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Print view: Schumer was clear about Medicare. Can cable libs follow suit?
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UNUSUALLY CLEAR! Schumer was clear about Medicare. Can cable libs follow suit? // link // print // previous // next //

Why would anyone want our “press corps” to have additional time: We never thought we’d see someone say that our White House campaigns don’t last long enough.

Yesterday, Steve Benen said that very thing, in this rosy-eyed post. Steve linked to a long and pointless Politico piece, then worried that we won’t get all the facts about this year’s crop of contenders. Sorry—about next year’s crop of contenders. Here’s how Steve reasoned it out:

BENEN (5/31/11): As the [Politico] article noted, “By this point in 2007, the major national newspapers and newswires had already assigned reporters to the leading candidates—something that largely hasn’t happened yet this time around.”

I can understand why this is. Candidates have been slow to announce, and many major contenders looked like they would run, only to dip their toe in the water and run in the opposite direction. There haven’t been any real debates, and there are still some credible names out there who haven’t announced their plans. It puts news organizations in an awkward position when it comes to coverage decisions.

Nevertheless, at this point in the cycle, reporters are generally digging into every word a candidate has ever spoken, every vote ever cast, every bill ever signed, every dollar ever spent, etc. By the time Super Tuesday rolls around, voters don’t know everything about the candidates, but they’ve certainly been subjected to some fairly thorough scrutiny over the course of a full year.

Question: Can you name the planet from which this was filed? When have voters ever “been subjected to fairly thorough scrutiny” of our White House hopefuls?

First, let’s note a factual point: The 2008 campaign started unusually early, even by our crackpot American norms. (Sorry—our exceptional American norms.) Our White House campaigns have been getting longer and longer; this most recent race extended the trend. Meanwhile, how about this claim: “At this point in the cycle, reporters are generally digging into every word a candidate has ever spoken?” Sorry—that’s grossly misleading. As recently as Campaign 2000, the New York Times was ridiculing Candidate Gore, at this point in the cycle and later, for talking about policy matters when the public wasn’t ready to listen. Gore’s insistence on boring the public to tears was directly attacked in the mighty Times—in “news reports,” no less.

That said, even that god-forsaken campaign started much earlier than previous runs. Two iconic examples:

In the 1960 campaign, Candidate Kennedy didn’t announce, or start to campaign, until January of that very year. As recently as the 1992 campaign, Candidate Clinton didn’t announce, or start to campaign, until October 1991.

At this point in the 1992 cycle, the voters had never heard of Bill Clinton. And uh-oh! When reporters began “digging into every word” Clinton “had ever spoken,” the New York Times produced Jeff Gerth’s massively bungled Whitewater reports, which helped create a political era devoted to pseudo-scandals.

Benen’s outlook might make some sense in a different, more rational world. In our idiocratic world, we’d have a hard time naming any useful reporting that ever came out of our endless White House campaigns. On the other hand, we could spend all day and part of tomorrow listing the reams of garbage which have been produced about various candidates. Steve apparently hasn’t noticed, but this has already started this time around, as the New York Times examines the “interesting past” of Mitch Daniels’ wife and fingers Newt Gingrich’s jewels. Out on the front page, no less!

But then, that’s what our “journalists” do. Bottom line: Our press corps is incapable of producing real work, no matter how much time they're given. Their specialty is brain-dead mischief aimed directly at those they dislike. Of that, there is much more to come.

Special report: In search of a winning movement!

PART 2—SURPRISINGLY CLEAR (permalink): David Gregory did a lousy job discussing the Medicare battle last Sunday. For the Meet the Press transcript, click here.

Alas, poor Gregory! In his opening segment, he interviewed Mitch McConnell, a Republican senator. He discussed the politics of the Ryan plan—could the Ryan plan possibly pass?—but he never challenged McConnell about the Ryan plan’s actual merits.

Then he interviewed Charles Schumer, a Democratic senator. In this segment, he challenged the Democratic approach on the merits, referring to “the high price of timidity of the Democrats on Medicare.” Beyond that, he rather clearly seemed to say that Medicare’s current structure is “unsustainable.”

Finally, Gregory discussed Medicare with a four-member panel of pundits. When flatly inaccurate statements were made, the multimillionaire host simply stared off into air. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/11.

That said:

If Gregory stunk out the joint about Medicare, so did Betsy Fischer, his executive producer. (For Fischer’s bio, click here.) Her staff assembled a pundit panel which was balanced on its face. But as everyone must know by now, the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus is “center left” on just about every issue except for fiscal matters. On fiscal matters, Marcus is just this side of the most dogmatic Republican pol. In that regard, she’s not unlike the late Tim Russert, who spewed right-wing talking-points about Social Security all through his influential Meet the Press career.

Russert was one of Jack Welch’s boys. On budget matters, that’s pretty much how he performed.

Does Fischer “have politics” on fiscal matters? We have no earthly idea. But she assembled a poorly balanced panel for the Medicare discussion her program would have. Gregory fumbled from there.

That said, there was a bright spot on this week’s Meet the Press. For our money, Schumer was unusually clear and instructive regarding the Democratic position on Medicare. Early on, he explained what the Democrats do—and don’t—propose:

SCHUMER (5/29/11): Now, what do we propose? We have been proposing changes in Medicare for a while, but we believe in preserving the current system. Medicare delivers a very good product. Most people are very happy with the health care they get. It's just an inefficient system. And there are ways that you can change in the way Medicare delivers things without cutting the benefits to individuals and still save hundreds of billions of dollars. Anyone who has gone through the Medicare system knows the inefficiencies and duplications in that system because it's a cost-plus system. We began this a year ago, and the Republicans attacked us for it. They attacked us because they wanted a radical—now we know why. They want to radically change Medicare.

According to Schumer, Democrats want to preserve the current Medicare system. They want to eliminate its duplications and inefficiencies without cutting its benefits to recipients. By way of contrast, Republicans want to change the system in radical ways, he said. When Gregory challenged this presentation, Schumer was even more clear:

SCHUMER: Well, let me tell you what is the core problem. The core of the problem is basically two things: One, that providers get away with much too much, and many of them were given too many things. For instance, if Medicare negotiated the price of prescription drugs, was allowed to—Republicans prevented that from happening a few years ago—but negotiated the price of prescription drugs with the drug companies, we'd save over $100 billion. Second, if—there's something called duel eligibles. A senior citizen who's on Medicare and Medicaid, they used to—Medicare used to pay the Medicaid cost of the drug, much lower. Republicans said no, pay the Medicare cost, another 100 billion.

But here's the root of the problem. The root of the problem is it's a cost-plus system. When a—when you're sick, the doctor gets paid for each service, each prescription, each pill, each test. If you were to tell doctors you get a certain amount of money to treat Jim Smith, who has a certain form of diabetes, say $10,000, every study shows that you'd save hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting the benefits to people. That's what Democrats stand for. And the reason our Republican colleagues resist is they don't want the present Medicare system to be preserved.

Question: Before resorting to a major change like the Ryan plan, why don’t Republicans agree (for one example) to let Medicare “negotiate the price of prescription drugs” as a way of reducing the program’s cost?

That’s a fairly obvious question—but McConnell wasn’t asked. With McConnell, Gregory offered no challenges on the merits of Medicare policy. He saved all his attacks on the merits for his Democratic guest.

That said, Schumer gave a clear account of the Democratic position. Democrats want to maintain the structure of the system, but eliminate a range of practices which produce over-spending. And Schumer was clear on one more point. In his second Q-and-A, he said there is no split within the party’s ranks:

GREGORY: Look, you, you've got a reality here as Democrats where your hometown newspaper, the New York Times, this morning talks about the high price of timidity of the Democrats on Medicare. And here was, as Senator McConnell referred to, former President Clinton speaking about the deficit and Medicare this week. He, he had a warning for Democrats, and this is what he said.

CLINTON (videotape): And I'm afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion that, because Congressman Ryan's proposal I think is not the best one, that we shouldn't do anything. And I completely disagree with that.

SCHUMER: And, and I agree with President Clinton. Every Democrat, from the president, Steny Hoyer, President Clinton, Senate Democrats, we agree that Ryan should be taken off the table, that it's a complete stumbling block. And, and I am calling on, we are calling on Senator McConnell not to cling to the Ryan plan as he's doing, which ends Medicare as we know it, but to take it off the table.

Now, what do we propose? We have been proposing changes in Medicare for a while, but we believe in preserving the current system…

From there, Schumer went on to describe what the Dems are proposing, as quoted above.

Schumer was extremely clear on the party’s policy stance. He said all Democrats agree with that stance, from Obama (and Clinton) on down. Gregory did a miserable job with McConnell and with his pundit panel; Fischer had done a miserable job putting the panel together. But Schumer did a very good job explaining his party’s position.

Unfortunately, the liberal world has done a miserable job with budget matters down through the years. Our career leaders won’t criticize big media stars by name, nor do they tend to be bright enough to sort out the policy issues. For many years, Russert would mangle these big budget issues—in the face of a roaring silence from career “liberals.” Today, his multimillionaire successor is able to do the same.

Our career liberal leaders tend to be craven and inept. Progressives will never build a winning movement as long as such “leaders” are allowed to skate by in typical self-serving ways. And uh-oh! One of our most hapless leaders gave a good display of this syndrome on her eponymous cable program just last Wednesday night.

Our leader postured, gestured and flailed. Progressives can’t build a winning movement with losers like this in command.

Tomorrow—part 3: Hapless Maddow