HERBERT TRIED! Unlike his colleagues, Bob Herbert tried to discuss the state of the nation: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2009
Mouse That Roared 3The Empire Strikes Canada: In this mornings New York Times, David Herszenhorn keeps breaking our hearts. Again, he explores the complexities of the Rube Goldberg Machine known as Americas health care system. For Herszenhorns previous heart-breaking work, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/09.
Friend, did you ever wonder how eligibility for Medicaid actually works? This morning, Herszenhorn explains part of the puzzlethe rules determining eligibility for adult parents of minor children. Warning! Due to some levers and pulleys in proposed health reform, this stuff now mattersbig-time:
A crazy quilt of eligibility rules obtains around the nation. (In more grandiose moods, we describe this as the laboratory of the states. Its an example of American exceptionalism.) In Alabama, a two-child couple who earn $3000 per year are too rich to qualify for Medicaid. In Minnesota, a couple can qualify if they make upwards of 50 large.
In the current debate, this matters big-time because, under proposed reform, additional federal money would only go to cover newly eligible enrollees. The states which had already been more generous would therefore get the shaft.
But so it goes with our endless complexity. Indeed, this complexity defeated a New York Times editorthe editor who approved the map which accompanies Herszenhorns piece.
In the hard-copy Times, a United States map accompanies Herszenhorns report. It attempts to show, in graphic form, which states would receive an extra share of federal aid under the proposed reform plan. But the linguistic complexity of this matter defeated the person who constructed the map. Which states make it harder to qualify for Medicaid? Which states make it easier to qualify? The heading on the map reverses these categories. It looks like Minnesota makes it harder to qualify! Complexity defeats us again!
No, we cant show you the mapit doesnt seem to appear on-line. Heres the blog post from which Herszenhorns piece was takenbut the bungled map isnt present. By the way: Even without this reversal of categories, the map itself is so complex that no one likely gained from it.
In The Mouse That Roared 3: The Empire Strikes Canada, a no-nonsense, tough-talking Republican president finally reacts to all this confusion. Well describe the plotrather, the plotslater in the week.
Previous sequel: For the plot of Mouse 2: Pitiful Uninsured Giant, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/09.
PART 2HERBERT TRIED: Did Obama give a brilliant speech to last Wednesdays joint session of Congress? Was it his latest brilliant speech, as a fawning Frank Rich declared? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/09.) In a rational world, you might encounter a range of intelligent views on that serious question as you read the New York Times op-ed page. The Times is our most famous newspaper. Its supposed to be the top of the heap in our journalistic discussions.
But that would be in a rational world. Lets discuss the world we live in. First, a few quick words about what was in the presidents speech last week:
Obama did several things which Democrats rarely do. At one point, he noted the fact that bogus claimshe even used the tricky word liehave been spread about his proposals. He didnt name the people who have done this. But he did mention some categories:
Democrats need to explore this theme much more often, and much more fully. (They also need to do so more deftly.) It shouldnt fall to a sitting president to tell the public that theyre being deceived. Alas! Voters have been clownishly deceived for decades without Democrats or liberals deigning to tell them. Your side has simply refused to compete. Your side hasnt respected the public enough to tell them such basic things.
Second, Obama actually started to paint a picture of the need for progressive regulation of Big Corporate Interests. (Dare we say it? Of the need for big government!) Democrats and liberals have been too lazyand too indifferentto do this sort of scut-work in recent decades. The other side has pushed its Big Story relentlessly. But what, liberals worry? Not us!
Obama reviewed the creation of Social Security in 1935, and the creation of Medicare thirty years later. Then, he deigned to explain the real world to the public. Democrats and liberals rarely bother. Career liberals have been so store-bought and brain-dead for so many years that the thought wouldnt enter their heads:
When it comes to explaining the need for regulation of Interests, thats fairly weak tea. But in the longer passage from which that comes, Obama actually made an attempt to tell a progressive Big Story. And by the way, note the basic point: In the absence of regulation, the vulnerable can be exploited. (If we could just drop our sob-sister frames, we would state this point more accurately: Average people will be exploited. You know? As is happening now?)
Career liberals have been too lazyand too dumbto say such things in recent decades. Relentlessly, voters have heard about the perils of big governmentand theyve heard no countervailing Big Story.
Obama took several nice steps in this speech. If liberals and Democrats follow up on these moves (and they wont), it may make a differenceby the year 2020. But does this mean that Obama gave his latest brilliant speech, as a fawning courtier proclaimed? No, it actually doesnt. Early on, Obama also spoke about the stunning cost of American health care. In this passage, he introduced the part of his speech which was a stunning failure:
These are the facts, Obama said. No one disputes them. Of course, he also left out a few basic facts. Because we spend so much on health care, the average person is getting looted in his insurance premiums, whether he or his employer is paying it. And her annual wage isnt going up! What should have been her pay increase is being sent to The Interests.
Obama left out those basic facts. But having listed his parade of horribles, the president did next to nothing, in this brilliant speech, to explain why our health care costs so much, or to explain how he plans to reverse the situation. And his proposed solution reads like a joke. What is his goal for reining in spending? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/09.
This major part of this speech was a joke. Unless you read the New York Times, our most famous newspaper. Indeed, pure piffle was being presented all weekend. Example: On Saturday, Charles Blow dispensed this familiar soap. Obama may not be a fighter!
But on that same day, one Times scribe made an actual effort. Bob Herbert made a decent attempt to explain the fears of average Americans at this very difficult time. Unfortunately, Herbert started by punching the crazies who have been disrupting health care forums, seeming to contrast them with the ordinary working men and women of America who are struggling with the worst economic downturn they have ever seen. (Only one big shot got named: Joe Wilson, in passing.) And even here, in the papers best effort, this was the best the Times could manage about two basic questions: Why are we spending so g*ddamned much? Who is looting our money?
Whats missing is talk about how the runaway costs of health care...can be reined in? Thats like saying the Mets have a very good team this yearexcept for the lack of pitchers, catchers, shortstops, third basemen and all outfielders. By the way How can we rein in those massive costs with a public option? Has anyone ever really explained that?
We spend twice as much as France doesthree times as much as Japan! Obama made no attempt to explain why that situation obtains, or to say how he plans to fix it. He rattled off many devastations caused by this vast amount of spendingthen set an utterly clownish goal for reining this spending in. But Rich, fawning and preening as always, declared it his latest brilliant speech. At one point, the powdered wig flew right off his head, so energetically did the courtier cheer.
In a rational world, you would go to the Times op-ed page to see such basic matters assessed. But lets discuss the actual worldthe low-IQ world we live in. This weekend, we followed two days in the life. As always, the Gotham greats failed.
Tomorrow: Dowd the dumbnificent
Thursday: Kristof reads Reid