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Daily Howler: Everyone on earth knows this. Except our progressive leaders
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THIS JUST IN FROM PROFESSOR PANGLOSS! Everyone on earth knows this. Except our progressive leaders: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 23, 2009

Perusing Will’s deduction: George F. Will made some a slick deduction in Sunday’s column in the Washington Post.

Nobody can fool this guy! Thanks to the work of conservative analysts, Will thinks he may have solved a puzzle. Why does Obama want a “public option”—a government insurance plan—as one part of his health care package? Thanks to some leading conservative minds, George Will thinks he may know:

WILL (6/21/09): The puzzle is: Why does the president, who says that were America "starting from scratch" he would favor a "single-payer”—government-run—system, insist that health-care reform include a government insurance plan that competes with private insurers? The simplest answer is that such a plan will lead to a single-payer system.

Conservatives say that a government program will have the intended consequence of crowding private insurers out of the market, encouraging employers to stop providing coverage and luring employees from private insurance to the cheaper government option.

Huh! Obama wants a “public plan” because it would lead to a single-payer system! Will was able to make this deduction because of the things some “conservatives say.”

We can’t read minds here at THE HOWLER. We don’t know if Obama will insist on including a public plan in a final package. Nor do we know why he has proposed such a plan in the first place. But next time ,Will might try reading the work of some liberals if he wants to know what may be up.

Below, we give you Paul Krugman, more than two years ago, writing about the release of John Edwards’ health reform package. Edwards had become the first Major Dem to release such a package. His package contained a public plan—and Edwards had explained why:

KRUGMAN (2/9/07): “Health Markets,'' the press release says, ''will offer a choice between private insurers and a public insurance plan modeled after Medicare.'' This would offer a crucial degree of competition. The public insurance plan would almost certainly be cheaper than anything the private sector offers right now—after all, Medicare has very low overhead. Private insurers would either have to match the public plan's low premiums, or lose the competition.

And Mr. Edwards is O.K. with that. ''Over time,'' the press release says, ''the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan.”

Duh. Later plans by Obama and Clinton included this same feature—and Edwards had explicitly said it might lead toward single-payer. And it’s not like this notion went underground after that. One year later, Edwards withdrew from the race—and Krugman discussed the contribution he’d made through his health care proposal:

KRUGMAN (2/1/08): Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system—a k a Medicare for all—but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans—a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party's base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there's little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

Given the control of society’s bosses, many aspects of world health care can’t be discussed in our mainstream press. For the most part, citizens aren’t allowed to know that other countries provide full coverage at half the cost. Citizens never see front-page reports examining how these countries have done it.

In a rational world, you’d see such reports. But your knowledge is rationed—by power.

That said, we would have thought that everyone knew the dream behind that public plan. As Edwards said in February 2007, such a plan might lead to single-payer! Until we perused Will’s deduction this week, we thought that everyone knew.

THIS JUST IN FROM PROFESSOR PANGLOSS: According to Professor Jay Rosen, history began in 2001—or a year or two later perhaps.

Granted, Jay isn’t a history professor; this may help explain this unusual theory. But many liberals get their ideas of our recent history from Rosen—from last Friday’s interview with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, to cite an unfortunate example. (Click here.)

We’ll leave it to parents of NYU students to demand tuition money back. But in the following passage, Jay explained the recent history of America’s political press corps. As we said yesterday: If society’s bosses invented a critique of the press, this perfect screaming nonsense is the critique they’d invent:

ROSEN (6/19/09): Well, to answer that, Glenn, I have to go back to your question you said you were going ask: How do I interpret these events? And here is the explanation that occurs to me after three or four years of blogging about this general subject, and well over 20 posts written about the larger story here, which is, What happened to the press under Bush? The way I view it now, it comes down to this: The entire contraption of professional, elite-level political journalism, and especially White House reporting, which is an entire system bringing together the political players, the journalists, the media system and the audiences, was not built for, and didn't anticipate, and did not know how to cope with what happened when an outlier occupied the White House.

And when Bush came to power, this is essentially the situation our press faced, because Bush in his agenda for the expansion of executive power, in what I call the opacity agenda that followed from that, which is while you're expanding executive power, you're pulling a curtain over the government in as many ways as you can, and by increasing opacity, that itself is an expansion of executive power. As well as the roll back of the press itself, to a greater distance so that it can't see as well as the triumph over congressional oversight. The radical agenda that Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson talks about as a former aide to Colin Powell. That whole thing presented an outlier to the Washington press, and it needed, in order to respond to something that big and that dramatic of a departure from White House press relations, imaginative moves of its own.

And essentially what happened, Glenn, is that the White House press, the Washington press, and The Washington Post staff, never came up with that response.

After three or four years of blogging about this subject, and well over 20 posts written about the larger story, Jay churned out that perfect nonsense. And Glenn acted as if it made good sense. Indeed, he actively affirmed Jay’s history lesson near the end of the interview, referring to “the way that the Bush era has affected political journalism as you just described it in several of your earlier answers.”

Why is the progressive world eternally helpless? Because we “reason” like that.

Let’s examine the ludicrous premises implied by Rosen’s history. According to Jay:

*The “elite-level political” press corps was trying to deal with Bush in a professional manner. They just “didn’t know how to cope” with such a total “outlier.” Their imagination failed.

*As such, this problem seems to have started under Bush. There is no sign that similar failures of imagination were visible in the work of our elite-level press before Bush entered the White House.

Each of those notions is utterly daft. This is history as written on Neptune.

What’s wrong with the professor’s notions? Let us count the ways:

To state the obvious, the mainstream press corps had melted down long before Bush reached the White House. Nothing changed when they encountered Bush. During the 1990s, the elite-level press accepted every bit of “outlier” conduct from the right, no matter how inane or daft. Claims of presidential murder and drug-running made perfect sense. And, of course, Clinton, Gore and Clinton were all big world-class liars.

Sorry. The professional press corps lay in ruins by the time of the mid-decade Medicare pseudo-debate (1994-1996). And their conduct went downhill from there.

That in mind, it’s lunacy to suggest that the press corps’ problems began when they couldn’t figure out Bush. (Because he was such an outlier!) It’s almost as strange to keep asserting what Jay fairly clearly asserts—to claim that the press corps was trying to do its job in the Bush era, but lacked sufficient imagination. If society’s bosses wanted to con you, that is exactly what they would say. But they don’t have to invent such tales. Our professors are there to do that!

Was the press corps trying to do its job under Bush? Motive is famously hard to assess. No doubt, some individuals were acting in something resembling good faith—and it seems fairly clear that many were not. But a deeply gonzo group dynamic was clearly driving this professional cohort long before Bush ever entered the White House. The examples from the 1990s are legion—though Jay and Glenn seem to have been off the planet during that particular decade. This allows Jay to muse about the good intentions that were foiled by Bush’s outlier ways. And about the well-intentioned press corps’ lack of imagination.

Did something new begin under Bush? Please. That’s utterly ludicrous. If anything, the press corps’ conduct was much more ridiculous in the previous decade.

Examples of ludicrous press corps conduct from the 1990s are of course legion. (And yes, we’re discussing group conduct.) Gene Lyons wrote an entire book about same, Fools for Scandal. It was published in early 1996—and had therefore been written earlier. But for unknown reasons, of all such examples, Rosen’s history has brought Mark Shields to our mind in the past few days. To see the way your “professional, elite-level political journalists” were working before Bush reached the White House, consider the conduct of this famous liberal on June 23, 2000.

This involves the execution of Gray Graham, star of one of Texas’ most famous—and most unfortunate—death penalty cases. Indeed, this happened to be one of the worst such cases the Texas system had ever created. It was clear there was no way to know that Graham had really committed the murder in question; beyond that, he had been “defended” by the hapless Ronald Mock, one of the gonzo public defenders famously employed by the state in such cases. Plainly, there was no way Governor Bush could have known that Graham was guilty of the murder in question—but Graham got fried all the same! And sho nuff! When Bush held a press conference to ponder the execution, no one in Rosen’s “elite-level press” asked him how he’d decided not to extend such clemency as his office permitted.

Why hadn’t Bush acted in this case? Nobody bothered to ask!

The failure to ask this question was stunning. But the next night, on the elite-level NewsHour, Shields offered these gonzo thoughts about Bush’s masterful brilliance:

SHIELDS (6/23/00): As somebody who has mentioned on this broadcast that George W. Bush—the doubts voters have about him is that he fills the chair, whether he’s big enough, whether he really has the heft to be president—I thought this was probably the finest moment of his campaign as he explained his position. He did it as, outside of a press conference, in a suit and tie, with appropriately serious words and manner. And I thought ironically that it worked for him politically without being overly analytical.

Incredibly, Shields praised Bush for wearing a suit, and for adopting an “appropriately serious manner.” For these reasons, “this was probably the finest moment of his campaign,” the deeply principled professional pundit very soberly said. (Paul Gigot quickly echoed these thoughts.) So you’ll know: This was one month after Shields’ cohort had endlessly trashed the vile Candidate Gore for opposing Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security—repetitively praising Bush for the “bold leadership” he displayed by making his proposal. (For a fuller account of the Graham/Shields matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/6/02.)

Of course, such ludicrous conduct had long been the norm in the White House campaign then under way. Shields’ cohort had spent a astounding amount of time the previous autumn discussing the wardrobe of Candidate Gore—trashing him for his three-button suits, for his polo shirts, for the fact that he wore a brown suit. (For his cowboy boots! For the way he hemmed his pants!) Do you mind if we tell you something obvious? By now, the elite-level press corps were tribunes to power. They existed to bash the more liberal party—and to praise every notion, no matter how inane, which came from its more conservative counterpart.

But then, this had been going on for years by this point in time. The press didn’t have an “outlier” Republican president to sympathize with during this era—so they had sympathized with an endless stream of gonzo claims from an outlier Republican congress. They couldn’t quite see how strange it was when Vince Foster’s suicide was investigated four times. Starting in the summer of 1994, they couldn’t make out the problem with the poll-tested GOP claim that no one is cutting Medicare—we’re just slowing the rate at which it will grow. (When Clinton accurately disagreed, they called him a liar. Much as they would later do when Gore opposed privatization.) In short, when Bush became president, nothing changed —the press corps continued its ludicrous conduct in service to conservative power. Before, they had served an outlier congress. Now, an outlier president.

Rosen was living on Neptune then, or he would know these things. Of course, if he ever sat down and did some reading, he could learn that way too.

Tell us, readers! Do you think Mark Shields was acting in good faith that night, but somehow lacked sufficient imagination to offer a more sensible analysis? For ourselves, we don’t know how to explain his ludicrous, disgraceful conduct. But because we aren’t fools, and we don’t live on Neptune, we do somehow know this:

By the late 1990s, the “professional, elite-level political” press corps had long since become a clowning disgrace—and it was a reliable mouthpiece for conservative/Republican blather. Nothing changed when Bush came in. The process had been established for years. The process simply continued.

We have no idea why we’d want to pretend that the press corps tried its best, but failed, to deal with President Bush. Quite blatantly, they had been fools for power for many years before they became fools for Bush. Everyone alive knows this. Except our progressive leaders.

It’s hard to contain the anger we feel when people like Rosen peddle such pap. (Good God. He even cited the noble Wilkerson!) But if we believe that the press corps’ noble professionals simply suffered a failure of imagination under Bush, we might want to extend their powers as we move forward from here. That’s what Greenwald keeps suggesting. It’s a deeply gruesome idea.

Tomorrow: Let them yell liar!