Sunday, August 9, 2009

Health Care Sunday: "Wingnut, smash" Edition

QOTD, Mahrer:
John Bolton's mustache symbolizes the republican party. A small white minority clinging to a single mouthpiece.

“AUGUST is a challenging time to be president,” said Andrew Card, the former Bush White House chief of staff, as he offered unsolicited advice to his successors in a television interview last week. “I think you have to expect the unexpected.”

He should know. Thursday was the eighth anniversary of “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the President’s Daily Brief that his boss ignored while on vacation in Crawford. Aug. 29 marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s strike on the Louisiana coast, which his boss also ignored while on vacation in Crawford.

C&L: Real Time New Rules Aug. 7, 2009- Dumb and Dumber Edition

Real Time's New Rules for Aug. 7, 2009.

Maher: Now, before I go about demonstrating how easy it is to prove the dumbness that is dragging us down, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences. On the eve of the Iraq war, 70% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9-11. Six years later, 34% still do. Or look at the health care debate going on now. At a recent town hall meeting in South Caronlina a man stood up and told the Congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare!".

Which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways. This country is like a college chick after two Long Island iced teas. We can be talked into anything, like wars. And we can be talked out of anything, like health care. We should forget the town halls, and replace them with study halls.

Listen to some of these statistics. A majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. 24% could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War. More than 2/3 of Americans don't know what's in Roe vs Wade. 2/3 don't know what the Food and Drug Administration does.

Some of this stuff you should be able to pick up by simply being alive.

Sully: Fact-Checking Palin

A reader notes that Sarah and little Trig would never appear before any "Death Panel", because they are entitled to free federal health care. Palin's own record of treatment of the elderly and disabled can be explored here. And you may remember this odd lie:

At one point, trying out a debating point that she believed showed she could empathize with uninsured Americans, Palin told McCain aides that she and Todd in the early years of their marriage had been unable to afford health insurance of any kind, and had gone without it until he got his union card and went to work for British Petroleum on the North Slope of Alaska. Checking with Todd Palin himself revealed that, no, they had had catastrophic coverage all along. She insisted that catastrophic insurance didn’t really count and need not be revealed.
Yglesias: After Victory

David Frum contemplates conservative victory in the health care fight and doesn’t like what he sees:

The problem is that if we do that… we’ll still have the present healthcare system. Meaning that we’ll have (1) flat-lining wages, (2) exploding Medicaid and Medicare costs and thus immense pressure for future tax increases, (3) small businesses and self-employed individuals priced out of the insurance market, and (4) a lot of uninsured or underinsured people imposing costs on hospitals and local governments. [...]

Even worse will be the way this fight is won: basically by convincing older Americans already covered by a government health program, Medicare, that Obama’s reform plans will reduce their coverage. In other words, we’ll have sent a powerful message to the entire political system to avoid at all hazards any tinkering with Medicare except to make it more generous for the already covered.

If we win, we’ll trumpet the success as a great triumph for liberty and individualism. Really though it will be a triumph for inertia. To the extent that anybody in the conservative world still aspires to any kind of future reform and improvement of America’s ossified government, that should be a very ashy victory indeed.

These are good points. There’s a difference, of course, between a political win and a policy win. A policy win for conservatives would probably not be to block Obama’s proposals, but rather to modify them in exchange for the kind of “bipartisan” win that the White House and congressional leaders crave. Less generous minimum benefit packages, and therefore somewhat smaller subsidies. More financing through taxing health benefits and less financing through taxes on the rich and employer mandates. Encouragement of the administration’s efforts to cut waste out of Medicare rather than criticizing them.

That said, handing the White House a big bipartisan victory wouldn’t be helpful to Republican Party efforts to win elections in the future. Those crossed incentives interact with the anti-majoritarian elements of the congressional process in a way that makes certain kinds of compromises hard to pull off.

Via Daily Kos, here's -

David Frum:

Modern communication technology has empowered cranks, enabling them to build entire virtual crank communities. It has multiplied the number of media outlets — and thus the number of hours to fill — creating new crank opportunities on radio and television.

Among the greatest beneficiaries of these new opportunities: the cranks known as "birthers." The birthers claim that U.S. President Barack Obama is not legally entitled to occupy his office because he is not in fact a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, as the federal Constitution requires.

This claim rests on two assertions, one wrong, one crazy.

  • well worth clicking through to read the whole piece, and then the comments - which are to die for.

Reader B.A. asks a question about the health care debate via email:

I don't understand why the wingnuts are so angry. Conservatives will be better off if reform becomes law, just like liberals and independents. Please explain the rationale for the fury.

Well, I'm not sure I can. It seems like one of those easy, basic questions that should have an obvious answer: what do conservatives want out of the health care debate? "Wingnut, smash" isn't an especially compelling answer.

B.A. is right about the broad benefits for Americans. Some of Rush Limbaugh's listeners are one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Some Michele Bachmann voters can't get coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Some Glenn Beck viewers will see their insurance companies drop them when they need their coverage most. Many of Bill O'Reilly's fans already enjoy the benefits of government-run health care. Some RNC donors may want to start their own business, but can't because they can't afford to pay the monthly premiums. Some of the same people who attended "Tea Parties" in April saw the insurance for themselves and their families disappear after they lost their job.

There's nothing partisan or ideological about this -- everyone is getting screwed by the status quo. We're all paying too much for too little. A huge chunk of the country is uninsured, underinsured, or uninsurable, and the system is blind to how you voted in the last election.

Now, this is not to say that the Democratic proposals are flawless; they're not. But what's striking about the opposition to reform -- at least the loudest opposition to reform -- is that the right has chosen to completely ignore the actual flaws in the plan(s) and focus on imaginary, delusional nonsense.

So why are far-right activists so apoplectic? Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that will help them and their families? President Obama supports an approach to health care reform that emphasizes competition and choice, doesn't increase the deficit, and wouldn't raise middle class taxes ... and conservatives are comparing the plan to the Nazi Holocaust?

B.A.'s confusion is understandable. I don't get it, either.

It's probably a mistake to lump all opponents of reform in together; different groups are fighting with different motivations. I tend to see them in five different groups:

* The Greedy: There's a fairly small group of people who profit handsomely from the broken status quo. Regular Americans are getting screwed by the system, but The Greedy are getting rich. Reform puts their profits at risk, so they're fighting back to protect their livelihood.

* The Partisans: If President Obama does what many presidents have failed trying to do, it will likely make him more popular and make his presidency successful. The Partisans care more about Republican gains than the national well being, so they're fighting to prevent a major Democratic victory because it would be a major Democratic victory.

* The Tin-Foil Hats: If reform passes, the government will kill their grandparents, create "death panels," lavish benefits on illegal immigrants, and mandate that ACORN volunteers live in your basement. The Tin-Foil Hats have active imaginations, and believe their own ridiculous conspiracy theories. They'll benefit from reform, but the voices in their head discourage them from believing it.

* The Dupes: Probably the largest group in opposition to reform, The Dupes tend to believe what The Greedy, The Partisans, and The Tin-Foil Hats have told them. When confronted with accurate information, The Dupes suspect the media, Democrats, and their lying eyes aren't to be trusted. After all, Sean Hannity wouldn't lie to them, would he? Like The Tin-Foil hats, The Dupes stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't.

* The Wonks: The smallest of the groups, The Wonks are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. The Greedy, The Partisans, The Tin-Foil Hats, and The Dupes tend to ignore The Wonks, which is a shame.

The Wonks notwithstanding, the first four groups combine to make a force to be reckoned with, and the various teams feed off of one another nicely. The Greedy aren't a big enough group to disrupt a town-hall meeting, but if they can feed some ideas to The Tin-Foil Hats, they can get a lot done. The Partisans can't come right out and acknowledge their concerns, but if they can rope in The Dupes, the combined force is considerable.

B.A. emailed, "I don't understand why the wingnuts are so angry." My suspicion is they're angry for different reasons, many of which will fade if/when Democratic policymakers can manage to do the right thing.

Sully: "Is Your Bubble Bursting?"

A reader writes:

Your obvious shock and dismay at the sheer angry ignorance of the health care teabaggers reiterates my largest problem with your rosy immigrant's view of America. You have often underestimated just how poisonously dangerous the American populist right is.

I don't blame you. You came to America after the rise of Reagan. Most of your life in America, you have lived under different Republican presidents who placated these folks with platitudes and campaign rhetoric. The one period when the populist right didn't feel they had a fellow traveler in charge was when Bill Clinton was elected (thanks to the reactionaries splitting their votes). You remember, no doubt, the level of crazy Clinton had to defuse and dodge, and this was a man who had the advantage of being a Southern bubba who has dealt which such people all his life.

For most of your time in America, this insanity has been muted by the success of conservative politics. Since you live in Washington, you probably saw daily the face of the successful conservative political establishment that milked the populist right, and by milking them kept their bitterness at a manageable level. That safety valve was stuffed up by George Bush's failed presidency.

So now, these people are facing their worst fears; actual change.
A political and demographic re-alignment is happening before their eyes, and they are reaching back into their old bag of tricks of intimidation, violence, and apocalyptic fearmongering. You are British, Andrew. You love this country, and we love you for it. But you didn't grow up around these folks, and you don't realize what a permanent and potent part of the American political landscape they are.

They have always been with us, the people who believed in manifest destiny, who delighted in the slaughter of this land's original inhabitants, who cheered a nation into a civil war to support an economic system of slavery that didn't even benefit them. They are the people who bashed the unions and cheered on the anti-sedition laws, who joined the Pinkertons and the No Nothing Party, who beat up Catholic immigrants and occasionally torched the black part of town. They rode through the Southern pine forests at night, they banned non-European immigration, they burned John Rockefeller Jr. in effigy for proposing the Grand Tetons National Park.

These are the folks who drove Teddy Roosevelt out of the Republican Party and called his cousin Franklin a communist, shut their town's borders to the Okies and played the protectionist card right up til Pearl Harbor, when they suddenly had a new foreign enemy to hate. They are with us, the John Birchers, the anti-flouride and black helicopter nuts, the squirrly commie-hating hysterics who always loved the loyalty oath, the forced confession, the auto-de-fe. Those who await with baited breath the race war, the nuclear holocaust, the cultural jihad, the second coming, they make up much more of America then you would care to think.

I'm always optimistic about America. We're a naturally rich and beautiful place. Every generation we renew ourselves with a watering of immigrants committed to the American dream, immigrants like you. But please, Andrew, do not for a second underestimate the price in blood and tears we've always paid here for progress.

I voted for Obama with my fingers crossed, because I knew that as the populist right lost power, they would become more extreme, more concentrated, and more violent. As to dismissing them as only a quarter or so of America, please remember that it only took a quarter or so of Americans to actively support the Confederacy.

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