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Daily Howler: The liberal world will remain a big joke--as long as Big Rich is in charge
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FRANKLY, HE’S LIKE LUCY! The liberal world will remain a big joke—as long as Big Rich is in charge: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 20, 2009

Krugman and Broder and looting and power: On Friday, Paul Krugman wrote an important column about the reconsolidation of Wall Street’s wealth and power—a process our top progressive stars will tiptoe away from discussing. Too dull!

Before looking at Krugman’s column, let’s consider David Broder’s piece in Sunday’s Post.

Broder examines a significant question: Do emerging congressional health care proposals address the problem of health care costs? Unfortunately, Broder mixes a bunch of apples and oranges before his discussion is done.

He starts by wondering if congressional bills “meet Obama’s criteria—expanding health insurance coverage...[without] adding to the budget deficit.” Soon, though, he is quoting CBO head Doug Elmendorf, who is discussing something different; Elmendorf says that none of the bills would “reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.” (A bill could increase federal health spending without adding to the deficit.) Before long, Ken Thorpe was quoted, complaining that the bills do nothing to “reduce private insurance premiums”—a different consideration altogether.

By the end, Broder is speaking in general terms about the general problem of “medical inflation.” He cites “bipartisan voter support for an agenda emphasizing cost containment more than insuring the uninsured.”

What exactly are we trying to do? By the end of Broder’s column, it wasn’t all that clear. But there’s one thing no one had done in his piece. Neither Broder, nor any of his experts, had addressed the baseline of health care spending found in our current debate.

In our ongoing debate, we hear lots of talk about “bending the curve”—“reducing the trajectory” of health care spending. But when we try to “reduce the trajectory” of health care spending—when we address the problem of “escalating” or “rising” costs—we are essentially trying to slow the growth of current spending. We’re trying to “contain” our costs, not reduce them. This means we’re essentially accepting the current baseline—the baseline from which those health care costs are escalating/rising so fast.

As such, Broder was defending the baseline—the ludicrous baseline which shows Americans spending twice as much on health care, per person, as our peers in other developed nations. But that astoundingly high current baseline is built around corporate looting. Our current discussion almost always seems to accept that looting as a given. We would slow the rate of growth from there. We rarely hear any talk about rolling the looting back.

This brings us back to Krugman’s important column.

Krugman wrote about the way Wall Street is trying to reconsolidate its gigantic power. Goldman Sachs has already returned to “ma[king] profits by playing the rest of us for suckers,” he writes. “And Wall Streeters have every incentive to keep playing that kind of game.” This will lead to “an even bigger financial disaster a few years down the road,” Krugman predicts—unless strong regulations are put in place by the current Congress. Groan! “The next crisis could look something like the savings-and-loan mess of the 1980s, in which deregulated banks gambled with, or in some cases stole, taxpayers’ money—except that it would involve the financial industry as a whole.”

That’s what could happen, Krugman says—unless Congress enacts strong regulations. Our question: Given the way current politics works, does anyone with an ounce of sense think that’s likely to happen?

Go read Krugman’s column, which discusses the way Wall Street is trying to loot you—again. But people! Similar looting by big corporate power explains our ludicrous health care baseline! Why do we spend twice as much as others? Because big corporate power is currently looting there too!

We don’t mean to single out Broder. Our entire discussion about health care costs is built around defense of the baseline. Krugman’s column teaches a lesson on power. But power is ruling your lives—and it’s quire rare when anyone comments.

As these various “heists” unfold, Naomi Klein and Eliot Spitzer have been dumped from progressive TV. Our progressive stars have a better idea. They’re going to let you eat sex.

FRANKLY, HE’S LIKE LUCY: Pundits have gamboled, clowned and played in response to last week’s Senate hearings. A good culture war makes an excellent stage for defining a pundit’s brand.

Case in point: Few columnists have ever reinvented themselves as thoroughly as Kathleen Parker has. In yesterday’s Post, she continued to crab-walk away from discarded friends on the right. With a fair degree of regularity, Parker—a member of the permanent majority—now overstates on your side.

Parker started yesterday’s column by complaining that “women are treated differently than men” in these confirmation hearings. That may well be true—or not. But by paragraph 5, she was offering a very weak example:

PARKER (7/19/09): Senators also hammered Sotomayor about her ethnic identification and whether she could rule fairly without undue influence from her gender or political preferences. Wait, let me guess, you're white guys! Are we to infer that men of European descent are never unduly influenced by their own ethnicity, gender or political preferences? Can anyone affirm this assertion with a straight face?

Please. Samuel Alito, a Supreme Court justice, is a man of European descent. When his confirmation hearings occurred, he was asked a long string of high-profile questions about his “gender (and political) preferences,” dating back to his days as a Princeton student. This topic, of course, was completely appropriate, whatever one thought of individual questions. But then, the same was true of last week’s focus on Sotomayor’s speeches.

Parker has recently grown a new skin. Her overstatements now tilt to the teensy-bit-left-of-center, rather than to the teensy-bit-right. To all appearances, this has been a good business decision for Parker. But we sometimes lose our straight faces when reading The New Parker’s columns. (Yesterday, she had her thumb on several scales. A South Carolinian, she avoided naming Lindsey Graham, the author of some of the questioning which she correctly challenged.)

But then, a tremendous amount of silly piffle has spewed from last week’s hearings. That said, no one wrote a sillier single paragraph than Imus’ buddy, Frank Rich. Rich whined and cried and tore his hair when his brilliant pal Imus was removed from the air. But he loves to thunder about those who lack his own exquisite sensitivity about matters concerning race.

Rich can spot a racist every time—unless he has a big radio show! The progressive world is deeply handicapped by such “intellectual leaders.”

At any rate, Rich’s exquisite sensitivity gave us the silliest single paragraph from last week’s parade of pap. Frankly, you just have to stop and laugh when someone types something like this:

RICH (7/19/09): The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At least they didn’t refer to “Maria Sotomayor” as had Mike Huckabee, whose sole knowledge of Latinos apparently derives from “West Side Story.” But when Tom Coburn of Oklahoma merrily joked to Sotomayor that “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do,” it clearly didn’t occur to him that such mindless condescension helps explain why the fastest-growing demographic group in the nation is bolting his party.

Coburn wouldn’t know that behind the fictional caricature Ricky Ricardo was the innovative and brilliant Cuban-American show-business mogul Desi Arnaz. As Lucie Arnaz, his and Lucille Ball’s daughter, told me last week, it always seemed unfair to her that those laughing at her father’s English usually lacked his fluency in two languages.

Rich, who wept and cried for darling Imus even after he’d slimed those young Rutgers women, can spot a racist every time. Currently, he knows why Huckabee misstated Sotomayor’s first name (as it happens, her middle name is “Maria”); he can even discern what Coburn knows about Ricky Ricardo. Mainly, Rich was eager to keen and wail about Coburn’s outrageous statement last Wednesday—about the “mindless condescension” it revealed. (Later, Rich thunders about “the gall of [Coburn’s] repeatedly lecturing Sotomayor last week on the ‘proper role’ of judges.”)

As readers may know, we think Rich is a fool—a pompous, dishonest fool at that. Perhaps for that reason, we let the analysts laugh out loud at his citation of Lucie Arnaz—who may have made perfectly sensible comments when Rich phoned her up, not the comment he ended up pimping:

Too funny! It always seemed unfair to her that those laughing at her father’s English usually lacked his fluency in two languages? People! Did anyone laugh at her father’s English any more than her mother did? As everyone knows, Lucy laughing at Ricky’s English was one of I Love Lucy’s most standard bits! (That’s why the phrase in question from last week is part of modern vernacular.) But so what? By the end of the week, Rich was so full of high-minded rage that this thought apparently slipped his mind. Whatever one thinks of Coburn’s comment, that passage by Rich is thoroughly clownish.

And yes: Rather than talk about any real issues which may have emerged from last week’s hearings, Rich instead telephoned poor Arnaz, so eager was he to zero in on Coburn’s outrageous misconduct.

Typical Rich. He has engaged in this nonsense for decades—most consequentially, in ways which savaged progressive (and world) interests during Campaign 2000.

For ourselves, we wouldn’t have said what Coburn said, in that one fleeting moment. But then, we wouldn’t have keened and wailed about it, and we wouldn’t presume to know that it offered a window into the soul. That iconic statement by Ricky Ricardo is now a part of standard speech; we wouldn’t have said it to Sotomayor, but we have no earthly idea whether Coburn meant it as a mark of “condescension.” But then, we’ve actually watched Coburn’s full session with Sotomayor—and we’ve read the whole transcript. And so, we know what actually happened when Coburn conducted this thirty-minute session: The pair engaged in a respectful colloquy, from which Rich pulled his favorite three seconds. But then, Rich used to play these games with Clinton, then Gore. In the process, he helped changed the world..

If you have a half-hour to invest in understanding your culture, we’d suggest that you spend it watching Coburn interview Sotomayor last Wednesday. (It starts around 1:05 of this C-Span tape.) Coburn asks sensible questions throughout; Sotomayor gives sensible answers. The pair are thoroughly collegial throughout; nobody gets or gives any “lectures.” We know, we know—we pseudo-liberals love to stage high-minded expressions of High Racial Outrage. But we do recommend that half-hour session, a session which starts off like this:

COBURN (7/15/09): Welcome, again, and— But first of all, let me apologize to you because I was not able to hear, although I got to read some of your testimony yesterday. We have a schedule that says we must finish health care within a certain time. Whether we get it right or wrong, we've got to get it done in a certain time. And so I was involved with that, and I apologize.

Number two is, I apologize to you for the outbursts that have occurred in this committee. Anybody who values life like I do and who's pro-life recognizes that the way you change minds is not yell at people, is you love them, and you care about their concerns and you [word inaudible] them to a level of understanding, not condemnation. And so for that, I apologize. I admire your composure. And I thank the chairman and the ranking member for the way they handled that as well.

Anyone could see the mindless condescension—the lectures, the gall—which would soon emerge.

Let us repeat: Coburn asked sensible questions throughout. Sotomayor gave sensible answers. No one “lectured” anyone—and Sotomayor was given the chance to offer several long answers. The pair were completely good-natured—collegial. But Rich is a pseudo-liberal hack; he will always seek the three seconds which lets him thunder against preferred bigots.

He will then get on the phone, questioning people about I Love Lucy. In this way, we remain very dumb.

Poor Rich! He was thoughtful when Darling Imus called those young Rutgers women every name in the book. Shades of gray were found! But then, Don Imus had a big radio show. Coburn pretty much doesn’t.

On TV, Lucy played the fool. Rich is a good deal like that.

Shades of gray were found: Funny that! Rich managed to find many shades of gray when Imus insulted those young Rutgers women. This is the way his column began that Sunday morning:

RICH (4/15/07): Everybody Hates Don Imus

Familiar as I am with the warp speed of media, I was still taken aback by the velocity of Don Imus's fall after he uttered an indefensible racist and sexist slur about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Even in that short span, there's been an astounding display of hypocrisy, sanctimony and self-congratulation from nearly every side of the debate, starting with Al Sharpton, who has yet to apologize for his leading role in the Tawana Brawley case, the 1980s racial melee prompted by unproven charges much like those that soiled the Duke lacrosse players.

It's possible that the only people in this whole sorry story who are not hypocrites are the Rutgers teammates and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer. And perhaps even Don Imus himself, who, while talking way too much about black people he has known and ill children he has helped, took full responsibility for his own catastrophic remarks and didn't try to blame the ensuing media lynching on the press, bloggers or YouTube. Unlike Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington, to take just three entertainers who have recently delivered loud religious, racial or sexual slurs, Imus didn't hire a P.R. crisis manager and ostentatiously enter rehab or undergo psychiatric counseling. ''I dished it out for a long time,'' he said on his show last week, ''and now it's my time to take it.''

Among the hypocrites surrounding Imus, I'll include myself. I've been a guest on his show many times since he first invited me in the early 1990s, when I was a theater critic. I've almost always considered him among the smarter and more authentic conversationalists I've encountered as an interviewee. As a book author, I could always use the publicity.

Even now, Rich wouldn’t stop lying, calling Imus “smart.” As always in a column by Rich, everyone he disliked was a hypocrite—starting, of course, with Al Sharpton.

Only Darling Don wasn’t a hypocrite! As this column proceeded, shades of gray were found!

It’s funny how Rich can find shades of gray—if you have a big radio program. But Rich has been a fool for decades. In the 1990s, he played the fool about Clinton and Gore—and helped send Bush to the White House. And good God. Even after Gore’s Oscar-winning film appeared in 2006, he was still trashing Gore as the world’s biggest phony—on Darling Don’s program, of course. But then, the conversation there was always so smart.

Who knows? As a book author, maybe he felt he could use the publicity.

Rich is a thundering cosmic fool, though pseudo-liberals will never accept this. In yesterday’s column, he complained about the right-wing’s agenda after the Gingrich revolution. Question: Did anyone buy their claims about Clinton, then Gore, more consequentially than this big dope did?

The liberal world will remain a big joke—as long as Big Rich is in charge.