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Daily Howler: Leonhardt came amazingly close to telling us losers the truth
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ALMOST FINALLY! Leonhardt came amazingly close to telling us losers the truth: // link // print // previous // next //

Imagine all the professors: We’ve always known we were special here. But only in the past two days have we learned how special we are. To wit:

Only we don’t seem to know what happened at Professor Gates’ house. Everybody else seems to know. Only we don’t.

We can imagine various possibilities, of course. We can imagine that Office Crowley had a bad day. We can imagine that Professor Gates had a bad day. (Shocking, we know. But everyone has them.) We can imagine they had bad days together. (It happens, described as a “perfect storm.”) But in open embarrassment, we’re forced to admit it. We don’t really know what happened.

Luckily, we have professors and pundits for that. As always, our pundits all know they should say the right thing. But in the current case, even the professors have begun to chime in. We’ll suggest you consider an unconventional yet obvious framework in assessing their work.

Consider Professor Lawrence Bobo’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post. (Professor Gates has semi-ties to the Post, which owns The Root, a web site he founded.. No link is available to Bobo’s piece in the Post. For a slightly different version at The Root, just click here.)

Professor Bobo says Gates in his best friend. (That sounds like a good thing to us.) But in his column in the Post, he says many things besides:

In paragraph 2, he says Gates is “affluent.” In paragraph 5, he says Gates is “wealthy.” In that same paragraph, he says Gates is “famous.” At various other ports of call, Gates is “internationally known,” “influential,” “successful.”

(He even says that Gates “is one of the most readily recognized black men in America.” Let’s be honest: That’s a bit of a stretch.)

In Bobo’s telling, Gates is wealthy, affluent—famous, influential. Officer Crowley quite plainly is not—which forms part of a famous old American story. You can imagine that famous old story being retold as Bobo asks us to “imagine” what happened at Gates’ house last week. Key words here: “Imagine,” “maybe,” “possible.” This text is from the Post:

BOBO (7/22/09): Maybe this “situation” had something to do with Harvard University and social class. It is possible that one element of what happened here involved a policeman with working-class roots who faced an opportunity to “level the playing field” with a successful Harvard professor. But even if class mattered, it did so mostly because of how, in this situation, it was bound up with race.

Imagine: An influential man, in his own home, is ordered to step outside by a policeman. Naturally and without disrespect he asks “Why?” or perhaps “Who are you?” The officer says words to the effect, “I’m responding to a burglary report. Step outside now!”

But as Professor Bobo continues to “imagine,” he imagines this story only one way. He imagines it as it has constantly been imagined in the course of our tragic history. As he “imagines,” the account of the rich/famous/wealthy party is simply assumed to be accurate. The account of the fellow with working-class roots isn’t even described, although it exists on-line. Indeed, the wealthy fellow’s account is credited even when it doesn’t seem to make all that much sense. The working-class fellow’s account disappears—when it portrays the wealthy fellow having perhaps a bad day. (To read reports from Crowley and another officer, click here. Like Bobo, we don’t know if these reports are accurate.)

Since Professor Bobo wasn’t present that day, his account is truly remarkable. He keeps imagining what “maybe” occurred, telling us what is “possible.” As his account proceeds, the behavior of one person gets more and more noble; the behavior of the other goes the other way. But then, this story has always been imagined this way. The wealthy planter’s story has always been truthful. The account of the grimy field hand has always been tossed away.

To see a variant of this story enacted, rent and watch In the Heat of the Night. The wealthy, influential man expects belief when he tells his story, among his orchids. But Poitier/Steiger are prepared to imagine the tale in other ways.

(“They call me Mister Tibbs,” Poitier famously said. To us at the time, even more thrilling: “I ain’t no expert,” Steiger admitted.)

Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t think real highly of the professoriate, overall. In part, that’s because we’ve read some of their books—or at least, we’ve read as far into some of their books as a person can read without simply pretending. (We tend to stop at page 30.) In part, it’s because we’ve seen them refuse to intervene in our broken public affairs over the past twenty years. Professors of logic won’t intercede; nor will professors of health care (see below). On balance, we don’t think a whole lot of this group. We think even less of this gang after reading Professor Bobo’s odd essay.

It should be amazing, although it isn’t, to see a professor “imagining” this way. But friends of the wealthy, influential and famous have always imagined such stories. Throughout much of our history, this has meant that wealthy, famous, influential white people threw away the accounts of black field hands. But our society has changed a great deal in recent decades. Despite Professor Bobo’s protestation as he starts, the lordly are everywhere now.

(And, as Professor Frost once wrote, “The lovely shall be choosers.”)

We’ve read the accounts by Officer Crowley and the other policeman. We don’t know how accurate these accounts are. Nor do we know if Crowley’s “actions at the scene of this matter were consistent with his training, with the informed policies and practices of the department and with applicable legal standards,” as the Cambridge police have asserted (just click here). We don’t know what those “informed policies and practices” are. And alone among American observers, we don’t know what actually happened.

We do know perfect crap when we read it, and we know a bit of American history. We don’t know what happened at Professor Gates’ house. But we know a famous old tale when we read it. Imagined in one unflattering way, this tale has been told many times.

Tomorrow—exciting class warfare: Guess what, kids? Upper-class people, of whatever race, often have trouble respecting working-class people. (Persistently, this has harmed progressive interests.) Tomorrow, we’ll look in on Lawrence O’Donnell as he makes this comically clear. Also featured: Lady Cottle! In training to be Cokie Roberts!!

ALMOST FINALLY: As you know, it just isn’t done! But on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times, economics writer David Leonhardt came amazingly close to telling us losers the truth.

So close! Our analysts almost got to yell, “Finally!” as they read Leonhardt’s report.

Leonhardt wrote about health care reform, previewing Obama’s press conference. It took him a couples of grafs to get started. But omigod! Hide the goldfish and pets! While still on page one, he wrote this:

LEONHARDT (7/22/09): The immediate task facing Mr. Obama—in his news conference on Wednesday night and beyond—is to explain that the health care system doesn't really work the way it seems to. He won't be able to put it in such blunt terms. But he will need to explain how a typical household, one that has insurance and thinks it always will, is being harmed.

The United States now devotes one-sixth of its economy to medicine. Divvy that up, and health care will cost the typical household roughly $15,000 this year, including the often-invisible contributions by employers. That is almost twice as much as two decades ago (adjusting for inflation). It's about $6,500 more than in other rich countries, on average.

Leonhardt didn’t provide a source for his data. For our money, he cushioned the blow a bit in the way he presented those data. But if we accept his data, he is describing a remarkable situation—one we should make a bit more clear. This is the situation which obtains if we accept his figures:

Annual cost of health care, typical household:
In the United States: $15,000
In other rich countries: $8,500

That is an astounding disparity. Limn it this way: As compared with other rich countries, 43 percent of our health care spending is extra—unaccounted for. As he continues, Leonhardt describes that disparity as a “stealth $6,500 health care tax.”

You might not care about all that extra spending if we got better results. But Leonhardt grinds that notion to dust. In this passage, we see Step 2 in almost finally tattling:

LEONHARDT: In exchange for the $6,500 tax, we receive many things. We get cutting-edge research and heroic surgeries. But we also get fabulous amounts of waste—bureaucratic and medical.

One thing we don’t get is better health than other rich countries, whether it’s Canada, France, Japan or many others. In some categories, like emergency room care, this country seems to do better. In others, like chronic-disease care, it seems to do worse. “The fact that we spend all this money and don’t have better outcomes than other countries is a sign of how poorly we’re doing,” says Dr. Alan Garber of Stanford University. “We should be doing way better.”

Say what? For that phantom 43 percent of our health care spending, we don’t get better results? That’s what Leonhardt plainly says—and he even says that we get “fabulous amounts of waste” for all that extra spending. At this point, we’re getting very close to finally telling the truth.

Finally, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road—but wouldn’t you know it? As he hits Step 3, Leonhardt starts to pull his punches! Perhaps his editors intervened, understanding this world’s basic decencies. But even though he continues to tell the truth, Leonhardt largely abandons straight talk:

LEONHARDT (continuing directly): So far, no one has grabbed the mantle as the defender of the typical household—the opponent of spending that creates profits for drug companies and hospitals at no benefit to people's health and at significant cost to their finances.

Republicans have actually come out against doing research into which procedures improve health. Blue Dog Democrats oppose wasteful spending but until recently have not been specific. Liberals rely on the wishful idea—yet to be supported by evidence—that more preventive care will reduce spending. The American Medical Association, not surprisingly, endorses this notion of doing more care in the name of less care.

Mr. Obama says many of the right things. Yet the White House has not yet shown that it's willing to fight the necessary fights. Remember: the $6,500 tax benefits someone. And that someone has a lobbyist. The lobbyist even has an argument about how he is acting in your interest.

These lobbyists, who include big names like Dick Armey and Richard Gephardt, have succeeded in persuading Congress to write bills with a rather clever feature. They include some of the ideas that would cut costs—but defang them.

Suddenly, Leonhardt tiptoes a bit. If you read carefully, you can see what he has said—but the strongest word he uses is “lobbyist.” Let us explain what he has said in lingo which is more direct:

LEONHARDT/TALKING STRAIGHT: In part through the work of big-name lobbyists, big corporate interests are draining away vast amounts of the public’s money. They’re creating profits for drug companies and hospitals at no benefit to people's health. Sometimes, these profits are giant. Where is that gigantic “health care tax” going?

That money is being looted.

In the end, Leonhardt didn’t quite tell you the truth. But until the fear of God crept into his prose, he managed to come damn close.

Now, let’s talk about other people who haven’t told you the truth. Here are some other people who haven’t told the public, over all these years, that corporate interests are looting vast amounts of American health care spending:

  • The polite career liberals at your “liberal journals” haven’t told the public that. (Who is the person who has spoken straight? Go ahead! Name him or her!) Instead, they nervously stand in line, praying for a job at the Post. (Has Joan Walsh ever told you that? Has she assigned writers to tell you?)
  • Josh and Rachel haven’t told you that. In recent weeks, they have been selling you sexsexsexsex. And hunting down new investors.
  • Democratic party politicians haven’t told you that; they work quite hard to avoid such language. To borrow what Leonhardt said of Obama, some “say many of the right things.” But let’s get real: They really haven’t told you the truth.
  • Most recently, Harold Meyerson hasn’t told you that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/09). Just reread that weak-kneed barrel of crap he published in the Post on that same Wednesday morning. You’re being massively looted, by large corporate interests. Go ahead. Point to the spot where this fiery progressive remembered to tell readers that.

Think hard! Can you name a single time when the “liberal intellectual world” stood up on its hind legs and told the public the truth: Vast amounts of your health care spending are being looted by big corporate interests. When they laid out the data, and insisted you look? When they demanded that Democrats answer? By the way: Major Dems are constrained in what they can say in part because the “intellectual world” makes no effort to create an angry framework of public understanding.

Can you name a single time? We can. Paul Krugman tried in 2006, in a series of columns. (As always, ignored.) Michael Moore tried in 2007. (Rejected by mainstream pundits—too fat.) Who else has tried to tell it straight, perhaps a bit loudly and impolitely? Go ahead! List all their names!

(And by the way: When did Stanford’s Professor Garber stand up and tell it loud and straight? Can’t he get an op-ed column published? Has he ever tried? Using Nexis, we find no sign that he ever succeeded. As we said above: On balance, we’re unimpressed with the work of our finest professors. People are dead all over the world because they love to hold back.)

Rubes! On page one of yesterday’s New York Times, Leonhardt came amazingly close to telling us losers the truth! But over the course of the past fifteen years, almost no one has ever told the truth about the matter he was discussing. Do you mind if we tell you why that is:

In recent eyears, many liberals have come to see that our “mainstream journalists” are actually neither. But most of our “liberal intellectual leaders” are Potemkin players too. They play progressives on TV. As a result, this country has almost no progressive politics.

People like Meyerson—and some wealthy professors—sit close to Lady Weymouth’s fine table.

What the Post accepts: The Post would ignore that $6500. This morning, the paper’s highly cultured ladies and gentlemen offer this thought about the costs of health care:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (7/23/09): For those who worry about the government's plunge into a sea of red ink—and every American should worry—there are at least three reasons that the health-care reform bills working their way through Congress add to the concern.

The first is that Congress might approve a costly new entitlement, guaranteeing health care for all or most Americans, without paying for it, or by paying for it in gimmicky ways that over time do not meet the cost. The second [concern] is that Congress will fail to seize this opportunity to reduce the rate of growth in health-care spending, which is a chief driver of America's slide toward bankruptcy. The third is that Congress will pay for reform with revenue from tax hikes that might have been used to reduce the fiscal deficit, making deficit reduction that much harder.

The Post wants to “reduce the rate of growth in health-care spending.” That “$6500 tax” is therefore assumed. The Post is defending the baseline today. It wants to slow growth from there.

The paper is being quite lordly today. That looting? It’s simply assumed.