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The Tea Party people can't beat us, Dionne types. He must have a death wish too
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DEATH WISH TOO! The Tea Party people can’t beat us, Dionne types. He must have a death wish too: // link // print // previous // next //

Don’t ask: In this morning’s New York Times, Roni Caryn Rabin offers a fascinating report about one aspect of the new health care law. (Odd note: This paper’s best health care reporting all seems to appear in its “Science Times” section.) As she starts, she discusses the way the new insurance subsidies will work for low-income earners:

RABIN (4/20/10): William Mann of Pittsburgh earns just enough to get by. He is 46, doesn't own a car, hasn't taken a vacation in three years and hasn't had health insurance for most of his adult life.

He is just the kind of person who should benefit from the health care overhaul, and he is, in fact, eligible for heavily subsidized insurance that will cost him an estimated $1,845 a year, while the government contributes about $2,756.

Mann will have to pay $1845; the government will contribute $2756 more. But Mann tells Rabin that he still won’t be able to afford insurance. Mann earns $25,000 per year; he simply won’t be able to afford that $1845, he says. Mann tells Rabin that he will simply pay the fine, which is smaller. Then, he tells her this:

RABIN: “I just can't put that kind of money out for a 'maybe’—maybe I'll get sick and use it,” said Mr. Mann, who makes just over $25,000 a year as an administrative assistant at a small wine distribution company. ''That's a lot of money.''

“The people who make all these decisions don't live like the way I do,'' Mr. Mann added, echoing other uninsured people in his income group. ''They don't live like the rest of us.”

This is a fascinating report, one we highly recommend. But we were struck, as we often are, by the dog that didn’t howl. Here’s the question that entered our heads as we read this fascinating report: Why does Mann’s overall insurance have to cost that much? All over Europe, developed nations run excellent health care systems at one-half to one-third the per-person cost shelled out in this benighted nation. At $4600, Mann’s potential policy doesn’t seem real expensive; Rabin doesn’t explain what it would and wouldn’t cover. But if we found a way to drive our spending down to Euro levels, mightn’t Mann be able to afford insurance?

We’ll note today what we’ve noted before. In the past year’s health debate, the entire culture has agreed to avoid the overall question raised by our bloated health care spending. Two weeks ago, David Leonhardt offered this column about the way “the federal government is now starting to build the institutions that will try to reduce the soaring growth of health care costs.” His column was full of information, but he too avoided the wooly mammoth in the room—the fact that every other developed nation has already solved this “problem!” How have these other nations done it? How have they kept their health spending down? Everybody agrees not to go there, in every single word they type. As we’ve said: We’ve never seen an issue discussion in which so many people have agreed to accept such a smothering Code of Silence.

(A similar Code of Silence obtained throughout Campaign 2000 about the various ludicrous claims which comprised the press corps’ twenty-month war against Gore. All good “journalists,” including the “liberals,” agreed to keep their traps shut. Beyond that, they’ve kept their traps shut about their group misconduct right to this very day.)

A second question lurks in this debate: Why is someone like Mann earning just $25,000 per year? Why have salaries stayed so low for people like Mann, even as the rich have gotten massively richer? Obscenely richer? This question rarely shows up either, joining the muffled health-spending issue. Even our fiery-est liberals seem disinclined to frame these debates in such utterly uncouth ways.

Why is William Mann paid so little? Why does his health care cost so much? Rabin pens a fascinating report. These questions still don’t appear.

DEATH WISH TOO (permalink): Will Dems get smoked in November’s elections? At present, we can’t tell you. But E. J. Dionne offered a strange prediction at the start of yesterday’s column—a column which focused on that New York Times/CBS survey of Tea Party supporters.

During the reign of the last Democratic president, Dionne deferred to his colleagues in the mainstream press—to the Clinton/Gore-haters who gave us George Bush. In this era, he has made a switch—like Chris Matthews, he is now deferring to the views of the newly-emerged liberal world. But what follows is a peculiar analysis, however one might explain its provenance. This was the start of yesterday’s column, which we’d call “Death Wish Too:”

DIONNE (4/19/10): The Tea Party is nothing new. It represents a relatively small minority of Americans on the right end of politics, and it will not determine the outcome of the 2010 elections.

In fact, both major parties stand to lose if they accept the laughable notion that this media-created protest movement is the voice of true populism. Democrats will spend their time chasing votes they will never win. Republicans will turn their party into an angry and narrow redoubt with no hope of building a durable majority.

The news media's incessant focus on the Tea Party is creating a badly distorted picture of what most Americans think and is warping our policy debates. The New York Times and CBS News thus performed a public service last week with a careful study of just who is in the Tea Party.

In a two-party system, it’s odd to be told that both parties stand to lose if some notion gains purchase. But the basic assessment which opened this column strikes us as simply bizarre. The Tea Party is “a relatively small minority of Americans,” Dionne says, using a helpful weasel word. And not only that! This relatively small minority “will not determine the outcome” of November’s elections.

We have no idea why Dionne feels he can make that prediction. We were especially puzzled after he got more specific about the size of this group:

DIONNE (continuing directly): Their findings suggest that the Tea Party is essentially the reappearance of an old anti-government far right that has always been with us and accounts for about one-fifth of the country. The Times reported that Tea Party supporters “tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.” They are also more affluent and better educated than Americans as a whole. This is the populism of the privileged.

Uh-oh! This “relatively small minority” actually “accounts for about one-fifth of the country!” And not only that: Being disproportionately white, aged and affluent, this group is likely to vote at a disproportionate rate. Given the very low turn-out rates which characterize our off-year elections, we have no idea why Dionne would say that this group will not determine the outcome this fall.

(Turn-out rate in 2006: 36.8 percent.)

By the way, is it true? Is the Tea Party just the “old anti-government far right that has always been with us?” Surely, there’s a large overlap. But the last time this group got disproportionately motivated, it blew the doors off the Democratic Party in the 1994 off-year elections. (This was, of course, just two years after the last Democrat reached the White House.) And by the way: Are you happy the hear that the “far right” now comprises one-fifth of the nation? Good God! If that’s the size of just the far right, what makes us think that liberals and progressives have any chance at all?

As with Matthews, so with Dionne: If you thought it was bad when he pandered against you, it may be worse when he starts pandering to you. That said, we thought the unhelpful analysis only continued when Dionne stopped predicting November’s outcome and started telling us who these Tea Party supporters—this small minority—actually are.

Much of Dionne’s assessment of this question can be reduced to an absurdity: He marvels at the fact that supporters of a conservative (“far right”) movement adopt more conservative political positions than the population as a whole. In the following passage, for example, Dionne is shocked to learn that the “far right” is generally opposed to higher taxes and to increased federal spending! Incredibly, the far right oppose these approaches more than the rest of us do!

DIONNE: Among all Americans, 50 percent agreed that “the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit." Only 17 percent of Tea Party supporters took this view.

Asked about raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year to provide health care for the uninsured, 54 percent of Americans favored doing so vs. only 17 percent of Tea Party backers.

For ourselves, we would side with the majority on both those questions. But we would note an unfortunate fact—those majorities with which we would side are extremely small. (One is just a plurality.) No matter! Pandering to you and yours, Dionne presents these preferences as “a tendency of Tea Party enthusiasts to side with the better-off against the poor.” He fails to note that many other voters share these views—many voters who don’t (yet) say they support the Tea Party. But that is because Dionne’s whole column is designed to insult the motives of Tea Party folk. This strikes us as another Death Wish—a good route to election defeat.

Pandering to you and yours, Dionne spends a good chunk of his column discussing the racial motives of Tea Parry supporters. Unlike the more clownish Rich-and-Blow, he does offer the standard disclaimers. “Let’s be clear: Opposition to the president is driven by many factors that have nothing to do with race,” he clearly says. But he turns to race first of all, drawing some fairly shaky deductions based on a couple of survey questions. After that, he turns to the matter of privilege. And hurrah! Tea Party folk turn out to be bad people all over again!

Dionne’s piece is all about assailing motives, as he panders to you and yours. This strikes us as a standard prescription for liberal defeat, in an election Dionne feels sure one-fifth of the country can’t turn.

Dionne’s prediction seems absurd; his discussions of motive are pure pander-jobs. But do you mind if we help you see how dangerous this pandering is? Consider a passage where Dionne reviews the answers to several questions concerning race. Please note the utterly comical claim he makes at the start of the passage:

DIONNE: [T]he poll suggested something that white Americans are reluctant to discuss: Part of the anger at President Obama among Tea Partiers does appear to be driven by racial concerns.

Saying this invites immediate denunciations from defenders of those who bring guns to rallies, threaten violence to "take our country back," and mouth old slogans about states' rights and the Confederacy. So let's be clear: Opposition to the president is driven by many factors that have nothing to do with race. But race is definitely part of what's going on.

The poll asked: “In recent years, do you think too much has bene made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?” Twenty-eight percent of all Americans—and just 19 percent of those who are not Tea Party loyalists— answered "too much." But among Tea Party supporters, the figure is 52 percent, almost three times the proportion of the rest of the country. A quarter of Tea Partiers say that the Obama administration's policies favor blacks over whites, compared with only 11 percent in the country as a whole.

Let’s start with that clownish opening claim: According to Dionne, “white Americans are reluctant to discuss” the idea that “part of the anger at President Obama among Tea Partiers does appear to be driven by racial concerns.” Too funny! In fact, white “liberals” seem inclined to discuss nothing else; Frank Rich somehow forces himself to discuss this idea in pretty much every column. That said:

At first blush, we have no idea why someone would say that too much has been made, in recent years, of the problems facing black people. In our view, such problems are rarely discussed at all, certainly not by us fiery white liberals. (When did you ever see Dionne build a column around any such problem?) That said, we can’t help noting the facts which follow: Roughly half of Tea Party supporters didn’t answer the question that way—and roughly one-fifth of everyone else did give that answer. From that, we draw a few quick deductions:

Let’s assume there are roughly 200 million potential voters. Based on the New York Times/CBS survey, roughly 36 million of those people are (current) Tea Party supporters. Of that number, roughly 19 million think too much has been made of black problems in recent years.

When we say and imply that these people are racists, it makes us ratty white liberals feel good—but we’re playing with electoral fire. You see, based on that “19 percent” figure, about 30 million additional voters also think that too much has been made of black problems in recent years—30 million additional voters who don’t (currently) describe themselves as Tea Party supporters. When we keep assailing the motives of Tea Party supporters, we’re assailing these peoples’ motives as well. This means there are 30 million additional people we are inviting to vote against us, added to the 36 million Dionne says are already lost. At this point, even Dionne might see an electoral problem looming in November: Could 66 million voters possibly tip November’s election?

In 2006, only 81 million people voted in all.

Dionne has picked-and-chosen his way through the data, selecting responses he can use to play his race and privilege cards. These cards make us soft-headed liberals feel good, but they’re very dangerous. Just read through that survey’s questions! Tea Party folk are different (on balance) from everyone else, but tens of millions of people who aren’t Tea Party supporters believe the same damn-fool things that are driving numbers against Obama. Check it out, potential losers:

52 percent of all Americans “think Obama’s policies are driving the country more toward socialism.” 34 percent of all Americans think Obama “has increased taxes for most Americans.” 53 percent of all Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling the budget deficit. (Only 29 percent approve.) 62 percent of all potential voters think the stimulus package has had no impact or has made matters worse. Just a guess: Tens of millions of voters have no earthly idea why Obama has done the things he has done—why he has engaged in massive deficit spending during the recession, for example. Just a guess: These millions of people have never heard such words as “Keynes” or “Keynesianism.” To them, it’s counter-intuitive to think that Obama would increase federal spending at a time of vast deficits. These people don’t understand why he would do that—and people like Dionne make no attempt to tell them.

Glenn Beck does tell them, every day: Obama has increased federal spending because he’s a Communist! (In the ludicrous world the Dionnes won’t confront, only the weaklings call Obama a “socialist.”) To millions of voters, the claim seems to make sense because no one has ever bothered to tell them why Obama has done the (perfectly sensible, economically mainstream) things he has done.

What do we tell these people instead? We tell them the Tea Party people are racist privilege-lovers. In the case of tens of millions of other voters, this means that we are assailing their basic instincts too. Or those of their relatives.

Our side loves to assail the other tribe, telling ourselves that they’re very bad people. We love to hear ourselves call them racists. We love to hear how selfish they are.

And so what! That “small minority” can’t beat us, we say, as our fantasy lives grow even greater.

Could we possibly get any dumber? Have a more flagrant death wish?

The cowardice of an enabler: Dionne doesn’t talk about Glenn Beck. He doesn’t talk about the damn-fool things Beck tells voters each day. It’s safer, and easier, to play it that way. Dionne discussed Beck once, very briefly—in the context of (what else) race.

It’s the only thing we “liberals” know. Result: For many people who will vote this fall, Glenn Beck is the only thing they know. They’ve never seen a person who wasn’t insulting their motives tell them what’s wrong with his smack.

On the bright side, all those millions of voters can’t tip an election! Was it better back in the day when Dionne didn’t pander to us?