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WHAT WE MISS! Rich and Sleeper said the same thing. Sleeper seemed to mean it: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2009

We must have a National Censor: At first, you think you’re kidding when you say we must have a National Censor.

Then, you read this front-page report in yesterday’s Post about the French health system.

It isn’t hard to explain how much the French spend on health care. In his report, Post reporter Edward Cody cites the 2007 OECD data. Here’s what those data tell us:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007
United States: $7290
France: $3601

There! Do you see how easy that is? The French spend less than half what we spend! But go ahead—try to tease any such knowledge out of Cody’s lengthy report! Surely, we must have a National Censor, one who’s charged with keeping us clueless about the foreign experience.

Cody’s first peculiar moment arrives in paragraph 4. “France has long been proud of its national health insurance, part of a many-tentacled and costly social protection system designed to embrace almost everyone who is legally in the country,” he writes (our emphasis).

From that, the average Post reader may start to believe that French health care is somehow “costly.” As we’ve shown you, it’s easy to give the relevant data. But this is the masterfully murky way Cody ends up explaining the matter:

CODY: The health-care bureaucracy is so extensive and intricate that it has inspired urban legends. Coverage policies have grown complicated as medical care and drugs become ever more sophisticated. In that atmosphere, fraud has mushroomed.

But despite the drawbacks, the outcome is relatively cost-effective in comparison with the situations in other industrialized nations, according to tracking by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

France spent about $300 billion for the health needs of its 64 million people in 2007, the last year for which reliable statistics are available, the OECD reported. That amounted to about 11 percent of gross domestic product for a system covering an estimated 99 percent of the population, well below what Americans pay for a system that leaves out tens of millions of people.

On a per capita basis, France also ranked well below the United States in health expenditures. It was eighth on the OECD list, while the United States ranked at the top.

All those statements are technically accurate. They also keep us barefoot and clueless. It’s amazingly easy to state the truth: The French spend less than half what we do. But there seems to be a law in this country forbidding the statement of such simple facts. Cody is just the latest in a long line of scribes who refuse to explain, in simple clear ways, how much extra we spend.

How much we’re getting looted.

On a per capita basis, the French spend less than half what we do. In Cody’s report, that ends up as murky worthless mush: The French are eighth on the OECD list, while the U.S. ranks at the top.

It is amazingly easy to explain how much we spend as compared with the French. Cody, a very experienced scribe, is the latest reporter who refuses to tell us. Or do we have a National Censor, who took the pencil to Cody’s real copy? Surely, no experienced scribe would avoid simple statement this way.

Special report: Liberals [HEART] race!

PART 3—WHAT WE MISS: Gene Robinson made an intriguing remark on last Friday’s Maddow Show.

Having finished her latest love-fest with Bush media man Mark McKinnon, Rachel asked a hard-to-paraphrase question about South Carolina, race and health care. The analysts were intrigued by the highlighted part of Robinson’s answer:

MADDOW (9/18/09): Well, let me ask you the awkward question about what you’re just alluding to there.

[...]

Is race and—race and representation a factor in South Carolina’s bad health outcomes but also its politics about health?

ROBINSON: Well, I—sure. I mean, just to ask the question flatly, yes, it is. Now, is it same kind of factor that it was when I was growing up and Strom Thurmond was our senator and students were fighting and dying in a demonstration in my town [Orangeburg] over a segregated bowling alley in 1968? No, it’s not, it’s not that. And, in fact, I am struck when I go home to South Carolina and at seeing black people and white people together in integrated settings in a way that I never would have seen before.

That said, Jim Clyburn, the one African-American representative—who happens to be in the majority whip in the House, which gives him an awful lot of clout is—talks about these health issues all the time and has for years and years. He is—he is aware in very specific terms of what the situation is that faces poor people in South Carolina.

For the record, South Carolina is represented in the House by four Republicans and two Democrats—Clyburn and John Spratt, both of whom are long-serving. As best we can tell, Clyburn (the black guy) and Spratt (the white guy) seem to have taken similar stands on proposed health reform. (Specifically: As best we can tell, neither solon has unequivocally backed the inclusion of a public option.)

At any rate, we were intrigued by Robinson’s comment about white-black relations in South Carolina. We had a similar reaction when we spent Thanksgiving 2007 in Columbia, visiting pleased family members. More on that tomorrow. But the analysts swore that this was “Good Gene” as they watched Robinson speak.

We were glad to hear that. You see, the same analysts had criticized “Disappointing Gene” as they read his column that morning! There we liberals went again! Sometimes, we seem to be in love with racism—so much so that we even announce that we can’t imagine other reasons for opposition to Obama. This was Robinson’s presentation, though others have said similar things:

ROBINSON (9/18/09): Of course it's possible to reject Obama’s policies and philosophy without being racist. But there's a particularly nasty edge to the most vitriolic attacks—a rejection not of Obama's programs but of his legitimacy as president. This denial of legitimacy is more pernicious than the abuse heaped upon George W. Bush by his critics (including me), and I can't find any explanation for it other than race.

For what it’s worth, many attacks on President Bush did involve big vitriol. Beyond that, you’ll note that Robinson played a rather slick card here—he only considered previous attacks on Bush, not attacks on the Clintons or Gore. Some attacks on Obama have been unhinged—but so were strings of attacks on previous Democrats. Of course, Robinson played an active role in some of those deeply destructive wars. It may be tempting to forget they occurred when you yourself drove them along.

That said, who did Robinson have in mind when he said the attacks on Obama must be driven by race? What kind of abuse did he have in mind, when he boasted that he “can't find any explanation for it other than race?” As he continued, Robinson said he wasn’t “talking about the majority of the citizens who went to town hall meetings to criticize Obama's plans for health-care reform.” Then, he explained who he did have in mind. His answer came in three parts:

ROBINSON: I'm talking about the crazy “birthers.” I'm talking about the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures—Obama as a witch doctor, for example. I'm talking about the idiots who toss around words like “socialism” to make Obama seem alien and even dangerous—who deny the fact that he, too, is as American as apple pie.

In this passage, Robinson does what Maureen Dowd did before him (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/16/09). He presents one obvious case of racial insult, then lumps in two other examples where the provenance is much less clear.

For sure! When protestors portray Obama as a witch doctor, they’re toying with traditional racial insult in a blatant, obvious way. But how about the rest of that list? Good grief! When Robinson sees Obama’s critics toss around words like “socialism,” he “can't find any explanation for it other than race?” That statement is so completely absurd that it constitutes a confession. And by the way: Are the “birthers” really any crazier than the people who believed the Clintons were murderers? And tell the truth: If Obama were accused of a long string of murders, wouldn’t we say that was racism?

Of course we would! But then, we liberals often seem to have no other tool in our tool box. You can say any crazy thing you want about Democrats. If your lunacy doesn’t seem to be racial, liberals like Robinson won’t notice. They’ll even help drive the war along—if that’s what Washington’s Establishment In-Group is pleasing itself with that year.

When protestors call Obama a socialist, Robinson “can't find any explanation for it other than race?” Crackers, please! That’s truly absurd. Who are the real “idiots” here?

Because they had criticized “Disappointing Gene” that morning, we were happy when the analysts hailed “Good Gene” that night.

Back to that column: Sometimes, we liberals seem to be so in love with racism that we’re able to spot nothing else. On Sunday, two major writers said this is harmful to liberal interests. Well—Jim Sleeper said that in the Washington Post. Frank Rich pretty much said the same thing in his New York Times column.

We were struck by the differences between these two pieces.

How much is race tied into opposition to Obama? We wouldn’t know how to measure that, and we don’t think it’s smart to make sweeping statements (or insinuations) about large numbers of voters. In Sleeper’s assessment, “Racism is only one of many factors driving the backlash against the president in town hall meetings and in demonstrations on Capitol Hill.” He describes some of the other factors that are tied into opposition. In the following passage, he suggests that liberals tend to fail politically when they focus on racism only. And he describes a type of top-shelf pseudo-liberal who is simply too well-off to care about other factors:

SLEEPER (9/20/09): Condemning racism in this context, as President Carter and many well-meaning liberals do, won't deflect the demagoguery and folly that foreclose bold new strategies in the provision and regulation of capital, health care, energy and defense.

The mistake of crying racism is especially tempting to upscale, influential liberals who, no less than protesters on the right, are ducking the true causes of dispossession, fear and rage: the premises and practices of financial capital, predatory consumer marketing and a national-security state boondoggling.

Liberals who've done well by those practices aren't always serious about redressing their inequities and disruptions. But they can't bring themselves to defend them very wholeheartedly, either. So they grasp at symbolic gestures against racism that short-circuit political currents for necessary change as surely as Rush [Limbaugh] does.

To watch upper-end (white) pseudo-liberals enjoy the pleasures of yelling race, just try MSNBC any weeknight evening. Or enjoy a bit of a laugh as Rich tangles with this topic.

In Sunday’s Times, Rich argued a similar thesis about the opposition to Obama. “If only it were just about the color of his skin,” he sadly laments as he starts. Like Sleeper, Rich is soon saying that the current opposition involves a lot more than race:

RICH (9/20/09): The White House was right not to second Carter's motion and cue another ''national conversation about race.'' No matter how many teachable moments we have, some people won't be taught. (Though how satisfying it would have been FOR Obama to dismiss Wilson, like the boorish Kanye West, as a ''jackass.'') But there is a national conversation we must have right now—the one about what, in addition to race, is driving this anger and what can be done about it. We are kidding ourselves if we think it's only about bigotry, or health care, or even Obama. The growing minority that feels disenfranchised by Washington can't be so easily ghettoized and dismissed.

We tend to agree with that—although we think pseudo-conservative leaders who toy with race should be aggressively criticized. (Rush Limbaugh, to cite one example.) For our analysts, the amusement came as we watched Rich attempt to argue that the opposition isn’t all about race. Frankly, no one loves yelling race more than Rich. The analysts roared at his Strangeloveian efforts to rein in this primal instinct.

In our view, Rich is much too fair to Glenn Beck in this column—but then, Rich is almost always wrong. (Beck “bonds with his fallible listeners by openly and repeatedly owning up to his own mistakes?” Cracker, please!) But the comedy comes as Rich keeps yelling race, even as he says that we need to examine the other factors. This is the way he begins his piece. This may send thrills up pseudo-liberal legs. But Frankly, it’s typical Rich:

RICH: If only it were just about the color of his skin.

With all due respect to Jimmy Carter, the racist component of Obama-hatred has been undeniable since the summer of 2008, when Sarah Palin rallied all-white mobs to the defense of the “real America.” Joe Wilson may or may not be in that camp, but, either way, that’s not the news. As we watched and rewatched the South Carolina congressman’s star turn, what grabbed us was the act itself.

What made the lone, piercing cry of “You lie!” shocking was that it breached a previously secure barrier. It was the first time that the violent rage surging in town-hall meetings all summer blasted into the same room as the president. Wilson’s televised shout was tantamount to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. When he later explained that his behavior was “spontaneous” rather than premeditated, that was even more disturbing. It’s not good for the country that a lawmaker can’t control his anger at Barack Obama. It gives permission to crazy people.

This fellow lives for over-statement. To state the obvious, Palin didn’t speak to “all-white” crowds (although blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic). The decision to refer to these “all-white” crowds as “mobs” is typical of Rich’s demeanor. This is the way he helps us see that it isn’t all about race? Meanwhile, we included that third paragraph just to let you enjoy a good laugh. “Crazy people” now take their cues from behavior during joint sessions of Congress? Rich has always tended toward foolish. Frankly, in that overblown passage, he played the fool again.

For a chuckle, just read through Rich’s piece and see how often he plays race cards, even as he is instructing that our analysis needs to go beyond race. No one love to list the racists quite the way the big loudmouth does. In this passage, you see him playing the character Sleeper warned us about:

RICH: “Wall Street owns our government,” Beck declared in one rant this July. “Our government and these gigantic corporations have merged.” He drew a chart to dramatize the revolving door between Washington and Goldman Sachs in both the Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner Treasury departments. A couple of weeks later, Beck mockingly replaced the stars on the American flag with the logos of corporate giants like G.E., General Motors, Wal-Mart and Citigroup (as well as the right's usual nemesis, the Service Employees International Union). Little of it would be out of place in a Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone. Or, we can assume, in Michael Moore's coming film, ''Capitalism: A Love Story,'' which reportedly takes on Goldman and the Obama economic team along with conservative targets.

Unlike liberal critics of capitalist inequities, of course, Beck and his claque are driven by an over-the-top detestation of government. Washington is always the enemy, stealing their hard-earned money to redistribute it to the undeserving and shiftless poor (some of whom just happen to be immigrants or black). Though there is nothing Obama can do to stop racists from being racist, he could help stanch the economic piece of this by demonstrating how a reformed government can at times actually make Americans' lives better. That's what F.D.R. did, and that's the promise Obama made, swaying some Republicans and even some racists, during the campaign.

Rich is so in love with yelling race, he can’t quite bring himself to get it. As Sleeper said, he doesn’t really understand that Beck’s declaration here (his “rant”) actually seems to right. Wall Street does seem to own the government—and when Beck names the names of the corporations involved, he is naming a lot of accurate names. (When Eliot Spitzer did this on Maddow, he disappeared from the program.)

Indeed: Just as Sleeper said in his piece, Rich can’t quite bring himself to understand the accuracy or the anger lodged in this analysis. He quotes Beck naming G.E., General Motors, Wal-Mart, Citigroup. And sure enough! In his very next paragraph, he goes right back to implying this is all about race.

Rich quotes Beck, who says that the government is giving your money to GE. But Rich can’t seem to hear what he himself has just finished typing. In the very next paragraph, he paraphrases Beck, who is now saying that Washington is “redistributing hard-earned money to the undeserving and shiftless poor!” Just like that, a complaint about corporate looting becomes a complaint about race! But Frankly, Rich is always like that. Frank Rich simply loves yelling race. Even when he says we shouldn’t, he goes ahead and does.

Nor does it seem to enter his head that Beck could imaginably be right about Obama (and about other Democrats). As he continues, Rich offers this soppy milquetoast about Obama and Wall Street:

RICH: Nor has Obama succeeded in persuading critics on the left or right that he will do as much for those Americans who are suffering as he has for the corporations his administration and his predecessor's rushed to rescue. To mark the anniversary of Lehman's fall, the president gave a speech on Wall Street last Monday again vowing reform. But everyone's back to business as usual: The Wall Street Journal reported that not a single C.E.O. from a top bank attended. The speech sank with scant notice because there has been so little action to back it up and because its conciliatory stance was tone-deaf to the anger beyond the financial district.

That’s a nice warm dish of milquetoast about Obama—about Democrats generally. But then, Obama is the black guy! For that reason, in Rich’s novelized world, he has to be basically right. Sleeper: “Liberals who've done well by those practices aren't always serious about redressing their inequities and disruptions.” In his heart, Rich loves to rant about race—not about corporate looting.

Go back and read what Robinson wrote. When he sees people calling Obama a “socialist,” he thinks it has to be about race! Good grief! At least from Franklin Roosevelt on, every major Democrat has been yelled at in just this way. But so what? The pseudo-lib world just loves yelling race. It’s the only thing we know how to say—the only manifestation we know how to see. It’s the thing we love to yell.

Race is important, a brutal part of our history. People like Limbaugh need to be challenged. But if we only know one play, could that be a prime way to lose? And when we lose, we all lose, of course—“black and white together.”

Tomorrow: South Carolina v. Boston