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LAZY BOY! “I love to confuse people,” Matthews said. Speaking with Moore, he proved it: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2007

O’REILLY SOUTH: We’ll admit it—we’re not big fans of the Post’s Dana Milbank. This morning, he helps us see why.

The savant is discussing Cindy Sheehan’s recent threat to run for the House. According to Milbank, Sheehan “plans to announce that she will run against Nancy Pelosi in next year's congressional election because the House speaker won't pursue impeaching Bush.” Milbank than offers these deathless pensees. Try to decipher the logic:
MILBANK (7/24/07): Sheehan's return to the workforce has come with occupational hazards. The left-wing Daily Kos Web site banned her postings because of her challenge to Pelosi. Britain's Guardian newspaper, which has a large antiwar following, ran an article titled "The epic narcissism of Cindy Sheehan.”
The Daily Kos is a “left-wing site,” Milbank says, echoing Mr. O—Bill O’Reilly.

Go ahead—just try to decipher that paragraph’s logic. According to Milbank, a “left-wing” site in angry at Sheehan—because she thinks Pelosi’s a weak-willed centrist! No, that doesn’t make much sense. And yet, this is you, the poet said.

Mr. O has thundered for weeks about the “left-wing,” KKK-like site. This morning, Milbank sweetly echoes, reciting a point that the mainstream press loves. Tonight, of course, he’ll be on Countdown, shaping his words a different way. Tonight, the gent will be carefully saying the things we libs love to hear.

LAZY BOY: It would be hard to be less prepared than Chris Matthews was for last evening’s Hardball. Matthews devoted the hour to Michael Moore, with questions from an open-air audience. And no—he wasn’t prepared.

Matthews said that he had just seen Moore’s superlative new film, Sicko. But alas! He began with ten minutes of scattershot, sometimes silly, questions about the politics of health care. Then, he dragged an attractive young conservative woman out of the crowd and peppered her, for the next three minutes, with a series of questions she was unprepared to answer. “I love confusing people,” Matthews said, as he released his pleasing young foil and finished his opening segment. From that point on, he let his audience ask the questions, producing a disjointed, largely uninformative hour about Sicko—and American health care.

Great work if you can get it! What would you guess—he spent five minutes preparing for his hour with Moore? But so it goes as multimillionaire journos pretend to explore the era’s defining issues. So it goes as Nantucket nabobs pretend to discuss your real lives.

As it happened, we’d just seen Sicko for the second time (Sunday night). This second viewing left us with an unflattering thought about CNN’s Sanjay Gupta—and with a bit of frustration about the brilliant Moore.

Sanjay Gupta—the doctor was spINning. Our respect for Gupta plummeted further as we re-watched Sicko. On the July 10 Larry King Live, Gupta worked hard to make viewers think that Moore had misled Sicko viewers. In particular, Gupta complained about Moore’s claim that health care is “free” in Canada, England and France. This claim disguises the fact that taxes pay for those nations’ health systems, he kept insisting.

Sorry. Moore visits all three countries in his film—and in each segment, it’s made quite clear, in conversation, that taxes pay for their health systems. We’d guess that most viewers know that coming in. But if they don’t, it’s clearly spelled out at least three times in Sicko. Did Gupta ever see the film? For ourselves, we won’t trust another word Gupta ever says after re-watching Moore’s film.

Michael Moore—in search of Paul Krugman. We were glad we saw Sicko again; it truly is a brilliant presentation. But Moore’s great strengths have always been his humor, his capacity for human empathy, and his skill at seeing Big Pictures. As we watched last evening’s Hardball, we were frustrated by one of his weaknesses.

Simply put, Moore can sometimes be a bit weak with basic statistical talking-points. Aarrgh! On Hardball, the disjointed conversation occasionally touched on a basic question: Should we have single-payer health care in the United States? But the most remarkable fact to emerge from the Sicko debate was never voiced by Moore last night. Here it is, once again, as we found it in a recent Paul Krugman column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/9/07):
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result—but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.

Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.
Let’s make sure we understand that remarkable, highlighted point. According to the World Health Organization, the British health system is substantially better than our own. (Sicko makes this claim anecdotally—and quite convincingly.) The WHO ranked the Brits 18th in the world in its latest rankings; the US system ranked 37th. But according to Krugman, the Brits obtain that superior system while spending only 40 percent as much per person! That is a truly astonishing fact. It was absent from last evening’s Hardball.

To see how amazing that fact really is, apply the same construct to cars.

Imagine that Consumer Reports said that some Japanese car was substantially better than its American counterpart. But then imagine this as well—imagine that the superior Japanese car only cost forty percent as much as its American counterpart. (The US car would cost $20,000. The better car would cost only $8,000.) Would anybody in the US buy the more expensive, inferior car? GM could stop producing it now. Presumably, no one would buy it.

This same situation obtains with health care. But last night, nobody said so. No one told Hardball’s audience.

As we noted a few weeks ago, that factoid from Krugman is simply astounding. But Moore is better with human stories and cosmic ironies than with statistics and sound-bites. He should never discuss this subject without presenting that basic comparison. But the factoid is absent from his film—and it was absent from last evening’s Hardball. What might that young conservative woman have thought if she’d been told that the Brits have a better health system—achieved at forty percent of the cost? We’ll never know, because no one told her.

We wish that Moore had offered this factoid in Sicko—and on last evening’s Hardball. But then, Moore is a humorist and a big-picture man; Matthews is the multimillionaire journalist. But wouldn’t you know it? He seemed to have spent about ten seconds preparing himself for last night’s program—and so, he didn’t raise this basic point either. Instead, he gave us a look at his soul. “I love to confuse people,” he weirdly said, as he sent that bright young woman back into his audience.

Mission accomplished! But so it goes when Jack Welch’s “Lost Boys” pretend to discuss the proles’ lives.

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT CITING IT: Review that basic point once more. Then, commit it to memory. We’ll offer a long chunk:
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result—but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.

Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.

Yes, Canadians wait longer than insured Americans for elective surgery. But over all, the average Canadian's access to health care is as good as that of the average insured American—and much better than that of uninsured Americans, many of whom never receive needed care at all.

And the French manage to provide arguably the best health care in the world, without significant waiting lists of any kind. There's a scene in ''Sicko'' in which expatriate Americans in Paris praise the French system. According to the hard data they're not romanticizing. It really is that good.
The Brits spends 40 percent as much as we do—and they have a better health system! Vow that you won’t behave like Matthews. Vow that you’ll mention those facts.