CSotD: Grading Biden on the Bellman’s Curve

David Ostow manages to both echo my despair at the present moment and give me flashbacks to the days when I worked in local TV and saw this display way more often than I wanted to. That is, on the station where I worked. It was great fun to see one of our competitors put it on the air.

That same attitude makes Ostow’s cartoon something of a Patriotism Test, because someone who genuinely values the country should see it as “ours” and upsetting, while someone who loves only power sees it as that other party in a state of chaos.

Adding to that is the depressingly large number of professed Democrats who are calling the control room and urging the board op to just interrupt the broadcast and put on the color bars anyway.

I don’t often agree with Lisa Benson (Counterpoint), but she’s got the panic mode down right.

I’d like the cartoon better if the ship were on an only somewhat storm-tossed sea, such that the crew was panicking instead of working to get things stabilized, but that’s a quibble reasonable people can have. The panic is certainly there, and panic indicates a lack of reasonable response.

As for the Bellman, I’ve quoted him before and certainly often enough that I, too, have told you something thrice, though that’s not the reason you should believe it.

If you read the poem, you’ll find that nobody should ever believe the Bellman, which is why the poem is a classic of humor and not to be mistaken for the Aeneid, much of which Romans took both literally and seriously.

The Bellman’s insistence is funny because we all know how often, and how readily, repetition is mistaken for truth.

Juxtaposition of the Day

Gary Varvel — Creators

Dana Summers — Tribune

However an economist would assess the current administration’s economic policy, there is no such thing as “Bidenflation” and, in fact, competent observers are generally pleased with how inflation has come down, though there continues to be debate over what the Fed should do and when.

But we’re roughly in the middle of the G20 for inflation, and most of the countries that are worse off are worse off in other ways as well.

As for retirement accounts, they’re doing pretty well in 2024, since most tend to follow the stock market, which has been steadily rising. There are aspects of the economy that you may or may not blame on the president, but Varvel is wrong about inflation.

Still, if everybody continually harps on it, the numbers don’t matter.

When you ask people what the Number One problem is, they’ll say “Inflation” because the Bellmen have told them so, a great many more times than thrice.

Ditto with crime at the border, though this is less a matter of failure to crunch numbers and more a case of bigotry.

First of all, the oft-repeated fiction of Mexico emptying its prisons and mental hospitals over the border is an outright, ridiculous lie. You don’t have to be terribly bright to see through that one.

Meanwhile, you only have to peek at the statistics to realize that migrants actually commit less crime than Americans born here. Though logic alone might hint that, if you’re in danger of getting snagged by ICE, you aren’t going to do something that will get you picked up by Barney Fife.

Are they simply wrong or are they deliberately lying? Or have they simply heard it thrice?

It doesn’t matter, because if they keep saying it, they become the Bellmen that other people listen to, and believe. And then vote accordingly.

Which brings us here:

Juxtaposition of the Day #2

Clay Jones

Peter Steiner

Jones provides an illustration of a rhetorical device known as the “Gish Gallop,” named for a creationist who used it to shut down debate on Biblical accuracy. And while Jones provides the take-away by Trump supporters, Steiner provides the too-frequent response from Democrats.

Heather Cox Richardson brought the Gish Gallop to the forefront in her June 27 Substack about the debate, and a slightly out-of-context summation has been making the rounds. Here’s what she actually wrote:

I’ve seen the Gish Gallop called a “logical fallacy” but it isn’t. As Cox Richardson says, it’s a rhetorical technique.

The difference is that a logical fallacy is a mistake that doesn’t stand up to examination. Once explained, it should deflate that approach, though it doesn’t mean the person who advanced it is entirely wrong. They just mounted an inoperable argument.

A rhetorical device, by contrast, is intentional. It can become habitual in some people, particularly if they’ve found it to be successful, but, even if incorporated into their overall approach to life, it remains at some level intentional.

In any case, it doesn’t matter if Trump truly believes he graduated with honors or had a shot at a career in Major League Baseball or never met E. Jean Carroll and never partied with Jeffrey Epstein and never called the military dead suckers and losers.

What matters is how often he’s made these claims and whether his supporters believe that what he tells them three times — or a dozen times — is true.

And speaking of Bellmen

Looking at this morning’s NYTimes splash page might make you wonder if they want you to know that what they tell you six times is true?

The Washington Post, which has not gone easy on Biden, isn’t avoiding the topic, but they have a few other news items on their minds today.

While at the Times, one of their Bellmen wrote this:

While another team of NYTimes reporters wrote this:

Though it seems everyone else quoted him thusly:

And when I say “everyone else quoted him,” here’s a sample of what you get if you ask Google News about the phrase “almost fell asleep”:

You would actually get more results than that, but the point stands.

One misquote is an error. Two misquotes in the same newspaper falls one shy of a Bellman’s truth.

You might say they nearly made it almost true.

Fortunately, Mike Luckovich reminds us, there is a cure.

But depends on what you put in there.

While we wait for the outcome, Phil Ochs and Edgar Allen Poe are the only bellmen I want to hear from:

8 thoughts on “CSotD: Grading Biden on the Bellman’s Curve

  1. Thanks, Mike for pointing out the incredibly annoying repetition of headline-level “facts” while watching multiple hosts’ shows throughout the day on my chosen news network. Each host seems to have her or his chosen expert consultants on their show, and because the way the shows work, neither the hosts, the guests or the producers watch the show immediately preceding theirs, so you get the same alternating arguments, over and over, stating that the Democrats absolutely MUST dump Biden immediately because of his crashing nnumbers, following an hour of other experts explaining that polling shows that Biden’s numbers have dropped an incredibly precipitous 1% since Thursday night, and that, with no consensus candidates, they’d be damn fools to change horses at this late date. This up and down merry-go-round ride continues hour after hour, depending on how much each host seems to share their experts’ sense of panic or their steady-on perspicacity. If I weren’t also watching to hear the far more believable prospective doomsday predictions following the Supremes’ Monday rendition of “Forever Came Today,” I might consider just not turning the TV on after I arise till these idiots stop their blathering and dithering. But, alas, I’ve been watching this series for too long to abandon the story before the inevitable finale. Let’s hope it’s more MADAM SECRETARY than WEST WING!

  2. We’re not a “democracy”.
    Article IV Section 4. The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

    First, the framers did were leery of Democracy; mob rule. They were just as concerned about tyranny by the majority as they were by a ruling elite.

    The Constitution established a Republic, and each State would send Representatives to Congress. The States vote for President, not the people.

    -James McCoy Jr.

    PS: This week MdJ predicts the ouster of Joe Biden. The arc was written and posted two weeks ago long before the debate. -ML

  3. “A lie often repeated eventually becomes truth”

    These people know what they’re doing. This isn’t just a mere error or misquote, they’re forming an intentional narrative. More commonly known as “propaganda”. As long as people believe what they’re saying, they don’t care if it’s actually true or not.

  4. Whenever someone pulls out the ol’ “We’re a republic, not a democracy” cliche, you know they’re about to justify denying someone their Constitutional rights, usually the right to vote. It was a favorite of the segregationists.

    In actuality, while the Founding Fathers considered a direct democracy, as practiced in some ancient Greek city-states, unworkable for the new US, they repeatedly referred to establishing a representative democracy taking the form of a republic. In Federalist Paper #10, Madison argues in favor of a representative republic with a broad voter base as being a better form of government than either a “pure,” i.e., small-scale “democracy” or a republic where the representatives are chosen by a small faction.

    Dr. George Thomas, an actual expert on the Constitution, explained it well in an essay in the Atlantic.


    1. You do recognize that Mike Lester fits the Bellman archetype, right? He rings repetitively but hollow. So while your response is spot on, it will have no effect on him or any of his ideological ilk.

  5. At first it occurred to me that perhaps the text on Ostow’s test pattern be amended to: “Please Stand Back And Stand By”. However, thanks to SCROTUS this exhortation may now be unnecessary. Job’s already done, dealt with in-house.

  6. Mike Peterson:
    you BLOCKED me???
    This weeks “MIKE DU JOUR” (6 strips) drawn two weeks ago just predicted this weeks news.
    -and you blocked me. Wow.
    You still mad about the chocolate cake joke?

    1. You’re listed as a friend on my professional FB page, you’re not blocked on my personal FB page. I couldn’t find an active account for you on BlueSky, Mastodon or Threads, so I couldn’t have blocked you there. However, you’ve apparently blocked me on Twitter so I can’t see what you do there. But you’re obviously allowed to post here.

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