Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our Media: Declare Themselves Irrelevant Edition

QOTD, Digby:

I guess this is the MSM's way of avoiding responsibility, but what it really shows is that they don't take their jobs seriously and, therefore, they shouldn't be surprised to be losing market share to those who do. They certainly shouldn't be angry when they are declared to be irrelevant, since they themselves are the ones who say it the most.

Cole asks an interesting question here. I will ask another one: how long before mainstream media types start talking about this and failing to note the years it happened. Can't be long.

John Cole: Good Government

Right here:

While hundreds of thousands of disability claims lay backlogged at the Department of Veterans Affairs, thousands of technology employees at the department received $24 million in bonuses, a new report says.

A report issued by the VA’s Office of Inspector General said the department issued millions of dollars in awards over a two-year period in 2007 and 2008.

“The frequent and large dollar amount awards given to employees were unusual and often absurd,” the report stated.

The reports also called the payments “not fiscally responsible.”

Check the years this happened. Then, ask yourself- “Who will be the first wingnut to blame this on Obama?”

DougJ: Wrong ‘em boyo

Marcy Wheeler destroys Marc Ambinder for saying that he was right to be wrong about the Bush politicization of terror alert. Here’s Ambinder (he later added a weasely addendum):

Journalists, including myself, were very skeptical when anti-Bush liberals insisted that what Ridge now says is true, was true. We were wrong. Our skepticism about the activists’ conclusions was warranted because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence. But journalists should have been even more skeptical about the administration’s pronouncements. And yet—we, too, weren’t privy to the intelligence. Information asymmetry is always going to exist, and, living as we do in a Democratic system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt. We can see, now, how pre-war intelligence was manipulated, how the entire Washington establishment (including Congressional Democrats(, including the media, was manipulated by a valid fear of the unknown—but a fear we now know was consciously, deliberately, inculcated.

Here’s Wheeler:

God forbid a journalist use simple empiricism—retrospectively matching terror alerts with reports on which they were based—to assess the terror alerts. God forbid a journalist learn that we went to Code Orange because someone claimed terrorists were going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch, and from that learn to be skeptical of terror alerts going forwards. It’s not as if, after all, the election eve alert was a one-off, the only alert in which the hype was later shown to be over-hype. There was a pattern. And normal human beings equipped with the gift of empiricism that apparently gets weeded out at journalism school tend to look at patterns and conclude that if a relationship consistently has happened in the past, then it probably will exist in the future.

But no!! Journalists can’t do what normal human beings do all the time, and make certain conclusions by watching patterns develop.

One obvious take away here is that hippies are wrong even when they’re right. Another is that Marc Ambinder is an asshole.

But for me, the most important take away, is that we live in a world where journalists get ahead more by clinging to the right-center conventional wisdom than by actually finding out the truth. It’s quite literally better, careerwise, to be wrong all the time. This is why I think our society may be irredeemably fucked.

Ambinder responds to Wheeler and Greenwald. And misses the mark, pathetically, again. Sigh.

Ambinder: Ambinder: Sorry I Was So Stupid, But I Was Right To Be Stupid

Both Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have written posts eviscerating me for contending that Bush-hatred, not anything else, drove skepticism among liberals about the terrorist threat warnings. They've both written good posts, really; lawyerly, passionate and persuasive, over the top, at times, but they've given me a lot to think about. (One post is better than the other, but I won't say which one.)

They haven't changed my mind, but they've certainly modified my conclusion. I didn't spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say. Incidentally, if I am a symbol of everything that is wrong in journalism, then I suggest they are both giving me WAY too much credit.

I will say one thing about journalists collectively: we will never, ever change people's minds about the media except by practicing good journalism. So arguing -- and even apologizing -- is kind of useless and counterproductive.

I still think that some journalists were right to be skeptical of the doubters at the time. I think that some journalists were correct to question how they arrived at the beliefs they arrived at.

The evolving history of the Bush administration, we've come to learn, is complex. The White House was never the monolith that it once appeared to me. The story of how the White House revolted against Dick Cheney is only beginning to be told. Administration officials were more political in some areas than we had assumed, and less political in others, and their worldview was shaped by an all-consuming obsession about terrorism. The One Percent Doctrine.

Reading the excerpts from Tom Ridge's book, it is not clear to me that he is actually arguing against interest, or that he is correct. No doubt, Don Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft had very strong views about terrorism, but simply because Ridge -- who disagreed with Rumsfeld and Ashcroft about many, many things -- had a feeling that Rumsfeld was trying to tinker with an election's outcome does not, by a mile, prove anything.

What it establishes is that Ridge had the same suspicions as many liberals and libertarians. And Ridge, having access to most of the intelligence, had sound reasons to object. "Gut hatred" is way too strong a term -- it's the wrong term -- to describe why liberals doubted the fundamental capacity of the White House to be honest about anything. It was ideological and based on their intepretation of a pattern of facts that, in retrospect, seems much more reasonable than it did. The media's skepticism was warranted; our derision wasn't and mine isn't. Quite frankly, I don't think the triumphalism is any more attractive, either.

My hindsight bias is no less offensive than the bias I attribute to these liberals. It was wrong to use the phrase "gut hatred." Had I spent more time thinking about the post, I would have chosen a different phrase. And I should have.

Here's the way to put this into context: the political team at the White House had the honor of using policy to advance politics. That they did, in ways that were tough to handle -- scaring Americans into complacence, taking advantage of weak Democrats, comparing Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein, exploiting the national security divisions in this country for electoral gain. Though American politics has never been beanbag and it has never been nice, for political journalists, our not calling out Republicans on these tactics -- not calling them strikes, as they were definitely within the strike zone -- was our deepest failing.

digby: Irrelevant
Last year at the Democratic convention, I was on a panel with Jonathan Alter in which he oddly asserted that people don't pay attention to what's said in the media. I asked him where he thought they got their information and he said "from each other." I found that somewhat interesting coming from a journalist, needless to say.

There's a weird propensity among villagers to think that they don't affect public opinion, that it just exists out there in a vacuum and can be gauged separate and apart from what's being reported. Ruth Marcus was on MSNBC earlier and she said this:

I think any time a politician is complaining about the media it means they have a bigger problem. [smirking] And certainly when Barack Obama starts complaining about his media coverage, you might have a little question about that, since he's actually gotten fairly good media coverage throughout his rather meteoric career.

Look, I would not look at the media coverage and I would also not look at the town hall meetings as a gauge of the public mood, but I would look at the polls ...
Now, I happen to think looking at the polls is probably a good thing in this case (see below) because they are actually showing that there is a decline in base support, which is important to acknowledge (although I won't hold my breath for Marcus to do so.) But that is likely happening because by all appearances, Obama looks to be willing to cave to the teabaggers --- and the media are kvelling about the good news.

The idea that the media and the teabaggers have nothing to do with the poll results is just cracked. Are people making their judgments based on some dream they had? Some conversation with a stranger? They are getting their information somewhere, and call me nuts, but I would guess it's mostly from newspapers and television (and to a small extent blogs.)

The teabaggers have been dramatically in the news for the past few weeks and Obama's poll numbers have taken a hit. I certainly don't believe that it's because everyone agrees with the teabaggers, but it's insane to think that the news coverage of it, and the health care debate in the media, hasn't had an effect.

I guess this is the MSM's way of avoiding responsibility, but what it really shows is that they don't take their jobs seriously and, therefore, they shouldn't be surprised to be losing market share to those who do. They certainly shouldn't be angry when they are declared to be irrelevant, since they themselves are the ones who say it the most.

Update: Here's Jamison Foser with the facts on this. read 'em and weep.
Jamison Foser: How the media made this summer's political insanity inevitable

The most striking aspect of this summer's political insanity isn't the frothing at the mouth of a loud minority of Republicans that President Obama is a secret Kenyan bent on subjecting an unwitting American public to government death panels, or the mass confusion among the rest of the public about health care reform.

It's that any reporter who has been paying the slightest bit of attention is surprised by any of this. It is, after all, the inevitable result of the way the media do their jobs.

Let's start with the 'round-the-bend howling about Obama's place of birth, which reached a fever pitch a few weeks ago. There was no basis for it -- Obama was born in Hawaii, as government documents, the state of Hawaii (including its Republican governor), and contemporaneous newspaper accounts confirm. Because there is no basis for it, many reporters are shocked that right-wing activists, with the help of some in the media, promoted the nutty and false claim that Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and that many Americans fell for the phony conspiracy theory.

Why on earth would anyone be surprised by this? The last time America had a Democratic president, right-wing activists, with the help of some in the media, said he was responsible for the murder of his close friend and aide, Vince Foster -- and dozens of other murders, too. Why would anyone think that people who are willing to baselessly and falsely accuse one president of murder, drug smuggling, and an assortment of other crimes be unwilling to claim that the current president was born in Kenya?

You'd have to be hopelessly naive to think that people who spent years calling President Clinton a murderer wouldn't dare demand that President Obama produce a birth certificate. Or that people who believed one president was a murderer never would believe another was born abroad.

Ah, but maybe reporters are just surprised that the birthers were egged on by some congressional Republicans? They shouldn't be. Dan Burton, the Republican congressman who chaired the Government Reform & Oversight Committee, shot up a melon in his backyard in order to "prove" that Vince Foster was murdered. We're supposed to be surprised that some members of Congress are trying to capitalize on the birther conspiracy theories? Come on. Be serious.

President Clinton's opponents accomplished three things with their nasty and false claims that he was a drug-running murderer: They angered and energized millions of Americans who didn't like Clinton, created doubt and confusion among millions more, and hijacked control of the national dialogue (due in large part to the media's inability to resist shiny objects and their weakness at making clear what is true and what is false.) Why wouldn't they try to do the same to President Obama?

And the barrage of health care lies, and accompanying mass confusion about the most basic facts? MSNBC has spent much of the past week, if not longer, expressing shock at the lies and their effectiveness.

Have these people been asleep, Rip Van Winkle-style, for the past few decades? Conservatives buried the last serious effort at universal health care under an avalanche of (media-abetted) lies. And they won the 2000 election on the strength of (media-abetted ... and sometimes media-invented) lies. And they took us to war in Iraq based on (media-abetted) lies. And ... well, you get the point. When was the last time conservatives approached a big fight without relying heavily, if not exclusively, on misinformation and deception? Why would anyone have thought this time would be different?

Likewise, the increasingly obvious fact that conservatives aren't actually interested in working toward bipartisan reform -- this seems to have taken reporters by surprise. But when was the last time conservatives made significant concessions in order to win bipartisan support for anything?

What makes all this shock really amazing is that so much of political journalism consists of pontification by people who have supposedly been around and understand how things work -- and yet they're constantly stunned when history repeats itself in the most predictable of ways.

And the latest realization that has so many reporters flabbergasted: the misinformation has worked! People believe falsehoods about health care! Many people don't even know basic facts about the current system!

Gee, you don't say? Many people don't know the basic facts about anything. That's one of the basic facts of American democracy. And when people are repeatedly told things that aren't true by people they trust, they tend to believe those things. That's one of the basic facts of ... people.

Surely reporters -- whose jobs, after all, involve communicating with the public -- are aware of these basic facts of life? Surely they've heard the expression about a lie making it halfway around the world before the truth has time to get its boots on? So why are they so surprised? Particularly when they've spent the bulk of the health care debate talking about politics and polls and chattering endlessly about who is "winning the message war" rather than repeatedly and clearly explaining to viewers the facts about health care.

Just look at the way much of the media have reacted to the belated realization that the public is woefully misinformed: By speculating -- sorry, "analyzing" -- why this is the case, and guessing -- sorry, "analyzing" -- whether the White House can develop a "message" that "works." And what aren't they doing in reaction to this realization? Clearly and repeatedly explaining the facts. And they're surprised people don't know the truth. Unbelievable.

In fact, it is the media's behavior that has made this summer's madness inevitable. When they let the loudest yellers and most audacious liars drive the discourse, they guarantee that people who can't win on the merits will yell and lie. When they focus on politics rather than policy, they guarantee the public will remain in the dark about basic facts. When they repeat false claims, or treat them as he-said, she-said situations, they guarantee that those false claims will sway confused citizens. When they continue to give a platform to people who have a history of lying -- and assume those people are telling the truth this time -- they guarantee those people will continue to lie.

As long as the media approach their jobs this way, we're going to see the same thing play out over and over again. And each time, the media will be shocked -- shocked -- that some people lie, and other people believe lies.

Or they could do things differently: They could set aside the punditry and the "analysis" and the polls and the freak show and dedicate themselves to explaining the facts about health care. And explaining the facts means more than calling a lie a lie -- though that is hugely important. It also means proactively telling people how the health care system works, and what the proposed reforms are, how they would work, and what the likely effects would be.

If they won't do that, at least they could stop telling us how shocked they are at the inevitable results of their behavior. It's getting old.

Health Care Saturday: High Comedy Edition

Marshall: Hmmm. That's Interesting
Turns out "Chris", the guy who brought the assault rifle to the Obama event in Arizona, is a member of the same far-right political organization as the guy who brought the gun to the Obama event in New Hampshire.
Ackroyd on Froomkin
Dan summarizes the state of play on health care reform.

What is most extraordinary, and extraordinarily irksome, is that we seem to be on a path toward an individual mandate, with no cost controls and massive insurance company subsidies. The various "reform" measures are pretty close to toothless in the absence of competitition. Even provisions like "no rescission" still require the person who has just been denied coverage to appeal the decision.

I just don't remember hearing Obama promise that during the campaign.

Beutler (TPM): Poll: Baucus Popular in Montana on Health Care...with Republicans

Happily for reformers, the member of Congress with the most power to influence health care legislation is a man who a). has a higher approval rating on the issue in his state among Republicans than among Democrats, and b). is willing to ignore the stated preference of a plurality of his constituents.

According to a new Research 2000 poll commissioned by DailyKos, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) a minority--33 percent--of Montana Democrats approve of Baucus' actions on health care compared to 55 percent who disapprove. Compare that to Republicans, 49 percent of whom approve and 38 percent of whom disapprove. A clear plurality of Republicans think he's doing a bang-up job on health care.

On the public option, a plurality of Montanans (47 percent) support "creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase". Forty-three percent oppose. Of course Big Sky Democrats strongly favor the public option (78-15), while Montana Republicans strongly oppose it (66-23). But 23 percent Republican support for a public option ain't too shabby.

Of course, the Senate Finance Committee has ruled out endorsing a public option.

    We talked earlier about the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, which shows President Obama's approval rating staying strong, but a drop off in support for health care reform and the president's handling of the issue.

    Specifically, the poll showed 46% of Americans approving of Obama on health care, with 50% disapproving. In general, this isn't an especially helpful measurement -- it's too broad. The group that rejects the president's handling of the issue includes ardent supporters of single-payer, those who like the Democratic approach but don't like Obama's political strategy, Tea Baggers who think reform is tantamount to the Nazi Holocaust, etc. Simple "disapproval" lumps together people who may strongly disagree with one another.

    More important is who is shifting from support to disapproval. Greg Sargent talked to WaPo polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta, who found in the crosstabs that the White House is slipping with its base.

    The numbers tell the story: In three key cases where Obama has dropped significantly, he's also dropped by sizable margins among Dems and liberals. Let's take the major findings driving the discussion today, and compare them with his drop among Dems and libs.

    The president's slip isn't entirely the result of frustrated liberals and Democrats, but their aggravation is clearly having an effect. The number of liberals who are confident that Obama will make the right decision, for example, has dropped from 90% to 78%. Liberals who approve of the president's handling of health care has dropped from 81% to 70%.

    These almost certainly aren't people expressing disapproval because they're watching Fox News or buying into McCaughey's lies -- these are progressive supporters who disapprove of unhelpful concessions to conservatives and overly-cautious centrists.

    I can imagine that some of the president's aides may find this dynamic frustrating. Some on the right think Obama is too far to the left. Some on the left think Obama is too far to the right.

    That said, if the White House political office wants to see these numbers improve, these poll results offer a pretty big hint. It's not complicated -- take a firm stand in support of the already-articulated principles, stand up to obstructionist Republicans, and tell centrists that the days of slow-walking reform are over.

    Get a good bill through Congress, and the polls will look far more encouraging for the administration. This isn't rocket science.

Democrats decide: lead, follow or get out of the way Aug. 21: Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, joins Rachel Maddow to talk about what Congressional Democrats must do to pass health care reform given the obvious obstinance of their Republican counterparts.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) of North Carolina has already contributed so much to the health care debate. It was Foxx, after all, who argued a month ago, "There are no Americans who don't have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare." She added that reform would "give the government control of our lives."

A week later, Foxx insisted that health care reform would "put seniors in a position" in which they may be "put to death by their government."

And Thursday, Foxx was at it again, this time making a constitutional argument.

"The Constitution doesn't grant a right to health care, and most of us are living as much by the Constitution as we can. It also doesn't give the federal government the authority to deal with health care. As you may know, the 10th amendment, it says if it isn't mentioned in the Constitution to be done by the federal government, it's left to the states or the people."

Obviously, facts haven't played much of a role in the right's opposition to reform, so this kind of nonsense isn't surprising. But in case anyone's tempted to take this seriously, the Constitution empowers Congress to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises," to "provide for" the "general welfare" of the United States, and to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." As Matthew DeLong recently noted, "I'm no constitutional scholar, but enacting laws to reform the health care system to help provide insurance to the roughly 45 million Americans currently going without sounds like it might be covered under a reasonable reading of the 'general welfare' clause."

Ian Millhiser summarized the larger context nicely: "It's important to note just how radical Bachmann's theory of the Constitution is. If Congress does not have the power to create a modest public option which competes with private health plans in the marketplace, then it certainly does not have the authority to create Medicare. Similarly, Congress' power to spend money to benefit the general welfare is the basis for Social Security, federal education funding, Medicaid, and veterans benefits such as the VA health system and the GI Bill."

That said, I'd like to encourage Foxx to pursue her beliefs sincerely. If she believes her own rhetoric, Foxx should use her role as a federal lawmaker to pursue the dictates of her constitutional scholarship. In other words, it's incumbent on Foxx to file legislation to dismantle Medicare and Social Security. That, or she should assemble a legal team and challenge the programs' constitutionality in federal court. Go big or go home. Put up or shut up.

If Foxx means what she says, and she takes constitutional law seriously, this is the obvious course of action. If she doesn't mean what she says, Foxx probably ought to stick to the usual right-wing nonsense and skip the 10th Amendment argument.

At the town-hall forum at the DNC yesterday, an Organizing for America volunteer asked President Obama about the costs of health care reform. He responded:

"Now, one thing that's very important to remind people, because you notice there's been a talking point from opponents -- 'trillion-dollar health care bill' -- they love repeating that. 'Trillion-dollar health care bill.'

"First of all, it's important to remind people that when they say 'trillion dollars,' they're talking about over 10 years. So this -- we're talking about $100 billion a year -- which is still a significant amount of money. But just to give you a sense of perspective, I mean, the amount of money that we're spending in Iraq and Afghanistan is -- what's the latest figure, Debbie? You figure $8 billion to $9 billion a month, right?

"So for about the same cost per year as we've been spending over the last five to six years, we could have funded this health care reform proposal, just to give you a sense of perspective."

I don't recall hearing the president make this argument before, and it's an interesting one.

There are limits to how one can use these cost comparisons, but as a rhetorical matter, it raises a compelling point. Conservatives have said they're entirely comfortable with spending at least $100 billion a year on wars in the Middle East. Indeed, these same conservatives have said price is no object when it comes to military conflicts. How much of that money is added to the national debt, to be paid for by future generations? Every single penny. This, according to the right, makes perfect sense, fiscally and strategically.

In contrast, the idea of spending $100 billion a year on health care is, according to these same conservatives, outrageous. For many Americans, health coverage is also a matter of life or death, but the price tag has nevertheless been deemed offensive. Indeed, according to the center-right members of the Gang of Six -- who have had very little to say about debt-financed funding for Iraq and Afghanistan -- the principal focus now has to be on making health care reform even cheaper.

If reform does cost as much as $100 billion a year for 10 years, how much of that money is added to the national debt, to be paid for by future generations? According to Democratic policymakers, not one cent. This is, of course, the exact oppose of the approach the Bush/Cheney administration embraced for the wars in the Middle East, not to mention the Bush/Cheney Medicare expansion that cost hundreds of billions of dollars, all of which was added to future generations' tab.

That Republicans claim the high ground on fiscal responsibility and debt reduction continues to be a source of great comedy.

James Fallows: McCaughey on the Daily Show
Well, my TV-owning neighbors were all away last night, so I couldn't watch the McCaughey-Stewart showdown by peering through their windows and had to see it just now on the web. Clips below, starting with the first segment of the interview as broadcast. Three conclusions:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Conclusion one: I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey. Even when conferring on her the title of "most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person" for the 1990s. She is way less responsible and tethered to the world of "normal" facts and discourse than I had imagined.

Conclusion two: The exchange is significant, because it demonstrates that there is indeed a way to "handle" Jon Stewart. You simply have to ignore what he says, interrupt and talk over him, and keep asserting that you're right. You even can try to usurp his role as host by mugging at the audience and rolling your eyes in a shared "there he goes again!" joke with the viewers.

In retrospect, this is the crucial weakness that in their different ways both Bill Kristol and Jim Cramer revealed in their appearances on the show. They listened to Stewart and -- even Kristol!!?! -- revealed through their bearing that they recognized there was such a thing as being caught in an inconsistency or presented with an inconvenient fact. McCaughey did none of that. She is just making it up, as anyone who has followed her work over the decades will know. She was not even minimally prepared for her appearance on the show, flipping aimlessly through the giant briefing book (of legislative clauses) she brought on stage. But she didn't let it bother her. The exchange demonstrated that if the guest reveals no self-awareness or does not accept the premise of factual challenge, Stewart can't get in his normal licks. Future guests will study this show.

Conclusion three: A good point Stewart made, albeit not registered by McCaughey, concerns the unbelievable inconsistency of attention to "incentives" built into health care systems, today's and tomorrow's.

That is: when McCaughey admits that there is no literal "death panel" provision in the new health care provision, she goes on to say something similar to what other conservatives, most recently Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post today, contend: that the very act of reimbursing doctors for a discussion about "living wills" and end-of-life care will have a subtle bias in favor of an euthanasia-like outcome.

On the merits of this claim, I vehemently disagree. Having had, along with my siblings, first-hand, extended, and very painful experience with this process during my own father's decline and death last year, I would put reimbursement schemes for living-will discussions at the very bottom of the list of factors that make such decisions so wrenching for everyone involved.

But let's assume I'm wrong (though you'll never convince me of that) -- and that there is some third-order ripple-effect bias that comes from paying doctors for these every-five-year discussions. Why is the potential skewing effect of that payment the only thing we notice -- and not the thousand other life-and-death, rationing-and-queuing incentives that are built into every detail of the medical system now? And that David Goldhill -- no supporter of the Obama plan -- goes into so thoroughly in his cover story in this month's magazine? Yesterday I spent more than an hour on the customer "service" line for my own health insurance company, trying to get the answer to a simple "is this covered?" question. At the end of the hour, when I'd reached the queue to talk to a human agent, I got this recording: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, your call cannot be completed at this time. Please call again later." This has a kind of rationing/skewed incentive effect of its own -- even for someone fortunate, like me, to have good health insurance coverage. So, yes: I will listen to arguments about the hypothetical, subtle, psychological biasing effect of encouraging discussions about end-of-life decisions -- but only if they're in the context of the far more blatant, perverse, and destructive incentives built into today's system.

But see for yourself.

Second part of McCaughey's interview as broadcast.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Extended interview, with outtakes, part 1, is here; extended interview part 2 is here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care: Hoops Edition

from Daily Kos:

Eugene Robinson:

Here's the least surprising news of the week: Americans are souring on the Democratic Party. The wonder is that it's taken so long for public opinion to curdle. There's nothing agreeable about watching a determined attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ed Kilgore:

Progressives are waiting for Barack Obama and his team to work the kind of political magic they seemed to work in 2008--except when they didn't. Cutting through all the mythologizing of the Obama campaign, the real keys to his stretch-run success last year were his legendary calm ("No Drama Obama"); his confidence in his own long-range strategy; his ability to choose competent lieutenants and delegate to them abundantly; and his grasp of the fundamentals of public opinion and persuasion. There was zero sense of panic in the Obama campaign itself late last summer, because they stuck with their strategy and organization and didn't let the polls or news cycles force them off the path they had chosen.

John Cole: Just Making Shit Up

Matt Yglesias catches Grassley and Enzi stating that any health care bill needs 75-80 votes in the Senate. Why? Just because! The new talking points must be out, because Bill Kristol’s personal puke funnel chimes in:

Maybe President Obama should stop wee-weeing and start trying to get some Republican support for his bill—as both Johnson and FDR successfully did. Getting a bill like this is not, in fact, always messy. Rather, there is clearly something particular about Obama’s approach that has created this mess.

At any rate, since 75-80 votes is what is needed, I guess we should move to repeal the Prescription Drug Act, which only got 54 votes in the Senate. Likewise, the 2001 tax cut only got 62 votes, putting it below the new requirement. The 2003 tax cuts only got 50 votes, which, under the “new” rules, means we have to roll those back. Finally, only Scalia and Roberts passed the 75 vote threshold for confirmation, so sorry about your luck Clarence and Sam.

These guys literally can say anything, and no one calls them on it. Ever.

Here's Rachel on the 75-80 vote case.
GOP moving the goal posts... er basketball hoops Aug. 20: With the help of former WNBA star Sue Wicks, Rachel Maddow demonstrates the way Republicans are trying to change the rules of Congress with the threat of filibuster to keep health care reform from passing. Former DNC chair, Dr. Howard Dean offers further analysis.

Sargent: Poll: Majority Of Republicans Believes Health Reform Bill Will Force Elderly To Decide When To Die

Okay, forget about that poll from yesterday finding nearly half believe health care reform will empower government to withhold medical care from the elderly. This one is even whackier.

I’ve now obtained a new poll that finds a majority of Republicans believe the health care reform bill will force old people to decide in advance how and when they meet their maker.

The new poll, to be released later this morning, was sent my way by the Indiana University Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, and here’s a chart of this key finding (click to enlarge):

The poll finds that 53% of Republicans believe that “the government will require the elderly to make decisions about how and when they will die.” By contrast, only 31% of independents and 14% of Democrats believe this, according to this poll of 600 adults nationwide.

Note the word “require.” A majority of Republicans believes that the health care reform will force old people to decide in advance “how and when they will die.” This is far more out there than anything we’ve seen polled before.

This goes even farther than Sarah Palin, who famously said that Obama’s death panels would be empowered to decide whether people “are worthy of health care.” This poll, by contrast, asked about the ultimate real fever swamp theory: That health care reform would empower government to force people to pick a date for their rendevous with destiny.

A majority of Republicans believes this. And, disturbingly, nearly a third overall, or 31%, believe it, too.

The Onion: Study: 38 Percent Of People Not Actually Entitled To Their Opinion

CHICAGO—In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have opinions.

"On topics from evolution to the environment to gay marriage to immigration reform, we found that many of the opinions expressed were so off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being voiced," said chief researcher Professor Mark Fultz, who based the findings on hundreds of telephone, office, and dinner-party conversations compiled over a three-year period. "While people have long asserted that it takes all kinds, our research shows that American society currently has a drastic oversupply of the kinds who don't have any good or worthwhile thoughts whatsoever. We could actually do just fine without them."

In 2002, Fultz's team shook the academic world by conclusively proving the existence of both bad ideas during brainstorming and dumb questions during question-and-answer sessions.


It seems some of the opposition to a public option in health care reform has to do with a misconception: that it would be mandatory.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the Blue Dog point-man on health care, said yesterday he would not vote for a plan that would "force government-run healthcare on anyone. Period." But he added that the House contained a public plan that is "strictly ... an option."

Given the name -- "public option" has the word "option" in it -- I'd hoped that was obvious. It's not. When pollsters ask about a public option, lately, there's been a lot of opposition. When pollsters ask about the policy and ask if people want the choice, the results are far more encouraging.

More than three out of every four Americans feel it is important to have a "choice" between a government-run health care insurance option and private coverage, according to a public opinion poll released on Thursday.

A new study by SurveyUSA puts support for a public option at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.

This comes on the heels of an NBC poll. In June, the poll asked respondents if they thought it was important to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance." A total of 76% thought it was important. When NBC changed the wording, and dropped the concept of choice, support for the public option plummeted to 43%.

This should offer reformers a pretty big hint about how to frame the pitch: reform would offer Americans a choice between private insurers or a voluntary public option, which would compete to help lower costs.

Dems should also be prepared to press opponents on this. "I think consumers should have a choice between competing private and public plans. Why don't you want American families to have a chioce?"


President Obama sat down this morning with conservative radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who broadcast his show live from the White House today, for a substantive and interesting discussion. One exchange, in particular, stood out for me.

A caller from Philadelphia, who said he "worked hard" in support of the Obama campaign last year said he's "getting a little ticked off," because he's afraid the president's "knees are buckling a little bit" on health care. "It's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with you," the caller said. Obama responded:

"Well, look, I guarantee you, Joe, we are going to get health care reform done. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who have been hand-wringing, and folks in the press are following every little twist and turn of the legislative process. You know, passing a big bill like this is always messy. FDR was called a socialist when he passed Social Security. JFK and Lyndon Johnson, they were both accused of a government takeover of health care when they passed Medicare. This is the process that we go through -- because, understandably, the American people have a long tradition of being suspicious of government, until the government actually does something that helps them, and then they don't want anybody messing with whatever gets set up.

"And I'm confident we're going to get it done, and as far as negotiations with Republicans, my attitude has always been, let's see if we can get this done with some consensus. I would love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process. I think early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, 'Look, let's not give them a victory and maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94 when Clinton came in; he failed on health care and then we won in the midterm elections and we got the majority.' And I think there's some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook.

"But this shouldn't be a political issue. This is a issue for the American people. There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. One of them, Olympia Snowe in Maine, she's been dedicated on this. Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, others -- they've been meeting in the Senate Finance Committee. I want to give them a chance to work through these processes.

"And we're happy to make sensible compromises. What we're not willing to do is give up on the core principle that Americans who don't have health insurance should get it; that Americans who do have health insurance should get a better deal from insurance companies and have consumer protections. We've got to reduce health care inflation so that everybody can keep the health care that they have. That's going to be my priorities, and I think we can get it done."

This was an interesting response -- to a great question -- for a few reasons. First, I don't think I've heard the president say he "guarantees" that health care reform will get done before this. Second, the more he reminds folks about how the right has consistently been hysterical about Democratic reform ideas, the better.

But the part about Republicans also seemed new -- he said some GOP officials are opposing reform simply to help the Republicans' chances in the 2010 midterms. That's obviously true, but as Greg Sargent noted, "I'm pretty sure Obama has not gone this far before."

DougJ: Donny, these men are cowards

I don’t agree with a lot of what Joe Klein is saying here but I think his central point is a good, important one:

Given the heinous dust that’s been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that’s a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark? (See pictures of angry health-care protesters.)

I’m not going to try. I’ve written countless “Democrats in Disarray” stories over the years and been critical of the left on numerous issues in the past. This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right’s “government takeover” disinformation jihad. There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees’ unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don’t retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.

Klein has made a career out of concern-trolling Democrats, praising “conservative intellectuals”, sucking up to Hugh Hewitt, and getting a boner every time The Decider gave him a new nickname. In other words, he’s a fairly typical modern day “liberal” pundit.

So, in some sense, he deserves credit for saying the obvious: that whatever flaws the Democrats have, the Republicans are completely worthless and any comparison between the two is essentially ludicrious, that say what you will about the tenets of the Democratic party, dude, at least it’s an ethos.

In another sense, it’s silly to think of Klein or others of his ilk as free-standing objects rather than as cogs in a big conventional wisdom machine. And that’s why I’m happy to see this column. Perhaps it marks the beginning of willingness of the media to speak honestly about what the Republican party has become.

Yglesias: Crazy Socialist Fairy Tales

Back on August 9 I found some nutty fairy tale about cutting-edge medical research allegedly happening in the United Kingdom allegedly financed by the National Health Service. In the real world, everyone knows that innovation can’t happen in the presence of socialism, so obviously the story was false. And now The Washington Post is publishing another obviously fraudulent story about some big government boondoggle called the National Institutes for Health, a little island of socialism right here in the United States, that they want us to believe is somehow responsible for innovation:

For more than five decades, scientist Thomas Waldmann’s cutting-edge research at the National Institutes of Health has resulted in significant advances in the treatment of patients with cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, including new therapies for previously fatal forms of T-cell leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. [...] Like many accomplished federal employees, Waldmann could have sought private-sector employment, but his dedication to public science kept him at NIH.

Next thing you know they’re going to be trying to have us believe that big government invented a way for people to fly to the Moon and walk around!

From SGW:
Matt Taibbi went on the attack today on the set of Morning Joe over health care reform. He unloaded pulled out his can of whup ass on the whole crew but in particular he turned his sights on fellow guest Maria Bartiromo.

DougJ: I’ll take things you won’t hear about on “Morning Joe” for $500, Alex

As Atrios says, no surprise:

Among the headlines promoted by publisher Thomas Dunne Books: Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.


As Blue Dogs go, there isn't a liberal bone in Baron Hill's body. The Indiana congressman rarely endorses the Democratic agenda and just doesn't stick to the Democratic message. Ever. When counting votes for health care reform, Rep. Hill isn't exactly a lock.

And even he's sick of the conservative attacks on reform. Eric Zimmermann reports on a town-hall event Hill held in his district yesterday.

"You'll have choices, regardless of what the detractors tell you," Hill said. "They are lying. That's a strong word, but it's true."

Thank you, Baron Hill. When Blue Dogs get sick of conservative misinformation, you know it's getting out of hand.

As for what got Hill going, this exchange seemed to set him off.

"I'm not a Democrat or a Republican," the man said. "I consider myself a political atheist. But from what I've heard about the plan on TV, there's a lot about it that I disagree with."

"What part do you not like?" Hill asked.

"Well, just some of the stuff they have been talking about on TV," the man responded.

"OK, and what was that?" Hill asked.

But the person couldn't come up with an example of what he disagreed with.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care Thursday: Sigh - Edition

Think Progress: New poll finds that 39 percent of Americans want government to ‘stay out of Medicare.’

As ThinkProgress has noted before, conservatives have frequently obscured the fact that Medicare is a government-run single-payer program. Constituents appearing at health care town halls have even demanded that their members of Congress keep their “government hands off of Medicare.” Now, a new Public Policy Polling poll finds that millions of Americans do not realize that the federal government runs Medicare:

One poll question indicative of how difficult it is to gain public understanding on a complicated issue asked if respondents thought the government should ‘stay out of Medicare,’ something inherently impossible. 39% said yes.

The poll also shows that an additional 15% of respondents were “not sure” if the government should be involved in Medicare. Only 46% of respondents disagreed with the proposition that the government should stay out of the government-run program.

Update The poll also finds that only 62 percent of respondents believe that President Obama was born in America. Of the 38 percent who either don't believe or are unsure, some think he was born in Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, or France. Six percent of the total poll respondents also don't think Hawaii is a U.S. state.
The new NBC News poll found a frustrating amount of public confusion about health care reform. Reality notwithstanding, 55% believe illegal immigrants will get coverage; 54% believe there will be a "government takeover" of the health care system; 50% expect to see taxpayer-financed abortions, and 45% believe reform will "allow government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." None of these claims is true.

As it turns out, Fox News viewers are throwing off the curve.

Here's another way to look at the misinformation: In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly.

That's pretty amazing. Americans who get their news from more legitimate sources were also confused, but not nearly to this extent.

Matt Corley added, "As ThinkProgress has pointed out, Fox News regularly distorts the truth about health care reform. Last week, Media Matters found that over a two day period opponents of health care reform outnumbered supporters by a 6-to-1 margin on Fox."

Let's also not forget that this is consistent with recent history -- in the midst of national policy debates, Fox News viewers routinely get key details wrong more often than the rest of the public. Six months into the war in Iraq, for example, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland released a report on Americans' understanding of the basics. PIPA found that those who relied on the Republican network were "three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions -- about WMD in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11, and foreign support for the U.S. position on the war in Iraq."

Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims were accurate. Matters have clearly not improved.

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won't happen, of course, since they're not quite well informed enough to realize they're uninformed, but it'd be interesting to see what they came up with.

Reading the fine print on 'grassroots' groups Aug. 19: Rachel Maddow reviews astroturf efforts to combat changes in health care and energy policy. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, talks about the latest in the health care reform fight.

Lobbyist letter scandal grows
Aug. 19: Rachel Maddow updates the story of PR company Bonner & Associates stealing the identity of civic groups to lobby on behalf of the coal industry in advance of a climate change vote.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bipartisanship Is Dead: Good Guys vs Bad Guys Edition

Sargent: Rahm Emanuel: Bipartisanship Is Dead

This quote from Rahm Emanuel is, I believe, the starkest admission yet from the White House that liberals may have been right to warn that Republicans had no intention of reaching any kind of genuine compromise with Dems on health care reform:

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

This could — could — be a turning point in the debate. Up until now, the White House had been content to let its outside allies make this case while maintaining the posture that President Obama still held out hope for bipartisan agreement.

Indeed, liberals will respond by saying, “no kidding.” They’ve been arguing that the GOP leadership’s only goal was to kill health care reform at all costs since Jim DeMint said health care failure would be Obama’s “Waterloo.”

That said, it’s too early to conclude that the White House is now serious about going it alone. It could just be a tough-talking bluff at a time when more liberal opinionmakers are questioning whether Obama and Dem leaders are getting rolled because they’re refusing to acknowledge the ever-more-obvious reality about the Republican opposition’s intentions.

But such a stark assertion, coming from one of the President’s most important advisers, seems significant: It’s tantamount to saying outright that bipartisanship is dead. After all, if the White House believes that GOP leaders have made a strategic decision that icing health care reform is their primary goal, why continue striving for bipartisan compromise? It’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here. Driving the day, as they say…

C&L: Frank Confronts Woman With Obama as Hitler Picture at Town Hall: On What Planet Do You Spend Most of Your Time?

Don't ever ask Barney Frank a question if you don't want to know exactly how he feels about something. From Larry King Live, Frank is asked by a woman waving an Obama as Hitler picture at a town hall meeting why he is supporting his "Nazi policy" on health care. Frank didn't mince any words in responding.

Frank: When you ask me that question I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?


You want me to answer the question? Yes. As you stand there with a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

Larry asks Howard Dean what he thinks about what he just watched. As Dean points out, this has nothing to do with health care reform and "this kind of anger politics has been going on for thirty years".

  • from the Ballon Juice comments:

    El Cid

    You gotta love the complaint later on that Frank is insulting people. Someone stands up with a picture of Obama as Hitler and basically suggests that Democratic attempts to control the growth of health care costs means a Nazi Final Solution in which you murder the socially undesirable, and this in front of a real Congressman, not your “Red Dawn” movie poster, and you’re not supposed to be mocked for it. Right.

    Demo Woman

    The Today Show aired the part where Barney said “What planet are you from”. No mention of Obama as Hitler photo. This segment was before the discussion on whether or not Michelle Obama should wear shorts in 100 degree weather. Showing great restraint, I did not break the TV.

Nyden, Charleston Gazette: Rockefeller wants to cut private health insurance influence

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., dates his concerns about health care back to 1964, when he first moved to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer.

"The town of Emmons was a place where nobody had health care. No one could get dental care. A doctor had never been in Emmons," Rockefeller said during a telephone interview on Thursday. "And many people are scared of hospitals."

Today, Rockefeller is an outspoken political leader seeking to create a public health plan and cut the profits made by private insurance companies.

"To me, there is nothing that ultimately makes more difference to Americans than health care.

"People often talk about 45 million uninsured Americans, but rarely mention the 25 million Americans who are underinsured."

Rockefeller estimates at least 100 million Americans face major problems paying for health care today.

"We can't count on insurance companies. They are just maximizing their profits. They are sticking it to consumers.

"I am all for letting insurance companies compete. But I want them to compete in a system that offers real health-care insurance. I call it a public plan," Rockefeller said.

Earlier this month, Rockefeller introduced the Consumers Health Care Act that would give all consumers the option to participate in a government-run plan competing with private plans.

Government-backed programs are big enough to bring medical costs down, Rockefeller believes.

"Back in 1993, all our Veterans Administration hospitals got together and agreed to buy prescription drugs as a group. The next week, the costs of those drugs went down by 50 percent.

"Today, the insurance industry runs this whole deal, spending $1.4 million every day to fight health-insurance reform. The government has a lot of power to lower prices," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller also raised these issues during his Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday.

"I think the anger against insurance companies is going to spread," Rockefeller said Thursday. "But a public plan, run by the government, will make sure doctors get paid, hospitals get paid and people get good health care.

"Today, an extra 15 percent, 20 percent or 25 percent [of health-care costs] goes to pay private insurance companies. In a public plan, you just pay for what you get. There are no marketers, no people shuffling paper, no one making television ads."

On Thursday, Rockefeller admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

By all appearances, Democrats have gone above and beyond in trying to secure at least some Republican support for health care reform. GOP leaders have gotten a lot of face time at the White House. Dems have signaled a willingness to make all kinds of concessions. When Republicans insisted the majority slow down, the process slowed to a crawl. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in late July, "Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they asked for was to have more time. I don't think it's unreasonable."

This week, however, we seem to have reached the tipping point. A variety of party leaders explained that Dems could drop the public option altogether, and it wouldn't make any difference. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who's become increasingly belligerent about the very idea of reform, said he's prepared to vote against his own compromise bill. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that Republicans will reject reform no matter what's in the bill.

By late yesterday, it seems Democratic leaders had seen enough.

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority's cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Top Democrats said Tuesday that their go-it-alone view was being shaped by what they saw as Republicans' purposely strident tone against health care legislation during this month's Congressional recess, as well as remarks by leading Republicans that current proposals were flawed beyond repair.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

"The Republican leadership," Mr. Emanuel said, "has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day."

That is painfully, obviously true. Negotiating health care reform with politicians who oppose health care reform doesn't make sense. Negotiating reform with politicians who've vowed to vote against reform under any circumstances is insane.

At this point, keep two angles in mind. First, should Dems follow through and go it alone, watch to see who gets blamed. I think the majority has a very compelling case: "We tried in good faith, to reach out and compromise, but the 'party of no' slapped away our outstretched hand." They'll be able to point to this week -- Grassely, Kyl, and the GOP reaction to scrapping the public option -- as the point at which bipartisan reform died.

Second, going for an all-Democratic bill won't necessarily make reform easy. Easier, sure, but not easy. In the House, there are a whole lot of Blue Dogs who, as you may recall, were ready to kill reform in July. In the Senate, there's a core group of about seven center-right Dems who support reform in theory, but have balked at many of the key provisions, including a public option.

That said, giving up on Republican outreach gives Democrats a historic opportunity to finally get the job done.

  • Aravosis: Somebody at the White House needs to be fired

    Apparently, the health care reform issue has caught the White House by surprise. They had no idea that folks on the left cared about the public option, they're now telling the Washington Post.


    They had no idea, they say, that it was a make or break issue for people.

    Again, what?

    That is either a lie, or the president is being staffed by idiots.

    How many times do we have to tell people in the White House that their lack of outreach to Democrats is going to bite them in the ass?

    Read this in today's Washington Post, about the uproar over Obama caving on the public option:

    "I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."

    "It's a mystifying thing," he added. "We're forgetting why we are in this."

    Another top aide expressed chagrin that a single element in the president's sprawling health-care initiative has become a litmus test for whether the administration is serious about the issue.

    "It took on a life of its own," he said.
    "The left of the left." That would be people like me, a former Republican, Markos, former military and a former Republican, and Arianna, a former Republican. Yes, we're such wacky tree-hugging liberals, all of us. That would be all of you who read the progressive blogs. And all of you who are members of unions like the AFL and SEIU. And all of you who belong to MoveOn, or who are members of any of the myriad non-profits around town who are working on the health care reform issue. All of you, to this White House, are "the left of the left." The crazies. The wacko fringe. But next election, Barack Obama will be happy to take your money and your votes, just like he did last time for promises that not are now too wacky to keep.

    You don't hear similar criticism coming out of the White House about the crazy teabaggers shutting down the town hall meetings and accusing Obama of being a socialist, and Hitler. You don't hear senior White House officials calling them the right of the right, or questioning their dedication to the cause. No, they're patriotic Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, White House officials tell the press. And Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who's been running around the country telling people that Barack Obama plans to put millions of elderly to death - never a bad word from the White House about him either. The only people that Barack Obama's White House feels comfortable deriding and dismissing in the media are the people who put him into office in the first place. Democrats.

    Yes, the same way the smartest people in the world over at the White House were mystified that a simple issue like comparing gay marriage to incest and pedophilia would cause an outright rupture with the gay community, after we warned them for months, publicly and privately, that there would be such a rupture, here we go again with the surprise over the rupture over health care reform. No one could have seen it coming. Right.

    And, a senior Obama aide has the gall to suggest that "we're forgetting why we are in this"? Et tu, Brute? You people have forgotten why you were elected in the first place. You've forgotten promise after promise that your boss made to community after community on the left. And now you have the nerve to criticize us for trying to hold you accountable for your growing string of broken promises after we busted our asses getting your boss elected.

    President Obama's White House simply doesn't care about having a real relationship with actual Democrats. They don't like anyone they can't control. They don't like non-profit advocacy groups, and have been actively working to defund them (just as they did with the 527 during the campaign), and they don't like the blogosphere, so during the campaign they instead created their own blogosphere.

    Yes, yes, they send us emails and do call to check in from time to time. And we appreciate that. But there is no effort made to include the blogosphere in any kind of larger strategy on issues ranging from the stimulus to health care reform. As a reader of ours noted a few months back: Can you imagine the Republicans pushing their top agenda items and not asking talk radio and FOX News to help them out?

    And all that leads to a situation where a key component of the health care plan, that even Joe and I (who are hardly experts on health care reform) knew months ago was going to cause an uproar among Demorats if it wasn't included, gets dropped by Obama, causes an uproar, and senior White House aides talk about how they never saw it coming.

    Can you say "Heck of a job, Brownie"?

    And then, in classic Obama White House style, when you get upset about President Obama backing off a major campaign promise, you're the bad guy for expecting Barack Obama to keep his word and do the thing he promised he'd do in exchange for your vote.

    To some degree, it's understandable that senior Obama advisers are giving quotes like this to the Washington Post because you'd have to be seriously out of touch, and a bit of an idiot politically, to have gotten an overwhelmingly popular president, with control of both houses of Congress, into this mess in the first place.

    How many times do we have to have the same blow ups with Barack Obama's people, for the same reasons, before someone in the White House realizes that they have a serious problem on their hands? Is this what the next four years are going to be like?
As recently as June, the public support for a public option as part of health care reform seemed very strong. An NYT poll found 72% of Americans -- including 50% of Republicans -- favoring such a plan. An NBC/WSJ poll found 76% of Americans believing that it's important to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance."

Over the last two months, right-wing attacks have changed the landscape considerably. A new NBC poll shows support for a public option falling behind opposition for the first time.

In the poll, 43 percent say they favor a public option, versus 47 percent who oppose it. That's a shift from last month's NBC/Journal poll, when 46 percent said they backed it and 44 percent were opposed.

There is, however, a catch -- NBC changed the wording of the question. Respondents were asked, "Would you favor or oppose creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies?" Opponents outnumbered supporters.

In June, the same poll asked, "In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance -- extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?" In this case, 76% thought it was important to give people a choice.

The wording, then, makes all the difference. A Quinnipiac poll from two weeks ago asked, "Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?" A 62% majority supported the public option. An NYT poll from late July asked, "Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?" A 66% majority approved.

It's probably safe to assume the conservative attacks on reform have had an effect, and support for a public option has fallen in recent months. But I suspect we'll hear a lot of talk today about the NBC poll, with most of the commentary concluding that the public has soured on the idea. It's not quite that simple.

DemfromCT (Daily Kos): NBC poll: Health Care In The Spotlight, Republicans Not Trusted At All

The new NBC poll (MoE +/-3.5) takes a close look at health care. From First Read:

...according to a brand-new NBC News poll, 47% of Americans -- a plurality -- oppose the public plan, versus 43% who support it. That's a shift from last month's NBC/WSJ poll, when 46% said they backed it and 44% were opposed.

In a follow-up question explaining the benefits and disadvantages associated with a public plan, 45% said they agreed with the description -- by supporters -- that it would help lower health-care costs and provide coverage for uninsured Americans.

But 48% sided with opponents who say a public option would reduce access to their choice of doctors, and would lower costs by limiting medical treatment options.

And from MSNBC, more specifics suggesting stability amid uncertainty:

A plurality believes Obama’s health plan would worsen the quality of health care, a result that is virtually unchanged from last month’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. What’s more, only four in 10 approve of the president’s handling of the issue, which also is unchanged from July.

And a majority — 54 percent — is more concerned that the government will go too far in reforming the nation’s health care system, while 41 percent is more worried that the reform will not do enough to lower costs and cover the uninsured.

But amid the soft numbers for Obama, (51% job approval, 41% approval on health care) are these startling numbers:

But if the country is cautious about Obama’s health plans, it doesn’t seem to trust the Republican Party at all on the subject. Just 21 percent approve of the GOP’s handling of health care, versus 62 percent who disapprove.

Many of the doubts about the WH plan have to do with misinformation and mistaken ideas.

Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.

Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly.

That also is untrue: The provision in the House legislation that critics have seized on — raising the specter of "death panels" or euthanasia — would simply allow Medicare to pay doctors for end-of-life counseling, if the patient wishes. [see Daily Kos Research 2000 poll on these issues]

There's little in the poll to contradict this conclusion: Substantive Health Reform Still Can Persuade The Public (link). It'll take a concerted presentation of accurate information to persuade the persuadables. But don't count health reform out yet.

Still, the country appears to be receptive to some type of health care reform. A combined 60 percent of respondents say the system needs either a "complete overhaul" or "major reform." (Yet that combination has declined 10 points since April, and the percentage wanting a "complete overhaul" has dropped 12 points since that time.)

That's all the wiggle room the WH needs.

As an aside, HCAN takes issue with the poll's wording on public option (removing "choice" from the question after the June poll.) In this post, we looked at July and August where the wording is the same. More here with a comment by the pollsters:

NBC pollsters Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R) released the following statement: "The only agenda that we have is to accurately measure changes in public opinion. To that end, we selected two questions which we think are the best barometers of how and if attitudes on health care are changing in view of the robust public debate that is occurring."

More numbers (July numbers in parentheses), MoE +/- 3.5:

Obama job approval 51 (53)
Obama on health care 41 (41)
Complete overhaul/major reform 60 (70)
Obama's plan good idea 36 (36)
Obama's plan bad idea 42 (42)
Plan will make yours worse 40 (39)
Plan will make yours better 24 (21)
Favor public health plan 43 (46)
Oppose public health plan 47 (44)

Has what you have seen, read, or heard about these town hall meeting protests made you more favorable toward, less favorable toward, or made no difference in your feelings about President Obama's health care plan?

More favorable 16
Less favorable 19
Made no difference 62
Not sure 3

  • Steve Benen adds:

    It's hard to overstate how difficult, if not impossible, it is to have a meaningful national policy discussion when one side launches an aggressive misinformation campaign, and the public struggles to separate fact from fiction.

    In this case, 55% believe illegal immigrants will get coverage; 54% believe there will be a "government takeover" of the health care system; 50% expect to see taxpayer-financed abortions, and 45% believe reform will "allow government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly."

    That last one is especially jarring. If the poll is accurate, nearly half the country seriously believes government officials seek the authority to pull the plug on grandma. That's insane, and it points to a political discourse that's badly broken.

    But more than anything, it creates an enormous incentive to lie, blatantly and repeatedly, to the public. There are no real penalties, and the number of Americans who'll believe nonsense skews the debate in the liars' direction.