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WORST DUMB OAF IN THE WORLD! Chris Matthews remains a very dumb oaf. Why does Joan Walsh love him? // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, AUGUST 22, 2009

Charles Krauthammer’s hammer-and-scythe: Last Friday, Charles Krauthammer wrote an informative column about the costs of preventive health care (click here). We’re not sure if a rebuttal exists. But his column seemed to raise good questions and make a significant point.

Yesterday, Charles got off to a very good start, though things would slide way downhill from there. For the record, Krauthammer rarely has good things to say about Sarah Palin. Including its headline, this was the start of his column:

KRAUTHAMMER (8/21/09): The Truth About Death Counseling

Let's see if we can have a reasoned discussion about end-of-life counseling.

We might start by asking Sarah Palin to leave the room. I've got nothing against her. She's a remarkable political talent. But there are no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills, and to say that there are is to debase the debate.

There are no death panels in the Dem health-care bills! Sarah Palin has debased the debate! In our view, these are accurate claims, although we’d be much harder on Palin—and Grassley, and Hannity, and Boehner. (We’d be disinclined to insult the regular people who believe the disgraceful claims they’ve pimped all over the land.) But Charles had a bit more greatness in him this day. His boxed sub-headline said this (in part) about the provision in the House bill which inspired the “death panel” deception: “It’s not an outrage. It’s surely not a death panel.”

Charles was off to a very good start—but things slid way downhill from there. How do you keep an outrageous claim alive, even as you flatly state that the claim in question is bogus? Charles Lane displayed this skill in his own Post op-ed piece on this subject (see THE DAILY HOWLER. 8/8/09). Thirteen days later, Charles Deuxieme simply rewrote Lane’s column.

Does Fred Hiatt ever get tired of putting this crap into print?

There are no “death panels,” Krauthammer said. But then, things slide downhill fast. As he continues, Krauthammer says the House provision in question “create[s] an incentive” for doctors to give “end-of-life counseling” to patients. But this is already a fairly large stretch. As “incentives” go in this life, this one would be remarkably small.

What does the bill in question provide? Every five years, a doctor could be reimbursed—at Medicare rates—for counseling a patient about her future choices as she nears the end of her life. For most doctors, that would presumably represent a very minor financial “incentive.” But if this is an incentive at all, it’s only an incentive to hold that discussion. In no way has Charles explained why the doctor who held that discussion would have an incentive to urge hospice care, rather than ongoing medical treatment. But Krauthammer, like Lane before him, wants to suggest that doctors will put their thumbs on the scale—will urge an early end to life. This is the start of a very weak attempt to support this claim:

KRAUTHAMMER: What do you think such a chat would be like? Do you think the doctor will go on and on about the fantastic new million-dollar high-tech gizmo that can prolong the patient's otherwise hopeless condition for another six months? Or do you think he's going to talk about—as the bill specifically spells out—hospice care and palliative care and other ways of letting go of life?

Presumably, the doctor will “talk about hospice care and palliative care;” citizens of Medicare age deserve to be told about such possibilities. But Krauthammer plainly wants to suggest that doctors will favor such a choice—although he offers no apparent reason to believe such a thing. Will the doctor go on and on about that “fantastic new high-tech gizmo?” Loaded language to the side, the doctor should discuss those sorts of choices too; ideally, a doctor will simply inform patients about the various options which lie ahead, without trying to exert inappropriate influence. But Krauthammer openly mocks the idea that a doctor could imaginably favor the high-tech gizmo approach to end of life care. We have no idea why that’s obvious.

We have been told, again and again, that fee-for-service medical practice leads to a lot of unnecessary care. Mightn’t some doctor have an incentive to put those high-tech gizmos to work? Not in the world of this stupid column, which simply smoothes the sloppy “reasoning” pimped out by the errand-boy Lane just two weeks before.

Charles Lane, Danielle Allen, Kathleen Parker, now Krauthammer: Will Fred Hiatt ever stop printing these weakly-reasoned, fear-pimping columns?

And yes, this piece pimps fear about these matters, even after announcing that Palin has debased our world. At the end, Charles goes ahead and debases it too. The inflammatory language in this closing paragraph comes straight outta Lane:

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not an outrage. It's surely not a death panel. But it is subtle pressure applied by society through your doctor. And when you include it in a health-care reform whose major objective is to bend the cost curve downward, you have to be a fool or a knave to deny that it's intended to gently point the patient in a certain direction, toward the corner of the sickroom where stands a ghostly figure, scythe in hand, offering release.

“It’s surely not a death panel,” readers are told. It’s just an attempt to steer a senior toward “a ghostly figure, scythe in hand!” But then, a certain errand boy made the same play in his earlier column. Having denounced the death panel claim as “rubbish,” he was soon hauling out inflammatory language too:

LANE (8/8/09): Patients may refuse [such counseling] without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority. Once they're in the meeting, the bill does permit “formulation” of a plug-pulling order right then and there.

Simply put, that’s repulsive language—from a trusty errand boy. Might a patient choose palliative care? On Lane’s fevered key-board, that choice quickly gets transformed into “formulation of a plug-pulling order.” It takes a rather fevered brain to reinvent the world that way. Or a well-trained errand boy, which is what Lane has always been, ever since he failed to blow the whistle on his future employer in the late 1990s.

Why do Dems and liberals lose the spin wars? Three interlocutors asked Steve Perlstein that very important question last week; we’ll start a discussion on Monday. But these twinned columns by Lane and Krauthammer show the sophistication that exists in pseudo-conservative messaging. On the front line, repulsive figures like Palin and Grassley will directly tell seniors about “death panels”—and many unsophisticated people will believe their repulsive claims. But inside the mahogany walls of the Washington Post, a different play will occur. Errand boys will spread the same language and imagery—even after grandly noting that the scare claim in question is bogus.

Why would a doctor have an incentive to push his patients toward that scythe? Two errand boys forgot to say in a pair of weak-minded columns. But why do liberals lose the spin wars? Why do liberals keep getting defeated by blatant falsehoods? Start here: The other side features very sophisticated messaging. They’ve been actively developing their techniques and frameworks over the past forty years.

On the other hand, your side features a bunch of people calling the voters a string of bad names. Why does our side lose these wars? Gee! Can’t begin to say!

WORST DUMB OAF IN THE WORLD: Chris Matthews is a survivor.

In the mid- and late 1990s, few journalists did more damage to progressive interests, or to the Democratic Party—more specifically, to both the Clintons, then to Candidate Gore. During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, Matthews and Ceci Connolly did the most, among all journalists, to send George Bush to the White House. (And yes—it took a lot to top the list of journalists savaging Gore.) Matthews was deeply dishonest—almost viral in his loathing of Gore. And it’s hard not to notice a certain fact: At the time, NBC News was in the hands of GE corporate titan Jack Welch, a conservative Republican near-billionaire boss. Matthews, and others at NBC, seemed to behave accordingly.

As his reward, the puppy-dog Matthews was allowed to buy a $4.4 million home on Nantucket—was thus permitted to summer with Jack! Once in a while, Jack would throw him a tasty treat. It’s how your “press corps” functions.

Let us repeat: No journalist did more to put Bush in the White House. No one did it in an uglier manner.

Today, MSNBC carries a different political profile, and Matthews has largely accomplished the flip. He isn’t as reliably liberal as Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz, along with whom he covers exactly half the channel’s weekday programming. (During the week, these four hosts are on the air from 5 PM Eastern until 5AM the next day.) But Matthews has largely adjusted to his channel’s new flow. Most comically, he is now an outsized advocate of Hillary Clinton’s vast astonishing greatness, after gender-trashing her incessantly for roughly a dozen years. (For a taste of Matthews’ astonishing work in December 1999, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/08. Candidate Clinton survived this remarkable trashing. By the very tiniest whisker, Candidate Gore did not.)

Matthews plays on your team now. But he remains an unprepared deferential clown, as he showed when Tom DeLay stopped by to play Hardball on Wednesday. On Thursday, Keith Olbermann criticized DeLay’s gruesome clowning this night. For our money, Matthews was worse.

At issue was the question of Barack Obama’s American birth. Lazy and unprepared as always, Matthews decided to ask DeLay if he was a birther. Unfortunately, DeLay came prepared to compete—and Matthews seemed to have no idea how to react, even though he himself had introduced the topic. This was the start of their exchange. Sorry, no link. As of our posting, MSNBC hadn’t posted any transcripts since August 13:

MATTHEWS (8/19/09): Let me ask you this. You keep skipping over this birther thing. A half dozen members of what was your delegation—in fact, you built that [Texas] delegation. You built that Republican stronghold down there. Culberson, people like that, they are birthers. They raised the question of the president’s legitimacy. By the way, the implication they draw is this guy ought to be picked up, because he was never naturalized, and therefore, he’s in the country illegally. Where are you on that one?

DELAY: I would like the president to produce his birth certificate, yes. I can. I can. Most illegal aliens here in America can. Why can’t the president of the United States produce a birth certificate?

Uh-oh! The Hammer wasn’t deferring. Needless to say, an unprepared, deferential clown like Matthews wouldn’t know how to react.

Of course, Obama has produced a birth certificate, the only type his state releases. You’d think that Matthews might have known or even said this, after all these months. But as usual, he was caught out, clueless and unprepared—or perhaps, just deferential. DeLay will appear on Dancing with the Stars—but Matthews was now stepping backwards:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Are you actively seeking that paper? Do you want him to produce—are you Tom Delay, with your political and professional and career history in the United States government, questioning this man’s bona fides?

DELAY: No, no.

MATTHEWS: You’re questioning it. You want to see his paper!

DELAY: Chris, the Constitution of the United States specifically says—

MATTHEWS: I know it.

DELAY: —you have to be a natural-born citizen.

If Matthews gets any dumber, Bill Wolff will have to dress him each day. Most likely, he already does.

DeLay hung tough all through the segment—on a topic Matthews initiated. Let’s note two points about Matthews’ effort.

First, Matthews has been spouting that blather for months about how “they want him picked up because he’s in the country illegally.” We know! He’s arguing on Obama’s side when he says this, but this whole construct is monumentally stupid. Guess what, dumb-ass? If an American woman gives birth in some other country, her baby is still an American citizen! She doesn’t have to leave her baby in France when she returns to the states. Her baby might not be a “natural-born” citizen in the manner required of presidents—but the baby would be a citizen. Almost anyone with two IQ points to rub would understand this simple fact. But Matthews got this stupid riff in his head a long time ago, and he’ll never drop it.

Second, note a more significant fact: Even at this very late date, Matthews doesn’t know what to say when someone like DeLay says he “would like the president to produce his birth certificate.”

Wednesday’s discussion—which Matthews initiated—went on for a rather long time. (To watch it, just click here.) DeLay kept suggesting that Obama hasn’t produced a birth certificate; Matthews kept back-pedaling, flailing and floundering. Two possibilities: He didn’t dare challenge DeLay in the rough way he will treat lesser Republicans. Or he didn’t understand the basic, bone-simple facts. Here’s one example of Matthews’ brilliance in the face of his dogged pursuer:

DELAY: Will you do me a favor? Will you ask the president to show me his gift certificate? I mean—his gift certificate! His birth certificate!

MATTHEWS: No, I’m not going to ask him, because I don’t get to ask him. You want me to go up to the president and say, “Can I see your papers, sir,” like he’s an illegal alien? I want to see if he has a right to be in the country or not? When I’ve seen—here’s what I’ve seen. I’ve seen a Honolulu newspaper announcing his birth in Hawaii. I`ve seen that.

DELAY: A newspaper?

MATTHEWS: Do you think they cooked up that newspaper announcement back in 1961? Do you think they cooked it up so that he could some day be president?

DELAY: Is a newspaper article an official document?

MATTHEWS: Do you think they cooked it up?

The man is so dumb he squeaks. It wasn’t until the very end of the very long exchange that Matthews—the person who raised the topic—finally choked out this:

DELAY: There isn’t anybody in America that’s been born in America that didn’t get a birth certificate at Obama’s age. Now, maybe at my age, there are people born—

MATTHEWS: All I know is, they gave us the document that was made available to anybody in Hawaii who asked for a birth certificate. That document they give you. That’s all I know. OK?

“That’s all I know,” the big oaf finally said. And no. That isn’t OK.

Matthews largely plays on our team now. But it would be hard to overstate the harm he has done to his country over the past fifteen years. He name-called Gore for two solid years, thus making NBC ownership happy; shortly after 9/11, he went on Imus and even said that Gore “doesn’t look like one of us/doesn’t seem very American, even.” (Astounding.) His nasty attacks on Hillary Clinton went on and on and on. He is paid five millions dollars a year—and rarely knows what he’s talking about, as he seemed to show again with Delay (unless he was just deferring). It’s beneath his status to read a few posts (for example, this Politifact post) so he’ll actually know what to say when he raises a point with DeLay, and DeLay starts running the rubes.

Let’s repeat: Matthews raised this topic, not DeLay. DeLay then kicked his ass.

What allows the other side to rule the messaging wars? Why can they spread any claim they want, no matter how blatantly crazy? Just read through Wednesday’s transcript if it ever appears. In part, it’s easy to spread crazy claims because of house boys like Matthews.

Luckily, Chris has a lot of very good friends in the business. Indeed, the analysts ran to their tiny bathroom and gagged a few minutes later on Wednesday’s program! Chris was asking if Barney Frank overdid it a bit this week. Joan Walsh, kissing up-not-down, told Chris, You’ve got a friend:

MATTHEWS (8/19/09): He doesn’t want to argue with a dining room table! Joan! Is this the way Democrats should approach their critics on health care?

WALSH: You know, I just have to say, God bless Barney Frank. I know he lost his temper. I know he lost his cool. But he’s a hero to a lot of liberals, Chris. We believe in debate. We believe in dialogue. You and I have disagreed over the years. We still come back as friends. We still come at it.

The analysts covered their mouths and ran. But alas! Very few of them made it.

Joan has always covered for Chris—and he has given her a seat at the table. Salon’s readers never had to encounter the truth about his long reign of appalling misconduct. Did Joan have her eye on that Hardball spot? We don’t have the slightest idea. But the analysts blew major chunks this week when she fawned, kissed, smooched, purred and pandered.

Next week, we’ll be asking how liberals keep losing debates. This would be one of the obvious ways. By the way: Tony Blankley is the most honorable Republicans Lord Lawrence O’Donnell knows!

How does membership work at these levels? On Thursday, Joan was back on Hardball. Let us translate what follows a tad: On this evening, Chris made Joan an official member of the NBC East Coast Irish Catholic Clan, the one which began under Welch.

How did it happen? Joan said that Republicans are snubbing Tom Ridge “by sending their spokes people, their butlers, their man-servants out to smack him.” There was nothing wrong with what Joan said—but on this show, it got her knighted:

MATTHEWS: Walsh, I love it when you don’t like somebody! You accuse them of being British!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You accuse them of having a butler! That’s your ultimate put-down, you know, you—You guy with a butler!

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: Oh, lots of people have butlers.

MATTHEWS: I know how you think!

The analysts began to gag again! This time, they ran outdoors.

It isn’t Joan’s fault that Chris reacted in that typically ludicrous fashion. But in candor, Joan has been keister-kissing for quite a few years now. On Thursday night, she was dubbed Official NBC Irish—a member of the Official Welch Clan. I know how you think, Chris exclaimed, applying his brain-dead us-and-them Brits framework.

We grew up East Coast Irish Catholic ourselves. But that Welch clan did astonishing damage to your interests in earlier years.

Salon readers never got to read the truth about Chris Matthews’ disgraceful misconduct. We have no idea why that is, of course. But it certainly helps us answer a question: Why does our side lose the spin wars? Why have we been losing these wars for such a great number of years?