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Daily Howler: Ruth Marcus emerged from a long cozy nap--and spotted ''a GOP blizzard''
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THE RISE OF RUTH VAN WINKLE! Ruth Marcus emerged from a long cozy nap—and spotted “a GOP blizzard:” // link // print // previous // next //

Stupak is different/The Other: Where will Stupak-Pitts end up? Like you, we have no idea. Could this issue sink health reform? Given the narrow voting margins which seem to exist, we’d have to assume that it could.

For ourselves, we think pro-choice groups have every right to bail on the bill if they decide it ends up affecting choice in unacceptable ways. But then, we also think that anti-abortion groups have the right to make the same sort of decision. That is, to jump ahead just a bit: We assume that different people, acting in good faith, may judge the morality of a measure in different ways.

Stupak’s views are different from ours. But we don’t assume he’s The Other.

How do you feel about those people whose moral judgements are different from yours? Do you rush to make them The Other? To our ear, that’s what Olbermann and Maddow did in a highly instructive colloquy on last evening’s Countdown.

Their discussion came right after KO’s first Prejean tease. So you knew it was highly important!

Sometimes the analysts simply “slap five” in enjoyment of KO’s cluelessness. Such a moment arrived fairly quickly last might, before he brought on Maddow. Here’s the whole chunk:

OLBERMANN (11/12/09): Good evening, from New York.

A strategy that is proving to have the most potential yet to defeat health care reform, one that might tear the Democratic caucus apart in the House —a strategy that seeks to deny women access to a specific medical procedure that is not illegal—just ask the Supreme Court.

Our fifth story on the countdown: Have the Republicans finally figured out how to bring down the health care bill? No, they have not. But a Democratic congressman is doing this to his own party while claiming that he is the one who is being double-crossed: Mr. Bart Stupak of the Michigan 1st [district]—the Stupak behind the Stupak Amendment. It would prohibit any government-run insurance plan created by the health care bill from covering abortion as well as prohibiting anyone receiving credits to purchase private insurance from purchasing the policy that had abortion coverage in it.

As you might expect, women’s rights groups enraged to learn that the House bill passed last weekend has such an amendment in it. Administration officials, including the White House chief of staff, Mr. Emanuel, are meeting with the head of the National Organization of Women in an attempt to smooth things over. The president’s aides will also be meeting with faith groups as health care negotiations continue.

Mr. Stupak, himself, is now issuing threats about the course of those negotiations while claiming his threats are not threats. The congressman telling, “The other side is playing with fire. If they`re going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don`t say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won’t vote with them the next time they need us and that could be the final version of this bill.”

Double-cross? To which party does Mr. Stupak think he belongs?

Right there on page 50 of the 2008 Democratic Party platform: The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, and regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken and undermine that right.

Olbermann was doing his best to reinvent Stupak as The Other—feigning outrage over silly points of language and asking which party he thinks he’s in. But good lord! The analysts simply hung their heads when KO quoted that platform language! As everyone but entertainers will know, the two party platforms often contain language which is honored wholly in the breach—and this is a perfect example. You can forget what it says, or seems to suggest, in that language from the Democratic Party platform: Simply put, the Democratic Party does not strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion regardless of her ability to pay. The Democratic Party has long accepted the current conventions, in which (for example) low-income women do not get Medicaid funding for abortions—in which they can’t get a safe and legal abortion unless they can pay for it on their own. Despite the language KO read, the party has made no recent attempt to roll back that long-standing convention, or others like it. Nor does it have any plan to do so as part of ongoing health reform, as every Democrat has made quite clear in discussions of the Stupak-Pitts problem.

It took a real rube to read that platform language as if it drummed Stupak out of the party. A real rube—or a runner of same. (By the way: Joe Biden has always opposed Medicaid funding for abortions. Does he have to leave now too?)

Sorry, but no. The Democratic Party isn’t trying to ensure the “right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.” Maybe Keith didn’t understand that. More likely, he was simply treating his viewers like rubes—like tribal followers he could please with silly, inaccurate language.

At any rate, go ahead and read the colloquy between Olbermann and Maddow. (Eventually, the transcript will show up here.) This is a very important topic. It’s important for people who care about health reform; it’s important for people who care about abortion rights. But to Olbermann and Maddow, is Stupak someone with different views—or is Stupak simply The Other? For our money, each of Olbermann’s four questions leaned toward making Stupak (and, in one case, Obama) The Other. To Olbermann and Maddow, Stupak doesn’t turn out to be someone with different views. He turns out to be a “double-crosser” who is helping “eclipse the moral issue.” He’s someone who is offering “sideways measures” because he “isn’t really man enough” to propose a constitutional measure which would ban all abortions.

Of course, all these low-IQ claims could be brought against KO and Maddow! Example: They aren’t proposing a measure to provide full federal funding (or to remove all restrictions on the right to abortion); neither are their allies on this issue in the Democratic Party or in the pro-choice world. (We don’t offer that as a criticism.) Does Rachel think Keith “isn’t really man enough” to stand up and fight for that full measure? Is Keith too “cowardly” to do such a thing—the claim she makes against Stupak? In the end, the question we enjoyed the most was this question, Olbermann’s third:

OLBERMANN: Rachel, is the real danger in this that the moral issue here suddenly gets eclipsed and we’re not talking about 44,000 Americans in the country who die every year because they don’t have enough health insurance, but we’re now off on what is—no matter how important you think it is—an ancillary point?

The analysts did “slap five” on that, so perfectly chimp-like was Olbermann’s construct. After all, if we’re really “off on an ancillary point,” why don’t Olbermann and Maddow concede it, in the face of those 44,000 looming deaths? To state the obvious, Olbermann doesn’t seem to think this is “an ancillary point,” or he wouldn’t be resisting Stupak-Pitts. (Indeed: For most people, it isn’t “ancillary.”) But it’s the law of reptilian Culture War: The only “moral issues” which truly exist are the “moral issues” of one’s own tribe. The other tribe’s moral issues will always turn out to be just “a distraction,” the place where Maddow ends up. In this way, the other tribe always ends up as The Other. As it has been since we crawled from the swamp: The other tribe will always turn to be cowardly double-crossers engaged in distractions—“not really man enough.” He isn’t “brave enough;” he’s “cowardly.”

People like Olbermann can’t accept a simple notion: They can’t accept the idea that different people, acting in good faith, may reach different moral judgments. Stupak’s judgments aren’t our own—but we don’t assume that he’s The Other. By way of contrast, Olbermann and Maddow staged a highly unintelligent hunt for The Other on last evening’s program.

Ain’t entertainment grand?

Up next/but first: Maddow went further on her own program, helping us locate The Other. Might we note a characterological point?

Name-callers will start out name-calling the other party, or voters in general, or voters in some upstate district. Eventually, though, they’ll start to name-call those in their own party. By the way: For the past two weeks, Maddow has been mocking Republicans for the “purge” they’ve been conducting among their own.

When Republicans do it, it’s a “Stalinist” purge (Frank Rich). When Democrats and cable hosts follow suit, it’s high-minded—really quite grand.

THE RISE OF RUTH VAN WINKLE: Ruth Marcus wrote a very good column this week. But it leads down a very long trail.

Marcus tackled a ginormous problem: The Republican Party’s endless stream of disinformation about American health care. You see, Marcus watched last Saturday’s House debate about the health reform bill. Like Rip Van Winkle emerging from a long nap, she was shocked—thoroughly blown away—by all the Republican bull-roar.

Marcus wrote a very good column. But now that she has snapped awake, she has much more work to do.

How much dissembling did Marcus observe? Her column spilled over with disinformation. Here’s the way the column began, including the shocked lady’s headline:

MARCUS (11/13/09): Health scare tactics/A GOP blizzard of untrue statements

I'm hoping, for your sake, that you didn't spend your Saturday night as I did: watching the House debate health-care reform on C-SPAN.

Pathetic, I know. The outcome wasn't in doubt, and the arguments were as familiar as an old pair of slippers. Moral imperative! Government takeover! Long-overdue protections! Crippling mandates!

I'm not a huge fan of the House measure, but I was glad to see it straggle across the finish line, if only to keep the process going. And, by the end of the long debate, I was cheering for it even more because of the appalling amount of misinformation being peddled by its opponents.

Newly emerged from a warm, cozy log, Van Marcus found herself confronted by an “appalling amount of misinformation.” “I don’t mean the usual hyperbole,” she said, citing several familiar groaners offered by usual GOP suspects. (Reps. Hensarling and Kingston.) Marcus had seen something worse. She had seen a “flood of sheer factual misstatements,” she quite correctly wrote in her column. As she continued, she offered this as her first example:

MARCUS: The falsehood-peddling began at the top, with Minority Leader John Boehner:

"If you're a Medicare Advantage enrollee . . . the Congressional Budget Office says that 80 percent of them are going to lose their Medicare Advantage."

Not true. The CBO hasn't said anything of the sort. Boehner's office acknowledges that he misspoke: He meant to cite a study from the Medicare actuary estimating that projected enrollment would be down by 64 percent—if the cuts took effect. Choosing not to enroll in Medicare Advantage is different from "losing" it.

The falsehoods began at the top, with Boehner. Marcus was shocked to see that the falsehoods didn’t end with him:

MARCUS (continuing directly): But Boehner wasn't alone.

Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie: "The bill raises taxes for just about everyone."

Not true. The bill imposes a surtax on the top 0.3 percent of households, individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.

Guthrie’s claim was blatantly wrong. But so too with Rep. Price:

MARCUS (continuing directly): Georgia Republican Tom Price: "This bill, on Page 733, empowers the Washington bureaucracy to deny lifesaving patient care if it costs too much."

Not true. The bill sets up a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research "in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.”

Are Republicans against figuring out what works? There's nothing in there about cost, and certainly nothing about denying "lifesaving patient care."

“Not true”/“Not true”/”Not true,” she kept writing, as she quoted other howlers by Republican congressmen. (Price again; Camp; McKeon; Brown-Waite.) She finally closed her column with this, as if she’d just crawled from a log:

MARCUS: You have to wonder: Are the Republican arguments against the bill so weak that they have to resort to these misrepresentations and distortions?

“You have to wonder?” Actually, you don’t—if you’ve been alive on this planet during the past few decades of Republican disinformation about American health care. What Marcus saw is par for the course. Only Van Winkles don’t know that.

And Democrats. And career liberals. And pseudo-liberal cable hosts. And of course, the mainstream press corps, which never saw a corporate-friendly disinformation campaign it wasn’t prepared to ignore.

Marcus has been asleep for a while, so let’s clue her in on our recent history:

The Republican Party has been spreading disinformation about health care for a very long time now. (If only she’d been able to see Candidate Giuliani parade about during Campaign 08!) Citizens have been handed familiar, well-scripted howlers—and since no one like Marcus ever speaks up, many citizens tend to believe the things they have endlessly heard. They’ve been told that “we have the best health care system in the world.” They’ve been told that “European-style health care has never worked anywhere it’s been tried.” They’ve been handed all manner of bull-roar and crap about waiting lists and long lines. And of course, they haven’t ever really been told about our astonishing level of spending.

Had Marcus only been awake, she would have seen this disinformation campaign at work for the past several decades.

She would have seen something else, of course: The utter failure of the mainstream press to respond to this torrent of disinformation. And failure of the “liberal” world. And the failure of the Democratic Party, including its most fiery liberals.

Now that Marcus has started awake, she has a lot of work on her plate. Plainly, she was shocked by what she saw in the House this weekend. Once she starts to catch up on her reading, she’ll be shocked by a much wider “GOP blizzard of misinformation”—and by the failure of clowning “liberals” to address the situation she has finally been able to see.

Marcus saw Boehner lie about health care. (Sorry: Engage in falsehood-peddling.) Last week, KO and Rachel saw something different. The twinned cable harlequins saw Boehner bungle a pointless point about the preamble to the Constitution. It provided some good solid fun for us rubes—and it provided a chance for Maddow to produce her own bungle in turn. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/12/09.)

But then, Marcus is living inside a Clown College, a point she will start to observe. For decades, disinformation has flowed like rain, widely accepted by all major sectors. She may begin to notice this fact, now that she’s fully awake.

Warning: If Marcus decides to address this disgrace, she’ll find herself with little help. Now that she is fully awake, she will see how much of our world is really about culture war—about looking away from corporate rule, about keeping us rubes entertained.