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WATCHING US CLEARLY EXPLAIN! Obama should clearly explain, the Times says. Haven’t we tried that before? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2010

History just keeps unfolding: Over at our companion site, we have posted Chapter 3 of How He Got There. For that new chapter, click here.

How did George W. Bush reach the White House? This chapter concludes our treatment of Campaign 2000’s “first round.” The chapter describes a basic fact: Right from this campaign’s earliest days, it was fairly clear that the mainstream press corps was marching to war with Al Gore.

That said: Regarding the politics of the Clinton/Gore era, we were struck by Ken Gormley’s hour-long appearance this weekend on the C-Span’s After Words program. (To watch his appearance, click this.)

We still haven’t received our copy of Gormley’s new book about Ken Starr and Bill Clinton. Watching him interviewed by Greg Craig, a highly-placed Democratic insider, we were struck by something David Greenberg stressed in his review of that book. We were struck by the way Gormley strove to put the best face on every player in the Clinton pseudo-scandal era. In his C-Span session, it went this far: Ken Starr and Bill Clinton are very much alike, Gormley reassuringly said.

Without impugning Gormley’s motives, we will only say this: Elites will often produce a reassuring figure to clean up the history of an era—a history elites don’t want explored. Nothing to look at, such figures will say. Time to move along with your lives.

Was Ken Starr the brilliantly principled man Gormley so warmly describes? (Clinton is wonderful too, Gormley says.) We have no idea—though we were thankful for the one small skeptical observation Craig somehow managed to conjure. But at the very end of his hour with Gormley, Craig asked a devastating question. He started by quoting the late Henry Hyde, who helped lead Clinton’s impeachment.

Hyde “took pride in one fact,” Craig said. He then quoted Hyde, apparently from Gormley’s book. “George W. Bush would not have been elected president if we had not impeached President Clinton.” So Hyde thought and said.

“That’s an extraordinary statement,” Craig says, “because obviously the election of George Bush against Gore in 2000 was a turning point in the history of the country.” Gee! Where have we heard that one before?

Gormley said he agrees with Hyde, though he pins the blame on the public, in essence describing their Clinton fatigue. (Needless to say, he praises Gore as a great man too.) That said, we noted one groaning omission in Gormley’s discussion of this matter:

In reality, the Lewinsky matter and the Clinton impeachment drove the press corps wild. This was by far the biggest effect it had on the outcome of Campaign 2000. But inside Washington—inside its far-flung affiliate elites—everyone has agreed that this disgraceful group breakdown must never be discussed.

Too many people—people who may even run with Craig—played active roles in the process.

Craig is right about that “turning point in the history of the country.” But if you want to read the truth about this affair, we’re afraid you’ll have to visit How He Got There. Don’t look around on the liberal web! When it comes to this critical history, your favorite players will be kissing elite keister too. (Sorry. But many of today’s most central “career liberal” players actively helped elect Bush.)

Gormley warmly praises Gore for defending Clinton on the day of impeachment. He says Gore knew he was harming his own presidential chances when he did this. (We don’t know if that’s true.) But Gormley says it was the public which was affected by the impeachment—affected in ways which cut against Gore. In fact, it was the press corps—the mainstream press corps—which shriekingly lost its collective mind in the course of that long stupid process.

All over the American landscape, elites have agreed that this can’t be discussed. To learn about what actually happened, you know what to do: Just click here.

As usual, if you want to support our efforts, we hope you’ll indulge yourselves. This history needs to be recorded. Our bet: There’s some 18-year-old kid out there who will know how to put it to use in the future. In turning its back on the Clinton/Gore era, the pseudos of our “career liberal” elites are letting the public fly blind to the future.

And yes, such ignorance hurts our causes. Why is our side so easy to beat? People! It starts at the top!

Sheryl’s choice: You rarely see a more striking example of a certain type of journalistic choice.

The Democrats may seek to pass health reform through the use of a process called “reconciliation.” But how should a journalist describe that process? On the front page of today’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg (and her editors) went with the following choice. The description appears above the fold, right in her opening paragraph:

STOLBERG (2/23/10): President Obama on Monday issued his own blueprint for a health care overhaul, challenged Republicans to come forward with their ideas and laid the groundwork for an aggressive parliamentary maneuver to pass the legislation using only Democratic votes if this week brings no progress toward a bipartisan solution.

Good lord! You could, of course, call that “technically accurate,” except for the loaded word “aggressive.” But that is a very murky description, a description which will confuse many readers. And of course, the word “maneuver” is a bit loaded too.

If you didn’t already know, would that description really tell you what the Democrats may try to do? Alas! Inside the paper, where fewer people will see it, Stolberg eventually offered this second description of what the Dems may do:

STOLBERG: But more than a specific policy prescription, the measure is a gamble by a president trying to keep his top legislative priority alive. The White House signaled more clearly than it had until now that barring a bipartisan breakthrough, Democrats would try a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill through the Senate on a simple majority vote, avoiding the 60-vote supermajority needed to avert a Republican filibuster.

Ohhhhh! So that’s what the Democrats may try to do! Even here, Stolberg insists on the word “maneuver.” But what are the Democrats planning to do? This:

They may decide to pass the bill on a simple majority vote.

Good lord! How different that sounds from the description we found on page one, in Stolberg’s opening paragraph!

Any process can be described in various ways. There is no formula which determines the simplest, fairest, clearest description. But good grief! How different that opening paragraph would have sounded if Stolberg (and her editors) had made this choice:

STOLBERG REWRITTEN: President Obama on Monday issued his own blueprint for a health care overhaul, challenged Republicans to come forward with their ideas and laid the groundwork for passing the bill through the Senate on a simple majority vote, avoiding a Republican filibuster.

In our view, that rewritten description is simpler and clearer than the jumble Stolberg offered. That description is simpler, cleaner, clearer.

Why wasn’t it Sheryl’s choice?

Special report: Watching us clearly explain!

PART 1—THE NEW YORK TIMES CLEARLY EXPLAINS (permalink): Will Obama’s health bill pass? We don’t have the slightest idea. We would vote for the bill ourselves—but only Because Krugman Says To.

Thanks to Krugman, we’d vote for the bill, though we don’t understand many things about it. But the analysts emitted low mordant chuckles when they read today’s New York Times editorial, in which the editors voiced their own support for the health care bill. The youngsters had already rolled their eyes at the editors’ opening paragraph (text tomorrow). But the low mordant laughter began when they read this central prescription, at the end of the editors’ opening chunk:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (2/23/10): Most important, Mr. Obama needs to clearly explain the stakes to the American people. Reform is essential for Americans who have no health insurance. But it is just as crucial to the millions more who are just one layoff away from losing their coverage, and many millions more who watch with fear as the cost of care and their insurance premiums rise relentlessly.

Obama needs to clearly explain! At that point, the analysts threw their newspapers down and clearly laughed, if in muffled tones. In fact, the president has explained, and explained, and explained once again, all through the past year of this health care debate. Result?

After a year of such clear explanation, 22 percent strongly favored the plan in this month’s Washington Post/ABC poll. A walloping 38 percent said they were strongly opposed.

Obvious questions come to mind. What can Obama “clearly explain” which he hasn’t “clearly explained” before? And this one: Why do our side’s clear explanations seem to fall on so many deaf ears?

Why don’t our side’s explanations gain purchase? We thought we spotted some answers to that crucial question when the editors tried to clearly explain the merits of Obama’s plan. Speaking from their Manhattan aerie, the editors told us which “basic facts” we should “keep in mind” this week. Alas! They simply ignored other “basic facts”—basic facts which drive the view of that recalcitrant “Gang of 38:”

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): Mr. Obama took an important step on Monday by issuing, at long last, his own detailed proposals for reform.

The most basic facts to keep in mind are that Mr. Obama’s plan, which builds on a sound bill already passed by the Senate, would provide coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people while reducing future deficits and beginning to rein in medical costs.

Mr. Obama’s plan also adds important new features that should make it more attractive to House Democrats and to the general public.

The editors told us which basic facts we should keep in mind. We should keep three facts in mind, they said. Obama’s plan will expand health coverage; reduce future deficits; and begin to rein in costs.

Those are the “most basic facts”—in the view of the editors. But other “basic facts” will occur to some of the 38 percent who say they are strongly opposed. Late in the piece, the editors mentioned one of these facts. For our money, they failed to give much of a clear explanation regarding this point of concern:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: The president’s proposals are far from perfect. We wish he had included a public plan. And we regret that he accepted the Senate’s decision not to require employers to provide insurance. He would boost the payments required of employers whose workers end up needing public subsidies to help them buy their own coverage.

In all, the administration estimates the cost of Mr. Obama’s proposals—$950 billion over 10 years—would be more than offset by new revenues and would reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade and by about $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Among that recalcitrant 38, many will screech at that cost estimate—$950 billion over 10 years. They may even recite some “basic facts” over which the editors glossed. They may say that this estimate is a scam—that it has been kept artificially low by the start-dates of this plan’s spending provisions. They may say that the editors’ ballyhooed deficit reduction— “$100 billion over the next decade”—is a silly rounding error, given the projected size of our future deficits. Regarding that overall cost, they may say their country can’t afford to spend that much at a time of such massive deficits. They may say that we could reduce deficits a great deal more if we didn’t decide to spend that “$950 billion over 10 years.”

Others, on various sides of this issue, may find fault with other parts of this morning’s clear explanation. As the editors continued, they clearly explained how very bad the Republicans are—and they touched on a basic point which has baffled us all year:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): As they consider all this, Americans also need to keep in mind what Republican leaders mean when they talk about health care reform. All of their ideas have these basic facts in common: they would not reduce the number of uninsured Americans substantially; they would not guarantee affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions; they make only feeble attempts to rein in medical costs; and their proposals to slow the rise in the cost of premiums would mostly benefit the healthy. That is not enough.

The Republicans “make only feeble attempts to rein in medical costs?” What about Obama? In one of the passages quoted above, the editors proudly say that the plan “begin[s] to rein in medical costs.” In a world where our laughing-stock nation spend two to three times what the saner world does, why does this plan only begin to do that? More pointedly: Why have the editors, like the Times news division, worked so hard to avoid discussing our massive over-spending all year?

Back to the need for “clear explanation.” Obama has tried to “clearly explain” all year; his clear explanations have gained little traction. Do the editors know why that is? In this editorial, we see few signs that they do.

For better or worse, President Obama’s clear explanations have run into many road blocks. They have run head-on into long-standing narratives offered by the other side. (Some of these narrative are absurd. Some of these narratives aren’t.) They have run head-on into disgraceful, clownish claims—about “death panels,” to cite one example. Unfortunately, the president’s explanations have been offered in a nation whose career liberal world—whose mainstream press—have done a very poor job, in the past forty years, preparing the way for wider acceptance of our side’s clear explanations.

The other side has worked hard, for the past fifty years, to undermine chances for reform. Our side has tended to gambol and play. Today, the editors want Obama to “clearly explain” once again.

Remember when we used to say this: Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

After a year of getting our keisters kicked, our side has recently adopted a new approach. Unable to explain the merits of our own ideas, we have decided to name-call Republicans, branding them a gang of hypocrites. This has led to a series of awkward episodes: Last night’s exchange between Barney Frank and Rachel Maddow; Keith Olbermann’s absurd presentation last week, in which Senator Robert Bennett was left as The Lone Republican Hypocrite; Maddow’s ridiculous bravado last Friday, in which she declared that she was willing to go after Tiger Woods if she decides that he’s a hypocrite; the gruesome report on last night’s Anderson Cooper, in which Dennis Kucinich is now being listed as one of the hypocrites. (Yes, it always ends this way when we take these short-cuts.)

Question: Why don’t we win when we “clearly explain” the actual merits of our ideas? Why are we forced to turn to weaker types of attack, which tend to blow up in our faces?

Why can’t our side seem to clearly explain? And what is wrong with the “hypocrite” argument? We’ll examine these questions all week. But don’t worry: If it turns out that Tiger’s a hypocrite too, our bold leaders will haul him in!

Tomorrow: Kucinich a hypocrite too!