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Daily Howler: According to Beckett, we wait for Godot. Last night, we kept waiting for Clarke
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WAITING FOR CLARKE! According to Beckett, we wait for Godot. Last night, we kept waiting for Clarke: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2009

Verboten—progressive horizons: We’ve reported this story again and again. Again and again, we’re given reason to re-report it.

We refer to David Brooks’ column on health care in today’s Times. We don’t understand the minutia of health care well enough to judge every claim he makes. But as Brooks begins, he seems to be forming a brilliant framework—a framework for wider public understanding. He seems to be focusing on a truly ludicrous state of affairs—the massive level of wasted spending which virtually defines American health care:

BROOKS (7/10/09): Over the past few decades, health care inflation has exceeded the general rise in prices by about 2.5 percent a year. These inexorably rising costs are bankrupting the nation, walloping businesses and squeezing middle-class salaries.


The health care bills now winding their way through Congress would cover many of the uninsured. They would pay for most of the costs associated with that expanded coverage. But they would do little to change the fundamental incentives that drive health care inflation.

Health care providers would still largely rely on a fee-for-service system. They could still ignore cost-benefit analyses when deciding what treatments to provide.

...As my colleague David Leonhardt wrote in his column this week, “The current health care system is hard-wired to be bloated and inefficient,” and health care economists don’t see the current bills doing enough to fix that.

Good God! Complaining about the cost of American health care, Brooks makes (and quotes) some remarkable statements about current efforts at reform. (Typically, reporters agree to pretend that Obama has proposed an “overhaul.”) Good God! What amazing complaints! Health care providers would still rely on a fee-for-service system? The current health care system is hard-wired to be bloated and inefficient?

It sounded like Brooks was moving toward a powerful place—a place where the rubber meets the road.

Predictably, he never arrived there. Even though Brooks was tearing his hair about the costs of American health care, he too obeyed the unwritten law which drives our manufactured consensus/consent. Brooks never tells his readers today that their nation is spending twice as much per person on health care as most other developed nations. Absent that truly remarkable knowledge, voters can’t develop a progressive framework for understanding the lunacy of our current “system.” They can’t understand the mountains of cash that are being drained off into corporate pockets. They can’t build sensible anger against a lunatic system—a system in which we spend twice as much as is required.

Health costs are “bankrupting the nation,” Brooks says. But he knows he mustn’t state the obvious: Other nations spend half as much! By a manufactured consensus, the public is virtually never told that. And trust us: They don’t know!

Other nations are spending half as much. It’s stunning that a column could start in the way this one does, yet never cite that startling fact. But as we keep showing you: This manufactured consent/consensus is stunningly broad. Virtually everyone agrees not to go there. Telling the truth? Not allowed!

We can’t explain how the group dynamic works. But until the public understands the sheer absurdity of current arrangements, the public will never get really angry. Your country will never develop the type of progressive horizon which could lead to actual reform—let alone to an actual “overhaul.”

It’s too late to develop such public awareness for this year’s debate. We need to start developing such understanding now, in hope of achieving real reform at some later date. But Rachel Maddow refuses to help. She just keeps pimping the corporate blather—and cashing her very large checks.

We’ll assume she’s acting in (mostly) good faith. But as we describe in the post below, the band just keeps playing on.

WAITING FOR CLARKE: John Ensign’s parents dished 96 grand to his girl friend and her family. Yes, that’s a real news story. But how big a news story should it be? Consider three separate news judgments:

Washington Post: In this morning’s Post, it gets 576 words, a banner headline across the top of page A6 and a small photo. (“Ensign’s Parents Made Payments to Mistress, Her Family.” Click here.)

New York Times: In this morning’s Times, it gets 448 words at the bottom of page A15. (“Senator’s Parents Gave Mistress Thousands.” Click here.)

That’s how it played in the Post and the Times. And on last night’s Rachel Maddow Show, it swallowed the whole first half-hour. The previous evening, Rachel read Ensign’s love letter aloud.

Taking just a small step back, this helps explain why you (probably) won’t get real health reform this year. This helps explain why corporate interests will be happy—again—with this year’s outcome.

Before we explain, let’s share a couple of good solid laughs over Maddow’s demo-stalking. As her program spirals downward, she at least provides our analysts with their quota of low mordant laughs.

As Maddow began her program last night, she promised us that we would hear from a very smart person—former national security honcho Richard Clarke. But uh-oh! We’d have to wait, she said:

“But we start tonight with new details and new admissions from Republican Senator John Ensign today about this sex and ethics scandal that appears to be starting to consume him,” Maddow dramatically said. But wait a minute! This scandal appears to be consuming Ensign?

“Look who’s talking,” one analyst said.

At 9:13, Maddow finished her first segment, about the solon’s ill-advised “shtupping” of his chief of staff’s wife. Richard Clarke would be along in “a few minutes,” Maddow now promised.

But uh-oh! Soon, we were deep inside her second full segment—again, about Ensign’s wild conduct. This segment ended at 9:28. Clarke would be along in “a few minutes,” Maddow once again said!

The analysts moaned, and tore their hair. Some of them cursed their fate.

Long story short: Clarke finally appeared at 9:40, after a bit of wasted time concerning the pointless Roland Burris. Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “a few minutes” is, one of the analysts said.

Clarke was smart and informative, as always. But he got five minutes.

In such ways, corporate interests have eaten your lunch—and your shorts—over the past several decades. Last night’s nonsense helps explain how columns like Brooks’ can exist in such remarkable numbers. It helps explain how our current debate can operate inside such a lunatic framework. It helps explain how that powerful manufactured consensus can exist.

Most other developed nations deliver health care at half the cost! This remarkable framework is almost totally absent from your current debate. For the most part, Americans voters don’t know about that; knowledge of that remarkable fact plays little role in the current discussion. Corporate interests will win again—because they’ve somehow arranged to keep you barefoot and clueless. Again.

Corporate interests will win again—because, in place of real information, they keep handing you distractions. Sex toys.

When people like Maddow keep handing you sex, her corporate owners have won. In the past, it was known as “bread and circuses;” today, it takes a somewhat sillier form. But whatever! Serial distractions keep the public from understanding the facts of their lives.

How dumb are the public debates which operate inside this framework?

In the mid-1990s, the press corps clowned its way through a two-year pseudo-debate about Medicare. Among name players, only Al Franken was smart enough to explain the basic facts of that thoroughly bungled discussion. (In Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot.) The GOP really was proposing cuts—but no one in the press could quite explain it. They even began to call Clinton a liar—although Clinton was telling the truth. (This debate played a large role in creating the notion that Clinton, then Gore, were big liars.)

Today, the corps is clowning its way through a similar oddball debate. Very few journos are willing to explain the absurdity of current health care arrangements. Maddow could be explaining these things. Instead, she keeps handing you sex.

We’ll take a guess about motive:

Maddow is woefully clueless about domestic politics—and a bit immature to boot. In all honesty, she belongs at the helm of a nightly news program in much the way your next-door neighbor should be running the space shuttle program. For that reason, we’ll assume that most of her nonsense is done in good faith—although her corporate owners (GE) are surely thrilled with the circus she pimps to us rubes.

But make no mistake: The absence of knowledge about health care has been produced in just this way over the past several decades. There is always some distraction at play—some useful circus with which to redirect the public’s attention and focus. And highly-paid journalists—or “career liberal” strivers—have always been willing to walk that walk. They’ve always been willing to play the fool, to play along with the mainstream consensus. Their pay-days, current or future, depend on such acts of consent.

Young career liberals didn’t oppose those wars against Clinton and Gore. They aren’t rebelling against this crap now.

Might we explain how our politics works? The public tends to favor progressive positions, to the extent that they understand the real shape of our debates. For that reason, the corporate interest will almost always be served by a thrilling distraction. In this case, the public would be angry and deeply unimpressed—if they understood the nature of our bloated health spending. If they understood what that disparity in spending means—that massive amounts of “health care” dollars are being drained into corporate pockets.

The public would be upset about that. Maddow refuses to tell them.

But then, Maddow has become the consummate caddy, whether she understands it or not. For a bit of an analogy, see A. O. Scott’s review of Bruno in today’s New York Times. At the end of his review, Scott says this about the movie’s bad-faith humor:

“But the joke is on you.”

Regarding that new film’s humor, we plan to go and decide for ourselves. But the joke is very much on you when “progressive” TV stars, being paid millions, pimp you those sexy-time distractions. When they do that, you’re being handed a modern-day circus. For decades, this is how the public has been kept from forming progressive horizons.

We’ll assume that Maddow is mainly clueless, not mainly devious. (On the other hand: Reading the profiles, it becomes clear that she knows from stalking the demo. Brian Stelter, New York Times: “She has adopted the vocabulary quickly, praising Mr. Olbermann for a ‘931 in the demo’ last Tuesday.” Elsewhere, perhaps a bit more carefully, Maddow has claimed that she doesn’t even know which programs air against hers on other channels. Do you believe that? It’s hard.)

Assess this host’s motives however you will. But watching her sell this week’s sexy-time tales, it was hard not to think of that famous old web site: Media Horsies On-Line.

Our emperors handed us bread—and a circus. Today, our corporate owners distract us with sexy-time sex. You might win an occasional election that way. You’ll never end up with real progress.