She doesn't care

One of the clearest and most concise explanations of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown that I’ve found is a special report that This American Life produced back in May called “The Giant Pool of Money.”

You can download a podcast of that report from the show’s online radio archive. If you’re unclear as to what exactly happened and how and why, or if you just want a wryly engaging refresher on the subject, I recommend that you give it a listen. It’s an hour well-spent.

The same team — producer Alex Blumberg and NPR reporter Adam Davidson — have now produced a similar report on the current financial crisis. You can read/listen to a nine-minute teaser version of this report now at (“The Week America’s Economy Almost Died“), or you can catch the full report on the radio this week or download the podcast from TAL’s radio archive once they get it posted (should be some time this week).

If, like me, you’re a little rusty on the inner-workings of things like commercial paper and how that relates to money market funds, then I really recommend checking this out.

I also urgently recommend both of these special reports to the short-straw staffer on the McCain campaign whose job it is to get vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin up to speed on this financial crisis. Go buy her an iPod with one of those velcro straps for runners, load it up with the two reports from Blumberg and Davidson, and don’t let her go jogging without it.

Sadly, I don’t really think these would help Palin to understand this financial crisis. These reports are excellent and richly informative, but after watching Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, I realized that Palin’s problem is not primarily a lack of information or a lack of knowledge of the facts of the matter. Yes, she is appallingly ill-informed, but I think that’s more a symptom than the actual disease.

We’ve seen this disease before. We’ve been watching it for eight years now. This is ignorance born of incuriosity. And that incuriosity arises from a lack of empathy. Like President Bush, Gov. Palin doesn’t know because she doesn’t care.

Here is the video of the section of the Couric interview on the economy, and here is the transcript. Note this section:

COURIC: Would you support a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes?

PALIN: That’s something that John McCain and I have both been discussing — whether that … is part of the solution or not. You know, it’s going to be a multi-faceted solution that has to be found here.

COURIC: So you haven’t decided whether you’ll support it or not?

PALIN: I have not.

COURIC: What are the pros and cons of it do you think?

PALIN: Oh, well, some decisions that have been made poorly should not be rewarded, of course.

COURIC: By consumers, you’re saying?

PALIN: Consumers — and those who were predator lenders also. That’s, you know, that has to be considered also. But again, it’s got to be a comprehensive, long-term solution found … for this problem that America is facing today. As I say, we are getting into crisis mode here.

The question was to name some “pros and cons” of “a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes.” This is a bit like the old routine about “What was the color of George Washington’s white horse?” — part of the answer is contained in the question itself. The “pro” side of helping average Americans keep their homes is that you’re helping average Americans keep their homes.

And yet Gov. Palin wasn’t able to come up with even that. She doesn’t seem to comprehend or be capable of imagining the downside of mass foreclosures. In 2007, 1,650 families in Alaska lost their homes, but their governor is unable to say for sure whether that’s a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.

Palin’s problem, in other words, isn’t that she’s been inadequately briefed about the housing crisis or the consequences of foreclosures, or that she lacks a grasp of the policy options for addressing these problems. Her problem in this interview is that she can’t be bothered to imagine what this means for real families who are really losing their homes. Not a lack of information, but a lack of empathy.

That’s troubling, because a lack of information can be fixed. Someone who doesn’t yet know enough can set out to learn more. But someone who doesn’t care about other people because they are other people, well, I don’t know how to fix that. I’m not sure it can be fixed.

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  • Dash

    Is it just me, or has Scott become like Snowball in Animal Farm?
    I agree with what Praline and Raka said (and both said it much better than I could have). Once Scott was gone, it seemed that anyone who said anything right-wing or libertarian without prefixing it with a lot of “YMMV” was in danger of being accused of being Scott or replacing Scott or acting Scottly. It seemed a bit out-of-character for this bunch. (Er, YMMV, of course.)
    About Palin: I really think she’s just not that bright. She’s clearly a very personable woman, and she’s articulate when given a script, and that’s often what it takes to get elected. (For those in the U.S., think of the people who were your high school or college class presidents as opposed to those who were elected the “student representative to X organization.”) The questions she would get are entirely predictable, for the most part, and it should have been easy to give her some basic training on the party’s positions and the reasoning behind them. There’s been plenty of time for that kind of prep.
    If she hasn’t been able to pick it up by now, at least enough to handle a fairly simple series of questions, that, to me, is evidence of simple lack of intellectual aptitude.
    (And she’s clearly not afraid of the camera: she has given good prepared speeches and done it well. And I recall she was in broadcast journalism–or have I gotten that wrong?)

  • Tonio

    How would Keyes be courting the fungelical voters? He’s religious but I thought he is a Roman Catholic and not a Protestant.
    He’s a Dominionist, at least as far as state government is concerned. That would get him into the Fundie Club that Froborr mentioned – the fundamentalists might admire that enough to overlook his Catholicism.
    Most African-Americans seem to view him with disdain too.
    But McCain and his campaign might not know that, or they might not care. When they chose Palin, they imagined that she would appeal to women as well as pro-lifers and theocrats. I can imagine them using similar logic with Keyes and the African-American voters.

  • Izzy

    Tonio: [i] How would you feel if a scandal forced her to step down from the ticket? [/i]
    On the one hand, pretty damned gleeful, as I feel under no obligation to be particularly charitable toward my enemies.
    On the other hand, getting rid of Miss Wasilia might actually improve McCain’s chances.
    On the the, um, third hand, McCain without Palin wouldn’t be nearly as horrible as McCain with.
    So short-term happiness mixed with long-term uncertainty.

  • Jessica

    In other news: The House actually defeated the bailout bill. More Republicans voted against it than Democrats, but that really shouldn’t be a surprise, what with the general lack of backbone the Democrats have shown lately and the fact that some Republicans are still actually fiscal conservatives…,0,2146687.story
    The author makes a point about halfway down that McCain claims he showed leadership. Which reminded me of an old LB post– if the Antichrist makes a show of strength and no one sees, will the world still be amazed?

  • Froborr

    Izzy: Gripping hand. “On the one hand…” “On the other hand…” “On the gripping hand…”
    Technically something is only on the gripping hand when it trumps the first two hands, but people often ignore that and use the term for three equal opposed points.
    It comes from Niven and Pournelle’s The Gripping Hand (a rather lackluster sequel to a pretty good book, The Mote in God’s Eye), but I’ve encountered people using it who have never even heard of the book or its prequel or even its authors.
    In said book, it’s a phrase that has been catching on lately, though (like most such sayings) nobody can say where it’s from. One character suspects that it has been inspired by contact with a group of three-handed (two small ones used for fine manipulation, one big one used for, well, gripping) aliens the government is trying to keep secret. He’s not *quite* as insane as you might think, as in the previous book he was one of the first people to encounter said aliens, and the government suppressed the story and (supposedly — the Moties figured out a way around it) quarantined the aliens in their home star system.

  • jmc

    Did Governor Palin actually say that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was inserted by the Founding Fathers?
    Not in an interview. She answered a questionnaire put out by Eagle Forum in 2006.
    “11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?
    SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding father’s, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”

  • @Jenny Islander: She didn’t say it in so many words, but it was pretty clear that was what she meant. This is what was said:
    Q: Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?
    PALIN: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

  • But if people were objecting to my dog’s candidacy on the basis of unpalatable socialist tendencies they’d inferred from his eating habits
    From each according to his ability to fetch; to each according to how much kibble he eats!

  • On the other hand, getting rid of Miss Wasilia might actually improve McCain’s chances.
    But who could he get at such a late date (and who would join such an obviously sinking ship)? The Dem ads write themselves: “Judgement? Forethought? Leadership? John McCain shows none of these!” (only better written)

  • Lauren

    But who could he get at such a late date (and who would join such an obviously sinking ship)?
    The logistics would be interesting, that’s for sure. I’m sure most states are already printing ballots by now.

  • I didn’t even know there was a sequel to Mote in God’s Eye; “on the gripping hand” was used there, and that’s probably where it leaked into the real world from.

  • Dash

    But who could he get at such a late date (and who would join such an obviously sinking ship)?
    Huckabee would be the obvious choice. Huckabee could also do it, since coming in so late after Palin drops out could only enhance his standing, looking ahead to 2012. He’d also bring in the same members of the base Palin would bring in. The advantage is that he’d bring in others who would be appalled by Palin, just because, by contrast, he looks good, sensible, experienced, etc.
    The problem is that the only way for Palin to drop out would be via something that is really obvious and checkable, and that entirely prohibits her remaining on the ticket: getting run over by a bus or the like. Otherwise, it will seem that the problem was invented precisely to remove her from the ticket, and that makes McCain look like a waffler, or like a man who has to be rescued by his campaign managers.
    I’d be interested in the comments of my fellow Golden Bear on this one.

  • I find it depressingly easy to identify with the rightwing flakes; a little self-justification, some anger, some frustration, some self-pity, a little denial, and then self-importance keeps it going. All things which I am too good at. And yet I am not one . . . somehow.

  • hapax

    Raka: I guess one can say that her empathy failed to overcome her inability or unwillingness to reveal any personal aspects of her own thought processes.
    I think of that fatal question to Dukakis, in which he was asked if he would support the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. All he had to say was something like, “Of course I’d want to hunt the bastard down and rip him to pieces with my bare hands, but our system of law is set up to serve a higher purpose than personal vengeance.” But instead, he gave a perfectly thoughtful but dry defense of his position on capital punishment, and was judged accordingly as “cold” and “heartless.”

  • Amaryllis

    Raka: I have an automatic objection to any long-distance psychiatric diagnoses, particularly from non-professionals…There are some circumstances under which the comparison is legitimate even for a layman, but by and large it’s just a smear. A way of emphasizing objectionable behavior with the big filthy brush of “mental illness”.
    Thanks for saying that. I’m starting to hear a lot of that sort of thing, and it’s always bothered me. It trivializes genuine mental illness to assume it can be diagnosed from a few sound bytes or news articles, without personal knowledge, by a layperson. We’re voters, not diagnosticians: judge Palin on her record and her campaign and vote accordingly. But there’s nothing either useful or justifiable in dismissing her with, “she must be crazy!
    “On the one hand…” “On the other hand…” “On the gripping hand…”
    I wrote something recently where I actually got up to four hands. My first thought, on reading it over, was that I had now achieved virtual quaddie-hood. My second thought was, I’ve been reading too much Bujold.
    I say I’m open-minded, you say I’m wishy-washy…My Unitarian Jihad name is “Sister Cutlass of Looking At All Sides of the Question.” (True.)

  • Nona

    For the record, Obama has already beaten Alan Keyes– he was the last-minute Republican replacement in Obama’s Senate race, after Jack Ryan’s spectacular flameout. Keyes was steamrollered, and rightly so, since he’s not even from Ilinois and demonstratably crazy.

  • And because nobody else rose to Robb’s bait, I will.
    Onomotopoea for a moose call: GROOOOOOO! Alternatively: EruuuuUUUUHH!

  • Yeltar

    Froborr: For example, when he goes to a press conference, the Secretary of State’s…
    Ahem. *She*. When she goes into a press conference, Secretary of State… etc. (And not just the current one, mind.)
    Drake Pope: But Biden v. Palin… that should be a show!
    Heh. Yeah. The Caribou Barbie Barbeque. :)

  • Yeltar

    Amaryllis: My second thought was, I’ve been reading too much Bujold.
    Nah. Can’t be done. Teh impossible. No such thing as “too much” Bujold. Now “not enough,” that I could buy. But too much? Naaahhhhh…. ;)

  • inge

    Tonio: How would you feel if a scandal forced her to step down from the ticket?
    Curious who engineered the scandal, how they plan to profit from it, and who really profits.

  • inge

    Re: Dash about Scott:
    Soon Scott will become an adjective, the way that Godwin has become a verb.

  • cjmr

    My second thought was, I’ve been reading too much Bujold.
    That’s a perfectly applicable sentence in contexts like:
    “When I looked around at my living room, with lots of piles of (clean but unfolded) laundry, my first thought was, ‘What a mess!’ and my second thought was…”
    “When I looked at the clock and it read 3 a.m., my first thought was, ‘I don’t believe I stayed up reading a book this late again’ and my second thought was…”

  • Justin Timberland

    Wow, what a complete and total joke. In every sense of the word.

  • Nina

    @Bronwyn and a couple others:
    The suggestion that a person might need to experience something to understand it is not such a bad one, actually. I know someone who is like that – she completely lacks the empathy or imagination or whatever to understand what other people are going through if she hasn’t experienced it herself. On the one hand, this is very frustrating, since it makes her extremely unsympathetic most of the time. On the other hand, it means that she can acquire some empathy over time through her experiences. (I have no other hands to offer since I am neither an alien nor a quaddie.)
    I’m not necessarily suggesting the Palins must be foreclosed on (for the good of the nation!), but sharing experiences to increase empathy does work in the real world as well as in fiction.

  • Reynard

    Posted by Praline: Nothing she says gives any suggestion that she actually has a solution, or that ‘crisis mode’ involes doing anything(…)
    Sounds to me like, in her case at least, “crisis mode” = “panic”.
    In short, Palin isn’t profferring a solution, she’s proffering a brand, and the name of the brand is ‘Solution’. It will no more fix the economy than Sunlight soap will give you fine weather, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t what the product will do, the point is getting you to buy it.
    Much like “Support the Troops™” or “9/11™” or “Tax and Spend Democrats™”, etc, etc…
    If someone’s genuinely trolling, then the only right thing to do is ignore them. Anything else, even insulting them, is positive-reinforcing them. By nature, a troll tends not to mind being insulted; he rather likes it, because it means he’s pissing people off, which is mission accomplished.
    Or, as an old Farmer’s proverb puts it: “Don’t bother wrestlin’ with a pig. You’ll both get dirty an’ the pig has all the fun…” Same goes for trolls…
    Posted by Fred Davis: Am I understanding correctly that the republican party’s political strategy involves selling the lie that people like Paris Hilton are the down to earth freinds of the common man?
    Less Paris Hilton, more the Chairmen, Presidents, CEOs, CFOs, Executive VPs and other $500,000+-per-year-plus-Stock-options muckety-mucks of all the Banks and Financial firms that went under or have to be bailed out with your money. Yep, a real down-to-Earth bunch they are. True friends of the Common Man. Makes you want to have a beer with ’em, doesn’t it… <⁄sarcasm>
    Posted by inge: Pretending to care about things they don’t feel anything about is a basic skill for a politician. So either she’s not even trying, or she doesn’t consider her performance on these question as having any effect on her getting the job or not.
    Congratulations! You’ve pretty much described the whole McCain presidential campaign! Let’s face it; McCain, like his predecessor, seems to believe (although for vastly different reasons) that he’s *entitled* to the Presidency. That some handsome young buck with barely one Senate term under his belt could (or even should[!]) challenge him and become, dare I say it, an overnight *celebrity* in both political and practical terms (especially after having suffered a humiliating primary defeat at the hands of the current occupant of the White House 8 years prior) must seem like the ultimate insult. I think that the McCain campaign calculated early on that it would be *Hillary* that he would have to go against in the general election and that McCain could, if not win by a landslide, at least beat her by a comfortable (better than Dubya’s 2004 52%-48%) margin in a walk. Unfortunately, Obama’s primary win (even under some rather dubious circumstances) upset the statistical applecart that they were using to calculate a win from and they’ve never recovered.
    Posted by Raka: FWIW, I would rather see my Golden Retriever serve as VP than have Ms. Palin one heartbeat away from the big chair. But if people were objecting to my dog’s candidacy on the basis of unpalatable socialist tendencies they’d inferred from his eating habits, I’d argue that, too.
    My main problem with a Golden Retriever as VP is that they tend to be clowns in need of constant attention. (Kinda like the bunch currently in the White House…) IMHO, a Labrador Retriever (quiet, intelligent, well-behaved and always friendly*) would make the perfect VP.
    *Generally. YMMV…

  • My main problem with a Golden Retriever as VP is that they tend to be clowns in need of constant attention. (Kinda like the bunch currently in the White House…)
    Maybe it’s time to change the old phrase to be “yellow dog Republican”.

  • Could you help me. The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behaviour control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.
    I am from Suriname and now teach English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “Lesbian spank movie clip with a teen girl being spanked by heather! Watch all the spanking videos inside today.”
    Thank you so much for your future answers 8). Earl.