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Daily Howler: Will the Baucus Bill reduce health costs? The topic's too tough for the Times
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THE WAGES OF SIN ARE INFLATED COSTS! Will the Baucus Bill reduce health costs? The topic’s too tough for the Times: // link // print // previous // next //

Death to America: Those who pray for “Death to America” should have gotten a warm, happy glow reading this weekend’s op-ed pages.

Your nation faces massive challenges. But so what? Your most famous and influential columnists continue to gambol and play.

On Saturday, at the New York Times, Lady Collins surveyed the scene—and decided to focus on this:

COLLINS (10/10/09): Our question for today is whether it’s fair for a politician to point out that his opponent is fat.

An ad in the Jersey governor’s race seemed to concern one candidate’s weight. Inevitably, the simpering duchess focused on that. Soon, in accordance with Hard Pundit Law, The Lady was typing this:

COLLINS: Other people have argued that the ad will backfire and elicit sympathy for Christie among the multitudes of overweight voters even in the relatively fit state of New Jersey. (And God help the candidate who tries to pull this kind of thing in Mississippi.)

That’s happened in the past. Like the time Mitt Romney ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate during one of Kennedy’s particularly unslender periods. The Romney camp ran film of Kennedy struggling to squeeze behind a table. (Subliminal message: Too much fat in the budget.) Kennedy responded with workers who had been laid off after a factory takeover engineered by Romney’s firm. (Subliminal message: How do you like downsizing?)

Of course, Kennedy cleaned his clock. This is my second-favorite Mitt Romney story. I couldn’t figure out any way to bring up the one about him driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the car roof.

It has been a long time since this simpering imbecile wasted your time on Mitt Romney’s dead dog, Seamus. How inane is Lady Collins? During the last campaign, she explored the topic at least eight separate times, typing columns with titles like these:

Haunted by Seamus (8/4/07)
The Revenge of Seamus (2/9/08)
Dear Old Golden Dog Days (10/11/08)

On Saturday, Seamus was back! On Sunday, other familiar simpering returned, this time from Lady Dowd, who started her column thusly:

DOWD (10/11/09): When he heard the Nobel Peace Prize shocker on Friday, Bill Clinton went into one of his purple rages. He picked up the phone and dialed the one person on earth who would be as steamed as he was.

CLINTON: Hey, man, it’s me. This thing is plumb crazy. Can you believe it?

W: No way, Jose!

Your nation is facing massive challenges. But to Dowd, Obama’s prize represented the latest chance to imagine Bill in a purple rage. Dowd touched herself as she imagined his rage. Oh Bill, she once again moaned.

That same day, The Pundit Dean typed in the Post. Your nation is facing massive challenges. But The Dean was writing a “fat column” too. “Every time you think politics has hit a new low, it finds a way to go lower,” he started out, seeming to be in a purple rage. He was talking about that New Jersey ad too. But crackers! He had the same silly focus as Lady Collins—with a dollop of Dowd thrown in:

BRODER (10/11/09): This is not an issue that Barack Obama can afford to ignore. As the leader of the Democratic Party, he is accountable for the Corzine campaign. He has to know that if he, Obama, were not such a lean, fit and dead-eye basketball player, he could be a target himself.

He may be tempted to emulate Corzine's tactics when he runs for reelection, if he's lucky enough to draw Newt Gingrich as his opponent. But he ought to remember that it could as easily be Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty or the calorie-counting Mike Huckabee.

And Democrats with longer memories (or less dire political circumstances) than Corzine's ought to remember recent history. Suppose that George W. Bush, Mr. Fitness, had thrown weight onto the scales against Albert Gore in 2000. Does anyone think it would have taken 36 days to figure out who won?

Dowd featured Bill in a purple rage—and Broder helped us recall that Gore is fat! Of course, Broder’s memory had failed him again. Candidate Gore was cut like a rock in 2000. It was only later, when he put on some weight, that Broder’s cohort spent years reminding us that Gore is just too fucking fat.

Today, they gambol and play about Corzine’s ad. But the fat card is a broken-souled card they themselves have endlessly played.

Your nation faces massive challenges—and people like these still sit at the top of your “press corps,” shaping your “public discussion.” Do some people pray for Death to America? The Ladies Collins and Dowd—and the Dean—are helping their cause along.

The Lady Dowd, back when it began: Over the weekend, by happenstance, we reviewed the Lady Dowd’‘s work during the 1992 Democratic Convention. Frankly, the New York Times teamed her that week with Frank Rich for a daily dose of simpering inanity. These are just a few helpings of their inanity, back when they were defining this type of inanity as the shape of our discourse:

DOWD/RICH (7/13/92): The Doublemint Twins Ticket

Some have christened the new ticket "Elvis and Eddie Haskell."

Mr. Clinton is the sinner who has seen the light, but he still has a bit of bad-boy swagger that leavens his persona as a policy wonk. Mr. Gore, by contrast is the straight-A student who never lets one forget it.

The two men are in age and background political Doublemint Twins, the Arkansas Governor a Rhodes Scholar and the Tennessee Senator a Harvard graduate. But just as you would not expect Elvis to find himself at home on “Leave It to Beaver,” there is already a hint of sibling rivalry between the ticket's two staffs.

Gore aides are already working on counterspin to the Clinton staff whispers that Mr. Gore has been grabbing the microphone to act like a goody-goody at joint news conferences.

DOWD/RICH (7/15/92): Sipping an Ultra Slim-Fast with Tipper Gore

So what gives with the political version of "Vertigo" playing at the Inter-Continental Hotel, home of the Clinton campaign? Tipper Gore seems determined to recreate the Kim Novak role in that Alfred Hitchcock thriller. First, she changed her blond hairstyle to a pageboy, so that she looks like Hillary Clinton's long-lost twin. Then, she goes on a diet, so that she looks as slim as Mrs. Clinton.

In a morning interview, Mrs. Gore explained that she got her cloned coif from Mrs. Clinton's traveling hairdresser from California, Kristof.

DOWD/RICH (7/19/92): Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore could easily have been mistaken for suburban Republican wives with their immaculately sprayed blonde pageboys, their women's teas with petits fours, and their determinedly uxorious talk of car pools, cookies and children. Asked how the two strong-willed women, both veterans of independent crusades concerning children, were getting along, Mrs. Gore smiled sweetly and said, "A mother is a mother."

In those days, Dowd and Rich were inventing the “simpering imbecile” style which now defines the way your lives and your interests get “discussed.” When they gazed on Clinton and Gore, their “thoughts” turned to Elvis and to Eddie Haskell—and to the Doublemint Twins. This began the long, slow process of dumbing-down which has made a sick joke of your lives.

That same week: That same week, Lady Dowd—on her own, without Lord Rich—introduced one of the themes which would later be used to send Bush to the White House. She plagiarized the highlighted, mocking material from a piece which had appeared in the Washington Times on July 6. That earlier piece had been written by Elisabeth Hickey—and it wasn’t about Al Gore:

DOWD (7/12/92):Also, if the many disaffected baby boomers and young people drawn to the Perot challenge are fed up with insiders and pols of all stripes, Governor Clinton of Arkansas and Senator Gore may have a hard time camouflaging themselves as true outsiders.

Mr. Clinton has been massaging the Washington Establishment for years, as though the capital were an Arkansas precinct. And Mr. Gore, now the junior Senator from Tennessee, was the son of another Senator from Tennessee and grew up at a fancy hotel in Washington, sometimes ordering room service from the expensive restaurant downstairs called the Jockey Club when his parents were away. It was "Albert at the Fairfax," a Washington version of the children's books about 6-year-old Eloise at the Plaza.

Dowd had stolen those delicious “Eloise at the Plaza” images from Hickey’s piece in the Washington Times—a piece about someone else who had once lived at the Fairfax. (Which wasn’t “a fancy hotel” at the time. In 1982, after a massive renovation, the facility became a the Ritz Carlton.) Nor had Gore ever ordered room service as a child, he later told reporters. But so what? Dowd’s plagiarized images stuck, and were widely applied during Campaign 2000.

Death to America? Maureen Dowd and her simpering pals have paved your nation’s road to perdition. Darlings! Life is all about Seamus, being fat and page-boys! And Eloise at the Plaza, of course.

Way back when, Dowd and Rich helped invent this simpering style. It has damned your interests ever since.

THE WAGES OF SIN ARE INFLATED COSTS: Last week, we finally snapped.

We still don’t understand why big news orgs want to protect The Interests in our health care “discussion.” But after watching The NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill stare into air about our huge over-spending, we decided the time had come to assume the obvious:

Our big news orgs, like our big politicians, are working on behalf of The Interests.

Sunday, reading the New York Times, we began to wonder again. Could it be that our journalists are simply too dumb to deal with such an issue?

Here’s why we started to wonder:

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt has generally seemed more honest, and more adult, than most major journalists. But yesterday, he discussed the Times’ coverage of the health care debate. The analysts began to cry when, early on, Hoyt said this:

HOYT (10/11/09): Health care is a sprawling subject that is hard for a newspaper to get right. It involves economics, politics, and philosophical and moral values. There are complex delivery systems and hard-to-explain concepts, like how spending $829 billion over 10 years and adding 29 million people to health insurance rolls could save the government money in the long run.

Really? That concept is hard to explain? Here’s how hard it is to explain—outside an idiocracy:

The Baucus bill involves new spending. But it raises more than enough news taxes to pay for its new spending.

The reality is slightly more complex than that, but not much. But within our current upper-end press corps, that “concept” is “hard to explain.”

Are we living in an idiocracy? That thought once again came to mind.

After reading Hoyt, the analysts turned to this detailed New York Times editorial, “The Baucus Bill,” about the health care debate. Soon, they were crying again.

As always, we scanned the long, multi-part editorial for its treatment of health care costs. Your country spends two to three times as much on health care, per person, as comparable nations spend. Back in the day, Candidate Obama said he would bring those stunning costs down:

OBAMA (6/9/08): When I am President, we'll take a different approach. We will give every American the chance to get the same kind of health care that members of Congress give themselves. We'll bring down premiums by $2500 for the typical family, and we'll prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those who need care most. And we won't just lower costs for families, we'll lower costs for the entire country by making our health care system more efficient through better technology and more emphasis on prevention. That's the choice in this election, and that's the change I'll bring as President.

OBAMA (7/7/08): I'll also help families who are struggling under the crushing burden of health care costs by passing a plan that brings the typical family's premiums down by $2500 and guarantees coverage to everyone who wants it.

Presumably, that meant the following: If you pay $12,500 for your premiums now, you’ll only pay $10,000 after health reform passes. That would still be massively more than would make sense in other developed nations—nations which spend so much less per person. But the statement made conceptual sense. It gave an idea of what this candidate meant when he said he would “cut health care costs.” In part, it meant that the typical family would be spending much less for insurance.

Alas! In yesterday’s editorial, the New York Times devoted an entire section to a subject it called “COSTS AND DEFICITS.” The editors had already written the following as part of their overall praise for the Baucus Bill:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (10/1//09): The bill has farsighted elements that ought to be included in any final legislation—and serious defects that ought to be remedied. It would do more to contain costs and restrain future deficits than any other bill under consideration, and it is far better than allowing costs to continue escalating on their current disastrous path.

The editors spoke about containing costs, not about actually cutting them. But from that passage, you would think that the editors understood a basic fact: “Containing costs” and “restraining deficits” are two different subjects. As a candidate, Obama had seemed to say that his reform plan would actually cut the cost of premiums; that is a separate question from what his plan might do to the federal deficit. In the quoted part of the editorial, the editors only said that the Baucus Bill would do a lot to contain costs. But the editors at least seemed to understand that they were discussing two separate topics:

  1. How will the bill affect “health care costs”—the cost of insurance premiums, for example?
  2. How will the bill affect future federal deficits?

You would think the editors understood that these are two separate questions. But go ahead—read the section of their editorial which is headlined “COSTS AND DEFICITS.” That part of the editorial covers nine paragraphs—413 words. But the entire discussion concerns the bill’s effect on the deficit. To all appearances, when the editors spoke about “containing costs,” they only meant costs to the federal government.

Later in the editorial, the editors offer a fleeting complaint about the Baucus Bill’s failure to include “a public plan to compete with private insurers, which would provide more choice to consumers, hold down prices and save the government money on subsidies” [our emphasis]. But we’ve come a long way from the time when Candidate Obama quantified the degree to which insurance premiums would be cut under his plan. In yesterday’s editorial, the editors had almost nothing to say about this question—and they almost seemed to conflate the two basic questions we have cited above.

Simply put: Is your press corps smart enough to conduct a discussion of health reform? In today’s hard-copy Times, David Herszenhorn presents a long discussion of “soaring medical costs—the biggest problem facing the majority of Americans, who already have insurance.” Here too, there are some conceptual problems, but it’s fairly clear that Herszenhorn is talking about the costs that citizens pay for their health care, whether they pay it out-of-pocket or through the price of insurance premiums. This is the very topic that got short shrift in the Times editorial.

Sorry, though—we can’t link you to Herszenhorn’s discussion. Due to the Times’ ongoing confusion about material which appears at its “Prescriptions” blog, Herszenhorn’s long report in the hard-copy Times doesn’t seem to appear anywhere at the paper’s web site—at least, not as we type.

Why do Americans spend two to three times what others spend on health care? Last year, Candidate Obama directly addressed that gigantic problem, promising that his plan would cut the cost of premiums. By this weekend, the editors of the New York Times almost seemed to have that question conflated with a separate issue. And the paper’s public editor, who is more serious than most, was lamenting a concept which is “hard to explain”—the concept that a bill can create new federal spending without raising the federal deficit.

Do you live in an idiocracy? Have your nation’s “intellectual leaders” lost the ability to lead?

Do you live in an idiocracy? The signs are all around.