That Could Have Been Handled A Little Better

If he’s going to keep on doing the job of White House Press Secretary, maybe Sean Spicer would benefit from going to a few Toastmasters meetings before he tries this sort of thing again:

Sean Spicer Claims Hitler Didn't Use Chemical Weapons

Listen to the stuttering. Read his body language, especially his shoulders. Watch his eyes. He knows he just royally screwed up, but he refuses to admit it and that just makes it worse.

Make of the phrase “holocaust centers” what you will: that Spicer so badly tripped up while trying to make what could have been a powerful moral point, on Passover, just makes my jaw that much more slack.

Upon contemplation I find it more interesting that he found three different ways to mispronounce “Bashar Assad” in a single press conference. But the core point is, he’s visibly flustered, frustrated, and frantic the entire time, not just in the clip above. His substantive message was lost in between the bizarre phrases and the defensiveness.

Granted, it’s not Spicer’s fault that policy from the Trump White House isn’t always particularly coherent and Syria policy is particularly so. Nevertheless it is Spicer’s job to make it appear coherent, to convey the President’s messages clearly and convincingly. Being able to engage in that kind of communication is a core role of the Presidency.

Bear in mind: I don’t think Spicer was actually denying the Holocaust: push the garbled syntax away and use the lens of charity: he was trying to say that Hitler didn’t use gas as a weapon on the battlefield. But if you’re gong to be making a moral argument, perhaps you want to go a different way altogether if the structure of your argument is that Hitler was somehow morally better than the object of your criticism.

I think Spicer is too easily tripped up when he does it. I think he often doesn’t do enough homework on the pertinent subject matter to keep up with the reporters he’s briefing. I think he’s so immersed in Trumpian Doublespeak that he loses the ability to make clear statements under pressure. Frankly, I don’t think he enjoys his job all that much.

And this matters because the garbled, distracting, confused communication that he offers up to the public while under the sort of stress that comes as a routine part of Spicer’s job diminishes the President’s ability to serve as a political leader.

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122 thoughts on “That Could Have Been Handled A Little Better

  1. I think he often doesn’t do enough homework on the pertinent subject matter to keep up with the reporters he’s briefing.

    This. He thinks he can, for too much of it, get by just winging it. I suppose it’s frustrating to limit yourself to “What we think at this time is X”, over and over, and not elaborate.

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  2. Spicer wasn’t particularly good at his last job (RNC spox). He would mix up his personal and RNC twitter accounts, and had some questionable re-tweets from both. (I can’t remember if he also did that ‘put the password in the text box’ thing he’s done in his current job)

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        • I’m kinda surprised how many opportunists haven’t already entered into the game. But there are also reports that Trump and a administration faction have nixed a lot of potential appointments due to bad blood left over from last year. (which is actually sorta fair, but in the end, you still need to get warm bodies from somewhere)

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          • its hard to believe, but its still early. :-)

            You are absolutely right that a certain number of “shovel ready” (for lack of a better term) functionaries are being passed over owing to the NeverTrump faction; but this is creating a situation where people who would never have made it in to consideration for lack of their functionary bona fides are being asked to apply for positions.

            This will introduce both a lot of rookies who will make rookie mistakes, but also, I suspect, a few all-stars who were never invited to camp.

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        • But will they be better at it than Spicer? They won’t have the history, but they’ll still have the same boss making the same demands.

          And I suspect Trump’s falling numbers are not going to convince the experts to come out of the woodwork to work there — it doesn’t look good for your career.

          Conway and Spicer, for instance, are going to have a seriously hard time getting on to the pundit gravy train — which given their job titles, should have been an easy step after leaving the WH.

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          • Heh, Conway got Donald effin’ Trump elected president of the United States… she’ll have whatever campaign work she wants… she might not get a pundit seat because as far as I’ve seen, she’s not that good at punditizing… I don’t think that has anything to do with Trump… or much to do with Trump.

            Will Spicer’s replacement be better than Spicer? Possibly? Possibly not? I agree with what you wrote downthread… Trump’s communication problem starts with Trump… Spicer can’t bring order out of chaos. So, yes, I agree that if you are an Expert Communications Specialist with a thriving career, you probably give this gig a pass. Are you a clever git who never, ever, could get a crack at White House Press Secretary absent Trump and you think you could ride the lightning? Then who knows, maybe that person takes a shot.

            Recognizing the sort of person and talent needed to succeed as your (Trump’s) communications Czar? Yeah, I’m willing to bet that he’ll miss more than he succeeds… but If Media Communications is your thing, the draw of Presidential Press Secretary will draw folks out of the woodwork. Some of them will be better than Spicer.

            Of course the danger is in the comparative adverb: better how?

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      • if I’m remembering correctly, they had a fox news or radio personality also in the running for the job (I can’t remember who, and whomever it was I’m getting mixed up with Monica Crowley, who was a Nat’l Security Council pick)

        they do finally have a separate communications director now, which was news to me when I just looked it up.

        All in all, though, it’s still a sign of the times that Spicer outdoes Toby Zielger nearly every day.

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        • I’ve read stuff to that effect as well; that Trump believed lots of bureaucracies were redundant and/or useless. I’ve attributed most of the mechanisms by which that view is realized to Bannon’s influence within the WH decision structure, but given Trump’s whiplash inducing flippetyflop on policy and embracing more traditional levers of power I’m inclined to think he’ll revise his previous commitments to a minimalist government and start staffing up. Which, if it happens, will only further marginalize Bannon’s role.

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        • And he’s not entirely wrong. There are many accounts of too many ‘decision makers’ in the loop on the diplomatic-military policy front towards the end of the Obama administration, and decisions on some things were being made at an org level way above they should have been made (and others were given over to interagency to avoid any real decision on some items, with commensurate responsibility & accountability, from being being made)

          Even on the issue of Spicer, the Obama administration was way too overreliant on ‘strategic communications’ for their wins at the expense of more substantial victories based on the objective underlying conditions. So the Trump admin could have easily stepped back a bit from the aggressive and eternal spin of its predecessor.

          But Spicer needed to demonstrate minimum competence to pull off this change. And the thing is, the press was eager to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt shortly after the election, as well as shortly after the inauguration. Heck, we saw that as late as the Not Technically The State of the Union Speech But That’s What It Was. Double heck, we saw it as late as the Syrian airstrikes.

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        • I made the same criticism of excessive bureaucracy, excessive staff here over a year ago.

          This is what is wrong with the modern foreign policy process in a nutshell. A massive paper churning bureaucracy with good idea fairies sprinkling their pixie dust over everything. Producing stuff that is mostly useless, as the final products are an overcooked stew of consensus, and mostly ignored anyway by the people actually making decisions – unless they want to cherrypick items that support their own priors.

          Funny how Clinton has created something very resembling the official political-diplomatic-military structure when she’s out of power, but frequently used unofficial fly by night back channels when she was in power.

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  3. Not doing their homework is the MO of the entire Trump administration.

    Trump is an off-the-cuff speaking kind of guy and this can be very magnetic on the campaign trail but when it comes running the Presidency, it fails badly.

    The other thing is that the Trump Admin might just be callous and not care.

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  4. And this matters because the garbled, distracting, confused communication that he offers up to the public while under the sort of stress that comes as a routine part of Spicer’s job diminishes the President’s ability to serve as a political leader.

    If we had a president that slightly cared about his own ability to serve as a political leader, Spicer might even be in danger of losing his job, or not been hired at all.

    Luckily for Spicer, that does not appear to be true.

    As I’ve said before, Donald Trump does not comprehend politics. At all. And, thus, he doesn’t understand the purpose of a press secretary, and has no idea when one is incompetent.

    Actually, wait, I’m not sure he’d recognize incompetent people anyway. But he certainly can’t recognize it when he doesn’t understand why someone even exists at all.

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  5. Yeah, he stuck his foot in his mouth, no doubt about it. But, that said, he has the most hostile reporter pool wanting his blood (sometimes with cause), sometime a schizoid boss (saved by the incoherence of the political opposition) and SNL skits to live up to (probably the best thing from Lorne in decades).

    Is this the worst thing evah? No, not by a long shot. A tempest in a teapot, nothing burger, etc. The media has so overplayed their hand that no one outside the mandarins will pay any attention. And that must drive the chattering class crae-crae.

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    • Ha. You’re joking right, you’re playing at a working class hero/ Trump supporter right? I mean of course this isn’t the worst thing ever, but no one has said that. Plenty of R’s and Trumpets will be in mega cringe mode over this. Are they going to become liberals; no, but no one is saying that either.

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      • No Greg, I am not joking. If anyone thinks this is more than that, they are slaves to twitter. Could I be wrong? Sure. But that has nothing to do with liking/disliking Cheeto Jesus. I simply don’t think this is anything more than the 24/7 news cycle feeding on itself, and those who feel on that chattering about something before they move to the next Hot Take.

        By the way, I like that straw man you built about peeps switching sides.Reminds me of Wicker Man.

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        • Has anybody said this is the end of the Trump admin? That this is the biggest thing evar? That this going to a years long issue? From what i’ve seen people are saying “boy that Spicer really sounded stupid”. This seems pretty accurate. Spicer can squelch all this by not saying really stupid things. I wouldn’t bet on that given his history but who knows. People have been making a far bigger thing about stuff like health care and voter suppression or handful of other recent actual issues.

          Wicker Man: the terrible Nick Cage version or the good old Brit one? You gotta spell out the reference.

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          • By itself, this is a bungle in a press conference. A bad day at the office for Spicer. Thing is, there’s been a lot of these bad days. And no sign of displeasure or even concern from the guy at the top. This suggests some of:

            A) Trump doesn’t care about how his administration is communicating with the public;
            B) Trump isn’t paying attention to his own administration;
            C) Trump isn’t the skilled executive he portrayed himself to be;
            D) Trump lacks the skills to effectively govern;
            E) Trump does not think that what happens in the press room affects his ability to govern.

            Nixon had no respect for the press either and the feeling was mutual. But he cared what was reported about him: the press didn’t have to like Dick Nixon but it was damn well going to *respect* Dick Nixon. Trump seems to truly not give a crap.

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            • Oh i agree A-E are all true. But on it’s own this is just one stupid data point regarding Spicer’s inability to just spout anodyne PR statements without jamming several feet in his mouth. The more important issue’s are Trump’s polices which are certainly affected by his own general incompetence and narcissism.

              People will hear more about Spicer being a royal maroon then hear about various policy details. Sad. But it does and will reflect on Trump. So Aaron is wrong to think only the chattering classes will care. Jews certainly care but they may all be chattering types.

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            • Is it possible that for all his bluster and having “You’re fired” as his catchphrase, he doesn’t like firing the people he’s hired because he knows it reflects poorly on him? It’s an admission that things aren’t absolutely great.

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              • Trump desperately wants positive attention from the press. He always has courted the press and wanted good PR. He doesn’t see the press as the opposition. He wants accolades and praise and support for all the good things he does. Trump wants the press to love and support him. Of course he gets mad when they don’t. But has always tried to win over the press and damn insistent on wanting attention.

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        • No Greg, I am not joking. If anyone thinks this is more than that, they are slaves to twitter.

          I disagree. Personally, I think it should be a nothingburger, but it isn’t. This goes way beyond Twitter, right to the core functioning of government: it not only diminishes the President’s credibility and therefore effectiveness as a political leader, it creates additional hurdles GOP CCers must leap over to pass legislation.

          Another reason it isn’t a nothingburger: Spicergate might be the final straw breaking the Bannon et al back as the admin tries to further distance themlseves from Bannon’s toxicity.

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          • If it were a one-off, I’d agree that it should be a nothingburger.

            It is, however, far from a one-off, and it’s coming at a time where the Administration would have every reason to signal to the alt-right that it’s still on their side.

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          • There is a common refrain from many of the non-aligned or so called non-partisan people to look at all the incompetence in the admin or the flow of negative news stories but never think it adds up to anything. Nothing ever really matters since Trump is teflon or people hate the media therefore nothing matters. On its own this Spicer gaffe doesn’t mean much. In the totality of the admin it is emblematic of it’s incompetence. People often judge things on superficial measures or its the superficial that tips the scales. Well there is reason Trump’s in the dumps.

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          • My understanding, though, is that Spicer is part of the Pribus “establishment” faction… not the Bannon or Kushner factions.

            My insider friends tell me that the only thing Trump is banking on is massive de-regulation (which includes taxes) becuase the NYC/Kushner faction is 100% sure that there are literally (not figuratively, but literally) $Trillions waiting off-shore for investment in the US once it is made more business friendly… and here we’re talking about *new investment* $$ not the off-shore profit $$ that might *also* be repatriated. So, expand your mind to include multiple buckets of $T investments.

            The Kushner/NYC faction is the only faction that matters with regards policy that *Trump* cares about (I’m told).

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            • Damn, what a mess. You gotcher Leninist/White Nationalists battling it out with the Jewish Globalist/International Bankerists fighting tooth and nail with Establishment GOP Institutionalists. No wonder American hasn’t been made great again yet.

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              • Yes, a mess. The interesting thing for me, though, was if you plug the NYC-Rockefeller Agenda into the Trump App… the decoder seems to work again.

                I mean, if there really are $Trillions offshore that come flooding in – and again, here I’m told they are so convinced it is going to happen that their real fears is that all the $ will go to NY/CA/TX and they are working on “plans” to divert significant amounts to PA/MI/OH and other flyover states – then demand for coal will go up… but more importantly, there will be new opportunities for ex-coal miners…

                I’m not saying that that will happen, nor how low we have to go with de-regulation… but some early things start to make sense by what they actually believe. Like, why the incoming administration was writing EO’s like it was 1976 with regards EPA and the like.

                Anyhow, another theory to carry in the back of your mind as you try to make sense of Trump.

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        • Dude, Sean Spicer puts his foot in his mouth everytime he gets in front of journalists. Most of us don’t even think it means all that much, except for one big friggin thing: Spicey is incompetent at his job (and the Grand Cheeto, Captain Orange Snowflake himself, doesn’t care).

          The rest of it? too much noise to too little signal.

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      • Yeah, the idea that the press in general, and the WH press corps in particular, are in any way hostile to the administration is to laugh.

        The biggest shame of the first quarter of 45s presidency is that there aren’t more metaphorical testicles held over metaphorical candles, not that there aren’t fewer.

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  6. This incident highlights a couple of things that I’ve noticed since Trump took office.

    One, this administration really is that effing dumb! Two, in our current political climate, the biggest sins are not actions that cause harm through malevolence or incompetence, but actions that offend people’s sensibilities.

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    • I don’t agree with your second point. I see plenty of people and the media go against Trump’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels, the Arts, Public Health, the EPA, job retraining programs, the letters sent out by the DoE on student loan forgiveness for public-service jobs, etc.

      But all these people are Democrats and/or lean left. The Trump admin is highly partisan towards the Right (despite what some morons in the media say) and the GOP controls Congress. There is not much that can be done hear. Plus in a highly ideological age, there are strong debates about what helps who and how. I think the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are at near maximum disagreement about the point and purpose of civil government and what it means to help people.

      Flubs like the one left above are generally one of the things that almost everyone thinks looks bad and can agree upon as being careless and callous.

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      • I don’t agree with your second point. I see plenty of people and the media go against Trump’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels…

        And what does it mean that there were no actually cuts to Meals on Wheels? Rather, Trump’s budget proposed cutting a HUD program that contributes something like 3 percent of the funding for the national office.

        Does that HUD program do good work? Is it cost effective? How much does NEA funding represent as a total of the amount spent on the arts? Enough to make a meaningful difference? Are there other sources of funding that could easily replace it. What about the EPA? What’s the appropriate level of funding for environmental programs? More or less than where it was at under Obama? On student loans, what’s the best way to cut costs? More loans? More grants? More public funding? Will that stop runaway costs in higher education? Is it fiscally sustainable?

        How many of these questions can you answer? I know that I can barely scratch the surface on most of them. And I know way more about this crap than the median voter. Heck, one of my close friends is a program manager on that HUD program. Making judgments about fiscal sustainability and good governance is what I do for a living. I don’t have definitive answers on these things, but somehow everyone with thumbs and a Twitter account can tell you what Trump’s budget is or isn’t.

        Again, more and more every day we’re making our political decisions based on how things feel and how things appear. This won’t end well. But at least it will be somewhat entertaining.

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        • And what does it mean that there were no actually cuts to Meals on Wheels? Rather, Trump’s budget proposed cutting a HUD program that contributes something like 3 percent of the funding for the national office.

          It means that the WH in general, and Mulvaney in particular, did a pathetic job arguing in favor of those cuts. It’s a big part of their job to articulate their own policies in a way that makes sense.

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            • I don’t, though, because the reaction was to the substance of Mulvaney’s comments. Perhaps the press should have assumed that his comments didn’t reflect the substance of his budget, which he was defending, but at a certain point it’s the responsibility of the Administration to actually perform basic political functions like explaining is own policies in a way that isn’t stupid and horrible.

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        • Again, we are at maximum disagreement ideologically here.

          One of the things that Mulvaney said about Meals on Wheels is that it is a nice idea but it doesn’t work. Vox quickly was able to point out that this isn’t true. Meals on Wheels does delivers its promise and mission very well.

          What I suspect goes on with smarter Republicans is that they are true believers in the minimalist state, they don’t think it is the role of government to provide a social safety net at all and for any reason. But they also know that this is a callous non-starter largely so they end up tying themselves up to do both things.

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          • and , as well

            Again, we are at maximum disagreement ideologically here.

            Exactly.

            What happened with the Meals on Wheels thing? Some journalist went through Trump’s budget, not so much for the purpose of understanding the policy implications of it, but mostly to find something to confront the administration on. When confronted, a member of the Trump administration chose not to simply offer a factually correction, but to go on an ideological diatribe. Whether it’s because the dude has some legitimate beef with Meals on Wheels or because this administration is so reflixevely combative towards the media that it can’t get out of it’s own way, I don’t know. Maybe both.

            But anyway, for whatever reason the idiotic defense of the non-existent cut to Meals on Wheels went viral. A bunch of people spread earnest/angry/snarky social media messages. A bunch of outlets like Vox wrote pieces defending Meals on Wheels. And at no point was anything actually accomplished. You can’t even claim that the program was saved, because it was never really on the chopping block. I guess Meals on Wheels got a bunch of donations, but that speaks directly to my point about people being more motivated by threats to their sensibilities than by actual harm.

            So, , if you’re going to claim to disagree with what I said, then you’re going to have to explain how an imaginary cut to a government program, actually not even a government program, is about actual harm being done rather than being a battle over ideology and sensibilities with very little actual stakes.

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            • So, , if you’re going to claim to disagree with what I said, then you’re going to have to explain how an imaginary cut to a government program, actually not even a government program, is about actual harm being done rather than being a battle over ideology and sensibilities with very little actual stakes.

              Because the people who were making an argument at the time thought it was a real cut, which is a completely reasonable assumption to make in the face off the OMB going off on an ideological tirade in order to defend the cuts. One usually doesn’t offer that kind of rant in order to defend imaginary cuts.

              It happened to be an incorrect assumption, but that’s because this Administration is unreasonably inept.

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              • It happened to be an incorrect assumption, but that’s because this Administration is unreasonably inept.

                It’s not that hard to look at the budget and do the math. Call me naive, but that’s what the political media is supposed to be doing. That story didn’t go viral just because of Mulvaney.

                That’s one of the reasons. The other reason is that our political discourse isn’t set up for having rational conversations about the costs and benefits of various policy proposals. It’s set up to have a bunch of ideological disagreements that mostly focus on sensibility over efficacy.

                If you can’t see that, it may be because you’re one of those people focused on having those ideological disagreements.

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                • It’s not that hard to look at the budget and do the math. Call me naive, but that’s what the political media is supposed to be doing. That story didn’t go viral just because of Mulvaney.

                  It’s not that hard, but it’s even easier–and perhaps even more justified[1]–to assume that Mulvaney wouldn’t get up there and defend a cut that the budget he was presenting didn’t actually contain.

                  And I think you’re absolutely wrong against why it went viral, since a huge number of the viral posts I saw involved Mulvaney’s (wrong, but substantive) comments on the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels.

                  The other reason is that our political discourse isn’t set up for having rational conversations about the costs and benefits of various policy proposals.

                  It isn’t, but this is a terrible example to use as evidence of that, because it’s hopelessly confounded by the fact that one of the most important participants, and the one who should be most ready to offer a defense on those grounds, completely failed in his professional responsibility to do so.

                  [1] Given how often people screw screw up looking at the budget and doing the math. Including, you know, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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            • But anyway, for whatever reason the idiotic defense of the non-existent cut to Meals on Wheels went viral.

              Yes, it’s a complete mystery why the presidential administration saying something *incredibly stupid* that everyone disagreed with, would go viral.

              It’s not like that literally happened *every time* any presidential administration, in all of history, has said something stupid.

              It’s just we now has a presidential administration that says something impossibly, astonishingly, mindbogglingly stupid shit every couple of weeks, and then fucks up trying to explain them…instead vague misstatements that get immediately clarified maybe every two years.

              So, yes, it’s a little tiring at this point…and we’re not even three months in.

              But, anyway, back to the ideological thing…there’s basically a secondary completely failure *there* on the Trump administration also. Because I seem to recall that conservatives were, *ideologically*, supposed to *support* donation-funded charities like Meals on Wheels.

              Ignore the fact that he’s an idiot who didn’t bother to do research, what does that say about factual decision making of how conservatives judge things?

              Someone in the Trump administration heard they were cutting Meals on Wheels (Despite this not being true). So they so decided, *with absolutely no research*, that Meals on Wheels didn’t work. Purely because they *thought* it was government funded. (We know they didn’t do any research, because finding out if it ‘worked’ would, a minimum, require looking up how much it costs, would would instantly lead them to realize, wait, they weren’t cutting it)

              I.e., the Republican administration accidentally claimed *exactly the sort of charity* the right claims would spring up if the government stopped funding things…’doesn’t work’?

              It’s sorta letting the cat out of the bag that whether or not something ‘works’ is entirely based on how it is funded, isn’t it?

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              • and

                Yes, it’s a complete mystery why the presidential administration saying something *incredibly stupid* that everyone disagreed with, would go viral.

                And I think you’re absolutely wrong against why it went viral, since a huge number of the viral posts I saw involved Mulvaney’s (wrong, but substantive) comments on the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels.

                The interesting thing about your respective comments is that they suggest that you’ve chosen to react to the narrative about those comments rather than going and reading those comments for yourself. Either that or you just have bad reading comprehension.

                It’s not that hard, but it’s even easier–and perhaps even more justified[1]–to assume that Mulvaney wouldn’t get up there and defend a cut that the budget he was presenting didn’t actually contain.

                And I think you’re absolutely wrong against why it went viral, since a huge number of the viral posts I saw involved Mulvaney’s (wrong, but substantive) comments on the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels.

                Mulvaney didn’t make any statements about the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels. He only mentioned the program as an aside, while trying to make a point about the effectiveness of the larger Community Block Grant Development (CBGD) program. Personally, I think his points were poorly communicated and more than a little confusing. But for anyone reading those comments (or better still watching the video) for a substantive understanding of what is in Trump’s budget proposal or the rationale behind it, it’s pretty clear that the target is the CBGD and not Meals on Wheels.

                Is the CBDG actually a very effective program that shouldn’t be cut? Maybe, but you wouldn’t get many answers about that from following the press coverage around the budget. And that just goes back to my original point.

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                • Mulvaney didn’t make any statements about the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels. He only mentioned the program as an aside, while trying to make a point about the effectiveness of the larger Community Block Grant Development (CBGD) program.

                  He mentioned it as an aside in such a way that a lot of people (including me, when I read the original remarks) interpreted as dismissing it for being ineffective, because… well, he said it “sounds great” and that they can’t fund programs just because they “sound good”. This was all part of a theme he kept coming back to, of not funding programs that “don’t work”.

                  Personally, I think his points were poorly communicated and more than a little confusing.

                  Well, yes. He failed, and he failed in a way that led a lot of people, including me, to think that he was attacking Meals on Wheels for being ineffective, and using that as a justification for defunding CBDG.

                  Is the CBDG actually a very effective program that shouldn’t be cut? Maybe, but you wouldn’t get many answers about that from following the press coverage around the budget.

                  You also wouldn’t get it from Mulvaney’s statement. It doesn’t seem sensible to blame the press for the White House’s inability to fulfill even the most basic political functions.

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                  • It doesn’t seem sensible to blame the press for the White House’s inability to fulfill even the most basic political functions.

                    This, a thousand times.

                    The story: The White House’s budget was attacked, by opinion writers, for hurting something it wouldn’t actually hurt.

                    A *barely competent* White House, when asked about that, would have at least pointed out that they were barely impacting the program at all. That’s like, the lowest possible bar there is for defending a policy ‘It is mathematically not going to do the specific harm people are suggesting.’

                    But we *don’t have* a White House that is even slightly competent in communications. Hell, they are not even *failing* at being competent, because that would imply they are *trying* to be competent. Expecting competent behavior (In communications specifically, but really in anything.) from this administration is like expecting a cat to construct a MRI machine. The cat is not *bad* at MRI-building…it’s not trying to build a damn MRI machines at all! It doesn’t even know what MRI machines are!

                    So instead, when asked about these nonexistence Meals on Wheels cuts, we got a rambling vague response about on how programs can sound great but don’t work, which *most people* interpreted to mean ‘We are, indeed, cutting Meals on Wheels because, while it sounds great, it doesn’t work’.

                    That was the *logical implication* of what was said. It is possible to interpret that as something else, also, but what the hell is the point of trying to figure that out…the problem is really that the White House didn’t even care enough about the complaints to learn they *weren’t* cutting it!!!

                    I am getting the feeling this administration is so completely broken that someone in the press room could stand up and ask why the US was bombing France and the Press Secretary would stutter out an excuse having to with wine imports and rude gestures and they all smell bad, instead of pointing out the obvious fact we *aren’t* bombing France. Why? Because for all he knows, we *are* bombing France…and that information merely hasn’t been communicated to him.

                    Because, as I said, Trump literally doesn’t understand what press secretaries are *for*. He doesn’t understand that he should *explain* and *justify* what he does to the American people, that that is a basic part of being president, that as president people will ask what he’s doing and why, so there are entire groups of people the president is supposed to use to *communicate* that information to the press, so they can tell people.

                    I also feel I should point out that that, as far as I know, *the White House has not issued a correction/denial yet*. No one at the White House has even *bothered* to stand up and say ‘The CBDG is microscopic part of Meals on Wheels funding, so we are not really cutting Meals on Wheels’. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t seem to find it.

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                • Mulvaney didn’t make any statements about the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels.

                  I want you to read this full statement and tell me it doesn’t *imply* that Meals on Wheels, while sounding great, is not a program that doesn’t work:

                  Here’s what I can tell you about CDBGs because that’s what we fund — right? — is that we spend $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs since I believe the first — actually, the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.(2) And Meals on Wheels sounds great(1) — again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion to. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work(4) — I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt. We’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people(3).”

                  Let’s look at three specific parts first:
                  1) Meals on Wheels sounds great.
                  2) There are a lot of programs that sound great that we will no longer fund.
                  3) There are a lot of programs that cannot show they actually deliver the promises we’ve made to people that we will no longer fund

                  Statement #3 is clear talking about #2 and #1. That the programs that sound great, that will no longer be funded, will no longer be funded because they cannot show they actually deliver the promises they made when ‘sounding great’. (sound great==promises they made to people)

                  So, at this point in understanding, he has said that Meals on Wheels sounds great *but cannot prove it delivers on those promises*. This is incorrect, but it’s not saying Meals on Wheel doesn’t work, it’s saying it can’t show* it works. But we also get this:

                  4) There are programs that don’t work that we will no longer fund

                  So, previously, he implicitly said that Meals on Wheels can’t *show* it works.

                  And literally in the middle of two statements that add up to that…that he’s mysteriously talking about programs that *actually* don’t work.

                  Is it really that large of a leap to imagine he’s talking about Meals on Wheels, and how it doesn’t work, especially considering he’s mentioned literally no other CBGD programs at all?

                  Maybe you can argue that wasn’t what he meant to imply…but don’t pretend the implication wasn’t there, or that people who heard it are deliberately misunderstanding him.

                  Mulvaney didn’t make any statements about the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels. He only mentioned the program as an aside, while trying to make a point about the effectiveness of the larger Community Block Grant Development (CBGD) program.

                  Incorrect. Mulvaney did not speak about the effectiveness of the CBGD. Every single mention of CBGD is a mention of the *programs* under it and how *they* are ineffective. Every one of them.

                  Yes, we can *conclude* that means he thinks it is inefficient at as a whole, but pretending he was only criticizing CBGD as a whole, and not the specific program he was talking about, is nonsense…he was criticizing CBGD *entirely* by calling out how a lot of the programs under it didn’t work. That was *his only* complaint about it! Well, that and it cost money.

                  So it seems rational to assume that Meals on Wheels, the specific program he was asked about and talked about his answer, is one of those programs that doesn’t work.

                  Now, of course, this is an attempt to make sense of *rambling gibberish*, where someone has clearly come up with some crappy talking points of ‘CBGD go to a bunch of things, and a lot of that is wasteful’.

                  But, frankly, it’s getting rather painful to watch people attempt to justify the dumbassery that comes out of this administration’s mouth.

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                  • But, frankly, it’s getting rather painful to watch people attempt to justify the dumbassery that comes out of this administration’s mouth.

                    You wrote a lot of words and that’s great, I guess. But none of them really address or of any sort of meaningful counter to the original point that I made and the one that I keep making.

                    In fact, you just keep making my point for me.

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      • I think its more accurate to say that we are at maximum ideological difference between the official Republican and Democratic Party platforms rather than their electorate. Damon Linker had an interesting article in the Week on the ideological break up of the Republican Party. It turns out that a plurality of Republicans support single payer and are much more liberal on other economic topics than most Republican politicians.

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    • I agree with this mostly. But I think its important to note, that people, certainly I, use my sensibilities to help me judge the level of concern (or, in this case, fear) I should have about the potential of harm through malevolence or incompetence, particularly with respect to a position which grants both extreme power and the ability to keep it hidden from the public.

      So when I see a president lie about the size of an inauguration, and refuse to admit as much despite overwhelming and public evidence, my sensibilities are offended. And you, or anyone else, could write that off as the result of a toxic political climate where we care more about sensibilities than harm. I mean, how did that lie harm me, directly? It didn’t. The reason it matters to me is not because I’m offended at being lied to. Its because it appears much more likely to me that a guy who refuses to be honest about impossible to argue facts that mean little to nothing in the real world will cause harm than a guy who is willing to admit his mistakes, and suffer some personal costs, in order to advance the common good.

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  7. Here’s how you make Spicer’s point:

    Chemical warfare was horrifying even by the standards of World War I, which were not strict. All of the nations involved, winners and losers alike, agreed to ban it forever. Even at the battle of Stalingrad, which was a life or death struggle for both sides, two dictators as evil as Hitler and Stalin did not escalate to using chemical warfare openly. This is a convention we cannot allow Syria to flout, both because of the horror it causes and because we cannot by inaction normalize its use.

    You can’t, of course, try to make Assad out as worse than someone who presided over the murder of millions with poison gas without looking like a babbling idiot.

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    • It’s also not great for the conclusion of your, “This guy is worse than Hitler,” chain of reasoning to be, “And that’s why we shot several cruise missiles at him but will not be committing to any further military action.” The whole thing is an incoherent mess.

      Professional political flacks need some sort of Clippy type character in a heads up display that pops up when you start making a Hitler analogy. “Hey, it looks like you’re about to say something stupid that will offend people and almost certainly not improve your position. Would you like me to pull the fire alarm instead?”

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      • Oh. Clippy.
        When my local mayor showed up for a debate while his opponent was locked in his “secure bunker”, he just started showing graphs and stuff, and wound up in a brief debate with Clippy instead of his opponent.

        For whatever reason, the TV studio decided that showing essentially a campaign ad for the mayor was entertaining enough to leave on air.

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      • “Professional political flacks need some sort of Clippy type character in a heads up display that pops up when you start making a Hitler analogy. “Hey, it looks like you’re about to say something stupid that will offend people and almost certainly not improve your position. Would you like me to pull the fire alarm instead?””

        Heh, that made me chuckle… maybe instead of Clippy a picture of Godwin?

        But pulling the fire alarm should probably be SOP for Spicer’s office.

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      • Yes, which is a reason to not hang your hat on the “worse than Hitler” argument. It’s not like there aren’t a dozen more plausible arguments for making that strike, it’s just that articulating them would involve formulating and articulating a somewhat coherent policy position, and the WH is evidently desperate not to do that.

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        • I suppose those rationales are too nuanced for the audience Spicer is trying to reach. “Remember Hilter! Worse! We hit him and that’s good!” is probably what he was trying to get across.

          If he had said, “We can’t support one side or another in this civil war, but we do have international laws and norms against chemical weapons that we all benefit from enforcing, so the US will intervene to prevent the use of chemical weapons from becoming a normal part of warfare,” he might have gained some points with me, but he wouldn’t have gained my vote. How would that position have looked to people who voted for Trump to bust heads and Make America Great Again? It may actually be that the best thing Spicer could have done was openly taunt Assad and leave it at that.

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  8. Why, at this point, given the Trump camp’s history of flirting with anti-semitism and white supremacism, would I possibly give Spicer the benefit of the doubt on this? Any charity they’re due has long since been squandered.

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    • Because it’s utterly foolish to think that Spicer was secretly signalling that he denies the Holocaust. That constant decline in giving the benefit of the doubt leads to what everyone calls Derangement Syndrome.

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      • I haven’t heard that Spicer has a history of anti-semitism. However if the prez has a top advisor who was the former chief of web site that was the avatar of the alt-right then the admin has opened themselves up to some scrutiny.

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      • Because it’s utterly foolish to think that Spicer was secretly signalling that he denies the Holocaust.

        Yeah, who would believe Sean Spicer would advance outrageous and despicable lies to promote the Administration’s agenda?

        If this were the first time that Spicer had gotten caught up in this kind of thing, sure, it was a mistake. Sad to say, however, it isn’t.

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      • Yeah – except no one is saying he that he’s secretly signalling that he denies the holocaust. What I hear from his detractors, is that what he’s doing, what the administration has been doing since well before the election was even won, is trying to thread that needle that gives them plausible deniability to the people who their getting ready to offend while at the same time burnishing his image to the alt-right by refusing the play the PC game or suck up to the SJWs. (OT – I actually think his reluctance to cut bannon loose is mostly is due to the fact that it would both make this game a loser and cost him some of his alt-right support).

        You don’t have to agree with it, but you do get how that’s fundamentally different than accusing Mr. Spicer of denying the holocaust, don’t you?

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        • Breaking news: Spicer says his comment was a mistake and was “inexecusable and reprehensible” … that’s what he said about himself.

          Still burnishing his reputation with the alt-right? Explicitly asking “forgiveness” from the people he offended? As far as apologies go, this pisses rings around the usual sort of non-apology you get from public figures.

          The events which are plain to see and observe don’t fit the esoteric narrative you are trying to push. Secret signals and Plausible deniability don’t pass muster with Public apologies and acknowledgement that what he did was undeniably a mistake.

          He had a perfectly valid point that he completely bungled… and watching his apology its obvious that he is sincere; but it is equally obvious that he’s not that great at public speaking… not at the level of Presidential Spokesman.

          Now, its possible he’s the best person they can get to take the job, but that’s another issue.

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          • I had not seen that apology until just now.

            That does shift my evaluation quite a bit. Less than it would if the Administration were taking more substantive action than sending the guy with no credibility and less dignity out to abase himself before us, but a lot more than if he’d said nothing or offered a standard-issue nonpology.

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          • It’s a good apology: contrition and no self-justification. My opinion of his character has gone up. Where I disagree with Marchmaine is in the value of the point he was trying to make. I outlined above a way to do it more effectively, but “Worse than Hitler” is never a good idea.

            Also, I am annoyed with Pelosi and the others trying to get Spicer fired over this. Yes, he’s absolutely terrible at his job, but that’s his boss’s problem, not theirs.

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          • Hadn’t seen that until now. And to be clear, I don’t believe the theory i tried to attribute to others above as a certainty. I do now think the bulk of the evidence points in that direction though. Fortunately, I’ve got enough ill will towards the Pres that my opinion of his assholishness doesn’t depend on my resolution of this particular question.

            This apology, however, does cut against that, a bit. But I don’t think it is determinative. I mean, if this is the game they are playing, missing the mark and having to recalibrate a bit would be expected. At some point, if you completely miscalibrate who will be offended and how much, then you may realize the needle failed to get threaded. So clean up your mess as well as you can and get to re-threading.

            Or, Sean isn’t in on the con. He’s just Trump’s useful idiot, who does what he’s told, in a manner which resembles how he was told, and that usually works. Maybe Trump didn;t want him to apologize. Maybe Trump demanded that he not. Who knows?

            Admittedly, the above is conjecture. But conjecture I’d bet on if given even odds (although not the previous paragraph) But mostly what i was taking issue with was Pinky’s argument that people are claiming Spicer denied the holocaust. I hadn’t seen it here anyway.

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          • I agree — this was a true apology. Good for him for doing it, and I think that people of charity should accept the apology at face value and in good faith. It’s strong evidence that he’s fundamentally a good man: a good man is not immune from making mistakes, but he does own up to them.

            I also agree — although there is sincere and admirable intent here, this message also was not delivered with the sort of grace and style that one would expect from a person at the very pinnacle of the profession of public relations. I really have to wonder if he’s the right man for the job, however good a man he might be.

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            • If Spicer were just, like, some guy, even some guy who had a tendency to blither despite having a very high profile job where professionalism dictates not blithering–well, yes, I’d be willing to extend him that sort of charity. And maybe I still am, in the sense that this somewhat exonerates him personally.

              But I’m much less willing to extend that charity to Trump and his Administration as a whole. I still have every reason to believe they’re happy to wink and nod to Holocaust deniers to keep the alt-right activists onside.

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            • Those dots don’t connect. They’re just dots. Or, rather, they’re four dots that would look like a square to neutral observer, but you’re seeing them as a swastika. That’s going to lead you toward a false narrative.

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                • Do you really think those things are comparable? Obama explicitly connected his non-use of the term “Islamic terrorism” to his foreign policy approach. His saner critics said that the term was essential in order to clearly identify the ideology of the terrorists. His crazed critics said that he was secretly signalling his support of Islamic terrorism. I’m going to dismiss the equivalent of the crazies in this case (that Trump is secretly signalling support for anti-Semitism). Is there an equivalent to the sane argument? Is someone saying that the various dots are related to a stated anti-Semitic policy agenda of this administration?

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                  • His crazed critics said that he was secretly signalling his support of Islamic terrorism.

                    Except the reactions of the people Trump’s signaling suggest that there is indeed a signal being sent and received. David Duke, Richard Spencer, et al. were thrilled with the statement the WH made (and Spicer later defended) on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

                    If the dogs weren’t going nuts when the Administration blows on that metal tube, I’d be far less inclined to think it was a dogwhistle.

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                    • Maybe I’m off-base on this one. The number of anti-Semitic trolls has surprised me. But their existence, and willingness to respond to everything they can, doesn’t persuade me that there’s any deliberate appeal to them, much less that Spicer was engaging in it.

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                      • In Spicer’s case in particular I have no idea. I do know he’s a bumbler who seems desperate to follow his marching orders instead of maintain his credibility, so it’s possible that he was doing that, and it’s possible he just stepped on a rake because stepping on his rake is very much his thing.

                        For the rest, there’s definitely a faction in the WH that seems perfectly willing to appeal to them. It’s not a slam dunk case, but a circumstantial one, and one that the WH has generally done a crappy job dispelling.

                        That last may also be due to political ineptitude and general weird defensiveness. Neither is in short supply in this Administration.

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              • Oh lord, at this point you don’t even need me to participate in this conversation. But i am a glutton.

                You claimed “It’s equally unfounded and absurd to claim that he was winking at the alt-right”. I disagree with this statement, and said as much. But I’d disagree with this statement even if i didn’t think he was winking at the alt-right, because the claim that Spicer denied the holocaust is simply more unfounded and more absurd. Full stop. Which leads you to claim that I see a swastika in the place of four dots.

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    • FFS…..German jews sure as hell thought they were German. They thought that when they fought in WW1. They feared anti-semitism but they felt Germany was their home. That’s why many they didn’t leave as Nazism was rising; it was their home.

      Is this really an important point to discuss?

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    • The article you’re quoting says that German Jews and Nazis disagreed over whether German Jews were German, and the Holocaust proves that the Nazis were right.

      That’s literally the argument its making.

      Maybe people would be a little more willing to be charitable about things like Spicer’s comments if dirtbag outlets like the Daily Caller didn’t decide to defend them by arguing that Jews weren’t German because the Nazis stripped them of their citizenship.

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  9. I was toying with the idea of doing a post on this, but now that Burt has made this OTC I’ll just make my point here:

    The problem with Spicer isn’t that he stutters sometimes. People do that when they are flustered.

    The problem with Spicer isn’t that he sometimes misspeaks, or mistakenly reports thing incorrectly. Lots of people get things wrong.

    The problem with Spicer isn’t that he’s an anti-Semite, because I don’t believe that he is.

    I could go on an on… but this is not a nothing burger.

    Sean Spicer is not just anybody. He’s the fishing White House Press Secretary. It’s his job to communicate to the press (so that they can communicate it to the people) what official White House policy and reaction is to major events that effect us and that the White House will be taking some role in handling.

    That’s his job.

    Everyday he shows up and one (or more) of the following is almost guaranteed to happen. Either he’s clearly unaware of Big Things that have transpired that other people clearly do know about, or he incorrectly states facts that are fact checked and rebutted within minutes, or he states the President’s policy is X only to have the President say hours later that the President’s policy is Y, or he contradicts (or is later contradicted by) various of his superiors on all sorts of topics, or he muffs a softball and risks alienating some group of people, like perhaps the Jews, or maybe on another day, possibly the Jews.

    He’s not some staffer. He’s not a cabinet member being asked about something his department would clearly have no way of knowing what the official WH position might be. He’s not even a Congress Critter doing a quick and dirty on Fox. He’s the White House Press Secretary, FFS.

    Is Spicer terrible at his job? Is he not bad, but undermined because so many other people in the White House are terrible at their job? Is the White House knowingly making the main outlet of communicating WH policy to its citizens a giant, vague, incomprehensible cluster-fish for some reason that only they can comprehend? Beats the hell out of me.

    But none of those answers should be remotely acceptable to any of us. And that should go double if you’re an anti-big govt., I-Hate-Washington, drain-the-swamp kind of person. Because when Sean Spicer makes a hash of communicating what official WH policy is for X, it isn’t just the press he’s leaving in the dark. It’s you.

    If the White House doesn’t make itself clear about its own policies and actions, then everything you think you “know” about the WH is doing is really just Rachel Maddow’s or Alex Jones’s best guess. And that should terrify the f**k out of everyone here.

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    • I find the position itself to be incomprehensible. The executive branch has too many moving parts for there to be a single person who speaks on its behalf. And I don’t recall anyone doing a particularly good job at it. There’s also the internet now, and if reporters want to know the White House’s position on something, surely a better system could be established. Washington reporters are more interested in this confrontational play-acting than in finding and reporting answers.

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      • Think back to some previous presidencies, Pinky. Apart from policy goal attainment, consistency of messaging was perhaps their most important priority and lots of effort was expended to make sure everyone who spoke in an official capacity for the WH was on the same page. An essential part of that is not only message discipline, but actually having a determinate set of policies upon which messaging is based. Trump lacks that on both fronts but most importantly the latter. From moment to moment no one in the WH, including the President, has any idea what their goals and objectives actually are in any area of policy. And in my view that’s why Spicer repeatedly flails so badly.

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          • I thought your point was that there are too many moving parts in a WH administration for everyone to be on the same page. I actually don’t think that’s true. Obama ran a tight ship as did Cheney. The Trump administration’s inability to clearly communicate with the public regarding its policies isn’t due to too many moving parts, but the absolute, total, complete (etc etc) absence of clearly defined policies.

            Tho, I think with the Syria thing we might be seeing the possibility of a potentially discernible set of vague and ill-defined policies emerge. So, you know. Improvement.

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            • OK. My 6:01pm comment was a bit facetious. Kind of like Nigel Tufnel responding to a bad review. Obviously an administration’s coherence is relevant to the discussion. Everyone should be on the same page within the field of their expertise.

              My 5:33pm comment was intended to make a minor observation, that I find the particular position of Press Secretary to be impossible, because it requires a single person to be able to speak on behalf of an administration on all issues. Even a good, well-run White House is going to have to be dynamic on exactly the kind of emerging issues that a Press Secretary is going to be asked about. The job is, at its best, a series of gotcha questions.

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    • I think the biggest problem is Spicer’s boss. He literally has an impossible job, and he’s also clearly not really experienced or skilled at the job in the first place.

      A WH focused on message discipline with clear lines of communication and consistent policies? He’d probably be, at best, mediocre. Maybe he’d grow into it.

      But every day he has to go out there and defend the indefensible, tell bald-faced lies that are clearly insisted upon by on high, and pretend he never said what he said yesterday because that’s the direction his boss gives him.

      In the end, the problem with Spicer is Trump. And the fact that Trump is used to being able to say whatever he wants, and worst case — people forget a week later. And Spicer is his mouthpiece, which means Spicer has to go out there and repeat the Trumpism du jour, which may be ridiculously, transparently deceitful (or at least rambling incoherent and ignorant) , and which Trump — having not liked the response — may say the opposite four hours later and blame Spicer, assuming he doesn’t just insist he’s always believed red was blue and up is down.

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  10. Well he did clarify that he meant Hitler didn’t use gas “against his own people”

    Which, if you couple that with your implied “as a battlefield weapon” – well, that’s kind of a freebie, since the only time the Nazis faced German opposition on the battlefield, it was when they were street brawlers with no access to chemical weapons factories.

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