THE CULTURE THAT HAS NO NAME! Collins praised Ryan, then went on leave. Behind this, there lies a sick culture: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2011
How progressives shouldnt argue: Would Paul Ryans budget plan end Medicare?
This morning, Paul Krugman answers that question two different ways in just his first two paragraphs! It isnt good for progressive interests when the Babe Ruth of the liberal world chooses to argue this way:
For whatever it may be worth, the disputed ad said that the Republican plan would end Medicarefull stop. Krugman says the GOP was wrong to challenge that claim. Bu please note: In his very next sentence, Krugman avoids that claim when he speaks in his own voice. Speaking in a more accurate way, Krugman says the GOP plan would dismantle Medicare as we know it (our emphasis).
So how about it? Does the Ryan plan end Medicare? That is a semantic question. We liberals have never been skillful with such questions. We ought to develop our skills.
Does the Ryan plan end Medicare? As he continues, Krugman gets to the place where rubber meets road, but not until he has mired himself in a semantic debatea discussion he really cant win. In doing so, he hands the GOP a victory. As you may have noticed in the past thirty years, conservatives will often weasel their way off the basic point in a debate by opening up a side discussion. The side discussion distracts attention from the real issue under review.
Thats the way this semantic debate about ending Medicare works.
What are the real issues under review? Krugman, our movements most valuable player, gets to those points in paragraph 6. This is what voters need to hear, in the absence of pointless distractions:
Under the Ryan plan, most seniors wouldn't be able to afford adequate coverage. You can call it Johnson or you can call it Jackson. But that is one of the take-away points progressives should be advancing. In Krugmans column, we have to wade through two more grafs before he reinforces that point, restating what it means:
Ryans plan would hand out vouchersand these vouchers would be grossly inadequate. That second point is the one which must be explained, since theres nothing automatically wrong with vouchers. (See below.) In this column, Krugman only gets to that basic point in passing, mainly because he has burned so much time arguing semantic distractions.
There is one other basic point progressives should be advancing. Krugman gets to that point nextand he thoroughly nails it. If youve watched cable TV in the past month, you may understand why this point is hugely important:
Medicare as we know it is unsustainable? Nonsense, Krugman says. Krugman goes on to debunk that claima claim which is now the GOP immediate GOP rebuttal when Democrats or liberals complain about the puny size of those vouchers. At present, Republicans do not dispute the claim that the vouchers are small. They respond by saying this: Its the best we can do. The current system cant be sustained. It will soon be bankrupt.
By the way, please note: When Krugman speaks in his own voice here, he again refers to Medicare as we know it, thereby speaking with more precision than Democrats did in that ad.
Was something wrong with that Democratic ad? Thats a matter of judgment. But make no mistake: Inevitably, some voters will be misled by the claim that the Ryan plan ends Medicare, full stop. In truth, very few major Democrats are making that truncated claim; like Krugman, theyre speaking with more precision, saying that Ryans plan would end Medicare as we know it. Silly children like Rachel Maddow treat themselves to the nightly pleasure of saying that Ryans plan kills Medicare, full stop. But good God! If you cant make the case against Ryans plan without giving yourself that advantage, youre too dumb to play this game.
When Maddow schools her viewers that way, they arent learning how they should argue when their framework is rejected. Kills Medicare is fiery fun within the tribe, ineffective most everywhere else.
Was something wrong with that Democratic ad? Weve seen worse. But why not conduct a thought experiment? In 1992, Candidate Clinton campaigned on a pledge to end welfare as we know it. What would Democrats have said if Republicans distributed leaflets in low-income districts saying that Clinton had pledged to end welfare, full stop?
Presumably, Democrats would have complained, for perfectly obvious reasons. (In those days, of course, we fiery liberals rarely complained about much.)
Can we talk? Cable conservatives long for the chance to argue the pointless semantic distraction which anchors Krugmans column. It isnt good for progressive interests when our own Babe Ruth, our own Paul Bunyan, finds himself playing this gameand playing it rather poorly.
That said, we were struck by one more aspect of this column. Once again, we were struck by the way Krugman has sometimes started to run with a very bad crowd.
Can we talk? It seems that Krugman came to politics late in life. (Theres nothing wrong with that.) In this recent profile in New York magazine, he is quoted making some semi-remarkable statements (click ahead to the profiles third page):
We agree with one of Krugmans points. The group silence of the mainstream press of the Clinton/Gore years truly was an awesome thing to behold. (From that day to this, liberals have agreed not to discuss it. Too many liberal heroes were up to their ears in this death-dealing scam.) But if Krugman is being represented correctly, he was surprised to see a major Republican making ludicrous claims about budget matters; as of 1999, he still saw equivalent craziness on both sides. If true, that represents a striking bit of political naivete.
In fairness, people can be misrepresented in profiles like this, even when they are quoted accurately. But Krugman was always a policy manand it is in the area of policy, rather than politics, that he has made his Ruthian contribution to the liberal project.
Krugman is a giant of policy analysisand hes a bit of an ingenue on politics. Thats why its sad to see him running with the wrong crowd:
The bloggers summary is idiotic. It lays out a road map for any liberal who want to lose a debate on this topic. If someone replaced the Marines with a pizza, they truly would have created an entirely different program. Out in the real world, no one would say that the Ryan plan is entirely different to anything like that degree.
Go aheadargue that way on cable! This represents a perfect way for liberals to get distracted away from the basic point: Many seniors will end up without health care under Ryans plan! Its a perfect way to get into a side discussion in which the liberal will look like the hyperbolic hack to many average viewers.
Krugman is new to politics; in truth, he simply isnt an expert when it comes to politics. And uh-oh! Increasingly, he seem to run with a gang of Kool Kidzwith the loud children who sat out the Clinton-Gore era and seem determined to dream up ways to lose debates today.
Duncan Black is convincingwithin the tribe. Progressives win votes in the wider world when they stick to the basic points about Ryans plan, when they avoid getting tricked into making absurd comparisons in silly sidecar discussions.
Does the Ryan plan end Medicare? If you find yourself debating that point, theres a good chance youve already lost. The merits massively favor your side. These silly semantics do not.
Whats the matter with vouchers: The term voucher tends to poll poorly. For that reason, pols like to avoid having the term applied to their proposals. (In 1999, Candidate Bradley proposed Medicaid vouchers. He then screamed, complained, bellowed and wailed when Candidate Gore used the word.)
In the current case, Ryan had been deeply disingenuous on this point, arguing that his plan offers premium support, not vouchers. Are there three human beings alive today who could explain a relevant difference?
For the record, theres nothing automatically wrong with vouchers. It depends on how big the vouchers are. The problem with the Ryan plan is the fact that the vouchers would be much too small. As taken from Krugmans column, these are the basic points liberals should be arguing:
• These vouchers would be grossly inadequate.
If you find yourself arguing about something else, you may already have lost.
PART 1THE PUNDIT THAT HAS NO SOUL (permalink): Humans received a bit of good news in last Thursdays New York Times. Near the bottom of the op-ed page, in italics, the Times made this announcement:
Gail Collins is on book leave.
Collins will be gone until the fall, giving us humans a merciful respite. But before she left to scribble her book, Collins produced one last weekly on-line conversation with her pal, David Brooksand she wrote a truly disgraceful column. In that chat and in that column, she gave liberals and progressives a chance to consider a deeply damaging press corps culturea culture that has no name.
Hurrah! After all these weeks, Collins finally got around to discussing the Ryan plan! Way back on April 6, the high lady seemed to tell Rachel Maddow that she would be reviewing this planand she seemed to say that the plan was a disgraceful mess. Lets recall what this horrible person said in early April (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/11):
Speaking to Maddow and her audience, Collins struck her best liberal pose. She mocked the praise Ryan had been receiving. She noted that the numbers in his gruesome plan were all wrong.
Its a big mess, she said of Ryans plan. Hes doing all those terrible things. Beyond that, Collins seemed to make a promise. Now we can discuss it, she declared. He put his numbers out, three cheers! And now, lets talk about them.
Those words were spoken on April 6. Collins would go on to write sixteen more columns before her book leave began. Despite her fiery statements to Maddow, she never mentioned the Ryan plan until Column 15, which appeared on May 26.
Finally, the high lady Collins mentioned the Ryan plan! But when she did, Maddows audience wasnt aroundso Collins suggested that Democrats had been demagoguing the plan! Speaking to a respectable audience, Collins put her fiery pose away. Instead, a truly horrible person showcased her horrible soul.
Many of you cant come to see what a horrible person this high lady is. Please consider that fifteenth columnand this ladys final chat with her best pal, Brooks.
Below, you see the typically vapid way Collins started her column. Well include her headline, which waswhat else?a bow to her greatest gods, the deities Snicker and Snide:
As usual, Collins was complaining about all that tedious political talk from all those highly tedious people who actually care about politics. She was complaining about the way wed be forced to hear that Republicans want to kill Medicare. Beyond that, Collins instantly seemed to be tracking a standard conservative complaint. She suggested the Democratic web ad was tasteless and excessive, in some unspecified way. She suggested that future ads against Ryans plan would only get that much worse!
At least Collins was discussing the Ryan plan, after seven weeks of silence. But what did she say about the plan? Unfortunately, this is where this awful person took her analysis next:
Collins was very slick in this column. A true believer might get the impression that she criticizes the GOP for the Ryan plan. But go aheadread the whole thing. Youll find that Collins forgot to mention the points she stated so boldly on that Maddow program in April. Most significantly, she failed to note that Ryans numbers are all wrong; she also failed to note that Ryan has screwed everything up; Is Ryan killing Medicare as we know it today? She never even said that! Instead, she told us theres no escapewell be hearing that claim from Democrats for the next two years. She never made the naughty statement in her own voice.
By the way, is that claim an accurate claim? Is it true that the Ryan plan would kill Medicare as we know it today? Thats what Collins said to Maddow, all the way back on April 6! But she failed to pass judgment in her column! Darlings! Out in public, ladies like Collins dont dirty their hands in such ways.
Some of you will fly-speck that column, trying to convince yourselves that Collins really did speak the truth about the Ryan plan. You will be kidding yourselves. Collins played it safe throughout, sticking to the politics of the plan and advancing her standard vacuous theme, in which all major politicians are boring her to tears. If you doubt that she actually struck that pose, just review her final weekly conversation with the increasingly ridiculous Brooks.
The conversation appeared on-line on Wednesday, May 25, one day before her column appeared. The night before, the Democrats had won that special House election in western New York. After some standard back-and-forth simpering, this is the first thing Collins said about Medicare as an issue:
Collins began in her typical way, pretending that both candidates in the New York race were idiots. The high point of their debate came when they both admitted to owning four cars, but squabbled over whose fleet was more expensive, the condescending high lady said. In fact, to most serious liberals, the high point of this election debate came when Kathy Hochul, the eventual winner, told the truth about Ryans plan. But Collins, a truly horrible person, wont tell the truth about such matters in the open air.
How odd! Speaking to Brooks instead of Maddow, Collins forgot to say that Ryan had presented a tangle of bogus numbers. She forgot to say that he screwed everything up and created a big giant mess. She forgot to say that he does nothing whatsoever about all the people who arent covered by health insurance right now. She forgot to say that Ryan is ruining all the attempts to control medical spending.
Collins even forgot to say that Ryan is killing Medicare as we know it today, coming up with a euphemistic replacement. (The Ryan plan includes an end to Medicare as an entitlement.) But what did she remember to say? Lady Collins remembered to say that she thinks Ryan was bravebrave for starting the conversation! She mocked that notion on Maddows show, then pimped it out speaking with Brooks.
In this on-line conversation, Collins said that Ryan is brave but perhaps a bit out of touch. She never said a single word about his vast deceptionsdeceptions she pimped to the skies when she played our darling child for what she is, a big mark.
For the record, Lady Collins has always been like this. We were first repulsed by this type of conduct from this high lady in October 1999! But liberals have never been able to come to terms with the simpering culture within which this very bad person works. Our silliest children keep getting conned, in the way Maddow has been conned by Collins on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, our fiery analysts dont get around to describing Collins for what she truly is.
In the process, no one ever tells the voters about this very bad person. No one ever names the culture within which this high lady works.
Collins works from deep within a highly destructive press corps culture. To this day, this destructive culture is, to borrow the words of Betty Friedan, a problem without a name.
Tomorrowpart 2: Defiantly stupid is still A-OK