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Daily Howler: Second-best is the best we can get, Krugman correctly warns us
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SECOND-BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH! Second-best is the best we can get, Krugman correctly warns us: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2007

TIL MONDAY: We’ll postpone our report on this important Times story until Monday next.

BUSH WASN’T ALLOWED TO BE DUMB: By happenstance, we had reason to review the book excerpt we posted, in June 2006, about one of the ways the national press corps responded to the first Bush-Gore debate. How did “the worst president in history” ever find his way to the White House? Could it be because the press corps devised two different standards of judgment when Bush and Gore debated? Before we link you to that material, just recall these stunning, next-day excerpts from the national press. All these monstrosities appeared in the press on October 4, 2000—the morning after that crucial first debate. How did George Bush reach the White House? Just look at the astonishing way voters were urged to judge him:
San Francisco Examiner editorial: [W]hether Bush won or lost on points, he was the overall victor because, with lower expectations, he held his own and didn’t embarrass himself.

Dick Polman, Philadelphia Inquirer: Bush…may have done better [than Gore], only because the expectations were so low. He didn’t mangle any sentences.

Los Angeles Times editorial: Gore got the edge as a forceful presidential debater. But Bush didn’t trip over himself, and for many just tuning in to the race, that’s a plus for his campaign.

Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times: Bush exceeded expectations. He committed no bloopers and did not leave a lingering controversy.

David Reinhardt, The Oregonian: The Texas governor didn’t beat the vice president. But Bush beat the low expectations that had been set for him…He avoided saying something stupid or unpresidential.

Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial: Fair play compels commentators…to award Bush the win… Bush held his own. He won the expectations game. It didn’t take much.

Sarah Fritz, St. Petersburg Times: [P]erhaps because expectations were lower for Bush, it was likely that he would be judged to have come away with the advantage.

Cragg Hines, Houston Chronicle: Bush more than met the rock-bottom expectations for his performance…which in the weird math of politics should mean he won the night.
Because Bush “didn’t mangle any sentences,” “didn’t trip over himself,” “committed no bloopers” and “avoided saying something stupid,” we were urged—through the press corps’ cock-eyed group judgment—to think he had actually won. (In fact, Bush said many things which were stupid that night. But the press corps agreed not to tell.)

These excerpts capture one small part of the way the press corps reported that crucial debate. (Do you trust these stooges to assess Gore’s sighs?) The logic here is simply astounding—but it was also astoundingly widespread, instantly voiced all over the press corps. All over the print press, all over TV, journalists stood in line to say it: Because Bush was being held to “lower expectations,” he had actually “won” the debate. Gore was a liar, Bush was dumb? In fact, the press corps repeatedly struggled and strained to misdirect you away from that second conclusion. For twenty months, they struggled and strained to take this inept person’s side.

We urge you: Read our full post from June 2006, which treats this topic in much more detail (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06). When you wonder how a man of such bad judgment could actually sit in the White House, you ought to recall how hard this group worked to find ways to put this man there.

We always find this material stunning. Yesterday, we were stunned once again. Even if you’ve read it before, we think you’ll react that way too. And yes—this actually is the way the King of Iraq reached the White House.

SECOND BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH: Health care will be a major subject in next year’s presidential campaign. Using Paul Krugman’s Friday column, let’s consider three points about the way the topic has been covered so far:

Second best is the best we can hope for: In his column, Krugman praises the Edwards and Clinton plans; he puts Obama a smidgeon behind. But we were struck by something he said about the fate of single-payer:
KRUGMAN (9/21/07): The Edwards and Clinton plans as well as the slightly weaker but similar Obama plan achieve universal-or-near-universal coverage through a well-thought-out combination of insurance regulation, subsidies and public-private competition. These plans may disappoint advocates of a cleaner, simpler single-payer system. But it's hard to see how Medicare for all could get through Congress any time in the near future, whereas Edwards-type plans offer a reasonable second best that you can actually envision being enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president just two years from now.
According to Krugman, single-payer (“Medicare for all”) couldn’t possibly get through Congress. (On that, he’s almost surely right.) The plans of the three major Dems “offer a reasonable second best.” In short, we start this debate accepting the fact that the best solution could never pass. This called to mind a striking feature of this past week’s coverage of the newly-announced Clinton plan.

What were we struck by as big news orgs reviewed Clinton’s plan? We were struck by the fact that no one even dreams of mentioning the basic facts about single-payer—the facts Krugman mentioned again in July, as he discussed Michael Moore’s Sicko. We’ve cited this passage many times in the past. Let’s look at it again:
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): [E]very available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.
For the record, those single-payer systems achieve better health care results than we achieve—at roughly half the cost! That’s the most remarkable fact we know about any current policy matter. And this fact is simply never discussed in the major American press, except by Krugman. These remarkable facts were thoroughly AWOL as big news orgs discussed Clinton’s plan this past week. It’s the law! Big news orgs aren’t allowed to say that European nations with single-payer spend only about half as much as we pay—and get better results.

The remarkable agreement to withhold these facts means that the big insurance concerns have already won the first battle. In response to their corporate power, Democrats don’t discuss single-payer—and big news orgs refuse to report the most basic facts about the world’s health care systems. As we hope for second best, our big news orgs have long agreed to keep us barefoot and clueless.

The Euros pay half as much as we do! That fact was AWOL again this week, as pundits discussed how much revenue it will take to reach universal coverage.

The truth about the GOP: We were struck by Krugman’s statement about those Republican health plans:
KRUGMAN: There won't be a serious Republican alternative. The health care plans of the leading Republican candidates, such as they are, are the same old, same old: they principally rely on tax breaks that go mainly to the well-off, but will supposedly conjure up the magic of the market. As Ezra Klein of The American Prospect cruelly but accurately puts it: ''The Republican vision is for a world in which the sick and dying get to deduct some of the cost of health insurance that they don't have—and can't get—on their taxes.''

But the G.O.P. nominee, whoever he is, won't be trying to persuade the public of the merits of his own plan. Instead, he'll try to scare the dwindling fraction of Americans who still have good health insurance by claiming that the Democrats will take it away.
“There won't be a serious Republican alternative,” Krugman says. The Republican nominee will spend his time arguing against the Democratic proposal. This made us think of the most remarkable news report we’ve seen in the campaign coverage to date—Robin Toner’s stunning piece in the New York Times, in which she pretended that both major parties are “promising to overhaul the [health care] system.” In this remarkable front-page report, Toner turned herself into a pretzel, pretending that both major parties were deeply involved in the search for expanded health coverage. Toner’s report was a stunning attempt to pretend that there’s moral equivalence on this issue between the two major parties. Our advice? Reread what Krugman wrote today. Then, to see the Times pimp for the GOP, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/10/07 and 7/13/07.

What about Fred: And then, as always, we hit smear-and-fear. During the 1990s, the mainstream press corps had a fit when they thought that major Dem pols had been lying. (Or when they pretended to think that.) Today, their ardor seems to have cooled a tad. Today, we thought: What about Fred?
KRUGMAN: The smear-and-fear campaign has already started. The Democratic plans all bear a strong resemblance to the health care plan that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, differing mainly in offering Americans additional choices. But that didn't stop Mr. Romney from denouncing the Clinton plan as ''European-style socialized medicine.'' And Fred Thompson claims that the Clinton plan denies choice—which it actually offers in abundance—and relies on ''punishment'' instead.
Scripted bullsh*t will drop from the trees as Republicans misstate basic facts on this issue. (See Giuliani on European-style health care.) But will the press corps fact-check these statements? If recent history is a guide, the answer is known today: No.

But then, we live in an age when the mainstream press has largely become a Republican entity. But our leading liberals have gamboled and played in the years when this has occurred. First, we ignored Gene Lyons’ Fools for Scandal. We did the same when Lyons and Joe Conason penned The Hunting of the President. And our own work on the stunning coverage of Campaign 2000 has largely been ignored by our side. And so, we live in an age when the press has largely become Republican—and the public still hasn’t been told! The lies will drop from the trees next year, as we fight for second-best. But the public won’t be told about these lies by the press—and we liberals haven’t done nearly enough to pre-warn them.