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TERRIFYING, HE SAID! Two pundits explained the GOP plan, exposing Countdown’s real brief: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2009

This morning, the gods rocked with laughter: On Olympus, that is. Reason? On the front page of the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned a report about the way current health reform bills would deal with American health care spending. On Olympus, her opening paragraph produced some muffled laughter:

STOLBERG (11/10/09): As health care legislation moves toward a crucial airing in the Senate, the White House is facing a growing revolt from some Democrats and analysts who say the bills Congress is considering do not fulfill President Obama's promise to slow the runaway rise in health care spending.

Note that definition again: We’ll accept a rise in health care spending—it just can’t be a runaway rise! As Stolberg continued, the muffled laughter became full-throated—almost a roar:

STOLBERG (continuing directly): Mr. Obama has made cost containment a centerpiece of his health reform agenda, and in May he stood up at the White House with industry groups who pledged voluntary efforts to trim the growth of health care spending by 1.5 percent, or $2 trillion, over the next decade.

Can you see why the gods, and their guests, were now openly laughing? In the face of a “runaway rise in health care spending,” Stolberg almost seemed to suggest that a “trim” in growth, of 1.5 percent, somehow connected to the idea that “cost containment” was “a centerpiece” of Obama’s agenda! And then too, the gods, and their guests, had all seen the OECD figures—the figures which show the baseline of American health care spending. Can you see why the gods, and their guests, were now laughing hard at us mortals?

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007
United States: $7290
France: $3601
Germany: $3588
United Kingdom: $2992
Italy: $2686
Spain: $2671
Japan: $2581 (2006)

There’s the baseline for any future rise. In 2007, the U.S. spent 102 percent more than the French! In Stolberg’s account, it seems that we’re planning to “trim” 1.5 of those 102 points! But then, cost containment is a centerpiece of our health care agenda!

On Olympus, the sides of the gods are starting to split in the face of our culture’s year-long clowning—clowning which is mainly conducted at the very top of our “press corps.” Our advice: Surrender the prejudice of your youth! In a hundred different ways, you were told that “man” is “the rational animal!” As your society flounders and drowns, you—like the gods—can learn to see something quite different.

Special report: Different strokes!

PART 2—TERRIFYING, HE SAID: To what extent can your species reason? Last night, watching cable “news” channels, we found ourselves wondering once again, as we watched the nation’s pundits attempt to explain the abortion restrictions found in the House health reform bill. Things really got bad on the Joy Behar Show—and then too, in the lead editorial in this morning’s New York Times. This morning, those who sit at the top of American discourse offered this wonderfully comical howler—a comical howler we heard quite widely on cable “news” channels last night:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (11/10/09): The restrictive language allows people to buy ''riders'' that would cover abortions. But nobody plans to have an unplanned pregnancy, so this concession is meaningless. It is not clear that insurers would even offer the riders since few people would buy them.

Of course, nobody plans to have cancer either—but that doesn’t stop them from buying insurance just in case they do. In effect, the New York Times editorial board “reasoned” this way this morning:

Current arrangements allow people to buy health insurance that would cover treatment for cancer. But nobody plans to have cancer, so this arrangement is meaningless.

Piltdown Man enjoyed a good laugh, pondering this logic in heaven today. He called Australopithecus over, and the hairy-headed pair roared with simple delight.

None of this speaks to the merits, or lack of same, of the actual House abortion provision. It speaks to a fairly obvious fact: At present, humanoids reason quite poorly—to the extent they reason at all—at the top of America’s discourse. The gods on Olympus rock with laughter as they watch our attempts at “debate.”

How would that House provision work? Watching cable news last night, it was quite hard to say. But then, last Thursday night, on the same cable channels, something else was hard to determine: It was somewhat hard to figure what was in that new Republican health plan. Consider the silly banging and clattering served to us rubes on Countdown.

First, consider the program’s passing attempt to explain what was in that new health care proposal. After preliminary banging and clattering about a few related topics, Olbermann made a cursory attempt to report the CBO’s assessment of the long-delayed GOP plan:

OLBERMANN (11/5/09): Minority Leader Boehner’s office having falsely claimed that that bill, once it was finally revealed, would cover millions more Americans than the Democrats’ bill would. In fact, it would cover fewer million Americans, making the nation’s health care crisis that much worse.

The Congressional Budget Office in its analysis of the bill, determining that the Republicans would leave 52 million Americans uninsured. Right now, there are 46 million in this country without coverage—which means under the Republican plan, 6 million more Americans would become uninsured.

And the GOP bill’s impact on the deficit? It would be $36 million [sic] worse than the impact of the Democratic bill.

The GOP bill would be worse for the deficit—by $36 billion over ten years. You’re right—that figure doesn’t even rise to the level of rounding error. But so what? It served the purpose of banging and clattering, so KO added it in.

That said, Olbermann had reported the CBO’s estimate, concerning the number who would be uninsured under the new Republican plan. Soon, he called on Clarence Page to help extend the discussion. After the standard pimping and fawning, the pair enacted Goldberg’s Law (for text, see below). Keith was very honored, of course:

OLBERMANN: For more on the other sideshow—not the madness at the Capitol but the madness in that Republican health care plan—let’s turn to Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune editorial board member and our second Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of this segment.

We’re very honored, Clarence. Good evening.

PAGE: You’re just loaded with us tonight, Keith. Thank you very much for having me.

OLBERMANN: It’s terrific.

The first time the Republicans rolled out what they called a health care plan, it was in June. It was four pages long and didn’t have any financial figures in it. Now, the plan is 52 million Americans uninsured in 2019, 6 million more than uninsured now and premiums for many people, mostly the less healthy, will go up. Do you think maybe they should have stuck with that four-pager that didn’t have any numbers in it?

PAGE: Well, you know, it does make you wonder. You know, John Boehner was asked today how much his plan would cost, how much the Republican plan would cost, and he didn’t know. So it makes you wonder how much time they actually spent on this.

It turned out that it would be about $60 billion with about a net cost of $8 billion because they figured most of that would be saved. But the fact is, you’re right. The main thrust of this is to reduce the cost of premiums and provide lower cost and more choice to—mostly to people who are already covered. It would only increase coverage to about 3 million people.

Keith, how many uninsured do we have right now? Over 40 million depending on what estimate you look at.

OLBERMANN: Forty-six, yes.

PAGE: Forty-six million. Well, 3 million would be covered by this. So, this plan is not designed to close the gap as far as the uninsured are concerned.

No, it didn’t really matter—especially given this cable program’s actual subject matter. But the analysts shared a few sidelong smiles as Page rattled off those statistics—statistics that plainly seemed to differ with those we’d just gotten from Olbermann. Would 46 million rise to 52? Or would the 46 drop by three? No, it didn’t—and doesn’t—matter. But the analysts smiled all the same.

(They also smiled about those premiums. Will they go up—or will they go down? Olbermann and Page didn’t contradict each other, that’s true. But how cogent was this part of their “report,” which employed a Pulitzer winner?)

Did anyone fail to note that conflict? the analysts asked, referring to the number of future uninsured. And they quickly came up with an answer: Olbermann and Page failed to notice! The difference was small, and it didn’t much matter. But it helps define the actual subject matter of this silly, screeching “news” program.

You see, Countdown isn’t really about arming viewers with information and argument. Countdown is really all about driving a culture war, in which one side—the bad side—is gripped by “madness” and the other side—our side—spills with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists. Of course, those Pulitzer winners have all played large and active roles in the larger madness of the past several decades, but you aren’t told such things on Countdown. (Last night, Margaret Carlson was back, pretending to be a fiery progressive. It’s her new pose, for this new decade.) On Countdown, a lunk-headed host trains viewers to hate—thus keeping them barefoot and foolish.

Thus dooming progressive interests.

Olbermann had already ranted and railed before his lightly comic exchange with Page. “Terrifying,” the gentleman said, defining his show’s real terrain.

Tomorrow —Part 3: Constant terrification

For the record: The text of the joke known as “Goldberg’s Law:The man with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never quite sure.

So it was when two pundits explained how many would be uninsured.