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Print view: Rachel Maddow loses her mind. Digby trains us to hate
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THREE EXAMPLES! Rachel Maddow loses her mind. Digby trains us to hate: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011

Paul Krugman/What Medicaid does: We’ll offer one small semi-criticism of Paul Krugman’s column from last Friday. As a matter of political rhetoric, it may not be a great idea to refer to the federal government as “a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.”

Progressives may enjoy the humor. Others may conclude that the Ryan-lovers are right if that’s what our government is.

That’s just a hunch about cheeky rhetoric—a hunch which could be wrong. Hunch expressed, the rest of Krugman’s spot-on column was devoted to explaining that cheeky description. In effect, Krugman explained where the money goes.

Hint: A great chunk of that federal money goes to senior citizens.

We’ll assume that many people don’t understand the facts which follow, especially the facts about Medicaid. That said, these facts are very important. Krugman explains them well:

KRUGMAN (5/13/11): The great bulk of federal spending that isn't either defense-related or interest on the debt goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The first two programs specifically serve seniors. And while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it's largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled. By my rough count, in 2007, seniors accounted, one way or another, for about half of federal spending.

And in case you hadn't noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.

Let’s summarize: Aside from the army and the debt, “the great bulk of federal money” goes to those three famous programs. And please take note of this very key point: “While Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it's largely about providing nursing care.” According to Krugman, two-thirds of Medicaid’s spending goes to the elderly and/or the disabled. And here’s one more important point, a point Krugman doesn’t fully articulate: Medicaid’s deeply humane nursing care includes the middle-class elderly.

There’s a good chance that you and your family aren’t “poor.” But the Medicaid program serves you and yours, along with those who may be less fortunate. If you’re middle-class, Medicaid serves you too—perhaps through its service to your parents and grandparents.

As Krugman suggests, many people don’t know that.

In his column, Krugman goes on to explain why “older Americans really should fear Republican budget ideas.” We’ll strongly suggest that you read the whole column, though no one can provide complete explanations in a mere 700 words. Here’s one point you should consider: For the most part, the Ryan plan leaves Medicare alone for the next ten years. But unless we’re mistaken, Medicaid, with its deeply humane nursing services, would take a big hit right away.

For us, this column carried a special resonance because of the day on which it arrived. Last Friday, we journeyed a few hundred miles to the north to visit an 84-year-old friend who has been having serious medical challenges in the past six weeks.

We were impressed, and moved, by what we saw—by services funded through Medicaid. Those services were being provided by decent, caring people—the kinds of people who don’t get famous hosting Hardball, who don’t write columns about the “interesting past” of the latest pol’s naughty bad wife.

During our visit, we thought back to the late 1950s, to nursing facilities we visited when we were a child, when there was no Medicaid. On Monday, we’ll try to lay out a few of those thoughts. (We want to get them right.)

For today, we’ll recommend Krugman’s column with its (possibly) imperfect rhetoric and its humane network of ideas. Question: How well does the liberal/progressive world explain these ideas to the public?

THREE EXAMPLES (permalink): How strong are the intellectual and moral foundations of the liberal/progressive world?

In our view, those foundations aren’t strong. Let’s consider three recent examples, examples involving progressive intellectual leaders and, in one case, the reactions to same by the liberal/progressive electorate:

Reactions to Cornel West on Obama: We were surprised by Cornel West’s recent remarks concerning Barack Obama. We were surprised by West’s racial invective and by the relative pettiness of his personal complaints (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/11).

We found West’s comments surprising because West has always been so inclusive when he talks about race. In our view, the passion of his inclusiveness has been one of West’s genuine gifts to the world. We were disappointed when he fell off this wagon—as all of us do on occasion.

We were surprised by West’s remarks—but we were amazed by progressive readers’ reactions to Joan Walsh’s piece in Salon. You can read Walsh’s piece about West, and the reader reactions, for yourself (just click here). Summarizing, we will say this: An amazing number of progressive readers seemed to be amazingly clueless about the reasons why Americans (and others) need to be careful about various types of racial speech.

In our view, West’s statements about Obama’s comfort level with Jewish men takes us into dangerous territory. But Obama does have Jewish associates, many progressives replied.

If that’s the best we progressives can do, it’s no wonder we progressives make so little progress.

We were surprised by the things West said because he has always been such a valuable leader in this area. That said, might we offer a second thought? Cornel West may be an inspirational intellectual leader in a wide assortment of ways. That doesn’t mean he knows a lot about American politics. As an example, consider this part of his now-famous interview with Chris Hedges:

HEDGES (5/16/11): “This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,” West laments. “We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.

“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.

“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties.”

For ourselves, we would generally agree with what West says about the greed of the oligarchs and the plutocrats, and about the escalating squeeze on the poor and the working class. But the notion that Obama could have “taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe” represents a form of magical thinking. Despite making about a thousand speeches, Bill Clinton couldn’t even get the public to know what was in his 1993 budget plan. In 2009, Obama experienced the same epic fail as he tried to explain his health plan. It’s silly to think that American presidents can wave a magic wand and “educate” the public about political matters that are even more complex. That isn’t the way it works.

More sensibly, the professors and the journalists and the intellectuals have to educate the public, a task which takes many years. In this instance, West and his colleagues have badly failed, although this doesn’t make them bad people. In fact, the task is quite hard.

During the age of conservative talk, we liberals used to laugh at conservatives. The cluelessness of the conservative masses was put on display every day. Now, progressives and liberals are talking out loud.

How much sharper are we?

Rachel’s Cheney-based lunacy: For years, the air waves crackled with Rush and Sean—and with ditto-head callers.

Now, corporate liberals are on the air too. But how strong are their intellectual foundations? How strong is their moral comprehension? How good is their political judgment?

How well do they know their stuff?

For the latest antics of Beer Hall Eddie, go ahead—just click here. (Uh-oh! Big Ed has been goose-stepping around town again.) Then too, there was Rachel Maddow’s astounding performance on last evening’s Maddow program. For our money, her first half hour was littered with her trademark political incomprehension and her trademark ridiculous self-regard. But for now, just consider her astounding segment about the cover photo on Dick Cheney’s new book. (To see the vile photo, click this.)

Rachel was troubled by Cheney’s pic. She teased the segment like this:

MADDOW (5/19/11): All right. Have you seen the cover of Dick Cheney’s new book? It just leaked—check it out. It’s called, In My Time. That’s a photo that says, “I am an important man who makes important decisions in important places. Right now, all of you are in my time.”

But does that picture of Dick Cheney also look familiar? Weirdly familiar? If that photo is ringing a bell for you right now but you can’t quite put your finger on why that looks familiar, I will show you why that photo looks familiar in just a second when we come back.

Fair warning: It will probably bother you.

Through some miracle of mind-reading, Rachel promised to show us why Cheney’s photo looks “weirdly familiar” to us. And not only that: She warned us that her upcoming report would probably bother us. At this point, she gave us a knowing two-second stare, helping us see how troubling this whole thing really was. (To watch this tease, click this, then move to the end of the segment.)

Why might Cheney’s photo seem familiar? Duh. The photo seems to show Cheney in the White House; behind him you see the familiar backdrop for presidential press conferences. Since Cheney never served as president, the photo is a bit grandiose. And given a decade of speculation, the photo lends itself to obvious jibes about who was really in charge.

Maddow, though, went a giant step further, in an “analysis” which fell just this side of total delusion. Why did that photo look “weirdly familiar?” Maddow’s explanation was so bizarre—and so solipsistic—that it’s worth quoting a fairly good chunk. That said, we strongly suggest that you watch the whole segment (click here).

Is this person in her right mind?

MADDOW (5/19/11): This is what’s really burned into my mind in terms of that night. (Looking at photo of Obama.) That is the announcement of bin Laden’s death. That is the image for all of us. It’s indelible.

This is the cover of Dick Cheney’s book. (Looking at photo of Cheney.) The publisher released it yesterday. Remind you of anything? Dick Cheney’s book pictures him in the same suit and the same shirt and the same tie and the same flag pin and the exact same placement of the flag pin standing in the exact same place where President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden! He is standing in the exact same place, the picture in the book is taken from the exact the same angle, except of course on his book cover Mr. Cheney stands a head taller than President Obama. Dick Cheney’s new book pictorially makes him the guy who killed bin Laden. Or at least the guy who got to announce it, in that suit and that tie and that flag pin, in that room in the White House, standing between those two lamps just slightly off center to the right, looking just so. They might as well have photo-shopped Dick Cheney’s head onto one of the Marines at Iwo Jima.

You really have to watch the tape, but that “analysis” is the work of a genuine lunatic. Is this person in her right mind?

Classic Maddow! The Cheney photo reminded her of Obama’s press conference about bin Laden. For that reason, she assumed it would trigger that same memory in everyone else who sees it—and she rather plainly suggests that this was Cheney’s intention. We won’t even try to explain how bizarre that is, but it does reaches Limbaugh-esque levels of lunacy. She thinks that Cheney dressed as he did in his book’s cover photo to mimic the way Obama dressed on that night. Angrily, she even claims that Cheney wore his flag pin in his left lapel because that’s where “President Barack Obama” wore his flag pin! (Good god. That’s where everyone wears flag pins!) Most crazily, she announces, with a genuine tone of grievance, that Cheney’s photo is a perfect copy of a photo of Obama announcing bin Laden’s death, “except of course on his book cover Mr. Cheney stands a head taller than President Obama.”

Is Rachel Maddow out of her mind? Cheney was standing “a head taller than Obama” only because that’s the way Maddow’s staff arranged the two photos which had Rachel so upset. (To see this, you must watch the tape.)

Barring some other explanation, that segment is the work of a lunatic. Can it be good for progressive interests when crackpots provide our ideas?

The most powerful word in the language: Maddow struck us as politically clueless from start to finish last night. Consider the way she handled next week’s special election in New York’s 26th House district. She noted that Rep. Allen West is making robo-calls for Jane Corwin, the embattled GOP candidate in the heavily Republican district. She then proceeded to make a big deal about something West recently said about Medicare—a statement whose rather obvious meaning Maddow rather plainly miscast.

Is Maddow really this clueless? Or was she simply playing her viewers? We don’t know, but here’s the point which struck us about West’s robo-calls: Rep. West is black! And yet, he’s the person the GOP picked to make those calls—to make those calls to a group of voters who are supposed to be snarling racists.

Do our liberal intellectual leaders really act as if conservative voters, as a group, are a gang of snarling racists? Consider this recent post by Digby, a post which represents an example of genuine liberal hate speech.

Someone sent Digby a truly unfortunate, anti-Semitic e-mail. (Needless to say, it was typed in all caps.) Digby’s reaction struck us as truly unfortunate. “The right wingers just can't help themselves,” she said at the start of her post, thus turning one person into a group. Her post appeared beneath this headline: “The language they can understand.”

Let’s review: One person sent a broken-souled e-mail. In response, Digby used the most powerful word in the language: “They.”

One person sent Digby an e-mail—but to Digby, it was the doing of “them” (of “the right-wingers”). Used in this way, “they” is a powerful, ugly word—a shorter form of “those people.”

In reality, “those people” are now getting phone calls from Rep. West. Two weeks ago, they fell in love with Herman Cain at that first GOP debate—in South Carolina, no less! Cain is black, of course, like West. And yet, “those people” are known to be racists.

Are you sure they hate Obama because he’s black? Could it be because he’s a Democrat?

Our haters insist that “they’re” full of hate! Can it be good for progressive interests when we train ourselves to hate in this way? In a way which is so pre-historic?

Transcripts are slow to appear at this channel: If Maddow’s transcript ever becomes available, you will find it here.

As of now, they’re a full week behind.