Sunday, July 26, 2009

Health care down?

This is bad news that the vote on the health care plan was successfully postponed, thanks to Blue Dog Dems and "Give 'Em Whine Harry" Reid's lack of leadership in the Senate. The opponents had been banking on postponement as their main strategy, giving the insurance lobbies more time to pick the thing to death and load it up with more favors to the industry. Bill Moyers and Michael Winship give a sobering assessment of the state of the fight for a normal health financing system in Obama's Health Care Struggle -- Waterloo or Water Down? CommonDreams.org 07/25/09.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint put his foot in his mouth when he said publicly, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." And Obama was right to jam him on it. The Dems have been far too reluctant to hold the Republicans accountable for what their own leading members say. While the Republicans hold the Dems accountable for things they didn't say or for things they had no control over (e.g., the "Betray-us" flap).

We also see in this heath care fight how the particular dysfunctionality of our Establishment media are more likely to facilitate Republicans goals than Democratic ones. Our "quality" PBS network gave us an example in Friday's Newshour Political Wrap segment with the generally Republican Party-liner David "Bobo" Brooks and the increasingly hapless Mark Shields, the McCain fanboy who is supposed to look like the "liberal" in their little weekly discussion. Or I least I suppose that. Maybe the Newshour doesn't even care any more that the segment has become a weekly spectacle of two stodgy-minded white guys repeating slight variations on the Beltway Village conventional wisdom on the issues of the day.


Speaking of which, I'm beginning to wonder whether the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead is just the pseudonym of some service that complies the Village CW into articles every few days. If not, she's doing a remarkably good job of it on her own. Here she offers us the Village line on health care, i.e., deficits! deficits! Oh, it's all so expensive!:Obama: Health reform must not worsen deficits 07/25/09. She reports:

"We're not going to set up something that's not fully paid for," Obama said. "... That's been my criteria from the start."

Wonky and cerebral in a White House interview with The Chronicle and a small group of reporters from other metropolitan newspapers, the president showed a determination to see through what he called his chief domestic aim since announcing his candidacy for president more than two years ago on a cold February day in Springfield, Ill. [my emphasis]
The Village press is fixated on the deficit, for which the Republicans not coincidentally acquired an urgent new concern as soon as a Democratic President was elected. That's normally the only time most of them make any pretense of caring about it. Sadly, the Democrats apparently actually do care about the deficit. And they've spent decades now talking up their "fiscal responsibility" credentials. It's long past time for them to knock it off.

Our sad excuse for a press corps is clearly getting really bored with having a President who gets all "wonky and cerebral" and stuff. Not like getting insulting nick-names from Shrub Bush. Or swinging on the tire at McCain's vacation home.

Shields and Brooks put the Village attitude proudly on display Friday. Brooks was happy over the delay in the health care vote, because that's the Republican Party line and current legislative strategy: delay is good. Bobo:

The public part, not so great. I mean, if you had to rate how they're doing, inside Washington, they're actually doing pretty well. They've got all these committees working on the bill, and the big story is they're not going to pass it this summer. We're going to have to wait until the fall until -- and so that seems like a big setback.

But when you actually look at what the committees are doing and the substance of the bills, there's actually much more overlap that I would have thought. And so I think, you know, they're going to get the Blue Dogs, the centrists.

I would suspect within Washington right now there's a very good chance they will get health care reform because of the way the bills are cohering.

Outside of Washington, the public part, that's where the danger is. If you look at where the American people are, a slim majority now say -- disapprove of Obama's approach to health care. Among independents, 66 percent think it's too big government.

So public support is eroding. But among Democrats in Washington, there's a procession going on. [my emphasis]
There has been some slippage in the polls on the particular plan. Not surprising, with a press corps like this. Of course, they prefer to frame everything in terms of the horse race. But it bothers me that Brooks seems so confident that the Blue Dogs will get their way, i.e., gut the bill. And he none too subtly suggests that the reg'lur folks out there, the ones for whom our celebrity pundits likes to pretend they speak, aren't so hot on this whole fixing health care nonsense, that it's just something the out-of-touch Dems in Washington are focused on.

Shields was in full Village whiner mode, which is more and more often his schtick. Acting as Obama's theater critic, he explained that Obama bored him and his fellow Villagers with all that wonky and cerebral talk about health care:

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: ... I think, first of all, Jim, that the president on his own presentation this week did not have a good week.

JIM LEHRER: He did a bunch of television interviews, including one with us.

MARK SHIELDS: With us.

JIM LEHRER: And then he had his news conference. He's been everywhere.

MARK SHIELDS: But the news conference was the wall to wall. That was the national -- I mean, people who were wise enough and shrewd enough to watch the NewsHour saw something else.

But in that presentation, I really thought that -- all I could think of was, Adlai Stevenson once said when he was introducing John Kennedy -- remember in classical times, whenever Cicero spoke, the people reacted and said, "He spoke so well." But when Demosthenes spoke, the people said, "Let us march." And after the Wednesday presentation, there was nobody saying, "Let us march."

JIM LEHRER: No marching?

MARK SHIELDS: It was a listless, overly academic -- and at a time when you really need to distil [sic] and to explain to people and to inspire and motivate them and educate them, I think the president, who was a great professor, according to everybody who sat in his classroom, failed the test on Wednesday night. [my emphasis]
Maybe Shields should just start taking a nap before he listens to these press conferences. Maybe he wouldn't be so inclined to nod off then.

If it's not about sex or race or a famous pop star, it's hard for our celebrity infotainers to get excited about it. I mean, it's not like they're really news analysts or anything. They just play them on TV. But maybe Shields should take a nap before taping his Newshour segments, too, because he's starting to become overly frank about how little he and his celebrity colleagues in the Village press actually care about the health care issue:

MARK SHIELDS: It is working in Washington. Washington right now is going through convulsions. It always happens just before Congress goes into recess, that, "Oh, my goodness"...

JIM LEHRER: They suddenly say, "Oh, my goodness. We've got to"...

MARK SHIELDS: "This is a crisis. It's all -- if it doesn't pass." That has nothing to do with anything.

The reality is, the worst thing that could happen is for either House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to bring a bill to the floor and have it fail in the votes. The fact that they didn't bring it to the floor is not going to be cause for, you know, great concern in the nation.

Five out of six people in the country have health coverage. Three out of four of them, according to most polls and pollsters I talk to, are satisfied. They're not thrilled with it, but they're satisfied with it. And that's where the president and the case has to be made in the country, that, look, this is in the national interest.

It's something that's bigger than me personally. But at the same time, I'm not going to be punished and I'm not going to come out of this worse. But, you know, I think that's where the job remains to be done.
You have to listen to this segment to appreciate the "I don't give a s**t" tone with which the "liberal" Shields delivers this. This context of this remarkable comment was in describing the message that Shields was saying Obama needs to get across, but it's not much of a stretch to assume that he was really expressing his own attitude: "It's something that's bigger than me personally. But at the same time, I'm not going to be punished and I'm not going to come out of this worse."

One of the characteristics of the American celebrity TV commentators is that they assume the conceit that their own thinking - eccentric as it is, shaped by a remarkably weird form of groupthink - is typical of "the American people". So much so that when one of them says, "The American people think ...", the correct translation into regular English is usually, "I and my fellow celebrity pundits think ..." So even leaving his statement in the context he apparently wanted, it gives a remarkable insight into how Shields and his fellow Villagers see the health care issue. My own summary of the Village consensus:

I've got good health care. Everyone I know and consider significant has good health care. So it doesn't matter to me what they come up with on this health care thing, as long as I don't have to keep listening to a lot of boring talk about insurance and the annoying tales of all these losers who don't have good health care. Borr-rring!
Shields is really out of touch, intellectually and emotionally, from the realities of the health care problem. Not only to polls consistently show overwhelming concern about the state of health insurance in the US. But it's an all-too-typical concern for people, even those who have half-decent coverage today who Shields thinks should care as little as he does. For people who lose their jobs - and despite the oblivion in which people like Bobo and Shields apparently live, it's happening to a lot of people right now - health insurance often is a more urgent concern than the loss of their old paycheck.

And Village press rules strongly forbid Bobo or Shields to use any of their commentary time to talk about the sad performance of our broken-down press in covering the health-care issue. But that Brooks/Shields segment puts that problem on display. Or, as Shields smugly put it: "I'm not going to be punished and I'm not going to come out of this worse."

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