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TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2011

David Brooks’ headlong descent: David Brooks’ remarkable headlong descent continues in this morning’s column, which deals with the future of Medicare.

Alas! In the culture of Washington “journalism,” there’s lying—and then again, there’s lying. At present, our “journalists” are quite upset about Anthony Weiner’s extensive lying about a fairly trivial subject.

But trust us! No one will say a word about the apparent lying which follows. You see, no sex is involved:

BROOKS (6/7/11): Some Democrats simply want to do nothing as Medicare careens toward bankruptcy. Last Sunday on ''Face the Nation,'' for example, Nancy Pelosi said, ''I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare.''

Fortunately, more responsible Democrats are looking for ways to save the system.

Does Nancy Pelosi “want to do nothing?” New York Times readers will get that impression from that cherry-picked quote. They may not realize that they should review the full transcript of Pelosi’s session with Bob Schieffer on last Sunday’s program.

We did. What follows is the full exchange about Medicare from Face the Nation. The discussion didn’t last very long; as you know, issue discussions are boring. That said, did David Brooks tell the truth? Actually, no—he did not:

SCHIEFFER (6/5/11): All right. Let me ask you a little bit about Medicare. Obviously, as we all know, the House Republicans want to replace it with government-subsidized private insurance. Can Democrats win in 2012 by just saying no to that?

PELOSI: I think the party is going to say to the American people, to the middle class, we want to create jobs, good-paying jobs, so that you can provide for your family. So it’s about "M," the middle class. It’s about Medicare, no reduction in benefits in Medicare. And it’s about make it in America, again about jobs for the middle class, good-paying jobs for the middle class. I think that is an agenda that can win. The—

SCHIEFFER: Don’t you—let me just interrupt you a minute. Don’t you have to, though, give some plan or some idea of how you’re going to reform Medicare? Because we all know it can’t sustain as it is.

PELOSI: Well, we, in our health care bill, as you probably know, saved half a trillion dollars in Medicare. We had a half a trillion dollars in savings there, which we plowed back into improved benefits for seniors in terms of prescription drugs. But even more important than that, we made it stable for about ten years into the—added ten years of solvency into the future.

That was—that was a big start. The Republicans want to overturn that. That’s one of the fights that we are having, because we want to have those savings to keep Medicare solvent.

SCHIEFFER: Is what you’re telling me you’ve already done what needs to be done to Medicare?

PELOSI: Well, I think that we can give the secretary of HHS the power to renegotiate for lower prices. That would save billions and billions and billions of dollars. I think that any fraud that is associated with Medicare has to be addressed.

But that’s already a given. We didn’t prevail in the bill on negotiating for lower prices. But that’s a very important place to go to do that. So if you’re talking about lowering the cost, what ideas do people have, we have some. If you’re talking about reducing the benefits, that’s a non-starter.

Does Pelosi “want to do nothing?” In fact, she said the health care bill “was a good start.” Looking ahead, she suggested negotiating for lower drug prices, saying this would save billions and billions of dollars.

She also suggested attacking fraud. On the one hand, this is a famous old chestnut; on the other hand, there is a good deal of fraud in the program. Needless to say, Schieffer didn’t attempt to learn if Pelosi had any specific proposals in this area.

Pelosi suggested that Democrats may have other ideas for lowering the cost of the Medicare program. (“We have some,” she said.) But even in this limited exchange, she advanced her party’s current framework: There should be no cuts in Medicare benefits. But there should be large cuts in unnecessary costs.

Pelosi said similar things on several occasions in May. To see the New York Times report this fact, just click here. Will David Brooks’ readers get that impression from reading his latest column?

Question: Is David Brooks lying in today’s piece? It hard to say he is not.

Brooks said other things at the start of this column which represent his headlong decline. Here is the way his column begins. As far as we know, almost all of this is “technically accurate.” But is it perhaps misleading?

BROOKS: Sometimes life presents you with a basic philosophical choice. Americans are going to have to confront a giant one over the next several years.

It starts in the wonky world of Medicare. As presently constructed, Medicare is based on an open-ended fee-for-service system. The government pays providers each time they deliver a service. The more services they provide, the more money they get.

The fee-for-service system is incredibly popular. Recipients don't have to think about the costs of their treatment, and they get lots of free money. The average 56-year-old couple pays about $140,000 into the Medicare system over a lifetime and receives about $430,000 in benefits back. The program is also completely unaffordable. Medicare has unfinanced liabilities of more than $30 trillion. The Medicare trustees say the program is about a decade from insolvency.

Is the Medicare program “completely unaffordable,” or is that construction a slick, slippery stretch? Related question: How many readers know what it means to say that the program “has unfinanced liabilities of more than $30 trillion?” How many readers know what “solvency” means in this context? Later, Brooks spins the excitement up, using the term “bankruptcy.”

(Regarding the large dollar figures in that last paragraph, see below.)

What ever happened to David Brooks? Later, he pimps like a silly child for Ryan, offering this genuinely stupid construction:

BROOKS: Representative Paul Ryan's Republican plan is controversial because of the amount of public money he would dedicate to his premium support plan, but the basic architecture of the plan has been around for decades. In less rigidly ideological times, many Democrats supported variations of this basic approach.

Duh. If Ryan dedicated a massively larger “amount of money” to his plan, then his plan would let seniors buy excellent health care! But then, his plan wouldn’t save any dough, which is allegedly his whole point. In fact, Ryan’s plan is “controversial” because seniors would have to pay massively more for their health care. Plainly, Brooks understands that fact. He just hopes his readers don’t.

This column is slick and slippery throughout—and Brooks is grossly dishonest about Pelosi. But can we mention one more sad point? Our own inane spinner, the hapless Rachel Maddow, has also been spreading the impression that Pelosi doesn’t want to make any changes to the Medicare program. She seems to be over her head with this topic. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/11.

David Brooks is disintegrating—and Maddow is largely a joke. So it goes as a fading culture’s overpaid clowns pretend to discuss a large problem.

About those large dollar figures: Brooks cites some large dollar figures in this morning’s column (see above). He cited those same dollar figures in his recent conversation with Gail Collins (click here)—the conversation in which Collins said that Paul Ryan was brave to make his proposal, but perhaps a bit out of touch when it came to the politics.

In that instance, liberal commenters began insisting that Brooks’ figures had to be wrong. He must be excluding the employer’s contribution! He hadn’t adjusted for inflation!

In fact, the figures came from this column by David Leonhardt, who isn’t a conservative hack. Leonhardt sourced the figures to Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane of the Urban Institute, saying they have “done some of the most careful work comparing Medicare taxes and benefits.” Leonhardt specifically noted that the figures include the employer contribution, and that they’re in constant dollars.

We’re just saying. Let the discussion begin.

Special report: The culture that has no name!

INTERLUDE—CRACKPOT UNBOUND (permalink): Forgive us for delaying our series in the wake of yesterday’s foolishness—foolishness which put “the culture which has no name” on full bright vivid display.

That said, let’s compliment Digby for this description of yesterday’s loud, screeching Hardball:

DIGBY (6/6/11): Apparently this sending pictures of your dick to women thing is a common habit among men who see themselves as players, but it reveals that they don't understand women very well…

But listening to Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman crow and strut about cornering [Weiner] into admitting his "crime" is far worse. This is the essence of the Village folks. We are about to be treated to endless nauseating lectures about propriety from a bunch of wealthy, decadent, television celebrities who will be rending their garments over the allegedly shocking sexual behavior of politicians as if they are the elders of a small American town circa 1957—as they pore over every. single. detail. Nothing could be more revolting, not even unpleasant pictures of a politician's erect member.

I honestly haven't seen a Hardball this turgid and throbbing since some time in 1998. Matthews is positively beaming.

Digby found an excellent word—“decadent”—for what was occurring on yesterday’s Hardball. She was right about something else; Matthews was in a truly remarkable state on yesterday’s ludicrous program. Most disgustingly, he tried to drag Weiner’s wife into the stew, suggesting several times that she too might be culpable in this ridiculous mess. This ugly suggestion produced that rarest of Hardball moments. Instantaneously, two of Matthews’ famous trained seals rejected his line of attack:

FEEHERY (6/6/11): Well, you know Eric Cantor was right last week when he said he felt for the wife, and I think we all feel for his wife right now…

MATTHEWS: Yeah, but he says his wife knew! He laid it out on her!

FEEHERY: Well, I— Which is terrible, a terrible mistake.

MATTHEWS: Well maybe she’s partly responsible if she knew about it.

MCMAHON: She’s not. She’s not responsible.

FEEHERY: She’s not responsible. I mean, come on, that’s ridiculous.

“I mean, come on, that’s ridiculous.” In fact, Weiner said he told his wife about some of his pre-marriage conduct. He specifically said she didn’t know that his conduct had continued.

Matthews was speaking with Republican strategist John Feehery and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. It’s a rare event when Matthews’ trained seals reject his insinuations this way. Matthews has been paid to be “ridiculous” on cable TV since the mid-1990s. In this case, the repellent fellow went so far that both his strategists instantly forsook him.

Even this didn’t stop Matthews, of course. He continued exploring the possibility that Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, should be strung from a tall tree too, right next to her philandering husband. But then, Matthews has always had a very strong jones about liberal women.

(Luckily, at his moment of truth, Rachel Maddow rushed out to praise him. One week later, she signed her first MSNBC contract.)

Digby is right; Matthews was exceptionally excited on yesterday’s program, even by his own disordered standards. Then too, he was especially excited last Wednesday as he discussed the exciting way Sarah Palin “walks and moves” around (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/11).

On balance, we’re not sure we’d second the suggestion that Matthews hasn’t been this bad since 1998, although we see why Digby said “turgid and throbbing.” In fact, Matthews’ conduct was simply astounding all through 1999 and 2000. Next Friday, we’ll post a review of his work in just one month during that disgraceful, history-changing period.

Matthews has been a visible nut for a very long time. The fact that he remains on the air is one mark of a “decadent” culture.

By the way:

Among Matthews’ current trained seals, you can count these names: Joan Walsh, David Corn, Josh Marshall. (We’re more disgusted every time we see Corn grinning out from the Hardball set, sitting at the right cheek of the father.) All these people kept their traps shut during the worst of Matthews’ past conduct and in the years since—and that conduct was very bad indeed, as we’ll try to show you again next week. The reason for their silence, in real time and in the years since, should be fairly clear by now. When we liberals tolerate this from our “intellectual leaders,” we too are enabling that destructive, decadent culture.

People have died all over the world because of this obvious nut-cake’s past conduct. But no liberal journal has ever written a serious profile of Matthews’ past work. Do you still fail to wonder why?

Digby was right to name-call Chris. It’s time for her to ask the obvious questions about folk like David and Joan.

Tomorrow—part 2: Defiantly stupid