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THE WAR FOR TERROR! A shrieking host was terrified by the faces he saw on the Hill: // link // print // previous // next //

This just in from a small inbred club: If you want an excuse to tear your hair, just spend a night watching cable pundits as they try to explain almost any issue. For example, consider the way they have tried to explain the so-called Stupak amendment.

Over the weekend, the Stupak amendment ended up in the House health care reform bill. Monday evening, at the top of her show, Rachel Maddow explained what it meant:

MADDOW (11/9/09): Snatching electoral defeat from the jaws of victory here, Democrats have decided to pass monumental, sweeping, legacy-building health reform, inexplicably along with the biggest restriction on abortion rights in a generation. It’s called the Stupak amendment, named for Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan. And if his amendment becomes law, if the bill passes as is, insurance companies across the country would likely stop covering abortions-period.

Stupak's language in the House bill says that anyone who gets a government subsidy to buy insurance through the health insurance exchange would be banned from buying any insurance plan that covers abortion services.

So, if you're an insurance company that wants to participate in the new health insurance exchange, if you want access to this new pool of millions of Americans, tens of millions of Americans, choosing between insurance plans on the exchange—well, the CBO says about 90 percent of those people will be getting some kind of government subsidy in the exchange. And if they're getting any sort of government subsidy, they can't even choose your insurance plan if they want to, unless you drop abortion coverage.

The effect of this law isn't just no federal funding for abortions. That's the law now. The effect of this law is likely to be no insurance coverage for abortion in the United States—period.

Really? Is that what final passage of the Stupak amendment would mean? No insurance coverage for abortion—period? That’s always possible, of course, though Maddow’s logic seemed a bit tortured to us. Why couldn’t insurance companies offer some policies which cover abortion—and other policies which didn’t? How hard could that possibly be?

We were a bit puzzled by Maddow’s claim—but no worry! In this same segment, Maddow was going to interview Rep. Diana DeGette, who is leading the Democratic push-back against the amendment. In a rational world, this would likely help clarify things. This was Maddow’s introduction:

MADDOW: Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. She is circulating that letter which now has about 40 signatures of House Democrats who say they will oppose the health care bill if it's used to restrict abortion rights. Congresswoman DeGette, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

DEGETTE.: It's good to be with you again, Rachel.

MADDOW: In terms of the substance of the Stupak amendment, how big a setback is this for access to abortion services in this country?

That was an obvious opening question—the first of four questions Maddow would ask. But go ahead—read the full interview! (For the transcript, just click here.) DeGette never offered anything like the prognosis Maddow had just presented—nor did Maddow ever ask DeGette about her sweeping prediction. Would the Stupak amendment do what Maddow had said? Would it “likely [mean] no insurance coverage for abortion in the United States—period?” We don’t have the first freaking idea. You see, Maddow never asked!

Maddow constantly does things like this. But in fairness, the confusion has been general over cable TV this week. We’ve seen endless discussions of Stupak—but very few attempts to define what the amendment would actually do. The haplessness of cable hosts has been on stark display.

At least we got to enjoy one mordant laugh. Last night, after two straight nights of conceptual chaos on the always-confused cable program Hardball, Chris Matthews said this to Cynthia Tucker, right at the end of his hour:

TUCKER (11/10/09): As if the Senate bill didn’t have enough problems, enough political complications, now they have to deal with the abortion issue. Quite frankly, I think the majority of members of Congress in the House and in the Senate want to do just one thing, preserve the status quo, the Hyde amendment, which says no taxpayer money may be used to fund abortion. And I think most of the 64 people who voted for the Stupak amendment thought they were doing that.

But it goes much farther than that. The Stupak amendment says that private insurers may not sell policies that give full reproductive rights coverage in the exchange. So even if I can afford my own insurance, if I’m not getting a government subsidy at all, I cannot buy on that exchange.

MATTHEWS: Well said! That’s the first time somebody’s explained it clearly, Howard!

FINEMAN: Yes, and the rationale was that since some people in that exchange are going to be getting subsidies, you can`t allow anybody the possibility of using that subsidy with that program. I think it can be—Cynthia’s right. They’re going to have to tailor the language. It’s going to have to be very carefully rewritten. It’s going to be one of those things like the opt-in or opt-out, or the trigger or no-trigger. When they come down to the conference committee, which eventually this will do, they’ll have language trying to tease out those specifics.

That’s the first time somebody’s explained it clearly! Since Matthews himself had been leading discussions of this topic for two straight nights, just whose fault was that? Meanwhile, Tucker’s explanation was fairly clear—but was it accurate and complete? It didn’t occur to Matthews to ask. Finally, Fineman should be led away to a padded room in The Land of the Meaningless Cable Babblers. Go ahead! Just try to make sense of what he said! Sorry: Just try to tease out his specifics!

Today, we’ll offer one small tip for those who are watching their culture implode. Understand this: The people you see on your TV machine basically can’t explain sh*t. In truth, these are very unintelligent people. That includes the Pulitzer winners—which is to say, almost everyone who has a column.

These people belong to a small inbred club. So do the Pulitzer voters.

Special report: Different strokes!

PART 3—THE WAR FOR TERROR: In a slightly different world, last Thursday would have been a sad day for the Republican Party. After months of delay, the party had released its health reform plan—and it didn’t amount to a lot. If you watched Countdown, you heard a typically jumbled and hurried account of what the plan did and didn’t do (see THE HOWLER, 11/10/09). The next morning, an editorial provided a somewhat clearer sense of what the plan was about:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (11/6/09): House Republican leaders have produced their own health care reform bill. Here is the first thing you need to know: It would do almost nothing to reduce the scandalously high number of Americans who have no insurance. And it makes only a token stab at slowing the relentlessly rising costs of medical care.

Despite that, the Republicans are pitching their bill as far more affordable than the Democrats' approach. And you are sure to hear a lot in coming days about how it could reduce health insurance premiums. How it compares in that respect with the Democratic proposal is not yet clear. But a lot of the Republicans' savings on premiums come from reduced coverage. Pay less and get less.


There's no question that the Republicans' bill is cheaper because it does so little to help the uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would provide $61 billion over 10 years to expand coverage, compared with more than $1 trillion in the Democrats' bill.

That paltry effort, the budget office estimates, would extend coverage to a few million people who would otherwise be uninsured in 2019, leaving 52 million citizens and legal residents below Medicare age without coverage or about 17 percent of that population, right where it is today. This is a dismaying abdication of responsibility.

The Republican bill wouldn’t cost a lot—and it would accomplish even less! Ten years out, 52 million would be uninsured. The cost of premiums would be somewhat reduced—largely due to reduced coverage.

In the opinion of the editors, this proposal represented “a dismaying abdication of responsibility.” It would have been a sad day for Republicans—if Democrats and liberals had ever created a world in which the bulk of voters actually cared about expanding coverage and reducing the cost of premiums. But in all honesty, Democrats and liberals have never created any such world. For an example of what we do instead, let’s return to Keith Olbermann’s clowning on last Thursday night’s Countdown.

Toward the end of the program’s first segment, Olbermann and Clarence Page would fumble their way through a rushed attempt to explain the Republican proposal. But Olbermann’s main objective this night involved something quite different—a long, dumb culture war. On this same day, Republican leaders had staged a dumb rally on the steps of the Capitol building—and Olbermann was eager to shriek and wail about what had transpired. Last night, this big dumb oaf wasted everyone-s time ranting about Carrie Prejean—again! But last Thursday, our dumbest of oafs was wailing about Michele Bachmann. In his shrieking and screaming, he treated his viewers like addled fools—and helped show why progressive ideas rarely win:

OLBERMANN (11/5/09): Good evening from New York.

An elected Republican official today is leading a protest on the west steps of the Capitol that compared health care reform to Nazi death camps and encouraged mindless harassment of and possibly violence against the government. Not tea-baggers anymore, not demagogic commentators, an actual congresswoman inciting a hateful rebellion against the rule of law and order. Her name is Michele Bachmann.

Remember when primal nitwits like Olbermann/Maddow pretended they were offended by “the politics of fear?” Last Thursday, Olbermann propped himself over his fainting couch and offered that utterly silly account of the sad and silly rally Bachmann and the others had produced.

But then, silly people have always needed each other—to maintain their inane culture wars.

How silly was our shrieking host this night? Consider the cosmic foolishness of that, his opening wail.

How foolish was Olbermann’s opening wail? According to Olbermann, Bachmann had led a protest that day which “compared health care reform to Nazi death camps.” (More on that tomorrow.) Not only that: Her protest had “encouraged harassment of the government”—“and possibly violence against it!” And not only that: On this day, an actual congresswoman had been spotted “inciting a hateful rebellion against the rule of law and order!” But how exactly had Bachmann done that? Moments later, Olbermann, reaching for smelling salts, played the utterly pitiful tape which supposedly proved his case:

OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Bachmann, urging these people to rebel.

BACHMANN (videotape): It was Thomas Jefferson who said a revolution every now and then is a good thing. What do you think?


BACHMANN: You feel so good right now, and we, the members of Congress that are gathered on these steps for this press conference, are so honored that you are here.

Sadly, that was Olbermann’s evidence that an actual congresswoman had been spotted “inciting a hateful rebellion against the rule of law and order”—“possibly encouraging violence against the government.” Go ahead—read the full transcript. Out of that utterly pointless moment, this big nut had crafted that wail.

A few moments later, Gene Robinson arrived to clown along with the shrieking host—and the shrieking host played it again. “Today, we saw a member of Congress encouraging harassment of the government, fomenting—her word was revolution,” KO said.

No, you can’t get dumber than that—but KO was willing to try. He dragged out two—Count em, two!—Pulitzer winners to play along with his silly clowning. And sure enough! Obeying the rules of pseudo-liberal war, the shrieking host was soon asserting that the event was been rancid with racism:

OLBERMANN: But today was when the Republicans say, “We own this.” There is racism in here. There is bigotry. There‘s refusal to acknowledge the outcome of an election that was a pretty clear-cut decision. There is a misunderstanding of a vital health care issue. There are a lot of things going on here.

But they’re being stoked up into a rage and this was not—correct me if I‘m wrong about this—but this was the day the Republican Party said, “Yes, we’ll take this. We’ll run on this. We’ll become the party of hate.”

“We’ll become the party of hate?” Look who’s talking, the eye-rolling analysts cried, choking back laughter as this great pseudo-liberal wept about the alleged “refusal to acknowledge the outcome of an election.” They had no idea what KO meant by that—Bachmann got elected last year, too—and they searched and searched, all through this segment, for Olbermann’s evidence of all that bigotry and racism. Sorry: Olbermann never made any real attempt to explain this ultimate crowd-pleasing charge. But by the end of his segment with Robinson, he offered this bit of silly rank garbage—and acknowledged his own state of terror:

OLBERMANN: On an associated point with this: How did the organizers of this not realize, “You know what? We had better get, somehow, even if we’ll have to pay them to show up, some black faces, some brown faces, some Asian people, or somebody in this crowd, other than the crowd that we’ve seen at every piece of videotape that looked like—that looked exactly the same. This is otherwise going to look like a pro-apartheid rally in South Africa 35 or 40 years ago.

ROBINSON: Well, now, this is going to sound tendentious, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right.

ROBINSON: But I went to the Republican National Convention last year, and you did not see many minorities there. And it— Look, this is a, this is a party that has been more and more hostile to minorities, to Latinos, to African-Americans. It’s certainly perceived that way and this didn’t help that image at all. That—you know, that seems to be the hand they’ve decided to play.

OLBERMANN: It’s terrifying.

Gene Robinson of MSNBC and the Washington Post—as always, great thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to talk to you.

If you don’t understand how stupid that is, you ought to stop following politics. By Sunday, the shrieking Frank Rich was playing the same addled card—against a district in upstate New York which had supported Obama over McCain, by five points. In the view of the shrieking Lord Rich, that district didn’t have enough blacks and Hispanics either. For that reason, the district belonged in Utah, this highest and dumbest lord said.

Bachmann had staged an utterly silly, utterly inconsequential pep rally. A day or two earlier, the CBO had let us see how silly and inconsequential the Republican “health plan” was. But in the real world, in your actual nation, Bachmann’s party and its allies continued to kick the sh*t out of our own hapless “health reform plan.” Once agin, we were back to a logical problem: How can a gang of nitwits like Bachmann keep kicking the shit out of fellows like Olbermann/Rich?

The answer lies in those shrieking rants—in their love for a sick/stupid culture war, their love of pure ongoing hatred.

Tomorrow—Part 4: Preambling into history!