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Why is it easy to beat our side? Wisely, Dionne asked
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CREEPING HANNITYISM! Why is it easy to beat our side? Wisely, Dionne asked: // link // print // previous // next //

Ezra and Krugman explain: Your DAILY HOWLER keeps getting results! In recent weeks, we’ve mentioned the press corps’ failure to examine a ubiquitous GOP claim—a claim asserting the merits of letting consumers buy health insurance “across state lines.” On the various cable “news” channels, voters hear this proposal advanced again and again and again. But Dems and liberals rarely (actually, never) respond. And we’ve never seen a major news org do an “explainer” piece about this ubiquitous proposal.

It’s constantly said—but never examined. But then, that’s very much the shape of our floundering discourse.

On Wednesday, Ezra Klein explained the problem with this proposal on his Washington Post blog (click here). For our money, his explanation, though very much welcome, was just a tiny bit wonky. That said, here’s Paul Krugman’s treatment of the same proposal in this morning’s New York Times. This explanation is a tiny bit murky, but only because Krugman is explaining the problems with this proposal as part of a larger point:

KRUGMAN (2/19/10): [S]ome claim that health costs would fall dramatically if only insurance companies were allowed to sell policies across state lines. But California is already a huge market, with much more insurance competition than in other states; unfortunately, insurers compete mainly by trying to excel in the art of denying coverage to those who need it most. And competition hasn’t averted a death spiral. So why would creating a national market make things better?

More broadly, conservatives would have you believe that health insurance suffers from too much government interference. In fact, the real point of the push to allow interstate sales is that it would set off a race to the bottom, effectively eliminating state regulation. But California’s individual insurance market is already notable for its lack of regulation, certainly as compared with states like New York—yet the market is collapsing anyway.

For the most part, Ezra and Kruggers make the same point. If companies were allowed to sell insurance policies “across state lines,” they would incorporate in states which impose few regulations, thus driving a “race to the bottom.”

The voters deserve to hear this explained. We have never seen this explained on cable, although we’ve endlessly heard the proposal. And we still haven’t seen this matter explained in a simple, “explainer” news report. For the most part, our big news orgs simply don’t explain things. In all candor, they rarely seem to know what sorts of claims are being made in the wider discourse.

We’ll offer one further suggestion for any newspaper which might want to do an explainer piece—a piece which might be called, “Buying across state lines for [us] dummies.” On cable, Republicans and conservatives often draw a comparison between health insurance, which can’t be sold “across state liners,” and car insurance, which apparently can. Since voters constantly hear that refrain, an “explainer” piece ought to address it.

Voters deserve to have things explained. But only if our big newspapers actually want to be part of the actual world.

Final point: We strongly recommend Krugman’s new column, which explains the need for comprehensive health reform. If you have followed this general topic, you may already know what his column explains. But it’s a very cogent explanation, and it’s tied to the recent flap about rising premium costs in California.

Final point: As recently as last December, Keith Olbermann seemed to have no idea why a mandate must be part of comprehensive reform. Yesterday, E. J. Dionne asked a very good question: “If liberals and Obama are so smart,” why have we allowed conservatives to argue against us so effectively? (For full text, see below.) One answer, which we’ll extend below: It’s easy to argue against a team which has clowning, incompetent “leaders.”

The gentleman’s preference with blondes: Olbermann didn’t seem to know the health care mandate from squadoosh. But he always knows what to do when young blonde women ski into his ken. Last week, this was his tribute to Lindsey Vonn, offered as part of his “Worst Persons” segment. Update: The gentleman is 51 years of age:

OLBERMANN (2/10/10): But our winners, Sports Illustrated. The curse of the SI cover strikes again! They put the star American skier on the cover of their Olympic issue, Lindsey Vonn. An excruciatingly painful bruise on her shin, she says, and she`s resorted to wrapping cheese around the leg to relieve the pain. And she says she’s, quote, “day to day.” We’re all day to day.

Plus, there’s one other part to this. Look closely at the cover of Sports Illustrated. If I might direct your attention to her derriere, notice how they place the lettering of their logo relative to it. She’s got "PU" coming out of her hindquarters! noticed that. May have something to do with the cheese-wrap therapy. Sports Illustrated’s executive in charge of SI cover injury jinxes—might be Dan Patrick, I’m not sure: Today’s worst person in the world!

The “P” and “U” were in the words “Sports Illustrated.” To Olbermann’s finely trained eye, the comically foul-smelling letters were coming right out of Vonn’s ass!

For ourselves, we had no idea that “PU” was still a schoolboy’s term of art. But among humans who are 51 or older, only KO would go on TV and ask us to ponder something like that. Presumably, we all have our quirks, but this is KO’s: He simply can’t encounter young blonde women without offering his thoughts about what’s coming our of their hindquarters.

We turn to KO for brilliance like that. For “explainers” about health reform, where can progressives turn? The question continues below.

CREEPING HANNITYISM (permalink): E. J. Dionne hit several nails on the head in yesterday’s column. We almost could have said it ourselves; in fact, we constantly have! After describing the bad faith of the health bill’s opponents, Dionne brought it all back home—to us.

Conservatives have focused on “made-up issues” in the health care debate, Dionne said. The mainstream press has clowned and flailed, he also observed. But “this doesn't get liberals or Obama off the hook,” Dionne proceeded to say. At that point, he brought it all back home to us:

DIONNE (2/18/10): While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that, and while Obama was deep into inside dealmaking, the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public case based on a syllogism: The economy is a mess. Obama and the Democrats are for big government. Big government is responsible for the mess. Therefore the mess is the fault of Obama and the Big Government Democrats.

Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely. But if liberals and Obama are so smart, how did they—or, if you prefer, "we”—allow conservatives to make this argument so effectively? Why do the mainstream media give it so much credence?

Dionne asks two very different questions there. For today, let’s just consider the first: If we liberals are so smart, why are we so easy to beat in the messaging wars?

In part, it may be because of the “intellectual leadership” with which we liberals have long been stuck. For our money, things haven’t gotten much better now that we have our own liberal/progressive network, the ever-hapless MSNBC—a network which is run by a bunch of former sports talk jocks. We think especially of the often-miserable work of the net’s two leading anchors, KO and Rachel. This includes the dumb and disingenuous types of conduct we’d be inclined to call Creeping Hannityism.

Why has it been so easy to beat our side in the messaging war about health care reform? In the war to define the stimulus package? In large part, it’s because our traditional leadership simply hasn’t been very sharp—or very disciplined—down through the past several decades. And then, along came KO and Rachel! They pretty much aren’t real sharp either. Nor are they especially honest, one is sadly forced to announce. Consider Rachel’s recent preachment concerning the vile Josh Chaffetz.

Chaffetz is a Republican congressman from Utah. On Wednesday night, Rachel included his misdeeds in her latest less-than-intelligent, less-than-accurate rant about alleged Republican hypocrisy when it comes to the stimulus bill. Have Republicans been “hypocritical” when it comes to this package? Let’s put that question aside for a moment, and ask a question closer to home: Has Rachel been especially honest?

The lady was declaiming grandly again on Wednesday night’s program. Minor point: There are few things we find more fake and phony than talk-show hosts—let’s call them “Sean Hannitys”—who deliver brave, bold, scolding, pious lectures to people who aren’t there to respond. But that’s what Rachel did Wednesday night, scolding the very vile Chaffetz. Luckily, his hometown paper is on to his game, Rachel said:

MADDOW (2/17/10): Chaffetz’s hometown paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, is nailing him on this, pointing out that he signed on to a letter with Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop seeking $95 million in stimulus funds for the Provo River Water Users Association.

Again, Jason Chaffetz probably does not care what liberals like me think about this hypocrisy. In fact, I would bet on it that he really doesn’t care. But I bet that Jason Chaffetz does care what the Salt Lake Tribune cares about, and what he gets nailed for on Fox News. And I would say that both of them have nailed him on this.

I’m guessing also that Jason Chaffetz does care what principled conservatives think about his hypocrisy on an issue like this. Jason Chaffetz is scheduled to speak at the annual CPAC Conference, the Conservative Political Action Committee conference that starts tomorrow in Washington.

When you go there, Mr. Chaffetz, do you intend to explain to CPAC why you believe that the stimulus is going to do a lot of good in your district, and why you also believe that the stimulus does no good at all? Are you going to make that argument that you simultaneously hold both of those beliefs?

CPAC is not the Republican Political Action Committee. It’s the Conservative Political Action Committee. They are supposedly all about being principled on issues like spending.

How’s that going to go over for you, Jason Chaffetz? When some brave conservative asks you, do you think this policy works, or do you think this policy doesn’t work? Which is it? What are you going to say? And which, really, is it?

It would be hard to explain how dumb that long preachment was. Hoping to bolster a rather weak case (see below), Maddow was suddenly vouching for the brilliant political judgment of “principled conservatives” like Neil Cavuto, the air-headed business reporter who has an afternoon program on Fox. She was vouching for “principled” and “brave” conservatives like those poor Chaffetz would likely encounter at the upcoming CPAC conference. And she played other silly cards too, in which vile Chaffetz “really doesn’t care about liberals like me,” but surely does care about the judgments of his hometown Salt Lake Tribune. (Concerning Chaffetz, “there have been some hackles raised,” our Rhodes Scholar explained, “and not just among the creepy commies like Rachel Maddow.”) According to Maddow: When Cavuto asked Chaffetz about this matter, “Mr. Chaffetz attempted to squirrel away from his own embarrassing record.”

All in all, it sounded like Chaffetz had fallen into a very bad, squirrelly stew.

In fact, Maddow’s overall case against Chaffetz was quite weak. In all honesty, there is nothing especially “hypocritical” about seeking funds from a spending program you voted against in the first place (see below). But let’s leave that matter of judgment for later. Let’s focus for now on a second problem—Maddow’s honesty/accuracy. Watching Maddow in the past year, we have learned an unfortunate lesson: You have to fact-check every word she says. When you do so, you often find things like we found in this instance.

Is it true? Is it true that “Chaffetz’s hometown paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, is nailing him on this, pointing out that he signed on to a letter with Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop seeking $95 million in stimulus funds for the Provo River Water Users Association?”

It sounded dramatic. And so we looked it up.

As usual, time was wasted. Because Maddow spoke in the present tense, we assumed this must be an ongoing “nailing,” a nailing which is happening now. In fact, Maddow seems to be referring to this long news report from more than four months ago—a 1549-word news report in which Chaffetz was mentioned, in passing, just once, in one lonely sentence, way far down in the text.

By our count, the one mention of Chaffetz occurs in paragraph 42, in a 46-graf report. And in all honesty, we’d have to say this: The Salt Lake Tribune simply isn’t “nailing Chaffetz” on this.

For our money, this news report was rather poorly reasoned, not unlike Cavuto’s questions when he interviewed Chaffetz But this news report mainly concerned Robert Bennett, Utah’s long-time Republican senator; Chaffetz was barely mentioned. Beyond that, we find no mention of Chaffetz and the Provo River project in any later Tribune work; nor do we find any criticism of his stance on the stimulus bill. We do, however, find full news reports in the Tribune in which Chaffetz’s judgment about budget matters seem to be getting applauded.

Is the hometown paper nailing Chaffetz? Sorry. She made that up.

The question here is somewhat minor. But is the Salt Lake Tribune “nailing” Chaffetz for his hypocrisy? Is the Tribune “nailing” Chaffetz about the Provo River project? Sorry, that claim is squirrel sh*t—the kind of sh*t that drives the Maddow Show on a regular basis.

Consider a more central matter. Consider Maddow’s political judgment in pushing the “hypocrisy” matter at all.

We know, we know—the whole liberal world is suddenly pushing this campaign, in what looks like a somewhat coordinated effort. It warms the cockles of liberal hearts to hear The Other Side nailed this way. It’s even possible that this coordinated attack might prove politically effective, though we’re inclined to doubt it. But is it really hypocritical when a congressman seeks money from a federal program he voted against? Perhaps it is—if you listen to “brave” and “principled” fellows like Cavuto. But on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, Maddow asked Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) about this very matter. Sorry. If we’re living in the real world, his answer made pretty good sense:

MADDOW (2/14/10): In your district, just this week, you were at a community college touting a $350,000 green technology education program, talking about how great that was going to be for your district. You voted against the bill that created that grant. And so that's happening a lot with Republicans sort of taking credit for things that Democratic bills do, and then Republicans simultaneously touting their votes against them and trashing them. That's, I think, a problem that needs to be resolved within, within your caucus, because, I mean, you seem like a very nice person, but that's very hypocritical stance to take.

SCHOCK: Well, Rachel, with all due respect, I can assure you Republicans were not consulted on the stimulus bill. That bill was filed at 11 PM the night before the 10:30 AM we began debating it. None of our amendments were considered. There was no debate and no bipartisanship on that bill.


DAVID GREGORY: But to Rachel's point, does that mean that you will not accept any federal money that comes the way of your district?

SCHOCK: No. I think that argument that liberals are making is absolutely ridiculous. With all due respect, Rachel, does that mean you're going to give back your Bush tax cuts that you continue to rail against? The fact of the matter is, our country operates and governs by a majority. And I, along with almost all of my Republican colleagues and a good number of Democrats, have voted against the stimulus, the omnibus, all of this runaway spending. But we've lost those battles in the House. And at the end of the day, my constituents—

GREGORY: But you'll take the money for, you'll take the money for your district.

MADDOW: Take the money and tout it—

SCHOCK: Well, let me finish. At the end of the day, my constituents and their children and grandchildren will be on the hook for the debt that's being created by this majority and they deserve to have their fair share of federal spending.

Schock voted against the stimulus package, but it was passed into law. His constituents will have to pay for the bill, he noted; on that basis, he said they deserve their share of the spending. In fact, that’s a perfectly coherent argument; only the most “extreme,” unintelligent types of conservatives have tended to challenge it. But Maddow was vouching for their judgment in her long, brave rant Wednesday night—a rant against someone who wasn’t present to point out the flaw in her argument. And what did she do on Monday night, when she heroically played the tape of her daring putdown of Schock? Of course! What does Maddow typically do? She didn’t show the part of the answer where Schock rebutted the “hypocrisy” argument (the part of the answer we highlight above). She simply played the first short part of his answer, where he finished an earlier point about Republican participation in the stimulus bill’s design. “Rachel, with all due respect, I can assure you Republicans were not consulted on the stimulus bill.” Good God! That was all of the answer we rubes got to see! Rachel then triumphantly said, “Whether or not House Republicans felt adequately consulted on the stimulus bill, that’s not the point. They all voted no on it, every single one of them.”
She left out the part where he spoke to her point. Then, she told us he didn’t speak to her point! But this sort of thing is really quite typical of the Maddow Show.

We got played for chumps again. Maddow turned into a hero.

Simple story: Maddow’s program really isn’t very sharp on domestic politics. Sometimes, Olbermann’s program is worse. (See: KO on the health care mandate, above.) But her program suffers from a second flaw—a tendency to shave, select, massage and reinvent facts to produce an outcome which pleases us rubes and fashions its host as a hero. That said, let’s note one more embellishment in Maddow’s bold speech against the absent Chaffetz. This is taken from the longer quotation we presented above:

MADDOW (2/17/10): When you go [to the CPAC conference], Mr. Chaffetz, do you intend to explain to CPAC why you believe that the stimulus is going to do a lot of good in your district, and why you also believe that the stimulus does no good at all? Are you going to make that argument that you simultaneously hold both of those beliefs?

You’ll note the lack of an actual quote. Did Chaffetz actually say at some time that “the stimulus does no good at all?” We’ll take a wild guess—the answer is no, he didn’t actually say that. But then, Maddow is often quite creative at inventing statements by those she opposes. She does this again and again and again. In the process, we rubes get hosed.

In fact, Chaffetz seems to be fairly capable when it comes to explaining his positions. This seems clear in recent news reports in his hometown paper; in these reports, he comes off quite well when it comes to the cogency of his arguments about earmarks and federal spending. He also explained his position rather clearly when he was interviewed by the “principled” and “brave” Fox News host, Cavuto. In this exchange, Chaffetz refers to Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), who also voted against the stimulus, then sought stimulus funds:

CHAFFETZ (2/16/10): Well the problem is, the people of Utah and the people of [Schmidt’s] district, they're going to have to pay for it, and— I wish I could exempt the people of Utah out from—Hey, I wouldn't spend the money, and consequently I wouldn't make them pay for it. But since we're all going to be on the hook for paying for it, yeah, we should go get every dollar we could in a very fair and open— [interrupted]


I want to be careful and just not make a sweeping partisan issue of this. But yes, [Schmidt] is being very genuine in saying, “Look, I wouldn't have voted for the stimulus. I didn't vote for the stimulus.” But if she is going to be held accountable and the people of her district and the people of the entire country are going to have to pay for it, well, then, yes. Certainly the Democrats aren't suggesting that the stimulus dollars go to just the Democratic counties or the Democratic districts?

Actually, one “liberal” “Commie” is currently making that very suggestion! And, as she quite commonly does, she is being selective in her factual presentations, to help drive home her rather weak points and make her opponents look bad.

First, a matter of judgment: It’s very easy to answer Maddow’s thundering claim about “hypocrisy.” A few Republicans have made absurd statements about the worthlessness of the stimulus bill. (Example: Scott Brown, saying it has created no jobs.) In these cases, a claim can be made that Senator X or Congressman Y said one thing and did another, or that these solons said contradictory things. (For ourselves, we’re not real sure that voters care.) But as a general matter, it’s extremely easy for solons like Chaffetz and Schock to explain why they sought stimulus funds, even though they voted against the bill. Guess what? It’s a gift to Chaffetz and Schock when they get challenged in a way which is so easy to answer. Only a dumb-ass like Cavuto will likely be puzzled by what they have done—and a fiery progressive like Maddow, who ran out this week to vouch for Cavuto’s judgment.

That’s a matter of Maddow’s political judgment, which is often quite poor. But there’s also the question of honesty, concerning which we’ll only say this: You have to fact-c heck every word you hear on her ballyhooed program.

Why is it easy to beat our side? For years, the answer has been fairly clear. In our view, little has changed.