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Daily Howler: Kristof discussed ''the central issue'' in T. R. Reid's new book
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IS YOUR NATION ABLE TO REASON! Kristof discussed “the central issue” in T. R. Reid’s new book: // link // print // previous // next //

Comparing Obama—to Bush: Is Obama receiving unusual treatment—treatment driven by racism? On the front page of today’s New York Times, Jeff Zeleny ponders this question.

At one point, Zeleny makes a clownish attempt to compare to vitriol aimed at Obama to that received by “his white predecessors.” In fairness, the clownishness may not be Zeleny’s fault. In this passage, he starts his rumination:

ZELENY (9/17/09): It is difficult to gauge the extent to which the vitriol that has come Mr. Obama’s way is racially motivated and the extent to which it is simply akin to that directed at his white predecessors.

“Racially motivated”—or “simply akin?” It’s hard to tell, Zeleny says.

That statement is accurate. Except in the most obvious cases, it’s hard to measure racial motivation. And it’s hard to measure levels of vitriol, whatever motivations may drive them. Has Obama faced an unusual level of vitriol? More than was aimed at “his white predecessors?” Zeleny devotes four more paragraphs to that question. But can you spot a tiny problem with his analytical method?

ZELENY (continuing directly): Former officials who served under President George W. Bush have been quick to recall this week that protesters frequently compared him to Hitler and that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, called him a ''loser'' and a ''liar.''

In an interview Wednesday shortly after meeting privately with Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, Colin L. Powell, secretary of state under Mr. Bush, said: ''You can find pictures where Bush was called all kinds of names, with all sorts of banners being held up and burned in effigy. I've seen it in every presidency.”

Mr. Powell said he believe that Mr. Obama might be facing even more apparent hostility but that the blame lay not necessarily in racial bias, but instead with the partisan culture of the Internet and cable news and the way they amplify the more extreme voices.

“The issue there is not race, it's civility,'' Mr. Powell said. ''This is not to say that we are suddenly racially pure, but constantly talking about it and reducing everything to black versus white is not helpful to the cause of restoring civility to our public dialogue.”

Clown college! Zeleny considers exactly one of Obama’s “white predecessors”—President Bush. For whatever reason, he doesn’t consider the level of vitriol aimed at the white predecessor known as President Clinton. You know? The one who was a Democrat?

Harry Reid called Bush a “liar?” Just trying to remember: Did anyone ever throw such terms at Clinton? At his wife? At Al Gore?

In fact, Obama’s “white Democratic predecessor” encountered giant levels of vitriol. He was his wife were serial murderers. He ran drugs through Mena, Arkansas; he may have been a Soviet agent. And of course, he and all his key associates were the world’s most gigantic known liars! In January 1996, the nation’s leading political columnist termed the first lady a “congenital liar.” But then, it was the nation’s leading Christian minister who was out there pushing the film about those serial murders.

You’re right! No Republican congressman yelled “you lie” at Clinton during a speech. Instead, Rep. Dan Burton shot up pumpkins in his back yard to show us how Vince Foster died.

(Wikipedia: “Burton led the House inquiry into the death of Vincent Foster. He was convinced that Foster was murdered and urged extensive investigation into the possible involvement of the Clintons. Burton gained attention for re-enacting the alleged crime in his backyard with his own pistol and a pumpkin standing in for Foster's head.” In fairness, liberals may not remember these things. You see, they had run into the woods to hide, as hot liquid ran down their legs. Other young “liberals” were standing in line, praying for jobs at the Post.)

By the way, President Clinton got impeached. No level of vitriol there!

Zeleny forgot to make these comparisons. But then, the years from 1992 through 2000 have pretty much been disappeared within the political world. This encourages liberals to make bungled assessments of the current situation. And good lord! How we love doing that!

Zeleny’s effort is pretty silly. But it may not be all his fault. “Former officials who served under Bush” are happy to discuss the vitriol aimed at him. But liberals and Democrats have made a fetish of disappearing the Clinton-Gore years. So has the New York Times—the central player, from Day One, in the Whitewater pseudo-scandal. (The central player, from Day One, in the invention of AL GORE, LIAR.)

(Gene Lyons discussed the Times and Whitewater in Fools for Scandal. Result? The book disappeared!)

Liberals ran off and hid in the woods during the wars against Clinton and Gore. Perhaps for that reason, it’s hard to get our “liberal leaders” to discuss what happened back then. That leaves liberals thinking that the vitriol aimed at Obama is without known human precedent. It must be the racists, we declare.

Yes, there’s race in the vitriol aimed at Obama. (There was race in the vitriol aimed at Clinton! Remember how hard slimy little Drudge worked to pimp that “black love child?”) But the similarities between these Democratic eras vastly outweigh the differences—except in the “career liberal” world.

And except on cable, of course.

Remember: If you form the wrong diagnosis for a problem, you will soon be forming the wrong solution. And good lord! How we love doing that!

Can we share a little secret? Some of us liberals are in love with racism. We wouldn’t know what to do without it. Tomorrow, we’ll consider some of the ways we strive to keep it alive.

We’ll also review Rachel Maddow’s correct review of our political history. To watch her detailed, correct review, you know what to do: Just click here.

Special report: Two days in the life!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Obama gave an important speech. Over the weekend, the New York Times op-ed page swung into action:

PART 1: Once again, the analysts cried as they read the Times op-ed columns. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/09.

PART 2: Bob Herbert actually tried to discuss the state of the nation. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/09.

PART 3: Maureen Dowd heard a very bad word—a word she used to employ. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/16/09.

Today, in our thrilling conclusion, Nicholas Kristof reviews T. R. Reid’s book:

PART 4—IS YOUR NATION ABLE TO REASON: The New York Times is our most famous newspaper—but we live in a highly advanced idiocracy. When you read Rich/Collins/ Dowd/Blow, you’re reading a very weak lineup.

Rich will fawn—or he will slander. Dowd will invent the story she likes. (No distraction will be left behind.) Collins will simper, whinny and mince. Blow will offer a graphic.

On Saturday, Bob Herbert made a decent attempt to discuss the issues raised by Obama’s speech (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/09). But on Sunday, Nicholas Kristof went head to head with some of the major themes of the speech, taking us on a rapid tour of T. R. Reid’s new book.

In Reid’s new book (The Healing of America), the former Post scribe takes a tour of some of the world’s major health systems. But he starts with a domestic question: Why did Nikki White die?

(Warning to liberal readers: Nikki White was from Tennessee—and she was white. Statistics warn of a key possibility: She may have been a tea-bagger. Understandably, some liberals, thus warned, will want to stop reading here.)

Why did Nikki White die? That’s the question which starts Reid’s book; it’s the question which shapes Kristof’s column. What follows is part of American health care, as described by someone who isn’t as worthless as Rich/Collins/Dowd:

KRISTOF (9/13/09): Nikki was a slim and athletic college graduate who had health insurance, had worked in health care and knew the system. But she had systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that was diagnosed when she was 21 and gradually left her too sick to work. And once she lost her job, she lost her health insurance.

In any other rich country, Nikki probably would have been fine, notes T. R. Reid in his important and powerful new book, “The Healing of America.” Some 80 percent of lupus patients in the United States live a normal life span. Under a doctor’s care, lupus should be manageable. Indeed, if Nikki had been a felon, the problem could have been averted, because courts have ruled that prisoners are entitled to medical care.

As Mr. Reid recounts, Nikki tried everything to get medical care, but no insurance company would accept someone with her pre-existing condition. She spent months painfully writing letters to anyone she thought might be able to help. She fought tenaciously for her life.

Finally, Nikki collapsed at her home in Tennessee and was rushed to a hospital emergency room, which was then required to treat her without payment until her condition stabilized. Since money was no longer an issue, the hospital performed 25 emergency surgeries on Nikki, and she spent six months in critical care.

“When Nikki showed up at the emergency room, she received the best of care, and the hospital spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her,” her step-father, Tony Deal, told me. “But that’s not when she needed the care.”

By then it was too late. In 2006, Nikki White died at age 32. “Nikki didn’t die from lupus,” her doctor, Amylyn Crawford, told Mr. Reid. “Nikki died from complications of the failing American health care system.”

“She fell through the cracks,” Nikki’s mother, Gail Deal, told me grimly. “When you bury a child, it’s the worst thing in the world. You never recover.”

“We now have a chance to reform this cruel and capricious system,” Kristof writes. “If we let that chance slip away, there will be another Nikki dying every half-hour. That’s how often someone dies in America because of a lack of insurance.”

Kristof sketches several of the brutal ironies of our broken system. White’s illness made her too weak to work—and so she lost her insurance! Meanwhile, she would have been better off if she’d been in prison. As Reid makes clear in his book, lupus is treatable. If White had been an imprisoned felon, she would have received medical treatment. By law.

We recommend Kristof’s column—although a problem lies at its heart. This is the way the column ends. Everything said here is accurate:

KRISTOF: Mr. and Mrs. Deal say they are speaking out because Nikki wouldn’t want anyone to endure what she did. “Nikki was a college-educated, middle-class woman, and if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” Mr. Deal said. “This should not be happening in our country.”

Struggling to get out the words, Mrs. Deal added: “The loss of a child is the greatest hurt anyone will ever suffer. Because of the circumstances she endured with the health care system, I lost my daughter.”

Complex arguments are being batted around in this health care debate, but the central issue isn’t technical but moral. The first question is simply this: Do we wish to be the only rich nation in the world that lets a 32-year-old woman die because she can’t get health insurance? Is that really us?

First of all, God bless the Deals for their desire to speak. God bless Nikki White’s parents! But regarding the desire to avoid future suffering, we can’t entirely agree with the path Kristof’s argument takes.

“The central issue isn’t technical but moral?” It does feel good to make the statement—and it makes a striking column. But the moral argument about the uninsured has never really been a winner. The liberal world has tended to lead with this issue. Granted, we haven’t argued it well. But we have tended to lose.

“Is that really us?” The answer keeps coming back yes. Paul Krugman has offered an explanation for this, dating back to the late 1940s. But just on a political basis, this emphasis has been a loser.

If the liberal world wants to avoid such suffering, it ought to consider helping people understand a wider range of arguments—including other moral arguments about our disgraceful health “system.”

Like Kristof, we think there are fabulous parts of Reid’s book. But at least one key part of the book is quite weak. If liberals hope to serve the Deals, we ought to consider that part of Reid’s book. We’ll look at Reid’s book all next week.