps I will see you there.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)