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VIEWED AS FUNDAMENTALLY SYMPATHETIC! A profile describes how a major pol is viewed inside suffering Haiti: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 18, 2010

On this special day: For many years, this has been our favorite statement by Dr. King, the moral giant of the past century:

KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.

You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

The King Center sells postcards making these claims. We’re looking at the cards we bought when we went there, in the late 1980s.

Ezra does it again: On the front page of today’s New York Times, Michael Cooper profiles a Massachusetts voter who will be voting for Scott Brown tomorrow. Who will win the Bay State senate seat? We don’t know, but in our view, liberals and progressives should be pondering the outlook of voters like this one:

COOPER (1/18/10): Angela Grenham, 50, was raised a Massachusetts Democrat—“We had the crucifix and the J.F.K. sign,'' she recalled—and voted for a Democrat for president as recently as 2000, when she supported Al Gore.

But this weekend she stood on a street corner here in the heart of Boston's politically unpredictable western suburbs holding up a sign for the Republican running to fill the seat long held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Scott Brown, who has vowed to stop the Democratic health care bill in its tracks.

Cars and pickup trucks honked their approval as they sped by. Ms. Grenham proudly announced that a group of rivals holding up signs for the Democratic candidate in Tuesday's special election, Martha Coakley, had given up and left the other corners of the intersection.

''The response was not great for them,'' said Ms. Grenham, who changed her registration to independent several years ago as she grew more conservative.

Voters like Ms. Grenham, who said her activism was driven by concerns about taxes, immigration, national security and health care, have helped make this crucial race too close to call, endangering the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and President Obama’s health care overhaul.

For ourselves, we’d vote for Coakley, with no particular thrill up the leg. But Grenham will be voting for Brown. Why have Grenham’s political impulses changed? How does she understand current politics? In our view, liberals and progressives should try to find out. Often, though, in the past year, leading liberals on the TV machine thingy have aimed mindless dick jokes at people like Grenham—or at others with whom she might be inclined to identify. This is a good way to get bad election results, as we may learn tomorrow. (Or not.)

How does Grenham understand our politics? We don’t know, but Cooper speaks to a few other voters who will be voting for Brown. Just a guess: We don’t think they’d be impressed by Ezra Klein’s piece in Sunday’s Washington Post, if they understood its content.

Klein’s piece appeared on the front page of the Post’s “Business” section. Once again, Klein took an astonishing, who-gives-a- flying-fig stance toward our level of health care spending. (For our review of Klein’s earlier take, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/10. Scroll to the end.)

“It's time for some real talk on health-care reform,” Klein said, starting out. Before long, that “real talk” was looking like this:

KLEIN (1/17/10): The problem with health-care spending is not that we spent $2.3 trillion in 2008. It's that that number has been growing by 7 percent annually. It's the rate of increase, and not the level of spending, that we need to change.

Klein goes on, but that basic statement is simply astounding. Unless you’re one of the financial elites who gain from that “level of spending.”

Is that level of spending a problem? Is there a problem with the fact that we spent $2.3 trillion in 2008? Judged by the norms of the developed world, more than half that spending would seem unnecessary. Indeed:

Last August, CNN (briefly) reported a Price Waterhouse study which “found that wasteful spending in the health system has been calculated at up to $1.2 trillion of the $2.2 trillion spent in the United States, more than half of all health spending.” (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/09.)

Last October, Keith Olbermann (briefly) reported a new study by Thomson-Reuters. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/30/09.) “The U.S. health care system wastes at least $505 billion, perhaps $850 billion every year,” Olbermann said, slightly understating the level of horror described in the study. “The vice president of health care analysis for [Thomson Reuters] saying, quote, ‘That’s one-third of the nation’s health care bill.’”

Is it a problem if we’re wasting from one-third to more than one-half of every health care dollar? The Washington Post’s fiery new liberal keeps saying it isn’t. (Last week, he weirdly said, “We can afford $2.3 trillion.”) Just a guess: If Grenham understood the facts of the case, her malfunctioning limbic brain would produce a sounder reaction.

We’ve laughed at people like Grenham this year. As a matter of basic politics, it’s almost always foolish to laugh at voters. (For fifty years, the other side has mocked selected elites.) But on the merits of this case, should we perhaps look closer to home when searching for founts of amusement?

“Regarded as fundamentally sympathetic” [permalink]: Philip Rucker wrote a fascinating piece in Saturday’s Washington Post. Appearing in the paper’s much-maligned “Style” section, the piece concerned Bill Clinton’s decades-long connection to suffering Haiti.

Readers may recall a stray fact. Long ago, in 2004, we authored a claim about Clinton’s newly-released autobiography/memoir, My Life. For our money, the most interesting, most instructive part of that book was a short section which began with Clinton’s first visit to Haiti. The trip occurred in 1975, before Clinton had been elected to political office. In My Life, the trip anchors a later, four-page rumination on religious practices which, we suggested at the time, helps explain why Clinton was able to reach the White House. (Clinton himself says something similar in that four-page section.)

At a time when the liberal/progressive agenda is getting battered around once again, we thought it might be worth recalling the younger Clinton’s first trip to that suffering land. How might progressives start to build a stronger, winning politics? We think Clinton’s extended account of his first trip to Haiti might provide some clues.

We’ll likely discuss this topic all week, considering some of the ways progressives and liberals may perhaps undermine their own political success. But for today, let’s simply consider another part of Rucker’s profile. In this passage, Rucker describes a more recent trip by Clinton to Haiti.

RUCKER: Clinton has been regarded as a harbinger of hope to the Haitian people. He recently visited Milot, a town in northern Haiti, where he drew a large and unexpected crowd of locals in a soccer field. They recognized the former president.

"He kind of charged into the crowd," said Paul Farmer, a public-health expert and deputy U.N. envoy to Haiti, who accompanied Clinton on the trip. "He was so happy. It sounds corny, but I've seen that again and again. He has this real connection."

Last summer, Clinton took a walk with Haitian President René Préval down a street in Gonaives that had just been reconstructed following the 2008 hurricanes. Hundreds of neighbors gathered around them and Clinton spent so much time talking with the locals, aides said, that it took one hour to walk a quarter-mile.

"He is regarded as someone who's fundamentally sympathetic to the Haitians, someone who has argued they have a right to dignity and respect—and to chose their own leaders," Farmer said.

For the record, Farmer was the focus of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. For the Wikipedia entry on Farmer, just click here.

In Rucker’s profile, Farmer makes an interesting statement. According to Farmer, Haitians regard Bill Clinton “as someone who's fundamentally sympathetic to the Haitians, someone who has argued they have a right to dignity and respect.” In politics, it’s very important to be regarded that way. In American politics, it’s important to be regarded that way by the voters—if you want your policies, your viewpoints and outlooks to end up winning the day.

According to Farmer, Clinton is regarded “as someone who's fundamentally sympathetic to the Haitians.” In this country, liberals and progressives are often viewed quite differently within many voting blocs. Sometimes, it almost seems that liberals and progressives work to be seen as fundamentally un-sympathetic to the voters who largely decide where our nation will head. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a recent New York Times column in which, we would argue, a liberal pundit worked overtime to tilt perceptions that way. (Click here.)

For fifty years, the pattern has tended to hold. When liberal and progressive movements appear, some liberals tend to mock or insult the wider public, creating patterns in which progressives are viewed as fundamentally un-sympathetic. By the end of the week, we’ll return to the part of Clinton’s book which began with his first visit to Haiti. We recommended it in 2004 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/04). We’d recommend it more strongly today.