Thursday, July 23, 2009

Health Care Thursday

QOTD, John:
I think this encapsulates nicely our modern media environment.

President Obama, even before he was president, has always been good at explaining complex ideas in an accessible way, without talking down to his audience. When it comes to the debate over health care reform, that's a valuable skill, but it's already being tested.

For the tens of millions of Americans with no insurance, it's an easy, straightforward pitch -- they want coverage, and they'll get it. For the millions of Americans covered by a government program (Medicare, the VA system), reform may not seem entirely relevant. And for the rest of the country, many of whom are asking "what's in it for me" right now, selling reform is arguably trickier than it sounds.

The NYT's David Leonhardt, who's done some terrific work on the reform debate, had another interesting piece on this today, noting that most Americans may not have the first idea what reform will mean to them personally, except that it might cost their government more to cover those who are currently lacking insurance. Leonhardt makes the case that these folks may not realize what they're already paying for.

Our health care system is engineered, deliberately or not, to resist change. The people who pay for it -- you and I -- often don't realize that they're paying for it. Money comes out of our paychecks, in withheld taxes and insurance premiums, before we ever see it. It then flows to doctors, hospitals and drug makers without our realizing that it was our money to begin with.

The doctors, hospitals and drug makers use the money to treat us, and we of course do see those treatments. If anything, we want more of them. They are supposed to make us healthy, and they appear to be free. What's not to like?

The immediate task facing Mr. Obama -- in his news conference on Wednesday night and beyond -- is to explain that the health care system doesn't really work the way it seems to. He won't be able to put it in such blunt terms. But he will need to explain how a typical household, one that has insurance and thinks it always will, is being harmed.

The United States now devotes one-sixth of its economy to medicine. Divvy that up, and health care will cost the typical household roughly $15,000 this year, including the often-invisible contributions by employers. That is almost twice as much as two decades ago (adjusting for inflation). It's about $6,500 more than in other rich countries, on average.

We may not be aware of this stealth $6,500 health care tax, but if you take a moment to think, it makes sense. Over the last 20 years, health costs have soared, and incomes have grown painfully slowly. The two trends are directly connected: employers had to spend more money on benefits, leaving less for raises.

In exchange for the $6,500 tax, we receive many things. We get cutting-edge research and heroic surgeries. But we also get fabulous amounts of waste -- bureaucratic and medical.

One thing we don't get is better health than other rich countries, whether it's Canada, France, Japan or many others.

Ezra Klein has more on this, noting that the employer tax exclusion has "created a fractured, expensive, inefficient health-care system. But people think they benefit from this subsidy. And why not? It's countertintuitive to say that something that's making your health-care coverage cheaper than it would otherwise be this year is also making it everybody's health-care coverage, including yours, a lot more expensive over time. The key to explaining all this, Leonhardt says, is connecting it to stagnant wages."

The White House hasn't really tried to make this case to the already-insured Americans wondering what reform will mean for them. Maybe tonight we'll start to hear more about this.

Krugman: Professor in chief

I found Obama’s health care presentation so impressive — so much command of the issues — that it had me worried. If I really like a politicians’ speech, isn’t that an indication that he lacks the popular touch? (A couple of points off for “incentivize” — what ever happened to “encourage”? — but never mind.)

Seriously, it’s really good to see how much he gets it.

Update: So Howard Fineman was unimpressed. And Fineman knows presidential greatness when he sees it:

He’s the Texas Ranger of the world, and wants everyone to know it. He’s the guy with the silver badge, issuing warnings to the cattle rustlers.
  • DougJ adds, re The school playgrounds of West Texas

    My favorite topic for blogging—actually, my favorite topic of any kind—is all the dumb shit the media said about George W. Bush before Katrina. So I was pleased to find a link to this 2002 gem from Howard Fineman in Krugman’s post on the Obama presser:

    George W. Bush likes big belt buckles: shiny silver ones. Back in Texas, he sported one from the Texas Rangers—not the baseball team he’d helped run, but the elite police of the Lone Star State. More recently, in a Vanity Fair cover portrait with his terror-fighting posse, there was Bush, suit coat open, showing off his newest silver buckle, one bearing the presidential seal.


    Bush II, whose early years were spent in Midland, Texas, at Sam Houston Elementary and San Jacinto Junior High, is wired differently. He likes to call people names. That’s practically the first thing you do: Call someone out. You name something for what it is: evil. His speech of last Sept. 20, contained the toughest talk imaginable—we would do nothing less than banish terrorism from the world—and the American people loved what they heard. They still do.


    Woofin’ is often the prelude to deal. There was never a deal to be cut with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. But, despite Powell’s call for a “regime change,” I can see the administration accepting the half-measure of renewed U.N. inspections in the meantime. That, at least, has been the pattern in Bush’s legislative dealings, both in Austin and in Washington.


    But there was something about Putin that Bush recognized from the school playgrounds of West Texas: a guy from a proud, gigantic and rather untamed country, a guy with a touch of swagger, a gift for blunt gamesmanship and a belief in the business of doing business. Putin has warned Bush against unilateral military action in Iraq, which owes Russia $10 billion. But that leaves Bush plenty of room to maneuver.

    Bush is a cowboy because he went to junior high-school in West Texas. And he’d never do something as stupid as launching an unprovoked war without international support.

    Tonight, Fineman accused Obama of playing “three card monte”.

    What else is there to say?

    Update. More Fineman on Obama, from March:

    By recent standards—and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush—Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He’d have made a fine judge. But we don’t need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.

    Obama may be mistaking motion for progress, calling signals for a game plan. A busy, industrious overachiever, he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can’t wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" this morning for the kind of softball interview one might ordinarily associate with Fox News. One of the two hosts, for example, thanked the Republican "for his leadership" because "we're headed off a fiscal cliff."

The interview wrapped up with this interesting exchange.

Host: Senator, one question, before we go, on health care. How much of this disagreement with the administration is about the policy of health care and how to fix it, and how much of it is Republicans' obviously understandable desire to declaw the president politically. How much does that fit into the equation?

Voinovich: I think it's probably 50-50.

Putting aside the obvious slant of the question, Voinovich's candid response was nevertheless interesting. At least half of the Republican opposition to health care reform, according to a sitting Republican senator, is nothing more than partisan politics.

Good to know.

  • Think Progress: Kit Bond says DeMint’s attack on Obama was ‘way off base.’
    Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been aggressively attacking President Obama recently, saying his efforts to reform health care will be his “Waterloo” and that it will ultimately “break him.” He’s also said the health care debate is “a real showdown between socialism and freedom.” When asked about DeMint’s charges during a conference call with local reporters, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) called them “way off base.” The Hill reports:

    I didn’t like particularly the way that Sen. DeMint said it,” Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said in a conference call with Missouri reporters when asked if he agreed with DeMint’s sentiments on stopping the president’s spending.

    I think he was way off-base in his attack on the president,” added Bond, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this term.

    Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) also distanced himself from DeMint’s “Waterloo” comment yesterday saying, “I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it.”


Passing health care reform in the Senate with, say, 52 votes would be viewed as something of a failure. Passing reform with 58 votes, the conventional wisdom tells us, would make the vote "partisan." Passing reform with 61 or 62 votes, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa said recently, wouldn't be quite good enough, because it would mean only a couple of Republicans sided with the majority.

As of today, Grassley has a new number in mind.

The final healthcare reform bill to make its way out of the Senate should have as many as 80 members voting for passage, one of the lead Republican negotiators of the health package said Wednesday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said it's his preference to see the vast majority of his colleagues on board with a final healthcare bill.

"It ought to be from 80 people in the center of the Senate, I would think," Grassley said during a news conference with Iowa reporters.

That's not a typo. Grassley told reporters reform ought to have 80 votes, which would come from his idea of what constitutes the "center."

That'd be quite a feat, given that Republicans want to use health care to "break" the president, make this Obama's "Waterloo," and by one GOP senator's own admission, at least half of Republican opposition to reform is based on nothing but partisan politics.

Also note the extent to which Grassley is hung up on process. What matters is the size of the majority, he says, not what's in the bill.

I'm reminded of a recent item from Matt Yglesias, on the "recursive loops" of Grassley's "bipartisanship."

By definition any bill that 60 Senators vote for has broad legislative support, which one assumes is the virtue of a bipartisan bill. And yet despite that fact, a new consensus is emerging that for a bill to be "really" bipartisan, it's not good enough to acquire the vote of the 41st-most-conservative Senator (Ben Nelson) or even the 40th- and 39th-most-conservative Senators (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe). You also need an additional even more conservative Senator. And now we have Chuck Grassley signaling that his commitment to this weird principle is so strong that he would vote against a bill of which he otherwise approves unless a Senator who even more conservative than Grassley agrees to vote for it.

But what's the point of this? Who does this help? The way bipartisan bills happen is that you forge a compromise with the moderate members of the other party. As it happens, there are only two moderate Republicans in the Senate. But that should be understood as the GOP's problem, not the Democrats' problem. If the GOP ran more moderate nominees, there might be more Republican Senators and then, as a matter of course, bipartisan legislation would require a broader coalition.

That was when Grassley was saying a 62-vote majority isn't good enough. Now he's throwing around 80.

Benen: BABY STEPS....

The House Energy and Commerce Committee was scheduled to consider health care reform yesterday, but the committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), pushed off the vote. Dems have a 36-23 edge in the committee, but Waxman has seven Blue Dogs, and their opposition to reform would give the GOP enough votes to prevail.

So, instead of a vote, committee Democrats went to the White House for a chat. By all accounts, it went relatively well.

Moderate House Democrats and a key committee chairman emerged from a three-hour meeting at the White House on Tuesday with a tentative agreement to give an outside panel -- rather than Congress -- the power to make cuts to government-financed health care programs.

OMB Director Peter Orszag called it "probably the most important piece that can be added" to the health care bill in the House, and the deal between the Blue Dog Coalition and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was the first positive development Democratic Party leaders could claim since the American Medical Association endorsed their bill last week.

Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas, the Blue Dogs' point man on health care, called the MedPAC agreement a "significant breakthrough" and evidence that policymakers are "making progress." He added, however, "[W]e've got a long way to go."

Dems on the Energy and Commerce Committee will continue talking today, but probably won't resume formal work on the bill until tomorrow, making the pre-recess deadline that much more of a challenge, though Speaker Pelosi told her caucus yesterday the chamber is still on track. She added that "this is the biggest thing we will do in our lives."

Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the chamber, suggested action on the House floor is likely July 29, a week from today.

As for the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the panel had made "significant progress" on a bipartisan proposal, No word, though, on if/when we'll actually see a Finance bill.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wingnuts: making progress here Edition

John Cole: McCain on CNN

Not sure if you caught Walnuts on CNN this morning, but he was just sputtering mad and gave one of the most disjointed appearances I have seen in a long time. Apparently McCain is just hopping mad that after he and Sen. Kyl ran around popping off at the mouth that the stimulus has failed, several cabinet secretaries wrote letters to Arizona’s governor asking if Arizona would like to stop receiving funds. After all, the two Senators have claimed it has failed, surely Arizona does not want to take money that will just be wasted.

This was some horrible breach, and really had McCain confused and upset. You see, for the last decade or so, he has been able to say whatever he wants, and no one tried to correct him. Obviously, this development is quite a shock for him.


Far-right blogs and Republican staffers thought they'd found a delicious new anecdote to attack the stimulus package. As is usually the case, they neglected to think it through before making themselves appear silly.

Drudge, running with contracts from the government's stimulus website, claimed that the Obama administration had spent, among other things, $1.19 million on two pounds of ham. Some conservative bloggers, following Drudge's lead, ran with the story. House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office complained about the "pork" in the stimulus. Republicans sent "blast e-mails of screenshots from the Drudge Report, highlighting the contracts as wasteful spending."

By yesterday afternoon, the Department of Agriculture felt compelled to issue a statement, explaining how terribly wrong conservatives are about this.

Through the Recovery Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $100 million available to the states for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which acquires food that is distributed to local organizations that assist the needy -- including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens.

The Recovery Act funds referenced in press reports allowed states to purchase ham, cheese and dairy products for these food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries that provide assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food. This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession.

The references to "2 pound frozen ham sliced" are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy "2 pounds of ham" are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound. In terms of the dairy purchase referenced, USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese. The canned pork purchase was 8,424,000 pounds at a cost of $16,784,000, or approximately $1.99 per pound.

While the principal purpose of these expenditures is to provide food to those hardest hit by these tough times, the purchases also provide a modest economic benefit of benefiting Americans working at food retailers, manufacturers and transportation companies as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce our food supply.

In other words, the conservative activists who pounced on this were thoroughly confused about every relevant detail, including the underlying claim.

I'm curious, though, why these folks don't apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these. When a story seems outlandish, there are four simple words that I find helpful: "That can't be right."

Sure, I realize right-wing bloggers think the Obama administration is some kind of reckless spending machine, so they're inclined to believe the worst. But $1.19 million on just two pounds of ham? That didn't strike conservatives as implausible? Maybe something that warrants a closer look before publication?


This morning, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine became the fourth Republican senator to endorse Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, further reinforcing the fact that a GOP filibuster would be pointless and Sotomayor will be confirmed.

The question then becomes a matter of timing. The White House and Senate Democratic leaders see no reason to delay a confirmation vote, and intend to vote on Sotomayor before the Senate breaks for recess. At this point, most Senate Republicans don't see the value in pushing the matter off until September, either.

But for the GOP base, that's not good enough. (via Right Wing Watch)

"...[C]onservatives will not be happy if the GOP rolls over with regard to Obama's politically motivated goal of getting Sotomayor confirmed before the August recess," said Curt Levey, head of the conservative group Committee for Justice.

While some conservatives say that GOP senators effectively laid out inconsistencies in her testimony, activists want the slow-news month of August -- when Congress is on recess -- to build a campaign opposing her nomination.

Charmaine Yoest, head of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life who testified against Sotomayor, said that an extra month would be helpful to her cause.

"The more time we have to educate people, the more we would continue to emphasize to people that a vote for her is a vote for abortion on demand without any restrictions whatsoever," Yoest said.

These groups really seem to believe that Sotomayor's confirmation is in doubt, and if they could just have a little more time, they can rally the troops and defeat the nomination.

I haven't the foggiest idea how or why they've reached this conclusion. It will be interesting, though, to see whether Republican senators try to go along with their demands.

Friedersdorf: Links on Race

-- How enjoyable to listen in as Dayo Olopade and John McWhorter talk about race in America here and here.

-- James Kirchick is spot on about movement conservatism's unfortunate descent into exactly the kinds of racial grievance mongering it once critiqued. It's an excellent blog post, and excerpting won't do it justice, so read the whole thing.

DougJ: From Birchers to birthers

Marc Ambinder thinks the birther movement presents a real problem for the GOP:

The most prominent birthers are Alan Keyes, the former presidential candidate and Obama Senate challenger; Orly Tait, a wonderfully named lawyer from California; Phil Berg, a Democrat; and Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan, and a prominent radio talk show host. This is, at once, a fringe movement and something greater. It’s fringe because no important Republicans believe it, and most are offended by it. It’s greater because some fairly prominent local lawmakers are beginning to sign birther petitions.

At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don’t know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans—and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012. In the same way that Democrats in 2004 always got a stolen election question (which, to be fair, was at least closer to reality than the birther’s claims), Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. .... The buried lede to this post: Rush Limbaugh claimed today that Obama “has yet to prove that he’s a citizen.” Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they’re (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.

Who knows if he’s really right or not. But having people like him discuss the possible problem does start to make it a problem.

Let’s remember that once upon a time, William F. Buckley supposedly stood athwart the John Birch Society, yelling “Stop!”, thus creating a conservative movement that was less frightening to the American public. I don’t know to what extent that really happened, but the Republicans did do a reasonable job of keeping the craziest right-wingers quite for a time. Maybe that time is over.

Update. Interesting idea from SGEW:

Prediction: Sarah Palin (who has said that she will no longer be “P.C.” once she leaves office) will dip her toe into the Birther fever swamp within two months. Whether she crosses that Rubicon will be the determinative watershed moment.

Kleefeld (TPM): Chris Matthews Questions Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) About Birther Bill

Chris Matthews had a truly fascinating interview on Hardball today with Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), one of the co-sponsors of the "Birther Bill" to require that presidential candidates submit proof of citizenship.

After some drawn-out questioning, Matthews got Campbell to say that, yes, he does believe President Obama is a natural-born citizen:

"Okay," said Matthews, "glad we're making progress here."

Sudbay: Mark Sanford to South Carolina: Get over it

Mark Sanford thinks his constituents need to move on:

"I'm looking forward and I think the people of South Carolina are ready to do the same," Sanford said, adding to the media: "I'm going to move on with my life. The question is will you?"
Yeah, that's the question, isn't it? Sure.


Kurtz (TPM): A Seminal Moment?

TPM Reader AB:

Just to mention something that is obvious, but hopefully not overlooked, i.e., if this country cannot pass a bill which insures that every citizen has access to medical care, which every developed country has managed to do (and got done many many years ago), there is something very fundamentally and structurally wrong with this country.

Such an event, in my mind, would confirm that we live with a completely corrupt and dysfunctional form of government. Forty nine states, each with bicameral legislative bodies, some of which have distinguished themselves recently with unabashed levels of incompetency and cluelessness. Then, graft a federal government over that, which is also bicameral, the non-representative portion of it being filled with officials who are certifiable morons and/or who are bought and sold like whores by wealthy contributors.

Talk about a Waterloo.

This is a defining moment in our history. Do we fulfill our supposed status as a "shining city on a hill" or continue our long slow decline into a second rate oligarchy?

I am not one prone to hyperbole.

I believe this to the depths of my soul.

Health Care and Wingnuts: Oil & Water Edition

Sargent: Robert Gibbs Broadens Health Care Attack, Hits Bill Kristol

An interesting moment at Robert Gibbs’s press briefing today: In a clear sign that the White House sees an urgent need to go on the offensive much more aggressively on health care, Gibbs went out of his way to hit not just Jim DeMint, but Bill Kristol, who is legendary for his 1990s efforts to scuttle reform.

Kristol, who famously advised in a 1993 memo that Republicans had to kill health care reform to ensure their own survival, advised Republicans today to do the same to Obamacare, writing that Republicans should “resist the temptation” to “appear constructive” and instead should “go for the kill.”

Asked today why Obama went on the offensive against DeMint’s claim that health care failure could “break” Obama, Gibbs said:

“I think what we want people to understand are a few things. One, we’ve been discussing this for decades. And the familiar mantra of delay has been the message for many of those years to put off the needed and necessary reforms that have to take place in our health care system. You could just as easily have quoted a Republican strategist today who said to go for the kill and asked opponents to resist the temptation to be responsible.”

A lot of people have been wondering when the White House would more aggressively link today’s obstruction to health care reform to the previous, notoriously uncompromising effort to kill it at all costs. This could be the start of such an effort.

JedL(DK): He must have overdosed on stupid

Michael Steele on Monday morning at the National Press Club:

You're journalists. You scrutinize this stuff. You mean you're sitting here and telling me that this is not unprecedented? That even you aren't shocked at the degree to which this Administration is bringing the government not just into our lives, but into the very relationship between the doctor and the patient?

Between the patient and his insurance company?

Between the insurance company and the market?

This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector. Period.

How in the world does Michael Steele think it is a good idea to defend the sanctity of the relationship "between the patient and his insurance company"?

On what planet does he think it is smart politics to defend the relationship "between the insurance company and the market"?

Anyone with half a brain knows that Americans want to restrain -- not empower -- unscrupulous health insurance companies, yet here is Michael Steele, carrying the health insurance industry's water. The Republican Party should sue him for political malpractice. And we should praise our good fortunes to have him as the head of the opposition.

The Day in 100 Seconds: Health Care Bingo. July 20, 2009

A Wingnut Tuesday: his exact words Edition

Aravosis: Official House GOP Website Promoting Video Of Rep Saying Obama’s Mom Might Have Aborted Him
No matter how bad our guys are, their guys are always worse.
John Cole: No One Could Have Predicted, Teen Pregnancy Edition

I’m sure you are all as surprised by this as I am:

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush’s evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US’s major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush’s critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.

At least the southern states get to lead the nation in something.

John (at Eschaton): Screw Us All Once More, For the Gipper

I'd love to see one of the several cable news networks with 25 hours of prime time slots a week air one of those "Did you know?" segments on this.

The history of the debate, almost as much as the current facts, and you know, reality, illustrates nicely how hollow GOP obstructionism is.

    Over at "The Corner," Jonah Goldberg highlights this 1961 clip from Ronald Reagan, criticizing Medicare. Goldberg said Reagan's criticism of the landmark health care program is, nearly a half-century later, "still fresh today."

    As Jonathan Chait explained, "This is true, but not in the way Goldberg thinks."

    Listening to the recording now, it's kind of embarrassing to hear how very wrong Reagan's attacks on Medicare were at the time. In 1961, Reagan was a GE spokesperson, known for his conservative politics. When he lashed out at the idea of Medicare, it wasn't surprising, but it was the message itself that was so bizarre.

    According to Reagan, Medicare would lead federal officials to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, Reagan warned that if Medicare became law, there was a real possibility that the federal government would control where Americans go and what they do for a living.

    In a line that may sound familiar to Sarah Palin fans, Reagan added, "[I]f you don't [stop Medicare] and I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

    With the benefit of hindsight, we now know these crazy warnings were completely wrong. As Chait put it:

    You'd think conservatives would be embarrassed about this sort of talk. After all, can there be anybody who doesn't live in a militia compound who believes the passage of Medicare represented the death knell of that freedom in America? Does anybody think this business about the government dictating what city doctors live in has come true? Yet conservatives continue to trumpet it.

    Why? Reagan's diatribe is "still fresh" because it's exactly the same sort of rhetoric conservatives employ against health care reform today. I imagine his readers are supposed to consider it "fresh" because they're supposed to substitute "Obamacare" in their head every time Reagan refers to Medicare. This allows them to sustain a mental condition wherein hysterical conservative predictions about the last social reform are forgotten in the specific, but remembered in the general and applied to the next social reform.

    Reagan's misguided diatribe from 48 years ago also serves as a reminder that we hear the same arguments from conservatives, over and over again, every time real reform is on the table. Republicans, Fox News, and Limbaugh, for example, reflexively shout "socialized medicine" whenever the issue comes up -- just as the right has done for 75 years.

  • from the comments -

    I e-mailed Jonah Goldberg and mentioned that in the clip Reagan was opposing Medicare, which is now an extremely popular government program. I asked him if he thought that the Republican party should now also opposed Medicare and he said yes. Actually, his exact words were "Fine with me given how it sucks." I wrote back to say that I hoped he would encourage congressional Republicans to take that position.

    Posted by: Amy on July 20, 2009
Rachel does good here, real good . . .
Correcting the record on race
July 20: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow respectfully corrects some of the falsehoods about the role of race in America expressed in a previous show by guest and colleague Pat Buchanan.
Koppelman: Fox's Kilmeade apologizes for "pure" societies remark

It took a while -- almost two weeks -- but Fox News' Brian Kilmeade has finally addressed, and apologized for, some rather remarkable comments he made while hosting "Fox and Friends."

As War Room reported at the time, on the July 8 edition of the cable net's morning show, Kilmeade and colleagues were discussing a study that had been conducted in Finland and Sweden, the results of which suggested that married people were less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's. Kilmeade dismissed that study, however, saying observations from Finland and Sweden wouldn't necessarily apply to Americans, because, "we keep marrying other species and other ethnics and other ..." After an interruption from his co-host, Kilmeade continued, "See, the problem is the Swedes have pure genes. Because they marry other Swedes .... Finns marry other Finns, so they have a pure society."

In his apology, which you can watch below, Kilmeade says, "I made comments that were offensive to many people. That was not my intention, and looking back at those comments, I realize they were inappropriate. For that, I sincerely apologize: America [is a] huge melting pot, and that is what makes us such a great country."

(Hat-tip to Gawker.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Current Media Narrative

Never forget Steve's central point here . . .
I stopped by the Yahoo News page a few minutes ago and saw the lead headline at the top of the page that reads, "Public support slips for Obama's health plan, poll shows." It quoted a Reuters report that says:

Public support for President Barack Obama's handling of healthcare reform, the pillar of his legislative agenda, has fallen below 50 percent for the first time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday said.

I realize the current media narrative is "public turns on health care reform," but let's clarify this a bit, because it's nearly as misleading as the political attacks that have weakened support for reform in the first place.

The Post-ABC poll asked Americans if they approve of President Obama's handling of various issues. While he enjoys majority support in some areas, 49% approve of his handling of health care, 44% do not.

But that doesn't necessarily reflect opposition to "Obama's health plan." Maybe the president's support on this issue has fallen to 49% because some Americans are disappointed Obama hasn't already pushed the bill through Congress. Maybe they don't like the way he's empowered lawmakers to take the lead in writing the bill. Who knows? The poll doesn't really tell us.

The poll does, however, tell us a few relevant details. For example, when given a choice on who Americans trust more on reforming the health care system, 54% prefer the president, while only 34% back congressional Republicans.

Even more important, when the basics of the plan are described to respondents, including Republican-friendly phrasing ("government-run"), a majority of Americans support the reform proposal. This was left out of the Reuters report altogether.

In an article about poll support for "Obama's health plan," Reuters ignored the only question in the poll about support for Obama's health plan. Odd.

Think Progress: Obama hits back at DeMint’s threat: ‘It is about a health care system that is breaking American families.’

President Obama today reaffirmed his commitment to reforming health care to control costs, provide affordable coverage, and ensure quality care by introducing competition and transparency into the current system. In his speech, Obama also took aim at comments made by one of the most ardent opponents of health reform, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). DeMint last week declared that he would do everything in his power to kill health reform in the Senate. Obama struck back today by saying the debate “isn’t about me,” but rather a system that is “breaking American families”:

OBAMA: Just the other day, one Republican Senator said, and I’m quoting him now, “if we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. It is about a health care system that is breaking American families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy.

Watch it:

Obama also extended his deadline for passing health reform. He previously called upon Congress to complete health care before the August recess, but today said, “Let’s pass reform by the end of this year.”

Ezra Klein: A Reality Check on Health-Care Reform

My basic experience with Twitter is that you can say a lot in 140 characters. But you can't do a very good job explaining what you just said. For instance, today I tweeted -- and yes, saying that makes me feel like an adorable little songbird -- "Am I the only one not particularly worried about developments with the health-care reform bill? What's surprising here?" A lot of people wanted me to explain that. So here we go.

There is nothing about this moment in the legislative process that was not predictable. Nothing. Zero. Not one statement by one player. Indeed, the single surprising development is that Olympia Snowe is now paying lip service to a public plan. But that's it.

The big news today is that Obama is slipping in the polls. The Washington Post's new poll, for instance, has him slipping all the way down to ... 59 percent? In the Gallup poll, his approval rating has, err, "fallen" from 56 percent to 61 percent. An average in the high-50s and the low-60s isn't necessarily the stratospheric ratings Obama registered in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration. But these are exactly the sort of solid numbers you would have predicted absent any major mistakes.

Congress, similarly, is performing at, or arguably above, expectations. Three separate House committees have agreed on the basic framework of a health-care reform bill. Two of those three have already passed the legislation. In the Senate, the two committees appear to be considering pretty similar bills. The Health Committee has actually passed its legislation already.

What else? It's proving difficult to find consensus on revenues. But that was always going to be true. And if consensus has been elusive, options have been plentiful: There are surtaxes and sin taxes and taxes on health benefits and savings in Medicare and changes to the itemized deduction rules. People can argue about which approach should be preferred. But they cannot argue that no viable approach exists.

The opposition is, as you'd expect, organizing. Republicans are becoming more strident in their criticisms. Industry players are growing nervous and restive. But anyone who didn't expect an eventual fight over the single largest piece of domestic legislation passed in decades was being strangely optimistic. Centrists are making skeptical noises, but their arguments are vague and general. The administration is dangling the IMAC proposal so Blue Dogs and moderates can say they've done something serious on entitlement reform.

Meanwhile, Obama hasn't even showed his hand yet. He hasn't stepped into the process aggressively or given a big speech. He hasn't activated his grassroots network or begun making threats on Capitol Hill. He hasn't pushed. Word is that his involvement begins this week. That is to say, it begins when most of the bills are written, a few of them are passed, and the finish line is in sight. That's quite different from 1994, when Clinton exhausted his political capital long before the legislation was presented to Congress.

Does this mean health-care reform will pass? Or that the final bill will be a glittering accomplishment? Nope! But it is to say that things seem basically on track. They're getting harder in predictable ways. The problems that are arising are problems that everyone knew would have to be solved. The danger was never that we'd get to this place. It was that we wouldn't.

Sudbay: Obama's conference call with bloggers on health care reform

As we've noted throughout the day, the pace is really picking up around the health care reform debate. And, the President is becoming much more engaged. Around 5:30 pm, Obama had on a on-the-record conference call with progressive bloggers. He was joined at the White House by David Axelrod, Nancy Anne DeParle and the White House online guy, Jesse Lee. This was Obama's first serious interaction with the progressive blogosphere. And, yes, AMERICAblog got invited. I joined to the call for us. Anyone who reads this blog knows that health care reform is a key issue for both John and me -- and we want real reform to pass.

The President gave brief remarks about the health care reform debate, noting that the blogs can cut through the conventional wisdom and debunk the myths about this legislative battle. (Yes, we can and we do.) Obama wants to keep up the pressure on Members of Congress, because the default position in DC is "inertia." That's true. But, Obama and Axelrod seem keenly aware that the operating position of the GOP is to defeat health care reform. Both mentioned the comment made by Senator DeMint about health care being Obama's "Waterloo." I'll link to the transcript when it becomes available.

Obama took questions from John Amato from Crooks and Liars, Jonathan Singer from MyDD, David Dayen from D-Day, Cheryl Contee from Jack and Jill Politics, Gerald Weinand, formerly of Turn Maine Blue who launches later tonight (what a way to start), and Joan McCarter from DailyKos. The questions covered a range of topics. Cheryl asked if the public option would cover the self-employed and small businesses. Obama responded that those would be "primary beneficiaries of the public option." McJoan noted that some on the Senate Finance Committee were still working on a "co-op" (which would substitute for a public option.) Obama didn't seem convinced, noting co-ops are "hard to get off the ground." He added, a "robust public option is the best way to go."

Before he left, the President mentioned his criteria for reform: Does it cover all Americans; Will it drive down costs over the long-term; Will it improve quality; Are prevention and wellness included; Does it contain insurance reforms on issues like pre-existing conditions; does it provide relief to small business; and, is there a serious public option. He warned that the different bills coming from the House and Senate may not have all of those provisions, but the conference committee will be critical.

I didn't get a question to Obama, but asked Axelrod, who stayed on the call along with DeParle, when they're going to give up on bipartisanship -- especially since we know the GOP's agenda is to kill reform. I noted that both he and the President quoted DeMint. Axelrod also mentioned Bill Kristol's column telling Republicans to "kill it" (captured along with other right wing rants on this video.) Axelrod maintained there were still a few GOPers who didn't listen to Kristol, but added, "Ultimately, the goal is to get fundamental reform." It is. And, the GOP's goal is to kill reform to damage Obama and the Democratic Party -- even if that means great damage to the American people.

The White House appears to be pulling out all the stops.

What digby said . . .

digby: The Master At Work
Wolcott on Palin and her followers:
David Seaton lives in Spain, where presumably a greater premium is put on charm, since here in the states those of the ultra-right persuasion tend to bypass charm and go straight for the Popeye mug. Why just today I read a Palin idolator, after designating Democrats the party of fisting and rimming, uncork yet another wishful prophecy of civil war that would pit Christian gun-toters against heathen Project Runway fans in a blood-cleansing that would restore America to its rightful place in the 19th century. How they long for this clarifying reckoning while clinging to their Barbie doll of redemption, Sister Sarah. Seaton:
The people who follow demagogues aren't interested in thinking, they are interested in feeling: demagoguery is a form of political pornography: up and on, who cares about the "plot"?
This would explain why the pro-Palin bloggers tend to be the most insistent on asserting their masculinity and rhetorically beating their hotdogs against the steering wheel, while waiting for the light to change.
And here is The Onion adding their two bits to the "Health Care debate."

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children’s Healthcare

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our Failed Media

Glenn Greenwald: Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did

(updated below - Update II)

"The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .

"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past" -- Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role" -- David Gregory, MSNBC, May 28, 2008.

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam died, media stars everywhere commemorated his death as though he were one of them -- as though they do what he did -- even though he had nothing but bottomless, intense disdain for everything they do. As he put it in a 2005 speech to students at the Columbia School of Journalism: "the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be . . . . By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are."

In that same speech, Halberstam cited as the "proudest moment" of his career a bitter argument he had in 1963 with U.S. Generals in Vietnam, by which point, as a young reporter, he was already considered an "enemy" of the Kennedy White House for routinely contradicting the White House's claims about the war (the President himself asked his editor to pull Halberstam from reporting on Vietnam). During that conflict, he stood up to a General in a Press Conference in Saigon who was attempting to intimidate him for having actively doubted and aggressively investigated military claims, rather than taking and repeating them at face value:

Picture if you will rather small room, about the size of a classroom, with about 10 or 12 reporters there in the center of the room. And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly -- and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right.

Can anyone imagine any big media stars -- who swoon in reverence both to political power and especially military authority -- defying military instructions that way, let alone being proud of it? Halberstam certainly couldn't imagine any of them doing it, which is why, in 1999, he wrote:

Obviously, it should be a brilliant moment in American journalism, a time of a genuine flowering of a journalistic culture . . .

But the reverse is true. Those to whom the most is given, the executives of our three networks, have steadily moved away from their greatest responsibilities, which is using their news departments to tell the American people complicated truths, not only about their own country, but about the world around us. . . .

Somewhere in there, gradually, but systematically, there has been an abdication of responsibility within the profession, most particularly in the networks. . . . So, if we look at the media today, we ought to be aware not just of what we are getting, but what we are not getting; the difference between what is authentic and what is inauthentic in contemporary American life and in the world, with a warning that in this celebrity culture, the forces of the inauthentic are becoming more powerful all the time.

All of that was ignored when he died, with establishment media figures exploiting his death to suggest that his greatness reflected well on what they do, as though what he did was the same thing as what they do (much the same way that Martin Luther King's vehement criticisms of the United States generally and its imperialism and aggression specifically have been entirely whitewashed from his hagiography).

So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite. Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won't even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite's death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and "accommodating head waiter"-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today's media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite's most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today's modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that -- very shortly after Tim Russert's June, 2008 death -- long-time Harper's editor Lewis Lapham attended a party to mark the release of a new book on Hunter Thompson, and Lapham said a few words. According to New York Magazine's Jada Yuan, this is what happened:

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Writing in Harper's a few weeks later, Lapham -- in the essay about Russert (entitled "An Elegy for a Rubber Stamp") where he said Russert's "on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity" -- echoed Halberstam by writing:

Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

That Lapham essay is full of piercing invective ("On Monday I thought I’d heard the end of the sales promotion. Tim presumably had ascended to the great studio camera in the sky to ask Thomas Jefferson if he intended to run for president in 1804"), and -- from a person who spent his entire adult life in journalism -- it contains the essential truth about modern establishment journalism in America:

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

That's why they so intensely celebrated Tim Russert: because he was the epitome of what they do, and it's why they'll celebrate Walter Cronkite (like they did with David Halberstam) only by ignoring the fact that his most consequential moments were ones where he did exactly that which they will never do.

UPDATE II: In the hours and hours of preening, ponderous, self-serving media tributes to Walter Cronkite, here is a clip you won't see, in which Cronkite -- when asked what is his biggest regret -- says (h/t sysprog):

What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.

It's impossible even to imagine the likes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and friends interrupting their pompously baritone, melodramatic, self-glorifying exploitation of Cronkite's death to spend a second pondering what he meant by that.

Media Matters: David Gregory's "coordination" hypocrisy

A few weeks ago, NBC's David Gregory was outraged at the possibility that President Obama knew The Huffington Post's Nico Pitney would ask a question about Iran during a presidential press conference. During the June 28 broadcast of Meet the Press, Gregory repeatedly questioned Obama advisor David Axelrod about the matter:

MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Did the White House coordinate with a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference?


MR. GREGORY: So you talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you ask a question about--from--directly from Iran at a press conference?"


MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy around the world?


MR. GREGORY: Is that, is that what you should do at a press conference?


MR. GREGORY: But you coordinated with him about, about that subject of a question beforehand.


MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats would have said that's outrageous?


MR. GREGORY: Right. So you would, so you'd do it again?

As I noted at the time, Gregory's obsession was more than a little silly, given that television shows like his regularly negotiate topics with guests in advance. But I underestimated Gregory's hypocrisy.

Here's an email Gregory sent to an aide to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, in an effort to book Sanford on Meet the Press:

Hey Joel ...

Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it's exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.

Let's talk when you can.

That was on June 24 -- just four days before Gregory grilled Axelrod about coordinating the subject of questions with reporters.

Gregory later followed up with another email:

[C]oming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to...and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.

So, Gregory was not only coordinating with Sanford's staff about what topics Gregory would ask Sanford about, should the South Carolina Governor agree to appear on Meet the Press -- he was telling the aide he would allow Sanford to "frame the conversation how you really want to."

And then, just a few days later, Gregory took to the air to denounce the White House and Nico Pitney for coordinating about the subject of a question. Incredible.

C&L: John King Criticizes Democracy for America for Running Ads Against Democrats

Heather Sunday Jul 19, 2009 6:00pm

On CNN's State of the Union, John King is shocked, shocked I tell you that liberal groups would want to take out ads against "centrist" Democrats for taking money from the health care industry and not supporting true health care reform.

King: So Donna, what is happening? You know, we had an election in November. What we thought we got was united government, a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. Instead it seems that we just have a different kind of divided government. You have a Democratic President that's fighting with wings of his own party in congress, including, this is from Democracy for America. It's an email. It's a liberal organization. It is now sending an email to its supporters essentially saying send us money so that we can "run tough ads pressuring Democratic Senators who've taken millions of dollars from the health and insurance interests while standing in the way of one of President Obama's top priorities".

So now you have Democrats raising money to attack Democrats, at a time Republicans sense a political opening here. What is wrong?

Brazile: Well, first of all, the Republican party is trying to figure out who is leading them and what their charge is. I think there's a very vigorous and healthy debate taking place inside the Democratic party...

King: Including running ads against them though. Accusing them of taking money from health insurance companies?

Brazile: John I...

King: I mean, they all raise money, but they're essentially saying they're being bought to block President Obama.

If John King were doing his job, he'd be pointing out the conflicts of interest to the public rather than acting shocked that someone else is.

What Frank said . . .

QOTD, Frank Rich:
"The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue."
Rich is brutally wonderful in They Got Some ’Splainin’ to Do

AS political theater, the Sonia Sotomayor hearings tanked faster than the 2008 Fred Thompson presidential campaign. They boasted no drama to rival the Clarence-Anita slapdown, the Bork hissy fits or the tearful exodus of Samuel Alito’s wife. There was rarely a moment to match even the high point of the Senate’s previous grilling of Sotomayor — in 1997, when she was elevated to the Second Circuit. It was then that Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri previewed the brand of white male legal wisdom that would soon become his hallmark at the Bush Justice Department. “Do you believe there’s a constitutional right to homosexual conduct by prisoners?” he asked. (She aced it: “No, sir.”)

Yet the Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-régime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent.

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At least they didn’t refer to “Maria Sotomayor” as had Mike Huckabee, whose sole knowledge of Latinos apparently derives from “West Side Story.” But when Tom Coburn of Oklahoma merrily joked to Sotomayor that “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do,” it clearly didn’t occur to him that such mindless condescension helps explain why the fastest-growing demographic group in the nation is bolting his party.

Coburn wouldn’t know that behind the fictional caricature Ricky Ricardo was the innovative and brilliant Cuban-American show-business mogul Desi Arnaz. As Lucie Arnaz, his and Lucille Ball’s daughter, told me last week, it always seemed unfair to her that those laughing at her father’s English usually lacked his fluency in two languages. Then again, Coburn was so unfamiliar with Jews he didn’t have a clear fix on what happened in the Holocaust until 1997, when he was 48. Party elders like Bill Bennett had to school him after he angrily berated NBC for subjecting children and “decent-minded individuals everywhere” to the violence, “full-frontal nudity and irresponsible sexual activity” of “Schindler’s List.”

The antediluvian political culture of Coburn and his peers, for all its roots in the race-baiting “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, is actually of a more recent vintage. It dates back just 15 years, to what my Times colleague Sam Tanenhaus calls conservatism’s “most decadent phase” in his coming book “The Death of Conservatism.” This was the Newt Gingrich revolution, swept into Congress by the midterms of 1994. Its troops came armed with a reform agenda titled the “Contract With America” and a mother lode of piety. Their promises included an end to federal deficits, the restoration of national security, transparent (and fewer) House committees, and “a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”

That the class of ’94 failed on almost every count is a matter of history, no matter how hard it has retroactively tried to blame its disastrous record on George W. Bush. Its incompetence may even have been greater than its world-class hypocrisy. Its only memorable achievements were to shut down the government in a fit of pique and to impeach Bill Clinton in a tsunami of moral outrage.

The class of ’94 gave us J.D. Hayworth and Bob Ney of the Jack Abramoff casino-lobbying scandals. Ney, a House committee chairman, did 17 months in jail. It gave us the sexual adventurers Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Mark Foley. (All these distinguished gentlemen voted for articles of impeachment, as did Gingrich, their randy role model.) The class of ’94 also included a black Republican, J. C. Watts, who at least had the integrity to leave Congress in 2003 to become a bona fide lobbyist rather than go on a K Street lobbyist’s payroll while still in public office. He was a fleeting novelty; there’s been no black Republican elected to either chamber of Congress since. Today the G.O.P.’s token black is its party chairman, Michael Steele, who last week unveiled his latest strategy for recruiting minority voters. “My plan is to say, ‘Ya’ll come!’ ” he explained, adding “I got the fried chicken and potato salad!”

Among Sotomayor’s questioners, both Coburn and Lindsey Graham are class of ’94. They — along with Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama attorney general best known for his unsuccessful prosecutions of civil rights activists — set the Republicans’ tone last week. In one of his many cringe-inducing moments, Graham suggested to Sotomayor that she had “a temperament problem” and advised that “maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection.” That’s the crux of the ’94 spirit, even more than its constant, whiny refrain of white victimization: Hold others to a standard that you would not think of enforcing on yourself or your peers. Self-reflection may be mandatory for Sotomayor, but it certainly isn’t for Graham.

In his ’94 Congressional campaign in South Carolina, Graham made a big deal of promising to enact term limits. At the Clinton impeachment, he served as a manager of the prosecution. That was then, and this is now. Graham hasn’t even term-limited himself — an action he could have taken at any time unilaterally — and his pronouncements on marital morality (unencumbered by any marital attachments of his own) are a study in relativism. On “Meet the Press,” he granted absolution to his ’94 classmate Sanford, now his state’s governor, for abusing his office with his taxpayer-financed extramarital “trade mission” to Argentina. “I think the people of South Carolina will give him a second chance,” he said, as long as “Jenny and Mark can get back together.” Maybe Graham judges the Sanfords by a more empathetic standard than the Clintons because the Republican lieutenant governor who would replace Sanford is already fending off rumors that he’s gay.

Graham has also given a pass to his ’94 classmate Ensign, now a Nevada senator. Ensign not only committed adultery with an employee but sat by as his wealthy parents gave the mistress and her cuckolded husband nearly $100,000 to ease their pain. Ensign’s lawyer deflected questions that this beneficence might be hush money by claiming it was part of the senior Ensigns’ “pattern of generosity.”

When asked about these unsavory matters, Graham said that an ethics investigation of Ensign “isn’t high” among his priorities. This moral abdication still puts him on a higher plane than Coburn, who has been a murky broker in Ensign’s sexcapades. The husband of Ensign’s mistress told The Las Vegas Sun that Coburn urged Ensign to give him and his wife more than $1 million to pay off their mortgage and “move them to a new life.” Too bad no one thought of that one for the “Contract With America.”

Coburn maintains that he has immunity from testifying in any Ensign inquiry because he counseled Ensign as “a physician” and an “ordained deacon.” Coburn is an obstetrician and gynecologist, but never mind. What’s more relevant is the gall of his repeatedly lecturing Sotomayor last week on the “proper role” of judges — even to the point of reading her oath of office out loud. Coburn finds Sotomayor’s views “extremely troubling.” There’s nothing in Sotomayor’s history remotely as troubling as Coburn’s role in the Ensign scandal. Or as his inability to grasp Al Qaeda any better than he did the Nazis. In 2004, he claimed in all seriousness that the “gay agenda” is “the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today.”

You’d think that Coburn’s got some ’splainin’ to do, but as Washington etiquette has it, we spent the week learning every last footnote about Sotomayor while acres of press coverage shed scant light on the shoddy records of those judging her. The public got the point anyway about this dying order and its tired racial and culture wars. With Sotomayor’s fate never in doubt, it changed the channel.

Much of the audience was surely driven away by the sheer boredom of watching white guys incessantly parse the nominee’s “wise Latina” remark. This badgering was their last-ditch effort to prove that Gingrich was right when he called Sotomayor a racist at the start of the nomination process. She confronted that overheated controversy directly. “I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment,” Sotomayor testified.

It’s the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past.