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Daily Howler: The GOP has ''messaged'' our keisters off. Does our wondrous side really care?
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THEY TRY HARDER! The GOP has “messaged” our keisters off. Does our wondrous side really care? // link // print // previous // next //

We’re all Bartiromo now: Good God. Could Maria Bartiromo—a financial “expert!”—possibly be that dumb?

In her exchange with Rep. Anthony Weiner on Tuesday, CNBC’s famous money expert didn’t seem to know that Medicare is a program for people who are 65 and older. We know—that level of ignorance doesn’t seem possible. And yet, watching the tape (just click here), we can see no sign that Bartiromo was speaking ironically when she made her comments to Weiner. And of course, by the rules of High Pundit Courtesy, no one questioned Bartiromo about these exceptionally strange remarks. Carlos Watson and Ezra Klein just acted like nothing had happened.

Good lads!

Could she really be that dumb? Go ahead. Watch the tape. You decide.

Of course, something else Bartiromo said was dumb, and no liberal site has made comment. But then, this type of “analysis” gets offered quite constantly—without rebuttal from liberals. When Ed Schultz was met with a similar presentation, he said he’d have to fly to Canada to figure out what was up. We keep getting our brains beat out because we’re just not prepared.

At the start of her exchange with Weiner, Bartiromo makes a claim about health care in Britain (the UK). She is clearly arguing against the wisdom of “public plans:”

BARTIROMO (9/1/09): You look at a plan like the UK, right? Public plan, in the UK. Do you know that, if you have cancer and you need the most effective, most popular cancer drug, Erbitux, the government says, “No! We’re not gonna pay for it! It’s too expensive!” And it is expensive. It’s $38,000 for 16 weeks. So how [can you say] the quality doesn’t suffer?

“You have to look at where there are public plans,” Bartiromo dumbly expounds, just before asking Weiner (who is 45 years old) why he isn’t on Medicare if Medicare is so good.

Put aside that remarkable question. Consider the logic of what she says about the UK’s “public plan.”

Does Bartiromo know what she’s talking about when it comes to Erbitux? We certainly wouldn’t assume that. Does the UK refuse to pay for the drug? We have no idea. In 2006, USA Today did a report about the drug’s high cost. Quoting: “Although Erbitux, for example, costs almost $10,000 a month, studies have not shown that it helps colorectal cancer patients live longer.” Just click here.

Does the UK refuse to pay for the drug? We have no idea. But if it does refuse, this says nothing about “public plans” per se; it may say something about public plans which are funded at a certain level. At what level is the UK’s health service funded? Here are the relevant figures:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
United Kingdom: $2992

Does the UK refuse to pay for that drug? We have no idea. But the UK spends about forty percent as much as the US does, per person. If they funded their plan at our level of spending, they could surely supply Erbitux, and send the patient to the Club Med to enjoy the sixteen-week treatment. As Bartiromo dumbly sounds off, she acts as if any public plan would balk at providing expensive treatments. She doesn’t seem to see that this would depend on the level of the plan’s funding.

(One also wonders, of course, if US health insurance typically pays for that treatment.)

We see conservatives make claims like that all the time. We have never seen a liberal raise the level-of-funding issue. We could cut our level of spending way down—and still be outspending nations which are alleged to have problems with waiting lists, or with lack of treatment.

But then, our side has done amazingly little work with the various implications of this country’s mammoth level of spending. We get our brains beat out as a result. We’re all Bartiromo now.

About those waiting lists and denials of service: In his recent piece in the Washington Post, T. R. Reid said the following about those famed waiting lists (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/09):

REID (8/23/09): As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for non-emergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations—Germany, Britain, Austria—outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.

In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don't bother to make an appointment.

Say what? According to Reid, the UK “outperforms the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.”

Could that be true? We have no idea. Conservatives constantly talk about waiting lists. We liberals say we’ll fly to Canada to find out what is what.

One side has messaging; one side has clowns. Health reform dies in the process.

Special report: Message: We don’t care!

BE SURE TO READ EACH INSTALLMENT: Why are Democrats so bad at messaging? We think that’s a very good question:

PART 1: Our smartest player seemed perplexed by the power of GOP messaging. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/1/09.

PART 2: It’s easy to be a conservative pundit. The messaging is right at hand. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/09.

PART 3: This should be a Golden Age of Democratic messaging. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/3/09.

Now, for our thrilling conclusion:

PART 4—THEY TRY HARDER: What should Democrats say to the people? Democrats—and liberals—rarely ask. And our insouciance shows.

Up in Boston, one of Rick Perlstein’s readers cited this problem in a recent on-line discussion. Why are the Democrats so bad at messaging? So bad at pushing back?

That’s what the Boston reader asked. And there was more in that same discussion. In Derry, New Hampshire, another reader had noticed what happens when a political movement is “so bad” at such basic skills:

DERRY READER (8/18/09): I thoroughly appreciate your article... One critical aspect not covered, however, is what (if anything) can be done to counter such ridiculous and blatant falsehoods in what should be a patriotic dialog rather than a hysterical diatribe. As you noted, merely repeating the falsehoods and even branding them as such merely gives them more air time and greater credence with some. If you could suggest one way to take on this foolishness, what would it be?

When a movement is bad at messaging, it can even get defeated by “ridiculous and blatant falsehoods.” In the case of health care, our side was defeated that way in 1994. Fifteen years later, here we are, getting beaten that same way again!

We love to call the other side dumb. But it’s simply amazing to see how bad we are at this game.

What should Democrats say to the people? It’s high time that we liberals asked.

For ourselves, we’ll offer two suggestions, one of which we’ve pimped for years. (You have to tell voters when they’re being misled.) Before we do so, let’s note how weak we liberals tend to be when we try to discuss these questions.

The other side has been quite active in its messaging, at least since the time of Nixon. If you’ve watched conservative cable this week, you’ve seen the fruits of this labor. Shrieking claims about “big government” greet all proposals from Obama. Familiar burlesques of the sneering liberal are easily put into play.

(Often, we liberals swing into action, pleased to reinforce those burlesques.)

Our side has been much less active in our messaging, even when events have favored our side. As Triumphant Reaganism has dismantled various regulatory systems, we have been treated to a series of incidents in which Big Interests have looted the public. For that reason, this should be a Golden Age for liberal messaging.

But let’s be honest—it hasn’t been. Conservative leaners declaim with great ease about the vile actions of “Big Government.” On what messaging does our side draw when we attempt to respond?

To be honest, there really is none. Their side has messaging—our side really doesn’t. The Democratic Party—and the career liberal world—have dozed through several decades.

One reason for that slumber seems obvious. The Democratic Party is now beholden to the same corporate interests that fund the GOP. Why have no Democrats screamed and yelled—and done the intellectual work—about those groaning health care figures, in which your country spends more than twice as much, per person, as is apparently necessary? Why has no liberal journal plowed these remarkable fields?

We don’t know. But one possible answer seems to be obvious. All the extra health spending that gets looted goes into the pocket of the Big Interests which fund your party—the party which isn’t good at messaging. For all his virtues, did the late Ted Kennedy ever say that? Sorry, but we don’t think he did.

If we might apply the old Upton Sinclair template:

It’s hard to get a party to message robustly when its campaign contributions depend upon its not doing so.

Of course, many “career liberal intellectual leaders” are in the money game too. Endlessly, we’ve noted the way the silent children at our “liberal journals” end up taking jobs at the Washington Post. People standing in line for such tenure aren’t likely to create robust messaging—or to push back too hard.

Big money players are commonly found at the top of the Democratic and career liberal worlds. On a personal basis, they gain under Republican tax policies. They have shown little interest, in recent decades, in pushing back—or in robust messaging.

Sad, ain’t it? For the past three decades, the Democratic party has basically been number 2. And the other side has tried harder.

Beyond that:

For whatever reason, even our very brightest liberals seem to flail when it comes to messaging. On Tuesday, we noted the oddness of Paul Kurgman’s recent column on the enduring appeal of “Reaganism”—and Krugman has been our brightest, most valuable player at the upper end of the press corps. But then, wherever our analysts look, they see a comprehension deficit among smart liberals when it comes to messaging. Two more examples:

First, just read through this lengthy piece from last Sunday’s Post “Outlook” section. The piece got massive front-page placement. In it, two progressives urge us to fight for Obama’s health plan. Ardor is everywhere in their piece—but in our view, they offer little sense of what liberals, progressives and Democrats should say in support of Obama’s plan. At no point do they seem to realize that we’re playing at a large disadvantage.

They urge us to mobilize—and then say what? In this passage, fairly late in their piece, Dreier and Ganz start to urge us on:

DREIER/GANZ (8/30/09): Grass-roots mobilization raises the stakes, identifies the obstacles to reform and puts the opposition on the defensive. The right-wing fringe understood this simple organizing lesson and seized the momentum. Its leaders used tactics that energized their base, challenged specific elected officials and told a national story, enacted in locality after locality.

It is time for real reformers to take back the momentum.

The authors urge us to “take back the momentum” by “grass-roots mobilization.” They correctly say that the other side has already “seized the momentum,” telling “a national story” in the process. (By law, Dreier and Ganz are required to describe this other side in derogatory terms—even as they acknowledge that these people have outworked and outperformed us.) Of course, we all know what “national story” the other side has been telling. They have told their most famous old story: Big government never did anything right.

But people! As we prepare to mobilize and take back the momentum, what comparable story should we be telling? Let’s face it—our side doesn’t really have one! What comparable story should we be telling? As they continue, Dreier and Ganz take a very long time to say:

DREIER/GANZ (continuing directly): In the past two weeks, proponents of Obama's health-care reform finally woke up. They showed up in large numbers at town hall meetings sponsored by elected officials across the nation.

The president himself used his bully pulpit with more resolve, attending public events and addressing conference calls with religious groups, unions and others to urge them to mobilize on behalf of reform.

What's needed now is a campaign to shift the ground beneath Congress. First, it must concentrate on winning support for a specific bill that incorporates the key principles Obama has been advocating: universal insurance coverage, no denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, the public option and controls on exorbitant drug and insurance industry costs. The Limbaugh loyalists know what they are against. But Obama and his allies have to be clear about what they are for.

Challenging the right wing's framing of the issue, Organizing for America and the activist groups need to recruit volunteers to reach out to friends, neighbors and especially the "undecided" public with the same urgency, energy and creativity that they showed in the election.

Jimminy Kripemas! Will they ever explain what we ought to be saying? We are urged to “challenge the right wing’s framing of the issue.” (Big government never did anything right!) But how are we supposed to do that? What exactly is our framing? In that passage, we are given a laundry list (universal coverage, no denial of coverage) with which to counter a piece of Big Messaging. We are told to counter the other side’s framing with a list—a list of things we are for.

In that passage, we’re asked to reach out to our friends. But: Reach out and tell them what? As they continue, the authors start to say. We’d describe this as rather thin gruel:

DREIER/GANZ (continuing directly): Second, the campaign must focus attention on the insurance companies that are primarily responsible for the health-care mess. This means organizing public events across the country that can articulate Americans' frustrations with the current health insurance system and polarize public opinion against the insurance companies and their allies.

Focusing on the insurance companies is better than nothing; it’s better than just reciting that list. But uh-oh! Have you noticed something from recent polling? Most people say they’re happy with their health insurance! In part, that’s because liberals and Democrats have done a very poor job down through the years explaining what those companies, and other such Big Interests, do. But it’s hard to “articulate Americans' frustrations with the current health insurance system” if such frustration doesn’t really exist. It isn’t the fault of Dreier and Ganz. But in this passage, we’re being told to fight an elephant with a pop-gun.

The other side has demonized Big Government endlessly. In all honesty, our side has developed no equal-but-opposite narrative. For decades, we have been “so bad at messaging” that we have no Big Message now.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t meant as a criticism of Dreier and Ganz, or of Krugman, our long-time most valuable player. But good God, we do a miserable job when we talk about Big Central Messaging! Last Friday, we criticized Perlstein’s answers to the very good questions he got from those readers in Boston and Derry (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/28/09). Let’s consider another answer he gave in that on-line discussion—a statement Gene Lyons correctly affirmed in yesterday’s column at Salon (click here). What Rick says here is perfectly accurate. But where’s the rest of us?

Harrisburg, Pa.: I notice much of our political dialogue appears to mix appeals to our emotions versus appeals to our logic. One side will argue the facts of an issue and the other side will denounce it in rhetorical terms. Thus, shouldn't we try and insist that we, as consumers of information, demand that more debates center around facts and philosophies and less on the emotional rhetorical appeals?

Rick Perlstein: You can't “demand” that people be more logical. Emotion is part of the human animal. What I would have liked to have seen, as an advocate of healthcare reform, is for Obama and the rhetoric to COMBINE rational appeals with emotional ones—like FDR and and Truman and LBJ did so effectively in their own attempts to pass progressive legislation. They roused people in their lizard-brains, too, just for progressive ends. Read a book about the 1948 presidential election—Truman made arguments in a very blunt, emotional style.

That answer is perfectly accurate. In it, Rick makes a perfectly valid suggestion—although we ourselves would avoid the term “lizard brains” in this context. (Basic GOP messaging: Liberal elites think they’re better than you are.) But please note:

Rick would like Obama to make emotional appeals, the way past Democrats did. But what should he say in those appeals? What exactly could he say which would appeal to those “lizard brains?” Rick doesn’t script Obama’s appeals. He tells us to go read a book.

Frankly, it’s too late for Obama to make such appeals in any serious manner. Narratives develop over stretches of time; you can’t ask Obama to show up in the year 2009 and magically make up for decades of Democratic and liberal lethargy. The other side has been aggressively building its messaging—its frameworks—over the past forty-five years. People have heard these claims again and again, and many more times after that:

Big government never did anything right.
Liberal elites think they’re better than you are.

You can’t expect Obama to compensate for the lack of a strong, well-established counter-narrative. But if we ever do build such a narrative, it would probably turn on these points:

First, it would turn on some well-crafted statement of an obvious fact: Big Moneyed Interests will try to loot you. They’ll do it every time—till they’re stopped.

Second, it might turn on a second obvious fact: Big Moneyed Interests will send tribunes out to deceive you. They will lie in your faces—till they’re stopped.

If Democrats and liberals hadn’t dozed all these years, we might have familiar, well-crafted versions of these obvious truths at our disposal. Voters might have heard those well-crafted statements many, many times. Of course, it’s hard to imagine Big Democrats saying such things—and the children at our liberal journals would pretty much rather jump off a bridge, and then fly.

But if such messaging pre-existed, Obama could talk about the conduct of the insurance companies—and the things he said would fit into a larger framework, a framework voters pre-understood. But on your side, that larger framework simply doesn’t exist. Your side has slumbered, burbled and dozed. We are simply too lazy and indifferent—and too bought—to spend time on such messaging.

Why are Democrats so bad at messaging? Because we don’t care —and don’t try! And oh yes, one other thing: We have contempt for much of the public—for the people at whom such messaging aims, the people who get to vote.

Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman didn’t call the public crazy. They didn’t refer to their lizard brains when they could instead refer to their “hearts” and their “souls”—and to their “ideals.” (Emotional speech connects with ideals.) Quite famously, Roosevelt spoke to masses of people with great respect, through their radios. He remains famous for the fact that he spoke to the average “man.”

Today, our liberal leaders often prefer to sneer and display their contempt for such people. (They aren’t as smart and as moral as we are!) Why are we so bad at messaging? In part, because, as a point of pride, we refuse to speak to the unwashed masses to whom such messages would appeal.

We liberals! We must be the dumbest people on earth. Despite this fairly obvious fact, we take pride in calling the other side dumb. But in the past four decades, the other side has messaged our keisters off. As a result, they can offer ridiculous, blatant falsehoods—and using such falsehoods, they win.

Their side has messaging—our side really doesn’t. Let’s be honest about what that lack of messaging means:

Message: We don’t really care! For most of this era, we’ve been number two. But they have been trying much harder.