Apparently we cant have nice things: Just as Poundstone said.
Three cheers to the Washington Post for this long, detailed front-page report about health care costs. Has the Mayo Clinic found the answer to high health care spending? Or do they just have upper-end patientspatients who are cheaper to treat? Why does Medicare cost so much more in some placesand so much less in others? Alec MacGillis does a nice job asking some very good questions.
But groan! In our view, Katharine Seelye did much less well with this piece about Medicare for all. According to Seelye, Medicare for all seems like a bad idea to those on both ends of the political spectrum! More to the point: If you want to do a serious piece, you cant spend this much time on our per-person health costs without ever citing the fact that every other developed nation provides health care for massively less. Here again, you see the North Korean model of journalism. Seelyes piece makes wonderful senseif you dont know that other nations exist.
Why do other nations spend so much less? One-half to one-third what we spend? To us, its the obvious central question. But in the press, such facts dont exist. Exploration continues apace. But such nations havent yet been discovered.
For ourselves, we had planned to spend the week on T. R. Reids new book, The Healing of America. In particular, we had planned to look at his (unimpressive) analysis of why American health care costs so much. Reids book has a great deal to recommend itbut his treatment of this topic is very frustrating. Does the U.S. have a secret health reporting czar who censors all attempts to discuss this topic? We began to wonder, as we tore our hair over Reids presentation.
That said, were going to postpone this topic, at least for a while. (You can examine Reids treatment of this topic yourself. See pages 34-45 of his otherwise very worthwhile book.) Discussions of race have been endlessly fascinatingtoo fascinating to ignore. We think Frank Richs piece was most interesting. So well save it for last.
Race overtook health care last week. For liberals, was that a good thing?
Special report: Liberals [HEART] race!
PART 1RACE IS HARD: Race is our toughest topic. It lies at the heart of the deeply brutal parts of our history; it drives pathologies today. We often reason poorly about it. Thats true of our best, brightest people.
Consider Kweisi Mfume, former head of the NAACP.
Here at THE HOWLER, Mfume is our former congressman. (We even appeared on his local TV show, years ago!) In our view, hes one of the most decent, most sensible people in American politics. In 2006, he and then-congressman/now-senator Ben Cardin waged a Maryland senate primary campaign more people should have been able to see. They announced at the start that they were friendsthat they would compete as friends. And the solons competed as friends right through their final debate. (And yes, the race was close.) It was the most impressive campaign weve ever seen.
Mfumes a very smart, decent person. But in our view, even he said a few things which were slightly odd when he played some Hardball last weekmostly, because of the setting.
As you know, Chris Matthews is playing on your side now. For that reason, he now beats up on the people whose themes he pimped so long, so loud and so well. Good lord! He even pretends, in his new improved stance, that he admires the NAACP! On Thursday night, he fawned to Mfume, then asked about President Obama and the legitimacy question.
We agree with Mfumes overall view. But we thought his view was slightly oddgiven the setting:
MATTHEWS (9/17/09): Let me ask you, siryou were head of the NAACP, an organization which is celebrated for its expertise, as well as its advocacy. The question of legitimacy, lets go back to thatnot whether you agree with this president or not, but whether you agree with his right to be president. Do you see that legitimacy question still out there?
MFUME: Well, I think its still out there with the birthers, who continue to say hes not legitimate, hes not qualified, he didnt meet the qualifications. But in the minds of most Americans, I think most people have come to accept the fact that this is our president. Were going to get behind him. We can disagree with him, but weve got to have some sense of unity in our country, while at the same time, not giving up our right to disagree.
What gets me, Chris, is that Ive just seen this shift taking place, where the rhetoric has gotten sharper. And yes, maybe Pelosi was right. Maybe we are starting to enter that uncharted area where people feel free enough to act out what they want to do. And so skinheads become more outspoken and the bigots become more outspoken.
And I think most of the opposition to President Obamas health care proposal is based on basic partisan policy differences. However, there is a sliver out there of opposition that continues to be based on race, will always be based on race, and will always see him not just as our president, but as, quote, that black president to which they may not have any loyalty.
Two quick points: Most Americans voted for Obama. They havent had to accept the fact that this is our presidentthey voted for that to happen. Also, have you seen skinheads and bigots become more outspoken? We pretty much haventthough technically, Mfume only said that we might be approaching that point.
That said, we agree with Mfumes overall view, which he expressed at the end of his statement. But given the setting in which it was said, we found it a tiny bit odd.
Most of the opposition to President Obamas health care proposal is based on basic partisan policy differences, he said. (We would largely agree with thatthough those partisan differences have been exacerbated by high-profile, crackpot, false claims.) Only a sliver of the opposition continues to be based on race? (That may understate things a bitwe dont know how to measure such things.) But heres our question: If only a sliver of the opposition is based on race, then why are we talking about it so much? Matthews devoted most of his program to this topic this night. He had done the same thing the night before.
If its just a sliver of the population, why did Matthews do that?
This question arose a bit more dramatically on that same evenings Ed Show. Speaking about that same legitimacy question, Democratic strategist Todd Webster said something very similar to what Mfume had said. The vast majority of Americans I think have moved on from concerns about Obamas race, he said. And we are a tolerant and a pluralistic society. But if you look at Websters wider statement, he certainly wasnt acting as if the vast majority have moved on.
In his wider statement, Webster was name-calling hard about race. We dont agree with the thrust of this statement. On the merits, we think this statement is dumb. On the politics, we think its a loser:
WEBSTER (9/17/09): Look, there are still crackers in this country. And its unfortunate. But its what it ishold on a second! But this is the base of the Republican party. Whether its the tea-baggers or the birthers or these other efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Barack Obama as president because hes a black man.
Now, the vast majority of Americans I think have moved on. And we are a tolerant and a pluralistic society. But there are still politicians and campaigns that will try to use these wedge issues and try to drum up race to score political points.
The vast majority of Americans have moved on? To our admittedly delicate ear, it didnt sound like Webster is numbered among them. To our ear, Webster sounded a bit like a cracker, if youll excuse a rude word.
Webster was name-calling hard about crackers this nightand about tea-baggers. (A sexual insult.) He said those crackers constitute the base of the Republican party; he seemed to say that the tea-baggers want to undermine the legitimacy of Barack Obama as president because hes a black man. But did Websters analysis really make sense, especially in this setting? Again, we asked ourselves that basic question: If the vast majority have moved on, why were we spending so much timeand so much energyname-calling those who havent?
(Lets put that question another way: Obamas health proposal has lost a lot of ground among the public. If the vast majority isnt driven by race, why has support for reform lost ground? And instead of trying to figure that out, why were we talking about the small part of the public which was still driven by race?)
In the past two weeks, our side has offered a puzzling melange of claims about race and Obama. How many people oppose Obama due to race? Mfume says its just a sliver. But last Tuesday, Jimmy Carter told Brian Williams something which sounded quite different:
CARTER (9/15/09): I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. That racism in connection still exists, and I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.
Mfume said a tiny sliverbut Carter said many white people. And people! It isnt just President Carter! Even a giant like Maureen Dowd had already said something similar:
DOWD (9/13/09): I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summerthe frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kidshad much to do with race.
I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoidsfrom Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.
But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the presidentno Democrat ever shouted ''liar'' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraqconvinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
Youre rightsome people could be a sliver. But just for the record: In real time, Dowd reacted to that frothing response...against Bill Clinton by largely running with the froththen by passing it forward to Gore.
In part, thats the pseudo-liberal worlds basic problem. In most cases, its hard to measure how much of a movement may be driven by race. Some political movements are openly racial, of course. In that 2006 Senate season, Bob Corker ran a nakedly racial campaign against Harold Ford (and won). In the same way, some public figures make openly racial plays; Rush Limbaugh has relentlessly toyed with race in his criticisms of Obama. (Always as satire, of course!) But how is someone supposed to measure the degree of racial feeling in large populations? National polls show that many people stand opposed to Obamas health plan. How many such people are driven by race? Do we really pretend to think theres a way we can find out?
How many people are driven by race in current debates concerning Obama? Is it a tiny sliver? Is it many white people, not just in the South, but around the country? Theres no real way to know, of coursebut we do know one thing: The pseudo-liberal world adores this basic question. For many of us, its the only critique we know how to makethe only political play we know. When Bill Clinton engendered that frothing response, our side simply stared into airin part, because we couldnt yell race!
That frothing response then got transferred to Gore. We didnt notice that either.
Its the most obvious lesson of the past sixteen years: When frothing responses dont even seem to be driven by race, our side cant seem to spot them! We know a limited set of plays. Our play-book is slimand it shows.
Our world has been at its hapless worst in the past few weeks, as we yell about race and Obama. Without question, race is mixed up in the current stew. And without question, our side just [HEART] racists.
Race is the play we know the best. Its the play which gives our lives their meaning. We enjoy yelling race when race is there. But then, we enjoy yelling race when it isnt there. And we yell about little else.
Football teams which know one play lose. Our team is something like that.
Coming: Rich on raceand Jim Sleeper too. And: Why does the press corps [HEART] racists?