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BLUE-STATE BLOW-HARDS! At the Times, they love to hunt those legions of red-state hypocrites: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2009

Information stops at the water’s edge: Your society isn’t likely to be here long, for reasons Paul Krugman explains in this morning’s column.

Krugman describes an incident from this weekend’s global warming debate. In this incident, Republicans applauded a fellow House member who called climate change a “hoax.” We agree with Krugman on one thing—that moment was revealing, important. But on balance, we don’t necessarily agree with his assessment of motive:

KRUGMAN (6/29/09): [Y]ou didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it—and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Were those applauding House members really “interested in the truth?” For ourselves, we’d guess they believe that warming’s a hoax; they think that is the truth. We’d simply say that their conduct—their loud, ongoing state of denial—is a largely pre-rational phenomenon.

But then, we see similar non-rational conduct in many current debates—and not just from folk on the right.

Consider two columns in Sunday’s Washington Post. They were written by George Will, a man of the right, and Ruth Marcus, a woman of the center left. Each column pondered the high cost of American health care.

Will began with bluster and thunder. “Most Americans do want different health care,” the thundering giant announced. “They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices.” Will’s meaning was soon made clear—Americans want the advantages of modern health care at the price tag of its Model T predecessor. In this passage, a thundering giant announces why this desire is so dumb, so absurd:

WILL (6/28/09): The Hudson Institute's Betsy McCaughey writing in the American Spectator, says that in 1960 the average American household spent 53 percent of its disposable income on food, housing, energy and health care. Today the portion of income consumed by those four has barely changed—55 percent. But the health-care component has increased while the other three combined have decreased. This is partly because as societies become richer, they spend more on health care—and symphonies, universities, museums, etc.

It is also because health care is increasingly competent. When the first baby boomers, whose aging is driving health-care spending, were born in 1946, many American hospitals' principal expense was clean linen. This was long before MRIs, CAT scans and the rest of the diagnostic and therapeutic arsenal that modern medicine deploys.

Spending on health care has increased, Will condescends, because health care has gotten “increasingly competent.” We have amazing stuff now—MRIs, CAT scans, all the rest! This just isn’t your father’s health care. If you think you can get it at bargain prices, you’re just a big dumb silly dope.

Of course, they have CAT scans in Europe too. And in the year of Our Lord 2003, those European nations (and Japan) recorded per capita health care spending which went something like this:

United States: $5711
Denmark: $2743
France: $3048
Germany: $2983
Italy: $2314
Japan: $2249
United Kingdom: $2317

Just like Michael Kinsley on Friday, Will forgot to mention a salient fact. Other nations with “increasingly competent” health care spend half as much as we do!

On Friday, Kinsley somehow knew he mustn’t mention that fact, in his own column about health care costs. On Sunday, Will knew he mustn’t speak too—but then again, so did Ruth Marcus! In that same newspaper, Marcus was crazily tearing her hair, trying to figure out how we can lower our overall spending on health care. By the end of her piece, she had wandered off into the weeds—into the land of ten percent savings on minor parts of our overall system:

MARCUS (6/28/09): John Holahan and Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute, thoughtful advocates of a public option, have a new paper outlining a public plan that would pay providers either 10 or 20 percent more than Medicare rates; by contrast, private insurers now pay about 30 percent more. They argue that private insurance would not "be eradicated" under this approach—the strongest and most efficient private insurers would survive, they say—but would lower costs to compete. Consequently, the government would have to pay less in planned subsidies to help lower-income Americans obtain insurance, saving an estimated $224 billion over 10 years if prices were 20 percent more than Medicare rates and almost $400 billion if prices were at 10 percent above the Medicare level.

In the public debates of your dying society, “thoughtful advocates” look for ways to save ten percent on relatively minor parts of our system. And columnists of the left, right and center all agree to engage in a basic denial: They agree they will never mention the fact that we spend 100 percent more, per capita, than our friends across the pond.

It’s a matter of Hard Pundit Law. That basic fact cannot be stated—and everyone agrees to play along. As in climate change, so in health care—except a bit more so. Your public debate takes place in a climate of airbrushing—of almost complete denial.

Information stops at the water’s edge when to comes to our health care discussions.

When it comes to climate change, some major players are in denial. But when it comes to health care spending, denial is practiced by one and all—with a few very rare exceptions. Krugman himself discussed those remarkable spending figures in a series of columns in 2005, for example. He went there again in 2007, discussing Michael Moore’s Sicko.

By now though, even he sees “denial” in the climate debate. Not in the health care discussion.

Sorry. Modern societies can’t function this way. Your society has already started to die because of the non-rational conduct in which its elites have all agreed to engage. You got handed the last eight years in part because your liberal “leaders” practiced denial all through the 1990s, then all through the twenty-month War Against Gore. But so what? Even now, Professor Rosen remains in denial about this obvious part of our history. Glenn Greenwald stares into air and seems to agree while Jay smokes dope and blathers.

By now, our elites are almost completely non-rational. Climate change is a good example. Health spending may be the best.

Denial and Inhofe: James Inhofe is a senator, not a mere House member. He has been calling climate change a “hoax” since at least 2003. We know this in part because of Krugman, who has railed against this remarkable fact in at least six different columns. In 2006, one column was headlined, “Who’s Crazy Now?” It started like this:

KRUGMAN (5/8/06): Who’s Crazy Now?

Some people say that bizarre conspiracy theories play a disturbingly large role in current American political discourse. And they're right.

For example, many conservative politicians and pundits seem to agree with James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, who has declared that ''man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Weird though, ain’t it? Using Nexis, we can find only one glancing reference to Inhofe’s statements in any New York Times editorial. We find no sign that the Times has ever done a news report on Inhofe’s statements—or on his substantial influence.

Among modern elites, denial is quite widely found, along with its lover, avoidance.

BLUE-STATE BLOW-HARDS: Is America dying? It’s hard to be sure. But we’re clearly a land of brainless ciphers—and over the course of the past eight years, we have paid a very high price for that powerful dumbness. A modern society can’t run on dumb—and we are now dumb to the core.

More specifically, our modern elites are dumb to the core. Indeed, this may be the only fact a person can now expect to learn from reading the New York Times. Just consider the nonsense you got handed this weekend from that paper’s silly, daft columnists—blather which the paper’s readers e-mailed around at high rates.

Gail Collins grabbed our attention first, diddling herself about Mark Sanford’s love ways. By paragraph 3, the empty vessel was ready to state her premise:

COLLINS (6/27/09): Another big plus is that Governor Sanford has provided us with a chance to revisit little-remembered historical precedents for scandals involving American politicians and Argentine women.

Yay! An excuse to talk about Fanne Foxe, “the Argentine Firecracker!” Collins, of course, burst on the scene with her fatuous book, Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics. She’s been wasting our time—and rotting our souls—with her gossip obsessions ever since.

(We Irish! And Collins, nee Gleason, didn’t even grow up on the East Coast!)

Then too, we had Lady Dowd, typing some Goofus-and-Gallant-style piffle about two characters, Mark and Marco. In Dowd’s world, Sanford has made the world’s gravest mistake. He has agreed to have hot, steamy sex with someone who isn’t Maureen Dowd. (Others have paid the price for this crime over the past fifteen years.)

But for sheer unvarnished serial dumbness, Charles Blow has been emerging as a major Times leader. He may have enhanced his leadership role with his own treatment of Sanford’s crimes—in which he found three ways to assert that red-state voters as a group are just big screaming hypocrites.

On Saturday, Blow opened his column with the already hackneyed “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” jibe. (We’re all Josh Marshall now.) After that, he quoted from Sanford’s personal e-mails, diddling himself as he went. With these moves accomplished in paragraph 1, he began to lie in our faces. “I had no particular interest in rubbernecking this disaster,” the gentleman wrote.

Yeah. Sure:

BLOW (6/27/09): I had no particular interest in rubbernecking this disaster. People make mistakes. The flesh is weak, the heart disobedient and marriages hard. According to the General Social Survey, about 10 percent of married people admit that they have cheated on their spouses. And, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll taken in March last year, 54 percent of Americans say that they know someone who has been unfaithful. 'Twas ever thus.

At the end of the day, aside from the dereliction of duty and malfeasance, this, for me, would be a private matter. That is if it were not for the appalling hypocrisy of yet another social conservative saying one thing while doing another.

Sure.

Is patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels? Over on the pseudo-left, the last refuge is the one Blow has chosen. We liberals don’t care about the sex stuff at all! It’s the hypocrisy that drives us wild!

If you believe that, we’ve got a bridge to the Salem Witch Trials we might be willing to sell you.

(For the record, Republicans didn’t care about the sex either. It was the lying which made them so mad!)

Let’s review: Blow is only discussing this matter because he hates the hypocrisy. (This no doubt explains why he quoted those e-mails so fast.) As a surprise, he starts his discussion of this problem with something which borders on cogency—with an account of Sanford’s alleged hypocrisy. We wouldn’t put it this way ourselves. But at least it makes modest sense:

BLOW: Sanford voted to impeach Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky saga. According to The Post and Courier of Charleston, Sanford called Clinton's behavior ''reprehensible'' and said, ''I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally'' to resign. ''I come from the business side. ... If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he'd be gone.'' Remember that Mr. Sanford?

Surprise! This makes a dollop of sense. Sanford told Clinton to do one thing—and now, in his own case, he’s doing another! We wouldn’t waste much time on this ourselves. But at least it makes modest sense.

But you know Blow! He isn’t content to say Sanford has been hypocritical, which at least makes modest sense. As is standard at the Times, the fellow is eager to lower the boom on everyone in the other tribe. “[T]his kind of hypocrisy isn't confined to the politicians,” he grandly finds as he continues. “It permeates the electorate.” With that, Blow starts showing us how hypocritical the whole red-state electorate is.

Unfortunately, this is the New York Times. It isn’t clear that Blow even knows what “hypocrisy” means:

BLOW (continuing directly): And this kind of hypocrisy isn't confined to the politicians. It permeates the electorate. While conservatives fight to “defend” marriage from gays, they can't keep theirs together. According to the Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract, states that went Republican in November accounted for eight of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates in 2006.

Conservatives touted abstinence-only education, which was a flop, when real sex education was needed, most desperately in red states. According to 2006 data from the Guttmacher Institute, those red states accounted for eight of the 10 states with the highest teenage birthrates.

For now, we’ll skip his third example—a supremely dumb alleged example which thrilled web liberals a few months back. Let’s stop for a basic question:

Does Blow even know what “hypocrisy” means? In all candor, it’s hard to see how either of these first two examples represents a case of same.

According to Blow, it’s hypocritical when someone who opposes same-sex marriage gets divorced him- or herself. Blow fails to note that many blue-state Democratic pols oppose gay marriage and have gotten divorced. That to the side, the pundit is eager to say that this type of hypocrisy “permeates” the red-state electorate. For ourselves, we don’t quite see how this combination constitutes an act of “hypocrisy” at all. But on the modern pseudo-left, it’s fun to call the other tribe hypocrites, a point Blow makes a bit more clear as his “examples” roll on.

(Remember: Except for all the hypocrisy, Blow wouldn’t waste his time discussing this at all.)

In Blow’s second example, red-states voters are supposed to be hypocrites when they fail to adopt the type of sex education Blow himself favors. Supposedly, their “hypocrisy” can be seen when Blow notes that red-state teens give birth more often than blue-staters. Again, we have no idea why this is supposed to constitute “hypocrisy”—as opposed to, let’s say, bad judgment about the best type of sex education. But for the record, red-state teens seem to have more babies because they have fewer abortions, not because they get pregnant more often. In the very data to which Blow links, Guttmacher shows that “those red states” account for only five of the ten states with the highest teen pregnancy rates. (Just click here. Click ahead to page 12.)

Blow seems to have picked-and-chosen his data set here. After all, his graphic would have looked pretty weak if five of the ten states it featured were blue. Or were those red-staters also being “hypocritical” when they decided against abortion? By eternal laws of the clan, we’ll guess: Of course they were! (By eternal laws of the clan, the other side always lacks character.)

Blow’s third “example” is so dumb it could only appear in the Times. What newspaper except Gotham’s best would let its big stars “reason” this way? This is his third demonstration of the way hypocrisy “permeates” the red-state electorate:

BLOW (continuing directly): And, a study titled “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” that was conducted by Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor of business at Harvard Business School and published earlier this year in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that subscriptions to online pornography sites were “more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality” and in states where “more people agree that ‘I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage.’ ”

They could avoid this hypocrisy by focusing more on what happens in their own bedrooms and avoiding the trap of judging what goes on in everyone else’s.

Are there some people in the red states who profess those “old-fashioned values” while subscribing to online pornography sites? Presumably, yes—there are. If you want to call them hypocrites—Blow does!—you can take your pleasure. But how many people subscribe to these sites at all? In the red states, how many such people profess those values? Blow doesn’t have the slightest idea. Does this act of hypocrisy “permeate” the red-state electorate? Duh. We suspect we can guess the answer.

Let’s face it. Like others at his silly newspaper, Blow enjoys discussing the way hypocrisy “permeates” the other tribe. (This matches the way pseudo-conservatives talked about immoral blue-staters back in the 1990s.) Meanwhile, the pundit is dumb beyond belief. But that’s why he was asked to join this page! Dowd and Collins were already there, crying for reinforcements.

Final point: Frank Rich enjoys name-calling red-staters too. It’s fairly clear that this was part of the reason he kept beating on Gore during Campaign 2000. He kept insisting that Bush and Gore were peas in a pod—just a pair of big fake phonies. As late as 2006, he was still complaining about the fact that Gore owned a rifle when he was a child. When Gore mentioned that fact in his Oscar-winning film, he was appealing to red-state gun nuts, preparatory to his upcoming White House campaign! It showed what a big fake Gore is!

When it came to Gore’s religion and guns, Rich was the biggest gun nut of all. Bush and Gore were just alike, he kept grandly asserting. Are you happy with how that turned out? Impressed with the mental firepower of high-ranking “liberal” “elites?”