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THIS IS YOUR PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT ON DRUGS! No, it isn’t Obama’s fault. But good lord! What a strange goal! // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2009

Lord O’Donnell assesses his lessers: Murky incidents make for bad discussions—especially when our pundit class starts working its will on the stew.

In part, we refer to the bumbling discussion about Professor Gates in the first ten minutes of today’s Morning Joe. Good God, these people are awful! The panel still believed that the incident started when Gates’ “neighbor” failed to recognize Gates; this puzzling fact seemed to add to the sense that some racial component had driven the unfortunate incident. (The person who reported the incident lives in Malden, Mass., several towns away. She works at Harvard Magazine, whose offices are near Gates’ house.) More comically, Professor Gates’ age is now creeping up, as our hapless pundit class seeks to give the incident additional bathos. This morning, Harold Ford and Carlos Watson both described Gates as “sixty-something years old;” the professor is actually 58. But our pundits will always change the facts to suit the interests of narrative.

Shades of the famous “21-year-old-intern,” who was neither 21, nor an intern, during her affair with Bill Clinton. (The years they carved off Monica’s age are now being reapplied!) Meanwhile, the cosmically hapless Michael Kinsley refers to the “neighbor” in today’s column. And why not! This person has even become a “neighbor” in the Post’s front-page “news report!” More foolishly, Krissah Thompson reports something Professor Gates allegedly said, “according to a police report quoted in the Boston Globe.” Good God. The police report has been on-line since Day One (just click here). As of this morning’s first edition, the Post still hadn’t heard!

(This pitiful groaner has been removed from the Post’s on-line report.)

Jesus, these people are awful! It’s never good for the society—for public understanding—when they start “discussing” some incident. It isn’t just that the pundits weren’t present to see what occurred between Crowley and Gates—two men with excellent reputations. In accord with their High Pundit Values, they refuse to get even the simplest facts straight. It’s just not allowed in their culture.

In their culture, knowing a fact is considered a sign of great weakness.

This brings us to last night’s Maddow Show, when Rachel invited Melissa Harris-Lacewell to explain what this incident means. Rachel began by complaining that the incident is being used to distract attention from the health care debate; it never occurred to her or her guest that this may be happening, in any small part, because of any possible unwise behavior by President Obama, by Professor Gates, or by any other known liberal. “Republicans cling to strategy of racism,” says the synopsis at the Maddow Show web site. On-air, the segment ran beneath this rubric: “RACE CARD TRICK.” But was it possible that anyone on the liberal side had perhaps, through some small human flaw, applied an unfair or unwise racial lens? Such ludicrous thoughts are never allowed in such hackish precincts.

Unfortunately, the situation may be worse than the well-scripted pundit pair said. Many voters are now being told, on talk radio, that Barack Obama thinks cops are stupid—that he went after the cop on Wednesday night, just as his side went after the firefighter (Frank Ricci) a week before. As voters are told these things, some will trust Obama less—and some support will erode for his health care proposal. This is very bad for progressive interests. But in hackish preserves like the Maddow Show, no one will dream that Gates, or Obama, or any known liberal could be less than completely correct.

Was Obama perhaps unfair to Crowley in his remarks Wednesday night? We’d have to say it’s a possibility; if other liberals could imagine such things, progressive interests might sometimes be served. But lordly liberals rose up this week, telling us that Professor Gates is wealthy, affluent, famous, influential—and that working-class Crowley just isn’t (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/09). But then, such acts of class condescension have a long history in pseudo-lib circles. We pseudo-liberals have hurt our interests in such ways for years.

As we told you yesterday: Upper-class people often have a hard time respecting working-class people. When upper-class “liberals” behave this way, it can cost Democrats votes. And this sort of thing is common among us—though many liberals simply can’t see it, even when it’s right under our noses. For a somewhat comical minor example, consider Lord O’Donnell’s outing on Countdown last Thursday night.

O’Donnell is modern High Liberal Royalty—and we have the defeats to prove it. In October 2000, he was still aggressively trashing Gore on The McLaughlin Group, dreaming up “lies” Gore plainly hadn’t told. (He did this from the “liberal” chair.) Four years later, he melted down on MSNBC as he tried to debate John O’Neill, head of the Swift Boat Vets. It was clear that O’Donnell wasn’t prepared to argue the facts of the case with O’Neill; members of his lordly class simply don’t prepare. As his high class typically does, he tried to compensate by shouting insults. O’Neill looked sane by comparison—and MSNBC pretty much booted O’Donnell off the air.

George Bush won the election.

Last week, O’Donnell appeared with guest host David Shuster, discussing the Sotomayor hearings. Frank Ricci had testified that day, and the conversation went there. Whatever you think of the Ricci decision, O’Donnell’s presentation was wonderfully foolish. If you didn’t care about political outcomes, this would just be good solid fun:

SHUSTER (7/16/09): Firefighter Frank Ricci admitted he could not comment on anything requiring legal expertise—I suppose nor should we expect him to be able to. But what does it tell us about the Republican’s case against Sotomayor when this was their star witness?

O’DONNELL: Yes. Look, he wasn’t there in any sense to testify against her. They brought him in there for show. He told his story in a very articulate way. He was a very sympathetic witness.

There was another Hispanic firefighter who told a similar story—and this was the only time that they got to tell their stories. And so, it was actually quite an important moment for them in a way provided by Sonia Sotomayor. This—if she had not been the nominee, they never would have gotten to tell their stories and, oh, by the way, the Supreme Court would have ruled in their favor, anyway.

I mean, the end of their story is that the system worked very, very much in their favor, and Republicans have been trying to use them as an example of the system working against people. The Republicans forget that these guys won the case in the end.

That would be high entertainment—if the condescension involved in such matters didn’t leach out through the electorate, harming progressive interests.

Let’s skip the silly condescension in that second paragraph, when Ricci is supposed to be grateful to Sotomayor for the chance to tell his story. (For the record: Sotomayor has been respectful of Ricci and his interests throughout, although she ruled against him. Last Thursday, Ricci returned the favor.) The higher clownishness comes at the end, when O’Donnell rhapsodizes about the way “the system worked very, very much” in lucky-duck Ricci’s favor. “The Republicans forget that these guys won the case in the end,” his lordship stirringly declared. But uh-oh! Before he “won his case in the end,” Ricci lost five years of leadership experience—and presumably, five years of enhanced pay. But O’Donnell’s a major Hollywood man. Such thoughts didn’t seem to occur.

Trust us: Such thoughts occur to others. Sotomayor is a more thoughtful person than this; these thoughts most likely occurred to her when she and her fellow judges said they sympathized with Ricci’s situation, even as they ruled against him. And such thoughts occur to working stiffs who watch our high lords on TV. They understand the tone of our condescension and our reflexive putdowns. They will—and do—take their business elsewhere. And yes, this costs health reform votes.

No, that wasn’t Professor Gates’ neighbor. No, he isn’t sixty-something. And yes, Professor Gates may imaginably have had a bad day, as almost everyone does at some point. Imaginably, he may have been rude and unfair to the cop who does in fact risk his life every time he walks up onto the front porch of somebody’s home. (Imaginably, Crowley may have been rude to Gates.) Professor Gates isn’t tall, the clowns have all said. Sometimes, short people have guns.

Crowley, and others like him, know that. They factor it into their wider assessments. People who are rich, influential and famous—and their sycophants and friends—sometimes imaginably don’t.

Question: Did you think about five years of lost pay when you saw our lord make that assessment?

Lawrence O’Donnell’s a High Modern Liberal. We have the defeats to prove it.

THIS IS YOUR PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT ON DRUGS: We’re with Krugman all the way, even when he’s possibly somewhat wrong. That said, we do think that he’s somewhat wrong in his important column this morning.

Krugman’s column is important because it explains the need “to control health care costs”—and because it explains the ways a health reform bill might do that. It explains these things rather clearly.

But we think he’s wrong when he says Obama “was especially good” on this topic in Wednesday night’s press conference. On the front page of this same New York Times, Kevin Sack speaks with some average Americans—and they express profound confusion about things Obama said.

Their confusion isn’t necessarily Obama’s fault—and a news report like Sack’s is inherently “anecdotal.” But we’ll guess that many people who watched Obama are confused, like the people in Sack’s report. Just a guess: Krugman may have thought Obama was clear because he already knew the material. Indeed, Krugman almost suggested as much in this real-time post.

We’ll guess that many people who watched Obama are confused, like Sack’s examples. Why are average people confused? What are they confused about? Before we review one part of Obama’s presentation, consider the reaction of Craig Brown, “a 36-year-old father of four who lives in an Atlanta suburb.” According to Sack, Brown reacted “sardonically” to one of Obama’s central claims:

SACK (7/2409): Mr. Obama acknowledged the spectrum of concerns during Wednesday’s news conference.

“I understand that people are feeling uncertain about this,” he said. “They feel anxious, partly because we’ve just become so cynical about what government can accomplish.” He said he understood that people might prefer the devil they know.

But the president’s expression of empathy provided scant comfort to the Browns. They still did not feel they were getting straight talk, as when Mr. Obama responded to a question about what Americans would have to sacrifice.

“He said they’re going to have to give up paying for things they don’t need, and that was an awesome answer for a politician,” Mr. Brown said sardonically. “You mean I don’t have to give up anything I already have?”

Brown is a Jamaican-immigrant citizen; he and his wife supported McCain. Some of us will stop listening there, showing devotion to eternal defeat. But Sack cites other people—Obama supporters—who say they’re confused and puzzled too. That isn’t necessarily the presdient’s fault. But we don’t think he explained things as well as Krugman does in his column.

Why is Brown so sardonic about the thought of getting something for nothing? Perhaps because no one has ever told him how much looting—or some such word—exists in the current system. After all, most of our fiery “liberal leaders” are too dainty for expositions like that. Many pray for jobs at the Washington Post—the kind of job that will make mommy proud. And a young lady or gentleman must remain decorous—politically presentable—for such a great thing to occur.

At any rate, consider part of Obama’s presentation at Wednesday evening’s conference. If Brown is sardonic about something for nothing, it may be because of Obama’s weak presentation about the current looting of the system. (Sorry. About the current waste.) In response to the evening’s first question, Obama in part said this:

OBAMA (7/22/09): Right now, premiums for families that have health insurance have doubled over the last 10 years. They've gone up three times faster than wages. So what we know is that if the current trends continue, more and more families are going to lose health care, more and more families are going to be in a position where they keep their health care but it takes a bigger bite out of their budget. Employers are going to put more and more of the costs on the employees or they're just going to stop providing health care altogether.

We also know that, with health care inflation on the curve that it's on, we are guaranteed to see Medicare and Medicaid basically break the federal budget. And we know that we're spending on average—we here in the United States are spending about $6000 more than other advanced countries where they're just as healthy. And I've said this before—if you found out that your neighbor had gotten the same car for $6000 less, you'd want to figure out how to get that deal. And that's what reform is all about: How can we make sure that we are getting the best bang for our health care dollar?

Interesting! Obama said insurance premiums have rocketed upward. And then he went where rubber meets road. But Krugman’s comments notwithstanding, he expressed himself unclearly, and fleetingly, as he did. And he would soon make matters worse.

“We know that we're spending on average—we here in the United States, are spending about $6000 more than other advanced countries where they're just as healthy,” Obama said. Presumably, he meant $6000 per family per year; displaying an unfortunate lack of clarity, Obama didn’t explain what he meant, and so we don’t really know. (Trust us: Brown has no idea.) Much more significantly, he moved on quickly from that remarkable statistic, failing to help people like Brown understand what it means. Our president didn’t invite the Browns to ponder the gigantic amount of waste involved in that unexplained statistic. Nor did he try to explain where all that wasted money was going.

Guess what, people? If Citizen Brown actually understood how much of his money is being wasted, perhaps he would be less “sardonic” when he’s told that a good chunk of change can be saved in the manner Obama described. If he understood the gigantic total amount of waste, he might not roll his eyes so fast at thoughts of something for nothing. (He’ll never learn about this from Rachel. She talks about sexsexsexraceracebaseball.) But very few people have ever told people like Brown how much of their money is being looted—and oh, how our “intellectual leaders” try to avoid such bad words! In the past fifteen years, our “liberal leaders” have made little attempt to explain this matter to people like Brown. Brown therefore reacts “sardonically” when he hears his president’s pitch.

People like Brown have never been told about that massive looting. They’ve never been told that they should be angry about the gigantic total amount of waste. They’ve never been told how much that $6000 (per family?) adds up to. On Wednesday night, they weren’t even told what that $6000 meant. And needless to say, they’ve never been told where all that money is going—into whose pockets that loot disappears. Once again, Obama failed to tell them these things in his presentation on Wednesday.

A bit later, Obama returned to that $6000. (Again, he failed to explain the statistic.) When he did, he gave you an unforgettable look at your progressive movement on drugs.

This is what the president said about that massive looting—about the massive extra spending for which we get no return:

OBAMA: One of the things that doesn't get talked about is the fact that when premiums are going up and the costs to employers are going up, that's money that could be going into people's wages and incomes. And over the last decade we basically saw middle-class families, their incomes and wages flat-lined. Part of the reason is because health care costs are gobbling that up.

And that's why I say, if we can—even if we don't reduce our health care costs by the $6000 that we're paying more than any other country on earth, if we just reduced it by $2000 or $3000, that would mean money in people's pockets. And that's possible to do.

Truly, that was a stunning remark. Go ahead—read it again! That’s the statement which might be described as your progressive movement on drugs.

Once again, Obama failed to explain what that $6000 is. (We assume it’s the annual difference in per-family health care spending.) But as Obama sketched a “possible” goal for the nation, you saw your movement on drugs.

Just note Obama’s goal—good God! Just look where your nation is going!

At present, $6000 per family is being drained from the health care system. We are paying that much extra per family per year; as Obama noted, we’re getting nothing for it! And what does Obama think we can do? Good God! He says we maybe can work it down by two or three thousand dollars!

Obama’s goal: Let’s reach the point where we’re only spending four thousand more than everyone else! Let’s reach the point where only four thousand dollars are being looted from Brown!

In that astounding remark, you see the fruit of twenty years of pseudo-liberal lethargy. No, it isn’t Obama’s fault that our “liberal leaders” are neither—that they’ve long been Potemkin players. It isn’t Obama’s fault that your “liberal journals” have fiddled and diddled—that no one has ever hammered the meaning of those remarkable data about American health care spending.

No, this isn’t Obama’s fault—he arrived on the scene quite late. But right there, in that astounding remark, you se the fruit of all that lethargy. You see the fruit of allowing a corporate toy like Kinsley to define our progressive horizons.

Please, oh please, Obama told Brown. Let’s dream of the day when your beautiful family is wasting four thousand dollars per years! No, it isn’t Obama’s fault that our discourse is in such a clownish state. But in these moments, you see why Brown is “sardonic” about other things that get said.

And, despite Krugman’s halcyon view, you see your movement on drugs.

Krugman’s presentation is quite clear today. Obama’s presentation seemed less crisp to us. Meanwhile, Brown’s family is being looted by six thousand bucks. Beseeching the gods, our president prays: Let’s get it down to just four!

Let’s dream of the day when each family spends $4000 more than is needed—so we can protect the interests. When we dream a dream like that, we’re dreaming our great dream on drugs.