Sad but seemingly true: On reflection, we tend to agree with David Brooks. We dont mean this as a criticism of Obama, who may have made a rational calculation of possibilities, as Brooks suggests. But wed be inclined to agree with this overall assessment:
BROOKS (9/11/09): In short, the president can read the polls just like anybody else. He has apparently recognized the need to pull back to get something passed. He is, characteristically, trying to rise above old divisions in search of a pragmatic sweet spot. He has opened up many opportunities for intelligent Republicans and moderate Democrats to constructively offer amendments to improve the bill and bring it closer to fiscal sanity.
Which is not to say that this is effective health reform. The only risible parts of the speech came when Obama said that parts of the system work (they dont; theyre unsustainable) and when he said he would be the last president to take on health care (we still await a president willing to take on fundamental perversities in the system).
For whatever reason, President Obama has decided not to be that president. He has decided to expand the current system, not fix it. His speech on Wednesday, and the coming legislative changes, make it much more likely he will achieve his goal.
It isnt Obamas fault or doing. No president could take on fundamental perversities in the system unless his party, and his political movement, had laid the groundwork for such action. And Obamas party and political movement have long agreed not to confront those fundamental perversities, or the Big Corporate Interests which drive them. Obama may be making a sensible judgment about what is politically possible. But the looting of our system is a vast jokea fundamental perversity. We havent seen any sign that these reform plans confront that.
The kid stays in the pictureand The Interests remain at the table. We thought of that when we read this news report about the way Joe Wilsons constituents are supporting him in the wake of Wednesday evenings outburst. At the end of his report, Robbie Brown quotes one constituent about her familys lapsed health coverage. We quote from our hard-copy Times:
BROWN (9/11/09): Mr. Wilson hit a nerve on the issue of illegal immigration. Even South Carolina supporters of a health care overhaul expressed concern about extending coverage to illegal immigrants. [Susan Wahl, 41] accused Latino newcomers of worsening crime in Swansea.
''And now they want health care,'' she said.
Until recently, Ms. Wahl said, she and her husband paid $1,000 per month for the family's health insurance, but then the cost became too great.
Now, she said, ''we're without insurance, and I do think some folks should get government health care. But they have to be American.
Put aside the question of immigration. We wondered: Does Wahl have any idea how much of that premium may have represented a form of looting? Put it another way: Does she know how low that premium might have been if her country spent as much for health care, per person, as comparable nations spend? Comparable nation with similar health outcomes?
Lets guess, using the miracle of ratios and proportions:
If we spent like the French or the Germans, that premium might have been around $480 per month. If we spent like the Brits, it might have been around $410. Like the Italians or the Japanese? Perhaps slightly less than that.
Those countries have similar outcomes.
The Democratic Party has never told Wahl anything dimly resembling that. For both major parties, the corporate interests remain at the tableand people like Wahl dont get told.
Wheres all that extra money going? Big newspapers almost never discuss that. You live inside a corporate democracy. Most major sectors have agreed on the rules: We wont even notice that those fundamental perversities exist!
Having watched our leaders roll over and die, we liberals then sneer at Wahl for her tea-bagging dim-wittedness. As our analysts frequently say: People! Look whos talking!
Special report: Enabling the (un)real McCoys!
BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: A race of hacks now rules the land. But how do they survive?
PART 1: Gail Wilensky and Betsy McCaughey present a punishing contrast. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/09.
PART 2: A race of fakes now rules the end. Just look at McCaugheys slippery letter. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/9/09.
PART 3: Its been a very good couple of decades for pseudo-con hacks like McCaughey. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/09.
Now, for our thrilling conclusion:
PART 4WHAT DAVID SAID: Obama said this Wednesday night: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false.
Rep. Joe Wilson then hollered, You lie!
In this mornings New York Times, a letter writer imagines sweet justice. But does he understand the broken discourse of the past twenty years?
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (9/11/09): It would have been audacious but, nevertheless, a teaching moment had President Obama called Representative Joe Wilson, who heckled him during his address to Congress, to the well, like a teacher calling an errant child to the front of the class, asked him his name, asked him what state he came from, asked him to repeat his remark, asked him to explain why he called him a liar, straightened him out, then told him to sit down.
New York, Sept. 10, 2009
Careful, Rosenthal! the analysts cried. Be careful what you wish for! As the Times explains in todays editorial, Illegal immigration is an all-purpose policy explosivea dangerous place to venture. The people who sold the nation death panels are now selling the claim that Joe Wilson was rude, but correct on the merits. Democrats are backing away from the good solid spanking the writer imagines because they know danger lurks there.
Had Obama asked this errant fellow to explain why he called him a liar, trust us: Wilson could have convinced millions of voters that he was right, and Obama was wrong. The other side works from very strong frameworks. And lets be candid here: Your side doesnt.
Your nation ran on murder lists in the 1990s. It was running on death panels just last month. In a nation with such a cockeyed discourse, you have to be extremely careful what conversations you wish for.
But then, its been a very good couple of decades for pseudo-conservative dissemblers. Put aside the charge of lying, a tricky charge Obama made just moments before Wilson did. On the facts and on the merits, theres more for conservatives to work with here than in many earlier episodes. When Rosenthal dreams of Wilsons comeuppance, well suggest he may not understand how poorly our discourse works.
Why dont voters understand the shape of our broken discourse? In part, because mainstream journalistsand liberal punditshave long agreed not to tell them. The return of misleader-in-chief Betsy McCaughey has given pundits the perfect chance to tell this sad and remarkable story. But the Washington Post has essentially passed on the opportunityand so have liberal columnists and cable pundits! If we wont tell the story ourselves, how will the public understand?
Good God! McCaughey misled the nation about Clintons health planand then did the same damn thing this year to Obamas plan! Its the perfect framework for telling the public about the way our discourse now works. There they go again! we could say. Theyve been doing thisto youfor the past twenty years!
But liberal pundits, and mainstream journalists, have long agreed to avoid this story. Theyve maintained their silence in the past few weeks, even when offered given perfect chances to tell the actual story.
Just consider what happened on Hardball.
Mike Barnicle was guest-hosting on Tuesday night. All during the Clinton-Gore years, he pimped every manner of anti-Dem bullshit, trying hard to keep pace with Chris Matthews, the man Jack Welch made rich. (Career liberals wanted to play Hardball too. So they never tattled.)
Barnicle played the fool for years. But now, after last weeks school speech nonsense, the guest host was just really puzzled:
BARNICLE (9/8/09): Pat, we were speaking earlierChuck Todd was on earlier from the White House, and I told him that I have been amazed at the furor that has developed over President Obama`s speech today to students, high school and some grammar school students, basically saying, Do your homework, wash your hands so you don`t get the flu, respect your parents, respect your teachers and respect yourself.
What is going on? What is the deal here?
Frankly, Barnicle was puzzled. He had sat through the Clinton murder lists and the bogus, invented Gore lies. He had begged for the Florida recount to stop because his grandchildren couldnt take any more. He had seen McCaughey make up shit about Clintons health planand then, about Obamas plan too. He had seen Chuck Grassley go home last month and treat Iowa voters like fools. But somehow, this school speech thing just had him puzzled! The guest host had no earthly idea where this foolishness came from!
In that presentation, you were handed the fruits of willed amnesia, by a cable hack/hustler. Was the reaction to Obamas school speech crazier than those murder lists? Crazier than all those probes into Who Killed Vince Foster? To be honest, noit wasnt. This type of nonsense has been the rule in our discourse, for decades. But people like Barnicle know to pretend.
But omigod! Harsh justice awaited! David Corn was on Barnicles panel this night! Surely, David would tell him!
Here at THE HOWLER, the analysts love this particular pundit, whom they simply call Uncle Corn. They all edged forward on their chairs. Surely, their uncle would say something accurate. Like this:
UNCLE CORN/IMAGINED: I have no idea why youre surprised by this, Mike. Dude! This sort of thing has been the norm in our politics for decades. Leaders of the conservative movement made up endless nonsense about President Clintondo you remember those murder lists? All those crazy pseudo-investigations of Who Killed Vince Foster? And then, the same thing was done to Vice President Goreremember all those phony lies? Until George Bush destroyed the known world, the mainstream press corps played alongeven at this cable channel, if memory serves.
Yes, this school thing has been very sillybut our politics has been crazy for decades. Weve just spent a summer in which major Republican leadersthink Sarah Palin; think Charles Grassleytold voters that they should fear death panels! Before that, major conservative and Republican leaders encouraged this birth certificate lunacy. But then, it was Rush Limbaugh who first drove the ugly idea that Hillary Clinton helped off Vince Foster. You forgot?
I have no idea why youre puzzled by this school speech foolishness. Theyve been doing this for a very long time. And its brutally bad for our politics.
The analysts leaned forward in their chairsforgetting that their uncle sat out the 1990s and the War Against Gore, as all good career liberal pundits did. They gnashed their teeth and tore their hair when their uncle actually spoke.
Mike was still puzzled, of course:
BARNICLE: David, how did it get so toxic? How?
CORN: Well, if you remember back to the campaign, I would go to these McCain/Palin rallies and there were people there who were attacking Barack Obama, literally saying that hes a communist, that he hangs out with terrorists, that hes not legitimate, hes not a natural-born citizen, he could never even become president if elected. There is a slice of the public out there, 5, 10, 15 percent Listen, theyre wackos. Its that clear. They cannot stand this guy. Theyll fight him on every front. These are not policy battles.
And then you have people like Sarah Palin. Whats she doing today? Shes out there insisting that the health care reform bill does include "death panels," even though the AARP, the AMA and every other expert group that`s looked at the issue has said that they don`t include death panels. So youI mean, this is irrational behavior driven by Obama-hatred from people who just cant accept him. And you have to at least question whether for some of those people, not all, but for some of them, there is a racial element to it.
That was such scripted, pseudo-liberal hackwork that some of the analysts even cried!
Uncle Corns memory went all the way back to the fall of 2008. In best Maddow/Olbermann fashion, he started by name-calling average voters, before he got around to mentioning just one of the major Republican leaders who have worked so hard to mislead those people. Of course, he had to diddle his pseudo-liberal base by suggesting that this is just hatred of Obama, and therefore it must be a racial matter. (This analysis is now required on MSNBC.) Long years of our history got wiped awayas in this recent recollection:
RECENT RECOLLECTION (9/4/09): Where to start to explain this hysteria? Since the height of Sarah Palin's dishonest and divisive campaign last September, I've been alarmed by the unique way in which Obama's opponents paint him as "the other." For the life of me, I can't think of another American politiciannot even Hillary Clinton, although it's closewho has spurred such visceral, irrational hatred. (Tell me if I've missed anyone in comments.) Sure, John Kerry was "French" and Michael Dukakis was Greek (and looked like a pinhead in that dumb helmet), but only Obama is a Marxist Communist who pals around with terrorists and wants to harm your children.
Tell me if Ive missed anyone? Well bite: Clinton was a drug-dealing serial murderer who went to Moscow while a Rhodes Scholar because he was maybe a Soviet agent.
Lets be fair. That recollection was offered by Salons Joan Walsh, who has been doing a truly superlative job developing push-back, punch-back skills as a liberal pundit on cable (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/5/09). All other liberal pundits, including Uncle Corn, should study what Joan is doing. Meanwhile, Joans recollection appeared in a blog post at Salon; she may have been hurried as she wrote.
But that recollection perfectly captures the way the career liberal world tells our recent history. And heres the problem: That portrait bears only the tiniest relation to reality. (Think of the old New Yorker cartoon, showing the map of the United Statesas pictured by those in Manhattan.) In that recollection, the attacks on Dukakis are mentioned, quite rightly. (Dukakis is where this era began.) But then, the entire Clinton-Gore era simply disappears! (Depending on what you think was meant by the mention of Hillary Clinton.) Stalin himself would have blanched at the thought or air-brushing this much basic history.
Stalin himself would have blanched at this. But that is precisely the way your side tells your recent history. They themselves sat out the long war against Clinton. They then sat out the twenty-month War Against Gore. (Wellsome of them played active parts in those wars.) Now, we pretend that those years never happened!
In this version of history, Michael Dukakis was treated badly. After that, they said Kerry was French!
More often, our pundits do what Uncle Corn did on Tuesdays Hardball. They pretend that history started last year. When they do that, they are lying in the publics faces every bit as much as Palin does. But lets be candid: As we were forced to explain to the analysts, people like their Uncle Corn have ample reason to wish the past away.
In the Clinton/Gore years, Uncle Corn worked for The Nation. In October 2000, the editor of that benighted publication was still publishing ludicrous attacks on Candidate Gore, reciting his many vile lies! (Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!) For that reason, she remains a Serious Persona person we might see on cable! She simpers sweetly on the programs whose lying she refused to confronteven as she let her writers recite those fake lies by Gore. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/19/05. (Given the narrow way Florida was decided, can anyone swear that Cockburns one ridiculous piece didnt send Bush to the White House?)
Well stop here, although we had planned to go further. Your liberal pundits continue to lie in your faces, thus enabling hacks like Barnicleand hacks like Betsy McCaughey. Poor Mike Barnicle couldnt imagine how things ever got like this! But he himself played a long leading role in the process which brought us to this point. David agreed not to tell.
In the process, voters are kept from understanding their basic recent history.
There they go again, we could be saying this week. But our leaders have agreed not to tell.
Oh what the heck: As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we will soon start posting our book on the press coverage of Campaign 2000. In effect, this book records a later, disastrous chapter of the history which began in Gene Lyons Fools for Scandal. That history was extended by Lyons and Joe Conason in their subsequent book, The Hunting of the President. But uh-oh! Like the mainstream press itself, the liberal world agreed to ignore those books; to get on Hardball (or CNN) in those days, you had to be good boys and girls! In the 1990s, you simply werent a Serious Personif you told the truth about the wars on the Clintons and Gore.
(We almost linked you to the new site, where some material has already been posted. Then, we decided not to!)
Your leaders avoid the truth every night. No, Obama isnt Stalinbut your liberal leaders often call him to mind. They have air-brushed our brutal history away. This keeps us from giving the public full historythe history which might help them understand the ways theyre deceived today.
Theyre wackos, David scriptedly said. (Although he agreed that they arent all racists.) Sorry. Until people like David tell them the truth, can we really swear that his silence isnt one reason for that?
One last point: At the new site, that putrid green is the default color. We may even change that.