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THE TWO CULTURES! Krugman’s column made us muse on a pair of developing cultures: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011

Where’s the outrage?/If it’s Sunday, it must be irrelevant: For whatever reason, a fever seems to have broken.

It’s Monday morning, and Steve Benen hasn’t yet advanced any ludicrous claims about the guest lists on yesterday’s morning news programs. For the record, yesterday’s guest lists tilted Republican, in part due to activity on the GOP candidate front.

To wit:

Newt Gingrich did the full half-hour on Face the Nation. He fared rather poorly with Bob Schieffer, who gave birth to a small angry cow about Newt’s account at Tiffany’s.

Paul Ryan was featured guest on Meet the Press. He was asked to react to Gingrich’s multiply-withdrawn attacks on his budget plan.

Herman Cain was featured guest on Fox News Sunday. That said, we would guess that this program does tilt Republican in its guest lists, though we’d want to see a serious analysis before we reached that judgment.

Despite yesterday’s tilt toward GOP guests, Benen has lodged no complaints. Two weeks ago, the guest lists tilted Democratic, rather strongly—and Steve crazily said that the programs had favored the GOP, by a 3-1 margin. Needless to say, Rachel Maddow repeated this ridiculous claim on two separate Maddow programs. You could tell that the darling child was quite angry about this bad thing which occurred.

This morning, Benen has made no complaints about yesterday morning’s shows. This is unfortunate, because we thought David Gregory did a very poor job in his session with Ryan.

Alas! Gregory interviewed Ryan for a 16-minute segment. (For the program’s full transcript, click this.) But he asked no questions, none at all, about the contents of Ryan’s budget plan. He only asked about the politics: Would Ryan himself run for the White House? And this: “How much damage has Newt Gingrich done to your effort to reform Medicare?” And this: “Why don't you see more Republicans who want to be the country's leader, standing up and saying, ‘I am for the Ryan plan, full stop, including Medicare reforms?’ ”

Quite thoroughly, Gregory thrashed through the politics. But at no point did he ask Ryan to discuss the substance of his plan.

For our money, this was a fatuous, wasted effort. Benen has made absurd complaints about past Sunday shows. But he has offered no thoughts about this.

For the record, Gregory also interviewed Ryan on April 10, the first Sunday after his budget plan appeared. (On that occasion, Obama adviser David Plouffe was Gregory’s featured guest.) Even on that earlier program, Gregory asked few questions about the contents of Ryan’s proposals for Medicare and Medicaid. Since that time, the contents of the Ryan plan have become extremely controversial. But on yesterday’s program, Gregory didn’t go there at all.

If it’s Sunday, it must be pointless! But the liberal world’s intellectual leadership tends to be just as weak as that of the mainstream press corps. Two weeks ago, our leadership made ridiculous claims, when there was nothing to gripe about.

Yesterday, nothing at all! But then again, so it has gone for lo, these many years.

Meanwhile, more smooching aimed at Weisberg. Careers must be built, after all.

Racism fails to rear its head: We were also struck by Benen’s account of Herman Cain’s kick-off speech. Here’s part of what he wrote:

BENEN (5/22/11): By some estimates, as many 10,000 people showed up for [Cain’s] announcement speech, which is pretty good for a strange right-wing activist with practically no support in national polls.

As implausible as his campaign appears to be, it’s probably a mistake to completely dismiss Cain as a joke. He’s a favorite of the Tea Party crowd, and apparently has the ability to impress Republican voters in debates. National Journal ran a piece recently highlighting five reasons folks shouldn’t underestimate Cain’s chances, and while he’s obviously still the longest of long-shots, the argument wasn’t absurd on its face.

For what it’s worth, that crowd estimate may have been quite high, though Benen didn’t know that. But please note what Benen said here: According to Benen, Herman Cain “is a favorite of the Tea Party crowd!” This is strange, because Cain is black (a point Steve didn’t mention)—and because we liberals are constantly told that this same crowd hates Obama because he is black!

Could it be that they hate him because he’s a Democrat? Or would that kill all the fun?

THE TWO CULTURES (permalink): Last Friday, we briefly described Paul Krugman’s May 13 column. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/20/11.

We were especially struck by Krugman’s comments about the modern Medicaid program. We will guess that many people don’t know the nature of that program. But this program serves an important purpose—and the program is very humane:

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.

According to Krugman’s column, about two-thirds of Medicaid spending now goes to senior citizens; this largely involves nursing care. And Medicaid isn’t a “poverty program,” although it does serve poverty-level families. Much of its spending goes to middle-class seniors, much as Krugman noted.

Coincidence: On the day that column appeared, we journeyed several hundred miles to visit an 84-year-old friend who has been having severe physical challenges in the past six weeks. Our friend is staying in the “residential and rehabilitative care” wing of a non-profit hospital near the exurban New York county where he lives. Over that weekend, we saw a group of health care workers ministering to our friend, and to other senior patients.

Many of those patients were being funded by Medicare or Medicaid. What we saw made us think of the two different cultures which have been growing in this country over the past fifty years.

A point of reference: In the late 1950s, our father spent the last several years of his life in a nursing home. (He died in 1959; we had just turned twelve. He was 65 when we were born, which helps make sense of the numbers.)

Visiting our friend this past weekend, we were hugely impressed, and inspired, by the quality of the facility he was in—a facility which (we assume) is largely funded by payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

We couldn’t help recalling the nursing home in which our father, a person of substantial means, spent the last years of his life at a time when there was no Medicare or Medicaid. We were young, and our memory is imperfect; nor are we experts on this history of American nursing care for seniors. But the place was deeply depressing. We would guess that it represented the state of the art at that time.

The cheerful facility we visited last week wasn’t depressing (though you of course wouldn’t want to be there). As we said, this wasn’t a spa for the rich. But the facility had large, cheerful sitting rooms and friendly, cheerful, upbeat staff. Our friend’s wife, who is also a long-time friend, is a native New Yorker and nobody’s pushover. She wouldn’t be afraid to complain about indifferent care. But she said the staff there truly were cheerful. When another patient praised one staff member as “a real sweetheart,” our friend said she had to concur.

This facility’s employee of the year had just been named. In the lobby, a citation listed the reasons for her selection. According to the citation, this employee routinely treats this facility’s patients with “compassion, dignity, respect, understanding.” But then, from the very upbeat director on down, that seemed to be the actual tone of the place.

Presumably, not every facility is like the one we observed. But this facility, and others we’ve visited, are like the Taj Mahal compared to the place where our father died. Making the obvious comparison, we couldn’t help thinking of the change in American culture over the past fifty years.

More specifically, we thought about two different cultures which have grown during that period.

One culture has grown from the top on down. This is a culture of acquisition, consumption and sometimes greed; this culture has grown quite dramatically. (In the years when our father was dying, CEOs were willing to be paid just forty times the average salary!) Within the frameworks of this growing culture, the senior citizens in the facility we just visited are no longer productive citizens; they will no longer work at jobs, or fashion careers, or raise the society’s children. The Ryan plan would slash the spending which has let such people spend their last years in more humane surroundings. Presumably, if the Ryan plan passed, many seniors would end up spending their final years in much less humane settings.

(Note: Medicaid spending is affected right away under Ryan’s plan. Yesterday, David Gregory didn’t try to figure out how nursing care would be affected.)

That is one of our growing cultures. But a second culture was on display in that facility’s cheerful sitting rooms and in the attitudes of its upbeat staff. That second culture has grown from below in the past fifty years—and from the imperfect but humane impulses of the War on Poverty and the Great Society. (Lyndon Johnson could feel people’s pain.)

Thanks to this second culture, a lot of decent people are working with seniors around the country. They aren’t getting rich, and they aren’t getting famous; you won’t see them on TV during cable panel discussions. But we were very impressed by, and grateful for, the work we saw them doing last weekend. Seeing their cheerful demeanors in that cheerful facility made our thoughts range back fifty years.

(“He was manager of the Bowdoin Square Theater, and booking agent for the Old Howard, at the age of 18,” our father’s Boston Globe obituary said. “Mr. Somerby in interviews recalled that Fred Allen had appeared or him for 50 cents a night, and that Fred and Adele Astaire once played in his theatre for $60 a week.”)

One culture has grown from the top during the past fifty years; a different culture has grown from below. We see the millionaire tribunes of one of these cultures on our TV machines every night; they drive the talking-points of this culture in tightly scripted ways. For us, it was impressive, and very moving, to see the tribunes of that second culture respecting those seniors last week.

The liberal world does a very poor job calling attention to such decent people. By the way: Conservatives grow old and become sick too. But alas! We liberals rarely consider fashioning outreach to “those people.”

Cummings was there: Cummings was there of course. For the full poem, click here:

CUMMINGS (1925): Humanity i love you

Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both

parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard

That said, our current friend may be the only person we know with three editions of Joyce’s Ulysses on his shelf (old, older, oldest), each annotated with copious notes. But then, who isn’t entitled to final years in a place of compassion, respect?