THE TWO CULTURES! Krugmans column made us muse on a pair of developing cultures: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011
Wheres the outrage?/If its Sunday, it must be irrelevant: For whatever reason, a fever seems to have broken.
Its Monday morning, and Steve Benen hasnt yet advanced any ludicrous claims about the guest lists on yesterdays morning news programs. For the record, yesterdays guest lists tilted Republican, in part due to activity on the GOP candidate front.
Newt Gingrich did the full half-hour on Face the Nation. He fared rather poorly with Bob Schieffer, who gave birth to a small angry cow about Newts account at Tiffanys.
Paul Ryan was featured guest on Meet the Press. He was asked to react to Gingrichs multiply-withdrawn attacks on his budget plan.
Herman Cain was featured guest on Fox News Sunday. That said, we would guess that this program does tilt Republican in its guest lists, though wed want to see a serious analysis before we reached that judgment.
Despite yesterdays tilt toward GOP guests, Benen has lodged no complaints. Two weeks ago, the guest lists tilted Democratic, rather stronglyand Steve crazily said that the programs had favored the GOP, by a 3-1 margin. Needless to say, Rachel Maddow repeated this ridiculous claim on two separate Maddow programs. You could tell that the darling child was quite angry about this bad thing which occurred.
This morning, Benen has made no complaints about yesterday mornings shows. This is unfortunate, because we thought David Gregory did a very poor job in his session with Ryan.
Alas! Gregory interviewed Ryan for a 16-minute segment. (For the programs full transcript, click this.) But he asked no questions, none at all, about the contents of Ryans budget plan. He only asked about the politics: Would Ryan himself run for the White House? And this: How much damage has Newt Gingrich done to your effort to reform Medicare? And this: Why don't you see more Republicans who want to be the country's leader, standing up and saying, I am for the Ryan plan, full stop, including Medicare reforms?
Quite thoroughly, Gregory thrashed through the politics. But at no point did he ask Ryan to discuss the substance of his plan.
For our money, this was a fatuous, wasted effort. Benen has made absurd complaints about past Sunday shows. But he has offered no thoughts about this.
For the record, Gregory also interviewed Ryan on April 10, the first Sunday after his budget plan appeared. (On that occasion, Obama adviser David Plouffe was Gregorys featured guest.) Even on that earlier program, Gregory asked few questions about the contents of Ryans proposals for Medicare and Medicaid. Since that time, the contents of the Ryan plan have become extremely controversial. But on yesterdays program, Gregory didnt go there at all.
If its Sunday, it must be pointless! But the liberal worlds intellectual leadership tends to be just as weak as that of the mainstream press corps. Two weeks ago, our leadership made ridiculous claims, when there was nothing to gripe about.
Yesterday, nothing at all! But then again, so it has gone for lo, these many years.
Meanwhile, more smooching aimed at Weisberg. Careers must be built, after all.
Racism fails to rear its head: We were also struck by Benens account of Herman Cains kick-off speech. Heres part of what he wrote:
For what its worth, that crowd estimate may have been quite high, though Benen didnt know that. But please note what Benen said here: According to Benen, Herman Cain is a favorite of the Tea Party crowd! This is strange, because Cain is black (a point Steve didnt mention)and because we liberals are constantly told that this same crowd hates Obama because he is black!
Could it be that they hate him because hes a Democrat? Or would that kill all the fun?
We were especially struck by Krugmans comments about the modern Medicaid program. We will guess that many people dont know the nature of that program. But this program serves an important purposeand the program is very humane:
According to Krugmans column, about two-thirds of Medicaid spending now goes to senior citizens; this largely involves nursing care. And Medicaid isnt a poverty program, although it does serve poverty-level families. Much of its spending goes to middle-class seniors, much as Krugman noted.
Coincidence: On the day that column appeared, we journeyed several hundred miles to visit an 84-year-old friend who has been having severe physical challenges in the past six weeks. Our friend is staying in the residential and rehabilitative care wing of a non-profit hospital near the exurban New York county where he lives. Over that weekend, we saw a group of health care workers ministering to our friend, and to other senior patients.
Many of those patients were being funded by Medicare or Medicaid. What we saw made us think of the two different cultures which have been growing in this country over the past fifty years.
A point of reference: In the late 1950s, our father spent the last several years of his life in a nursing home. (He died in 1959; we had just turned twelve. He was 65 when we were born, which helps make sense of the numbers.)
Visiting our friend this past weekend, we were hugely impressed, and inspired, by the quality of the facility he was ina facility which (we assume) is largely funded by payments from Medicare and Medicaid.
We couldnt help recalling the nursing home in which our father, a person of substantial means, spent the last years of his life at a time when there was no Medicare or Medicaid. We were young, and our memory is imperfect; nor are we experts on this history of American nursing care for seniors. But the place was deeply depressing. We would guess that it represented the state of the art at that time.
The cheerful facility we visited last week wasnt depressing (though you of course wouldnt want to be there). As we said, this wasnt a spa for the rich. But the facility had large, cheerful sitting rooms and friendly, cheerful, upbeat staff. Our friends wife, who is also a long-time friend, is a native New Yorker and nobodys pushover. She wouldnt be afraid to complain about indifferent care. But she said the staff there truly were cheerful. When another patient praised one staff member as a real sweetheart, our friend said she had to concur.
This facilitys employee of the year had just been named. In the lobby, a citation listed the reasons for her selection. According to the citation, this employee routinely treats this facilitys patients with compassion, dignity, respect, understanding. But then, from the very upbeat director on down, that seemed to be the actual tone of the place.
Presumably, not every facility is like the one we observed. But this facility, and others weve visited, are like the Taj Mahal compared to the place where our father died. Making the obvious comparison, we couldnt help thinking of the change in American culture over the past fifty years.
More specifically, we thought about two different cultures which have grown during that period.
One culture has grown from the top on down. This is a culture of acquisition, consumption and sometimes greed; this culture has grown quite dramatically. (In the years when our father was dying, CEOs were willing to be paid just forty times the average salary!) Within the frameworks of this growing culture, the senior citizens in the facility we just visited are no longer productive citizens; they will no longer work at jobs, or fashion careers, or raise the societys children. The Ryan plan would slash the spending which has let such people spend their last years in more humane surroundings. Presumably, if the Ryan plan passed, many seniors would end up spending their final years in much less humane settings.
(Note: Medicaid spending is affected right away under Ryans plan. Yesterday, David Gregory didnt try to figure out how nursing care would be affected.)
That is one of our growing cultures. But a second culture was on display in that facilitys cheerful sitting rooms and in the attitudes of its upbeat staff. That second culture has grown from below in the past fifty yearsand from the imperfect but humane impulses of the War on Poverty and the Great Society. (Lyndon Johnson could feel peoples pain.)
Thanks to this second culture, a lot of decent people are working with seniors around the country. They arent getting rich, and they arent getting famous; you wont see them on TV during cable panel discussions. But we were very impressed by, and grateful for, the work we saw them doing last weekend. Seeing their cheerful demeanors in that cheerful facility made our thoughts range back fifty years.
(He was manager of the Bowdoin Square Theater, and booking agent for the Old Howard, at the age of 18, our fathers Boston Globe obituary said. Mr. Somerby in interviews recalled that Fred Allen had appeared or him for 50 cents a night, and that Fred and Adele Astaire once played in his theatre for $60 a week.)
One culture has grown from the top during the past fifty years; a different culture has grown from below. We see the millionaire tribunes of one of these cultures on our TV machines every night; they drive the talking-points of this culture in tightly scripted ways. For us, it was impressive, and very moving, to see the tribunes of that second culture respecting those seniors last week.
The liberal world does a very poor job calling attention to such decent people. By the way: Conservatives grow old and become sick too. But alas! We liberals rarely consider fashioning outreach to those people.
Cummings was there: Cummings was there of course. For the full poem, click here:
That said, our current friend may be the only person we know with three editions of Joyces Ulysses on his shelf (old, older, oldest), each annotated with copious notes. But then, who isnt entitled to final years in a place of compassion, respect?