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THE SILENCE OF THE PSEUDO-LIBERAL! Why are we losing the health care debate? Consider the silence of friends: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 21, 2009

Goofus and Gallant kick up and kick down: Should liberals and progressives kick up or kick down? Today’s New York Times gives a choice.

This front-page report by Kevin Sack gives us a chance to kick down.

You see, Sack has found a gang of tea-baggers, holed up in a Florida seniors community. Their names are cited, along with their ages. Let’s skip lifelong Democrat Shirley Scrop, 76. Instead, let’s go straight to Hal Goldman:

SACK (8/21/09): Hal Goldman, 79, who retired 22 years ago from Sears, Roebuck & Company, echoed that sentiment.

“What they’re trying to do—Obama is—is take from the senior citizens and give to the poor and the illegal immigrants,” Mr. Goldman said. “It’s hurting the senior citizens who worked all their lives. Because of their age, like in Canada, you’ll have to wait six months for an M.R.I.”

In fact, the health care bills circulating in Congress would not extend coverage to illegal immigrants...

Sack quotes many tea-baggers saying such things, including lifelong Democrat Scrop. Surely, our leaders will want to get on a plane, go to Florida, and tell these wing-nuts they’re “crazy.” We’ll want them to know that “the crazy tree blooms” in each of their tea-bagging statements. It would be a case of soft bigotry if we declined to do that!

Sorry! In our view, that’s what Goofus would probably do! Gallant looks for ways to correct their misapprehensions without calling them long strings of names. Because guess what? This is exactly what people are like! This country is full of voters who have inaccurate beliefs. Except among their “elitist liberal betters,” this is known as the human condition.

Goofus wants to name-call Goldman, thereby “kicking down.” By way of contrast, Gallant wants to name-call Robert Pear today, for his deeply unfortunate companion piece to Sack’s front-page report.

Pear has been a major scribe at the Times for quite a long time. He’s a major, big-deal, much-admired reporter. But today’s report is truly appalling. Here’s the headline and opening paragraph:

PEAR (8/21/09): A Basis Is Seen for Some Health Plan Fears Among the Elderly

WASHINGTON—White House officials and Democrats in Congress say the fears of older Americans about possible rationing of health care are based on myths and falsehoods. But Medicare beneficiaries and insurance counselors say the concerns are not entirely irrational.

Huh! According to that opening paragraph, “insurance counselors” (whoever they are) say that fears about possible rationing of health care “are not entirely irrational.” Read literally, that’s an extremely narrow claim—but in the current environment, the claim packs quite a wallop. But uh-oh! In his entire report, Pear quotes lots of average-Joe “Medicare beneficiaries” voicing lots of fears—but he seems to cite only one person with professional expertise! That lonely figure appears in paragraph 22 of his 26-graf report:

PEAR: Medicare officials recently proposed changes that could increase payments for some primary care services but reduce payments to many specialists. Cardiologists would be especially hard hit, with cuts of more than 20 percent in payments for electrocardiograms and 12 percent for heart stent procedures.

“Cuts of this magnitude could cripple cardiology practices and threaten access to services for millions of patients,” said Dr. John C. Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology.

Is Lewin right? He certainly could be. (Lewin donated to Obama last year, to Kerry in 2004. Not part of the Lewin Group.) But Pear’s headline and opening claim are amazingly poorly supported. Under that headline, he lists many fears of average-Joe seniors—and only one statement from an expert. Apparently, when Pear referred to “insurance counselors,” he meant people like this:

PEAR: Carol H. Carter, a spokeswoman for LIFE Senior Services in Tulsa, Okla., a nonprofit group, said she and her colleagues had been deluged with questions from Medicare beneficiaries.

Much of the concern results from “fear of the unknown,” Ms. Carter said, adding: “Getting specific information about the proposals and what they mean is really hard. Seniors don’t trust the government to carry it off.”

Is that the logic of this piece? These seniors’ fears “are not entirely irrational” because “getting specific information about the proposals is really hard?”

Pear’s report is shockingly lazy. This is extremely bad work.

Back to our choices. Gallant might kick up, at Pear. Goofus might choose to kick down, at those seniors. After all, Goofus may have his career to consider. When leaders kick up at people like Pear, their viability in the system can dissipate.

Special report: Pure madness!

Be sure to read each thrilling installment: Our discussion of health care often seems like pure madness. Why not read each report?

PART 1: Whistling Dixie, Gawande’s team threw out the foreign experience. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/09.

PART 2: CNN reported an astonishing fact—in just over 300 words. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/09 .

PART 3: Kitty Pilgrim dreams of the day when Lou will hear what she’s said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/09.

Today, we consider the way the career liberal world has helped this pure madness to spread.

PART 4—THE SILENCE OF THE PSEUDO-LIBERAL: Watching your nation discuss health care is often like watching pure madness. In significant part, the groaning problem has been enabled and caused by your career liberal friends.

Very quickly, consider something which happened during Campaign 2000.

In that campaign, the Washington press corps was staging a long, aggressive war against Candidate Gore. It was their last shot at President Clinton, against whom they felt vast outrage. (Sally Quinn had described this “sense of outrage” among “Establishment Washington” in great detail, in an historic 1998 report.) How bad was this twenty-month war against Gore? In August 2000, lucky duckies got to find out. If they lived in London, that is.

The unsigned report was called, “Tale of two press corps.” One excerpt:

FINANCIAL TIMES (8/17/00): [T]he Gore media, for all its experience, sometimes appears to step over the line in its pursuit of critical coverage.

At the heart of the press corps are three reporters, known to their politically-incorrect colleagues as the "Spice Girls". The three are perhaps the most influential reporters on the Gore campaign, having covered the vice-president almost without break this year: Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post, Katharine Seelye of The New York Times and Sandra Sobieraj of the Associated Press. They can also be the most hostile to the campaign, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate and his team.

Really? The lead reporters for the Washington Post and the New York Times were “doing little to hide their contempt for” your candidate? That statement was profoundly accurate, of course. And you were allowed to read about this—if you lived in London, that is. (For our initial report on this piece, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/6/00.)

Londoners were allowed to know about the war against Gore. But uh-oh! On this side of the pond, your “liberal journals” and career liberal journalists largely kept their traps shut. For the most part, American citizens weren’t permitted to know the essential fact conveyed in that excerpt. Self-dealing boys and girls of the “liberal press” worried about future (or current) employment. In this press corps, you lose your career if you tell too much truth. You’re just not a Serious Person.

Go ahead. Ask Josh to show you what he wrote. (After that, ask E. J. Dionne—or Gene Robinson. After that, Frankly, ask Rich.) Two years later, Josh was still writing, in two liberal journals, that Candidate Gore had enjoyed “seemingly every advantage” during the campaign. “The only problem appeared to be the voters,” he absurdly wrote. It soon became clear that Josh knew better; he ran on TV to make this accurate statement: “I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore...You know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this.” We have no idea why he wrote that other flim-flam. Though we could guess, of course.

But so too with American health care! Consider this statement by Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in a Washington Post news report written by Lori Montgomery. Snowe is one of three Republican senators in the Gang of Six:

MONTGOMERY (8/20/09): Snowe, who is being courted by administration officials, said she told Obama in a White House meeting this month that he should take a more "practical approach" toward reform legislation that "doesn't so transform the system that it undercuts what is best about our existing health-care system."

"If there's anything we've learned during the course of this August recess," Snowe said in a telephone interview Wednesday, "it's that there are many people who are satisfied with their health insurance. And that's important. And we want to make sure it stays that way.”

Many people are satisfied with their current insurance! This fact has been widely confirmed in polling; in large part, this fact is shaping our current debate. But why are those people so satisfied? Could it be because they’ve never heard this? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/09:

PILGRIM (8/11/09): Universal health care, state of the art technology, complete free choice of doctors and hospitals. In some ways, the health care system of Switzerland looks ideal. Many lawmakers and academics, including Professor Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton, have studied the Swiss system.

REINHARDT (videotape): It's a first-rate system, virtually universal coverage, with very high quality care.

PILGRIM: Everyone in Switzerland has to buy health insurance on their own. And there are about 60 different insurance companies to choose from. Premiums run between $6000 and $7000 a year for a typical family.

Say what? The Swiss are running a first-rate system—and that’s what their premiums cost? Let’s state the obvious: In part, Americans are satisfied with their own coverage because they’ve never heard that.

In large part, Americans have never heard such things because of the silence of “liberals.” These careerists are movin’ on up in the system. They have to be Serious People.

Go ahead! Name the “liberal journal,” or the career liberal journalist, who has screamed and yelled and shouted and exclaimed about the truly remarkable way our health care spending is looted. You can’t really grasp the extent of this looting until you consider the foreign experience—and good solid Serious Career Liberal Thinkers will typically avoid doing that. Go ahead! Name the liberal journal, or the career liberal journalist, who has helped the public know about—consider the meaning of—these truly astonishing data:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
Switzerland: $4417
France: $3601
United Kingdom: $2992
Average of OECD developed nations: $2964
Italy: $2686
Japan: $2581

To anyone with an ounce of sense, it’s obvious what those data mean. A real progressive would scream and yell about those remarkable data. But in the career liberal world, all is silent. We’ve been silent for the past fifteen years—since the last time we failed.

(Note: Paul Krugman discussed similar data in a series of columns in 2006. Michael Moore discussed this situation in 2007, in Sicko. But go ahead: Name the liberal journal, or the career liberal journalist, who used the work of Krugman or Moore as a springboard to a long, shrill discussion. Which of our liberals did that?)

People are happy with their current insurance for a fairly obvious reason: They don’t know how badly they’re being looted! In part, they don’t know that basic fact because our career liberals simply won’t tell them. “We’re not Europe,” Serious People write. And that has largely been that.

But uh-oh! Things are getting so crazy these days that glimmers about these facts have seeped into the mainstream press corps. Huzzah! In this morning’s New York Times, London-based Sarah Lyall even discusses an editorial composed—where else?—across the pond:

LYALL (8/21/09): Arguments against the [British] health service by Republicans overlook the fact that while it costs half as much per person as the American system costs, “it delivers results which are on some plausible measures actually superior,” The Economist said in a stern editorial. “And it does this while avoiding the disgrace that so shames America, of leaving around 46 million people, some 15 percent of its population, without any form of health insurance.”

[...]

[British] commentators continue to be amazed at what, in their minds, is an irresponsible distortion of the argument by people from across the Atlantic.

“If American politicians peddle falsehoods about what goes on in other countries,” The Economist wrote, “Americans are correspondingly less likely to appreciate the extent to which they are being let down.”

To read the full Economist editorial, just click here.

In those passages, Lyall captures the familiar shape of our American discourse. For decades, Republicans have peddled a string of familiar claims (described by The Economist as “falsehoods”) about the shape of world health care. We all know what these talking-points are; they come from the side of American politics which actually tries to win. American health care is the best in the world! And: “Socialized medicine” has failed everywhere it’s been tried! And: In England, [insert scare story here!] Republican pols, and conservative talkers, have peddled these claims for decades now. The boys and girls at our liberal journals seem to know that they daren’t push back.

In England, commentators are “amazed” by all the distortions. In America, the distortions roll off our liberal backs! And American citizens aren’t amazed; instead, they’re happy with their insurance! They simply don’t know the things they don’t know. More specifically, they don’t know how much of what they hear is bogus. Our side never quite tells them.

The voters don’t know they’re being looted! Who would dare say such a shrill thing? For such reasons, health reform fails.

Simple story: Watching your nation discuss health care is not unlike watching an illness in bloom. The illness in question is mental, of course; the discussion often resembles pure madness. But make no mistake: Even as we call those tea-baggers dumb, we liberals have long been played by our “leaders!” They refused to tell you the truth in 1999 and 2000. For the past fifteen years, they have refused to sound too shrill about the way your health spending gets looted.

Go ahead—look at those data. Few voters ever do.

We liberals like to parade about, telling the world about our vast brilliance. For decades, though, our health care discussion has been quite familiar. Sound-bites from the other side fill the air; on our side, little push-back occurs. And how strange! Despite our self-admitted brilliance, we giants just swallow this down.