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WHAT HATH BEN NELSON WROUGHT! Why would Nelson’s two checks kill the deal? MacGillis didn’t try to explain: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2010

When Palin and Gore were 6: Flawlessly, Boehlert issued a challenge (click here). With great respect, we’ll (briefly) take it. Specifically, Boehlert requested our incomparable help in addressing this passage from Karl Rove’s new book:

ROVE (2010): Over the past few decades, Gore had said that he had created the Internet, been the model for Love Story, led a crusade against tobacco, discovered the Love Canal chemical disaster, lived on a farm while vice president, never grew tobacco on his farm, didn't know that his visit to a Buddhist temple was a fund-raiser, faced enemy fire in Vietnam, and sent people to jail as a reporter. It was a compelling life story; unfortunately, none of it was true.

Rove at least avoided the phrase, “invented the Internet.” But good God! In our years of work on these brain-dead topics, we don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone make the dumb claim we highlight above. Al Gore had said that he lived on a farm while vice president? With due respect to the ambiguity built into that sentence, sometimes you just have to laugh.

(Of course, the Gores owned a small farm while Gore was vice president. It was the same small farm where the Gores were living when Gore, then a Nashville reporter, decided to run for the House in 1976. Duh. This small farm was Gore’s Tennessee residence during the sixteen years when he represented Tennessee in the House and the Senate. In June 1999, Diane Sawyer interviewed the Gores at the time of Gore’s campaign launch. The three of them sat right there on that farm during the whole dad-burned chat.)

In that passage, Rove runs through the litany of bungled claims which sent George Bush to the White House. In chapter 2 of How he got there (click here), we’ve already discussed the Internet, Love Story and the farm; in chapter 6, we’ll discuss the bungled Love Canal claim. (It’s the claim which hardened the GORE LIAR narrative—turned it into stone.) But please understand: These bungled claims were set in stone by the mainstream press corps, not by Karl Rove or George Bush. Rove and Bush began citing these claims in March 2000, after the GOP primary race had been decided. By that time, the mainstream press had been pimping these claims for a solid year. (Chapter 3 of How he got there takes place in March—March of 1999. Love Canal hardened this theme into stone in December 1999.)

You know how much we love Boehlert’s work. But Boehlert! What’s up with this update?

BOEHLERT (3/0/10): It will be interesting is to see how members of the chattering class deal with Rove's book, especially if they take the time to read it and see paragraphs like the one noted above; paragraphs that are literally built upon layers and layers of obvious falsehoods. Will the chattering class call Rove out, or play along?

E-Boeh! Of course they won’t call Rove out on that paragraph! That paragraph belongs to the national press; it was they who invented those bungled claims (with some help from the RNC) as part of their jihad against Hated Clinton. They pimped and clowned for two solid years, thus sending Bush to the White House. They will never renounce or revisit those claims. Neither will the long string of “liberal leaders” who pimped those claims around too.

Did Al Gore live on a farm as a child? The press corps, pimping Bradley Spin, pretended to wonder about this question as Campaign 2000 began. In a display of astounding bad faith, Candidate Bradley pretended to be concerned by the notion that Al Gore, age 6, had lived with his parents in D.C. during the school year. (Dan Quayle had played this card in 1992. Seven years later, Bradley played it too, along with all the rest of the sewage he borrowed from past Republican efforts. Al Gore introduced the country to Willie Horton! Incredibly, he even pimped that claim—straight from Rush Limbaugh, of course. Pundits raced to repeat it.) Of course, Bradley had just raised his own daughter the same way—in DC, as the child of a respected senator. But as Campaign 2000 began, he paraded about the countryside, pimping this brainless complaint about Gore’s DC upbringing. The national press wolfed it down. (Bradley’s pimping of this theme dated back to 1998. It’s hard to find words for the dumbness, and the flagrant hypocrisy, involved in this sad, sorry nonsense.)

(From March 1999 through the end of New Hampshire, the press corps lived for one thing—to pimp Bradley’s spin. How obsequious did they get? In September 1999, Howard Fineman wrote that Bradley’s “love of the average Joe” made him “[Walt] Whitmanesque.” Two other people had described Bradley in that improbable manner that year—Bradley himself, and his wife. Simply put, Fineman licked Bradley’s asp all through the war against Gore. He couldn’t pimp quite hard enough.)

Fineman, of course, was a “journalist.” But make no mistake: The liberal political elite is still full of players who pimped this perfect bullroar too. In retrospect, are we impressed with their brilliance? As Rove continues to pimp their sad claims, are we happy with how things turned out?

They pretended to be upset because Gore had lived with his parents when he was 6. But then, just yesterday, the “liberal” world hooted and wailed about a similar problem, this time involving Hated Palin at age 6. For a smart person’s silly account, click here. Things got worse after that.

This used to be the Way of Dowd. Increasingly, it’s our way too.

Special report: A land where no one explains!

PART 2—WHAT HATH BEN NELSON WROUGHT (permalink): Are you experienced, Jimi Hendrix once asked. His question went out to a whole generation.

Today, the basic questions are different. Do you understand, we might ask. Have you ever seen it explained?

Over and over, our own answer is: No. But how about you? Do you understand what Ben Nelson Hath Wrought in his crucial language concerning abortion coverage?

Nelson created the language about such coverage which now resides in the Senate health bill. By all accounts, the House will be asked to pass this bill; if they pass it, they will pass Nelson’s language. But do you really understand the way the Nelson language would work? For our money, we’ve never really seen it explained. As we noted yesterday, this was Alec MacGillis’ attempt in last Friday’s Washington Post:

MACGILLIS (3/5/10): Underlying the controversy is the question of whether the Senate language—agreed to in a last-minute deal with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)—maintains the 33-year-old ban on federal funding for abortion. The bill would allow the procedure to be covered in plans offered on new “exchanges” in which people without employer-based coverage would buy insurance with the help of federal subsidies.

But it would require buyers to make two premium payments—one for most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one for abortion coverage. Everyone with such a plan—even men or older women—would need to make both payments.

How would the Nelson language work? Clearly, people who purchase plans which cover abortion would be required “to make two premium payments.” One payment would cover “most of their coverage;” a smaller payment would pay for their abortion coverage. As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that this cursory explanation left a basic question unanswered (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/9/10). But do you understand the part which came next, when MacGillis described the reactions of various interested parties? More specifically, do you understand the passage we highlight below? Have you seen these claims explained?

MACGILLIS (continuing directly): Opponents have said that would not go far enough to keep federal money from subsidizing abortion. Democratic leaders disagree, saying it maintains the status quo.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates have grown increasingly convinced that the language would restrict the reach of abortion coverage nearly as much as the Stupak language in the House bill passed in December. That measure would have forced those who want abortion coverage to buy it in a rider.

Abortion rights groups and health-care analysts now are predicting that, under the Senate language, few plans would cover abortion because the requirement of two payments would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.

“There will not be abortion coverage in the exchanges. There just won't be,” said Linda J. Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the Urban Institute.

"It's clearly intended to be stigmatizing," said Laura MacCleery of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Leave it to MacGillis! In that first highlighted paragraph, he says experts think few plans would cover abortion. In the next paragraph, he quotes his one expert—and she says no plans would!

That said:

According to MacGillis, abortion rights groups and health-care analysts are predicting the two-payment requirement would be so “cumbersome” and so “objectionable” that abortion coverage might cease to exist in the exchanges. Do you understand that claim? Has MacGillis tried to explain it?

For ourselves, we understand the “objectionable/stigmatizing” part, though each person will have to judge the depth of offense extended by requiring two payments. (Unless we’re misinformed, federal employees have to make two payments if they want abortion coverage. Unless we’re misinformed, this is a long-standing arrangement, accepted by all parties. By the way: Have you seen anyone try to explain this matter, even given the current seriousness of this general issue?)

We understand the “objectionable” claim. What we don’t understand is the “cumbersome” claim—the notion that receiving two checks, instead of just one, would be “too cumbersome for insurers.” Are insurance companies really so dainty and/or so strapped that they couldn’t process two checks? Do you think MacGillis made any attempt to explain this improbable statement?

Yikes! According to MacGillis, one expert says abortion coverage won’t be available to subsidized buyers at all, all because the two-check arrangement is so cumbersome! That strikes us as an implausible claim. Our question: Why didn’t MacGillis flesh it out? Why didn’t he try to explain it?

One possible answer: Given modern press corps culture, it didn’t occur to him to explain. In modern press culture, journalists rarely try to explain; when they’re forced to process an explanation, they will often fumble and flail. That’s what Mike Allen did last week, when Senator Conrad gave a bone-simple explanation of current plans to use reconciliation to amend the Senate health bill (see tomorrow’s HOWLER). Confounded by Conrad’s bone-simple explanation, Allen hooted and leaped about, behaving like a bewildered macaque who has just seen his first flash cube go off. That said, let’s ask our basic question again: Do you understand why insurance companies would cease to offer abortion coverage because receiving two checks was so “cumbersome?” We don’t really understand that—and MacGillis didn’t try to explain.

And alas! When scribes like MacGillis refuse to explain, partisans of various stripes are free to offer puzzling accounts of deeply important measures. Such people may be fully sincere; there may well be merit to their accounts. But do you understand what Rep. Jan Schakowsky said on a recent Maddow program? Rachel Maddow asked Schakowsky about the Stupak language. In response, Schakowsky also discussed what Nelson Hath Wrought. Tell the truth. Do you really understand what Schakowsky says in this passage?

SCHAKOWSKY (2/23/10): Now, you also mentioned the Nelson language that was in the Senate bill and now remains in the president's proposal. And we're very concerned about that as well. And hopefully we're going to find a process to change that, because, you know, we tried this two-check deal in the past.

In 2002, there was the TRADE Act that allowed for 65 percent government support for some insurance for displaced workers. The insurance companies flatly said, “We will not take two checks.” And so what happened is that the worker had to send 35 percent to the IRS, then 100 percent was sent by the IRS to the insurance companies—very complicated. But that was the only way that it would work, because the insurance companies said no to two checks.

We believe that they will say no to two checks to cover abortion and the rest of health-care services too. So we're very worried that it will, in effect, keep women from having access to abortions.

MADDOW: I feel like it's one thing to have a fight about abortion rights in this country. It's another thing to have a fight about health reform. But to try to make the twain meet and try to fight the abortion battles through health reform is turning out to be both a political and practical disaster. That is my opinion on it.

We’re sure there’s merit to Schakowsky’s account of the 2002 Trade Act. But ain’t it inspiring to see the way we progressives stand up to The Interests? According to Schakowsky, the insurance companies flatly said, “We will not take two checks”—and that was the end of the matter! In the current circumstance, could Congress perhaps includes a regulation requiring the companies to accept the two checks? Schakowsky didn’t say. Maddow of course didn’t ask.

On Friday, we’ll return to this Maddow program to see the way Maddow herself had explained the consequences of What Nelson Wrought. But please understand: When journalists refuse to explain, we are left with accounts from interested parties. Schakowsky is strongly pro-choice, which is perfectly fine with us. But when we get accounts from such interested parties, we tend to get one-sided accounts—accounts which may not make obvious sense, at least in the way they are offered.

Do you understand how Nelson’s proposal would founder and fail because two checks are one too many? Frankly, we don’t understand that either—and we’ve seen no one try to explain it. People! What Hath Nelson Wrought? True to the ways of his floundering tribe, MacGillis didn’t try to explain that.

Are you experienced, Hendrix asked. We ask this: Have you seen things explained?

Tomorrow—part 3: When Conrad explained.