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WHEN THE CORNS RESEMBLE THE DOWDS! Maureen Dowd simpered and played—just like Corn before her: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2009

Only in the Times: Today, the New York Times actually examines the foreign experience—especially, the Swiss health care system. Tomorrow, we’ll discus the mess that results, in detail. But just drink in the following passage from Nelson Schwartz’s front-page report. Only in the Times!

SCHWARTZ (10/1/09): Still, along with lower costs and the freedom to choose doctors come bigger bills for individual patients. On average, out-of-pocket payments come to $1,350 annually. That is the highest among the 30 countries tracked by the O.E.C.D. and well above the $890 average for the United States, which comes in second.

Then there are the hefty prices of the insurance policies themselves, which can top 14,000 Swiss francs a year for a family of four in Zurich, or about $13,600. That is roughly comparable to the national average annual premium for a family policy under employer-sponsored group plans in the United States, but in high-cost American cities the figure can be much higher.

Only in the New York Times can “lower costs” coexist so well with “bigger bills!” In this passage, we are told that Swiss insurance policies cost as much as the average American policy—and that the Swiss pay well more than we do out of pocket! We know, we know—Schwartz doesn’t quite say that; in fact, he doesn’t say that at all! But it sure sounds like he does.

Our view: This report is gruesome work, from its headline and opening paragraph on down. We’ll discuss it in detail tomorrow. By the way, here are the per-person spending figures for the countries in question—not that you can learn these facts from Schwartz’s actual article:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
Switzerland: $4417

Those data do not appear in Schwartz’s report. He does present them as part of a multi-part graphic—a graphic which doesn’t seem to appear on-line.

Per capita, Switzerland spends about 61 percent as much as we do. (That’s a lot! No other large nation spends nearly as much as the Swiss.) But according to Schwartz’s simulations of statement, the Swiss pay as much as we do for premiums, and more than we do out of pocket. Yes, those facts could all be true—although we’ll admit we find them puzzling. But this strikes us as gruesome work, from its headline on down.

Does the insurance industry own the Times? More tomorrow. But once again, we find ourselves wondering.

Special report: You may live in an idiocracy if!

PART 4—WHEN THE CORNS RESEMBLE THE DOWDS: Do you live in an idiocracy? Evidence is all around:

Climate disaster is looming—but no one wants to discuss it. Columnists fawn to the world’s richest man—but forget to say what this person believes. In health care, your nation spends two to three times as much as comparable nations—but no newspaper has ever done a series explaining this stunning fact.

And David Corn has become Maureen Dowd! Let’s state a basic principle:

You do live in an idiocracy when: The Corns start resembling the Dowds.

Corn, of course, is one of the people who make us believe that “progressive” views are represented on cable. By contrast, Dowd is the simpering star of the New York Times op-ed page. When our leading “progressives” start resembling Dowd, the idiocrats hold complete power.

Let’s start with the lady’s simpering piece in Sunday’s Times. (Yesterday, she focused on the time she told William Safire what a thong is.)

As usual, the lady’s simpering started with a weighty allusion to Shakespeare. Soon, though, she was picking-and-choosing her way through two books—one about President Bush, one about President Clinton. One of the books is The Clinton Tapes, Taylor Branch’s recollection of his long conversations with President Clinton during the Clinton presidency. Dowd, of course, went right to the part that gives her tired life meaning:

DOWD (9/27/09): In his new book, “The Clinton Tapes,” Taylor Branch describes an explosive meeting between Clinton and Gore after the election characterized by Clinton as “surreal.” Gore said people around him blamed Clinton’s scandalous shadow for the defeat. And Clinton, who told Branch that W. was “an empty suit, meaner than his dad,” shot back that if Gore had used him more in the last 10 days in places where he was still popular, he could have swung the election. He chastised Gore for not running on bigger themes and for dropping the issue he was most passionate about: the environment.

Gore asked Clinton for an explanation of Monica Lewinsky; he wanted an apology. Clinton blew up. Focusing on his mistakes, he told his V.P., demeaned voters and ignored the public’s business.

Branch summed up Clinton’s bottom line to Gore: “By God, Hillary had a helluva lot more reason to resent Clinton than Gore did, and yet she ran unabashedly on the Clinton-Gore record” for the Senate and won handily. Gore, Clinton said, was in “Neverland.”

For the record, Clinton said Gore was in “Neverland” about one topic only. Read the book if you want to see what that one topic was.

In fairness, Dowd is limited in subject matter when she discusses this book. At no point did Clinton discuss Gore’s bald spot, or say that he ever caught the vice president singing “I Feel Pretty” as he looked in a mirror. Operating at this disadvantage, Dowd presents a highly edited version of even that one “explosive meeting.” According to Dowd, “Gore said people around him blamed Clinton’s scandalous shadow for the defeat.” She forgets to say that, in Branch’s account, Gore explicitly says that he himself does not share that view. But so it goes when broken-souled clowns preside in an idiocracy.

(After an especially idiotic 1997 Dowd column. Branch paraphrases Clinton saying this: "She must live in mortal fear that there's somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life.” This remark didn’t make Dowd’s recent column.)

Before we review a more serious account of that “explosive meeting,” might we make one obvious point? President Clinton was not at his clearest when he made the reference to Hillary Clinton running on the Clinton-Gore record. Candidate Clinton ran and won—in the state of New York. (We’re glad she did!) But people! Candidate Gore ran in that state too—and his victory margin was more than twice as large as Candidate Clinton’s. (Gore won New York by 1.7 million votes; Clinton by 832,000.) If the United States was New York, Gore—running the race he ran—would have won an historic landslide. (Gore won 60 percent of the vote in New York; Bush won 35.)

Dowd is too blowsy to say that.

By the way: We don’t mean that as a criticism of Bill Clinton, of Hillary Clinton, or of Gore. Reading through Branch’s account of that meeting, we thought Clinton and Gore each behaved sensibly (given the circumstances), though each seemed to exhibit one blind spot during the session. (In fairness, the account of the meeting came from Clinton, not from Gore.) But in response to Branch’s publication, simpering ninnies like Lady Dowd have done what they have done for decades. Lying face-down on their plush “shag” rugs, they’ve picked and chosen and simpered and minced and made a ripe joke of your lives.

When the Corns start resembling the Dowds, you live in a flat idiocracy.

How does Branch describe that meeting? Let’s view the less foolish account offered by Michiko Kakutani, doing a formal book review in the Times. Kakutani manages to eschew the word “explosive:”

KAKUTANI (9/25/09): Late in the book Mr. Clinton recounts a two-hour meeting he had with Al Gore after the election of 2000. Mr. Branch says the president had ''chafed to be used in a few strategic states”—like Arkansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Missouri, where Mr. Gore's losing margin was small or where Mr. Clinton could have ''addressed neglected rural audiences on Gore's behalf.'' Mr. Clinton also felt, Mr. Branch says, that Mr. Gore's message did not work: ''He said Gore won all the little issues and none of the big ones. You did not rise to any themes, he said. You did not run on the environment or the future. You let Bush get away with saying we had squandered our eight years.''

The president “kept telling me their confrontation was surreal,” Mr. Branch goes on. “The whole world thinks Gore ran a poor campaign from a strong hand. Yet Gore thinks he had a weak hand because of Clinton, and ran a valiant campaign against impossible odds.”

Essentially, Kakutani describes three claims. Let’s review them in inverse order:

Poor campaign/valiant campaign: Did Gore run a poor campaign from a strong hand, or a valiant campaign against impossible odds? Given those choices, we’d go with the latter, although the odds clearly weren’t impossible. Gore did win the popular vote, and—as Clinton tells Branch, though the Dowds won’t tattle—he almost surely won Florida too, except for some tragically mis-designed ballots. We’ll explain our preference for the latter formulation a bit more below—but make sure you understand one point: The notion that “Gore ran a poor campaign from a strong hand” is pure, Grade A mainstream press bullshit. It’s the story the press corps has always told, reciting en masse, because it air-brushes their own gross misconduct out of the picture .Every good boy and girl in the press corps has always known to recite this script. You’ve heard it forever. That’s why.

Big message/little message: Could Gore have crafted a bigger message? Presumably yes, he could have. On the other hand, there was no message Gore ever crafted that the press corps didn’t aggressively work to undermine. In June 2000, for example, Gore staged a three week “Progress and prosperity tour,” using the kind of explicitly pro-Clinton/Gore messaging that the press corps has always said he dumbly avoided. Reaction? At the Times, Dowd-like pseudo-reporter Katharine Seelye criticized Gore for sometimes saying “prosperity and progress” rather than “progress and prosperity” (for example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/00). Other inane—and disingenuous—complaints rained down on the tour. But by this time, Lawrence O’Donnell had explained the press corps’ strategy to Chris Matthews. The press corps felt they had been “complicit” in letting Gore “get away” with criticizing their darling, Bill Bradley, O’Donnell told Matthews (transcript below). Especially at the New York Times, he said, they had now decided that they wouldn’t let the same thing happen when Gore criticized Bush. By High Pundit Law, simpering ninnies like Maureen Dowd are forbidden to tell you things like this. But in fact, there was no message Gore ever crafted (ever could have crafted) that people like Seelye and Dowd didn’t work to undermine. This is the elementary truth about this campaign, however much various people “misspoke” about it later, telling you Gore “had every advantage.”

A few strategic states: Could Clinton have helped Gore in “a few strategic states?” Specifically, could he have helped Gore win Arkansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee or Missouri? It’s always possible, of course, although Clinton himself makes a conciliatory statement about this idea in the book, a point Dowd forgets to mention. (We don’t have the text at hand.) But what would have happened if Gore had sent Clinton to campaign in those states in the campaign’s last weeks? Cracker, please! As sure as the sun will set in the west, the press corps would have partied! Trust us: The press would have laughed, cavorted, “analyzed,” clowned. They would have talked about nothing else—and they would have talked with open derision. As it turned out, they got to adopt that mocking approach to an unfortunate, last-minute Esquire cover story on Clinton. One of the minxes who simpered and quailed was—who else?—Lady Dowd. This was Dowd, currying mischief in the final days before the election which would change the world’s history. And of course, this is exactly how she would have behaved had Clinton gone out on the trail:

DOWD (11/1/00): The faster Al scurries away, the more Bill hovers above.

On Monday, Gore advisers on the bus were fuming about Mr. Clinton's latest "exclusive" exit interview in Esquire, dredging up all the Monica stuff, indulging in self-pitying rants, taking on the Hillary-Sidney Blumenthal "everybody's out to get us" mentality and whining that the Republicans should have to apologize for what they put him through.

The magazine featured a come-hither cover picture of Mr. Clinton, saucily grinning, seated on a stool, hands on knees, knees spread apart, responding to the plea of a photographer, provocatively shooting from below, to "show me the love, Mr. President."

The president beams "as if he were America itself," Esquire writes. In less purple prose, Jay Leno said that Mr. Clinton looked as though he was posing as "the breeder of the free world."

Since this is Mr. Clinton's third swanning interview and magazine cover in a row, he clearly regards this period less as his lieutenant's last chance to move up than as his own last chance to assert that nobody can take his place.

President Clinton said that Esquire had released this, its December issue, earlier than had been agreed. But Dowd and pals partied about the photo and the interview—and said that Clinton regarded this “as his own last chance to assert that nobody can take his place.” But that is exactly what they would have done had Clinton appeared in Arkansas, or in New Hampshire, campaigning on Gore’s behalf.(They never would have stopped laughing if he’d gone to Gore’s own Tennessee.) Could Clinton have turned one of those states? That’s always possible, of course. But there would have been tons of mocking national coverage—and it’s always possible that this could have cost Gore other narrowly-won states. Dowd will never mention such things, of course. She has one job in the idiocracy: She’s paid to simper and preen.

As we read Branch’s account of that meeting, we thought Clinton and Gore both behaved sensibly, on balance, during that “explosive meeting.” But people like Dowd knew what to do when they got this thrilling account. Unfortunately, David Corn, at the “progressive” Mother Jones, went beyond even Lady Dowd in playing the simpering, silly-boy ninny when it came to this part of Branch’s book. The good news: Readers chide him for his inanity in their comments to his posts. The bad news: When the Corns surpass even the Dowds, you are in an idiocracy.

Can we talk? Corn suffers from Thomas Friedman Disease: Inability to tell the truth about the Clinton-Gore era. At The Nation, Corn sat out the wars against Clinton and Gore—and he simpers and laughs about them today. In the process, he has become a regular player of Hardball. He recites the standard shit on that silly-shit program—and airbrushes the unfortunate history of how we all got to this place. (There is no way to discuss this era with Chris Matthews as your host.)

Can we talk? Inside Establishment Washington, the 1990s were a time of rising conservative power. Especially after the 1994 elections, pundits seemed to know where future bread would be buttered. Eventually, their long, destructive wars against President Clinton were seamlessly transferred to Candidate Gore. In November 2000, Dowd was writing columns about Gore’s “Spot.” She opened her Sunday, pre-election column with the image of Gore singing “I Feel Pretty” as he looked at himself in a mirror.

But then, in October 2000, Lawrence O’Donnell was sitting in one of the “liberal” chairs on The McLaughlin Report —and he was calling Gore a liar, repeating one of the most ridiculous claims about Gore’s “lies.” This is exactly how Goerge Bush reached the White House.

The Corns politely stared into space. They said and did nothing during this era. But neither did the Uncle Tom Friedmans. In fairness, Uncle Tom did get around to telling the truth about Whitewater. He did so in yesterday’s column!

Corn has never gotten that far. You do live in an idiocracy when the Corns, even more than the Dowds, gambol and play in this manner:

To see Corn posing as Dowd: To see Corn play the Neverland card, just click this.

To see Corn play the Mussolini card, click here. Truly pathetic.

One point of consolation: In comments, readers chide Corn for his, simpering conduct. But yes, you live in an idiocracy. When the Corns top even the Dowds, the die has truly been cast.

What O’Donnell said: As we all know, Lawrence O’Donnell is one of our country’s great progressive heroes. Here’s what he said in May 2000, on Hardball, about what the press corps was doing to Gore. Context: Gore had been criticizing Bush for proposing privatization of Social Security—and the New York Times had presented back-to-back, front-page attacks on Gore for being so “harshly aggressive.”

O’Donnell explained what was happening:

O'DONNELL (5/5/00): Chris, it's interesting, these are winning issues for the Democrats. When the Democrats demonize the Republicans on entitlements like Social Security, the middle-class entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, it has always worked, it has never failed.

There is a very interesting thing developing this week, which is the media, especially the New York Times, seems to be making a decision about how complicit they want to be in the Gore tactic. You notice they're doing less reporting actually now on what Gore is actually saying, and much more analysis about the tactic of it and why he's saying it. They didn't do that in the fall when it was Gore versus Bradley on health care stuff.

MATTHEWS: So the Times is avoiding being used as a weapon by Gore against the Republicans by simply trumpeting all his charges and scare tactics. They're saying he is using scare tactics.

O'DONNELL: There is a sense in the press corps that not only did Bill Bradley let Gore get away with taking those shots in the fall, but the press feels, it seems to me, a little bit complicit in helping deliver them, and so now you're seeing what I think, in many ways, is almost an over-analysis, in terms of the press, of the Gore tactic, as opposed to the substance of what Gore’s actually saying, which does have some real merit.

Did O’Donnell mean that Gore’s position had real merit? Or did he mean that the press corps’ approach had real merit? We aren’t entirely sure. One reason: It’s fairly clear that O’Donnell supported Bush’s eventual proposal for partial privatization over Gore’s opposition. For the record: Pat Moynihan was O’Donnell’s former boss. He had been on the Times front page that very day, criticizing Gore for using the word “privatization,” which he called “a scare word.” Plainly, O’Donnell agreed:

MATTHEWS: I love it in campaigns when people do the unexpected. Your close associate from the old days, in fact boss from the old days, Pat Moynihan and Bob Kerrey, longtime friends, both came out and supported, guess what, George W. Bush's “scary scheme,” as Gore would call it on Social Security. Explain what that's going to mean?

O'DONNELL: The point's more subtle than that. There is a very, very important distinction now in this so-called “privatization.” Pat Moynihan is in favor of giving people the option, not requiring them to, but giving them the option to allow a small portion of it to it go into private investment. The Republican position on this so far is to make that mandatory. We don't know which way George W. is going to go. So if he goes one way, he loses Moynihan; if he goes another way, he gets Moynihan.

But what you do have from Pat Moynihan and Bob Kerrey, which I would say...which I would say was predictable, Chris, that these two Democrats aren't going to let you demonize a Republican on a Social Security idea that they think does have merit, even one that they disagree with somewhat. They want to see a real discussion on Social Security policy, not demonization.

MATTHEWS: And where it is seems like Al Gore is content to run an entire campaign on “change nothing.”

O'DONNELL: There is a fascinating thing. He says George Bush has a secret plan to fix Social Security. You know what the most important thing is? Al Gore doesn't have any plan to fix Social Security. He has none.

MATTHEWS: Because he's playing to the other constituencies.

More on O’Donnell tomorrow—but that’s how George Bush reached the White House. Four months later, O’Donnell sat on McLaughlin, misstating baldly about Gore.

To the Times, this was “harshly aggressive:” What kinds of things made the Times say that Gore was being “harshly aggressive?” That morning, the Times had listed five offensive statements by Gore as part of their second straight front-page screed. This was one of the five troubling statements. No, we aren’t making this up:

"We fell prey to the politics of illusion during the decade of amazing deficits. Now we have to avoid the politics of illusion in the decade of amazing surpluses. This is a test of our memory. Have we forgotten the dangers of irresponsibility? Have we forgotten the virtues of responsibility?”

Five statements like that so offended the Times that they ran consecutive, front-page “news reports” about Gore’s “harshly aggressive” campaigning. On that night’s Hardball, O’Donnell explained why this was occurring. For our real-time account; click here, scroll down top 5/9/00.

So how about it? Did Gore run “a poor campaign from a strong hand,” or “a valiant campaign against impossible odds?” Given those choices, we’d take the latter. Truly, there’s no real contest—although the clan still won’t tell.