TAKING THE EZRA CHALLENGE! Fearlessly, we took The Klein Challenge concerning The Ben Nelson Language: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2010
Obsessing on the bald Communist: Groan. Time was, we rarely watched Glenn Beck at 5 PM (or during his 2 AM re-broadcast). But weve pretty much decided that he has to be watched pretty much every day of the week! The problem is the size of his audience, matched with his highly unusual content.
We dont know how many people watched Becks show yesterday. But last Monday, a staggering 2.8 million people watched him at 5 PM alone (click here). By way of comparison, only 530,000 people were watching Hardball during that hour. Does anybody have any idea why they pay Matthews that five million bucks?
Beck draws an astoundingly large audience. His content tends to be staggering too. Last night, he mused again about the bald Communist, part of the steady fear-of-Communism diet he now provides.
What follows is one early excerpt, exactly as presented in the transcript posted at Nexis. To capture Becks highly unusual tone, you actually have to watch him:
In fairness, Beck had already discussed recent events in Iceland; his reference didnt come out of the blue. But note what he said at the start of that segment. The bald Communist wants to overthrow the government by push[ing] the disenfranchisement (Becks paraphrase). And what better way to do that than by jamming health care through!
Beck goes onand on, and onabout communism (and fascism) and the threat they provide to the U.S. He offers a deeply unusual narrative, except in the wider historical context of American fear-of-communism. As Beck noted last week, that bald Communist doesnt even have a Wikipedia entry! But so what? Beck has tape of what the bald Communist saidand Beck wont let his words go.
Millions of people watch Beck every day, as he presents his highly unusual narratives. The mainstream press corps averts its gaze, much as it did when Jerry Falwell paraded about, suggesting to tons of suggestible folk that the Clintons were serial murderers.
Rush Limbaugh too.
Beck is introducing some very unusual narratives to millions of citizens. He does this every day. The bald Communist doesnt have a Wikipedia pageyet. But he may be here to stay.
Concerning that update: Becks update at the bottom of the hour actually was a bit amazing, assuming it was accurate.
This afternoon: Eric Massa! For the full hour! Question: Will ratings climb?
PART 1TAKING THE EZRA CHALLENGE (permalink): Health reform may fail in the House in the next few weeks due to Ben Nelsons languagethe language in the Senate bill concerning abortion coverage. (Under current plans, the House will be asked to pass the Senate bill exactly as it is.)
But what does the Nelson language say? Youd think we might want to find out.
Alas! Within our devolving political culture, explanations are rare. What exactly did the Capps language say, the original language in the House bill concerning abortion coverage? What would the Stupak language dothe language which replaced the Capps language? In our experience, big news orgs have rarely tried to explain these matters, which are astoundingly basic.
Voters hear screeching claims from various sides. But where are the explanations?
What does the Nelson language say? On Friday, Ezra Klein issued a challenge (click here). If you want to understand how abortion-coverage works in the Senate bill, read this, he wrote at his excellent blog, linking to this Alec MacGillis news report from Fridays Washington Post. Still confused? he continued. Read this. He linked to this Timothy Noah piece from Thursdays Slate.
Result? When it came to The Nelson Language, we decided to take The Klein Challenge! In fact, wed already read both pieces to which Ezra linked. But we went back and read them again.
Sorrywere still confused. But so it tends to go in our explanation-weak culture.
Lets start with MacGillis explanation of how abortion coverage works in the Senate bill (under the Nelson language). Just to be clear: As MacGillis notes, were speaking here about people who would get federal subsidies to help them purchase coverage. These are people who arent getting coverage through their employer:
According to MacGillis, people receiving federal subsidies could purchase plans which included abortion coverage. Even men and older women could do this, MacGillis says (without explaining why they would want to). But the Nelson language would require buyers to make two premium payments, he says; one for most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one for abortion coverage.
At this point, MacGillis goes on to do what reporters constantly dohe reports the various things people have said about this requirement. (Thats part of the story too, of course.) But his explanation is found in the highlighted passage aboveand it fails to explain a point which strikes us as quite basic.
Here it is:
Under this plan, some people would buy insurance policies which include abortion coverage. Other people would buy policies which didnt include such coverage. Heres the question: When the former send in that second check, are they paying extra for abortion coverage, using their own money to buy that extra coverage? (In this case, they would in effect be buying abortion coverage in a ridersee paragraph 4 of the quoted excerptmuch as federal employees apparently have to do now.) Or would they be paying the same total amount as the people whose policies dont include abortion coverage? We would assume that this might make a difference to people who oppose federal funding for abortion. In the one case, people would genuinely be buying abortion coverage with their own private fundsas Medicaid recipients currently have to do, as federal employees have to do. In the second case, a rather silly book-keeping trick would be involved, making it seem that no federal money was involved in the abortion coverage.
We dont oppose federal funding ourselves, but tens of millions of voters do. To the extent that they want to maintain the status quo, we would assume that they would at least want to maintain the practice which has long been observed with federal employeesthe practice of buying a rider out of a persons own funds.
That said, which way does the Nelson language work? MacGillis doesnt explain! After taking part one of Ezras challenge, we still didnt know how this works.
(By the way: Were giving our best explanation of current practices involving federal employees and Medicaid recipients. In our experience, major news orgs have made little attempt to explain these practices as part of this crucial discussion. You know the rules: Never explain!)
We felt that MacGillis let us down. And so, we clicked the Noah link, moving to an informative piece which still didnt answer our question.
Even before we read it again, Noahs article had (largely) convinced us of one point; it seems that Rep. Stupak has been wrong in some of his recent characterizations of the Nelson language. (We say it seems, because when we clicked to the actual legislative language to see what it actually said, the actual language was so complex that we realized we couldnt riddle it out without devoting much more time to the project than we were prepared to spend.) That said, heres the section where Noah explains the Nelson language (Noah offers this link to the Senate bill):
Noah quotes language which seems to say this: No government funding for abortions. (He calls the language pretty straightforwardafter including two bracketed clarifications and one clarifying deletion.) But straightforward claims are easy to make; does the bill back up this straightforward claim? Just a guess: Those who oppose federal funding would want to know if that monthly payment is over and above the standard fee for some policy, or if it comes out of the standard fee. Are people paying extra for abortion coveragepaying extra, out of their own pockets? As best we understand it, thats what federal employees have to do under current long-standing arrangements. (This strikes us as an amazingly stringent status quo.) Thats what Medicaid recipients have to do. (In many cases, they cant afford to.) Which is it under the Nelson language? As best we could tell, Noah didnt explain.
By the way: Would this distinction actually matter to opponents of federal funding? We arent sure about that either. We have seen very few attempts to explain this roiling disputea dispute which may sink health reform. But then, we live in a very strange culturea culture where no one explains.
TomorrowPart 2: Mike Allen, when Conrad explained.