WHATS THE MATTER WITH US! Why doesnt the U.S. embrace health care? Harris-Lacewell made a good point: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2009
Why King drank the Kool-Aid for Powell: On Saturday, Colbert Kings column focused on Afghanistan, a very serious topic. But King began with a bit of recent historyvery important recent history, which very much should be recorded.
When Colin Powell went to the U.N. in 2003, why did Insider Washington Journalists rush to embrace his presentation? This is a very important part of recent American history. At the time, King wrote an embarrassing column in praise of Powells moral greatness. (Headline: Powells mastery.) But then, so did a string of his liberal Post colleagues (Cohen, McGrory, Raspberry). Like the others, he swooned and fawned about Powells vast greatnessand missed the weakness of Powells presentation.
To his credit, King has now explained that reaction. He chugged the Kool-Aid for Powell, he says. In this passage, he explains why:
In 2003, King swallowed every drop of the Kool-Aid, he says. So did a string of his colleagues.
For ourselves, we had a different reaction to Powells presentation that day. To our ear, Powells presentation seemed oddly weak, even before we learned that Powell, despite his vast moral greatness, had actually doctored some of the transcripts he presented to the U.N. But then, we had spent the previous five years sharpening our eardocumenting the weakness of the ways our journalistic elites tend to reason. Like his colleagues, King had spent the previous decade inventing unfortunate demon tales about Clinton, Clinton and Goreand equally silly hero tales about a saint named Powell.
By the time of Powells U.N. adventure, our hapless journalistic elite had reasoned that way for many years. In our view, King made a contribution to history this weekend, describing his self-blinkered reaction to Powells presentation.
By the way: Lawrence Wilkerson is routinely described as the guy who put together Powells presentation togetherpresumably including those doctored transcripts. For unknown reasons, Wilkerson is now a Hero of Progressive Labor on prime-time MSNBC.
PART 1A GOOD POINT: Last Fridays Rachel Maddow Show included several strong points about our struggle for national health care. Maddow discussed the topic with a panel of guests. For our money, the first strong point was made by Rep. Anthony Weiner in response to a question from Maddow.
Why has it proven so hard for this country to move forward on national health care? We agree with Weiners pointour side hasnt messaged real well:
Weiner quickly moved to a different pointbut the analysts lustily cheered what hed said. In our view, the liberal/progressive world has done a miserable job of health care messaging, over the course of the past several decades. This is part of a larger messaging breakdown over the past many years.
Our side doesnt message real hard. We much prefer to spend our time explaining how smart we all are.
Wed love to see a wider discussion of that messaging failure. But the discussion quickly moved on. Soon, Nicholas Kristof was making a point with which we tend to disagree:
Kristof was cut off therebut we tend to disagree with that point. In our view, the one bit of messaging liberals have achieved about health care is the moral messagethe claim that [insert number] million people lack health insurance, and that is morally wrong. No doubt, this message could be delivered more skillfully. But we think it has largely been a losing message, perhaps for the reasons about which Melissa Harris-Lacewell eventually spoke.
Why has it been so hard to build a consensus about national health care in the U.S.? Why did so many European nations agree on national health care in the post-war years, while the U.S. still struggles and strains? Near the end of the discussion, Harris-Lacewell came in with a salient point, a point she had raised a bit earlier:
At this point, Weiner broke in with a joke; the discussion was quickly over. But Harris-Lacewell may have touched on a factor which helps explain our unfortunate exceptionalism when it comes to national health care.
Why did European nations pass national health systems in the late 1940s, while the U.S. failed? In The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman asserts (with limited documentation) that our failure at that time represented a racial breakdownthat southern members of Congress balked at the notion because they didnt want to integrate southern hospitals. We have no idea if thats truebut its certainly plausible. But even now, in 2009, we remain a much less homogeneous society than the European societies which passed national health plans in the late 1940s. Presumably, this can affect the societal drive to extend benefits to all. In a non-homogeneous society, dreams of The Other bloom, killing the generous impulse.
Earlier, Harris-Lacewell had noted that this problem extends to issues of class as well as race and ethnicity:
In her longer statement, Harris-Lacewell began by focusing on the motives of senators and members of Congress, rather than on the views of voters. But we would guess that her overall picture may well be accurate. It has been harder for our society to achieve consensus about national health care due to its racial/class/ethnic diversity. Most likely, due to its regional diversity as well.
Is a more homogeneous nation more likely to rally for national health care? We would guess thats the case. But the analysts smirked at the obvious irony, as they saw this salient point being made on the Maddow program. Has any program ever been more devoted to advancing invidious claims about different societal groups? Has any program ever wallowed more in denigration of The Other?
Whats the matter with Kansas, we liberals tend to ask. We rarely ask a second question: What may be the matter with us? Whats the matter with our messagingwith the way we present these issues? We thought Harris-Lacewell made a good point about the role of societal fragmentation. We also thought that someone should explain this point to her host.
More specifically, Maddow has acted out her reflexive class condescension in a series of ways in the past week (including on last nights program). But then, pseudo-liberals have often acted this way over the course of the past fifty years. It helps keeps our society fragmented. It keeps hope from coming alive.
Our messaging has been bad, Weiner said. We agree. But then again, we watch the Maddow program!
TOMORROWPART 2: Darlings! Can you even believe what Laura Bush recently did?
Coming: Disingenuous clowning about tea-baggers!
Disingenuous treatments of race!