Clinton: Obama to Recover Once Healthcare Reform Passes

Ever the astute politician, former President Bill Clinton has got this right.

Clinton predicted "the minute health care reform passed, President Obama’s approval ratings would go up 10 points." And he said they would go up 20 points next year once Americans saw that none of the bad things Republicans said would happen came true.

A 20-point gain is a bit of a stretch, perhaps.  But it makes sense that, while the extreme right will find something else to wail about, once healthcare reform is understood not to include gassing granny, most folks will be happy with it, assuming that the bill is written so that most of the reforms are immediately effective.  Once people start finding affordable healthcare, the better off Obama’s popularity numbers will be.

But the devil is in the details.  One thing I haven’t heard discussed is the cost of the insurance for people in the upper middle class.  Once you get passed $66,000, which seems to be the cut off point for government aid, cost can be an issue, even for folks making more than $100,000 per year.  The insurance companies won’t be able to deny you for pre-existing conditions, but can they raise your rates so high it won’t be affordable?  Can they offer “affordable” insurance premiums but with high deductibles?

Great Headline

Here’s a great headline on a post on the FAIR blog:  “Baucus Plan:  No One Likes It, So It Must Be Good”

It attacks The Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly’s “analysis” of the bill.  It also takes a swipe at USA Today’s coverage.

Who Is Journalism About?

Years ago, I was acting station manager at a public radio station.  Despite my “acting” status, the station’s board of directors wanted me to boost the station’s income.  I conducted group discussions with the staff.  One question I asked them was, “Why do you work for a public radio station?  The answers were surprising.  Mostly, it was a version of “Working in public radio allows me to do what I want.” 

Most of those employees were involved in music programming.  But I was reminded of that experience when I read this by the outgoing editor of Texas Monthly.

It’s not about us; it’s about them. People who read this magazine care about Texas. Except in the rarest instances, they don’t care about TEXAS MONTHLY writers. Personal essays have always been part of the magazine’s mix, of course, but we’ve had the greatest success when our writers are the vehicles to tell other people’s stories, not their own. For as long as I can remember, we’ve discouraged writers from “inserting” themselves where they don’t belong. The magazine does right by its readers by remembering that egos should be kept in check.

I don’t think reporters necessarily want to tell their stories.  But they often see their job as one that offers opportunities to showcase their writing, instead of their reporting skills.  In that way, it is about them.  And that’s the problem with much reporting.

Journalism should serve the reader.  If you want to write eloquently about things, be a novelist, or if you want to write about things that people don’t really care about, be a writer for the Style section of The Washington Post. 

Much of the narrative in articles doesn’t do much to impart critical information.  For example, in today’s Post, I’ll bet more eyeballs looked at the chart than read the article about Baucus’s health bill. Yet, when looking online at the story, it’s a lot easier to find the narrative than the chart.  Yet the chart gives most of the information you need (with some notable holes).  But the chart is a faster read.  And let’s face it, the story is cluttered with self-serving quotes that do nothing to illuminate the issue.

It’s not about reporters; it’s about readers.

Is the Public Option A Sword to Fall On?

Steve Pearlstein says no.

One goal of health-care reform is to begin to address these market imperfections. But there’s no particular evidence that a government-run insurance plan will be any more successful than what we currently get from big private insurers — unless, of course, the government-run plan is so big or so powerful that it can dictate prices to providers, as Medicare now does. Proposing that, however, would immediately unite doctors, hospitals and drug companies in opposing reform.

You also hear the argument that government-run insurance would have lower costs because it wouldn’t have to generate a profit (that’s true) and would be more efficient than private insurers (that isn’t). The evidence of greater efficiency is Medicare, which spends about 2 to 3 percent of its budget on administration. But if a government-run plan had to spend its own money to collect premiums, market itself to customers, maintain a reserve, and manage care in a way that lowers costs and raises quality — none of which Medicare now does — then you can be sure its administrative costs would be nowhere near 2 or 3 percent.

Pearlstein, who will discuss this article at 11 a.m. on The Washington Post web site, makes some cogent arguments.  But what strikes me most about this article is that I must read an opinion piece to get good information on the debate.  Shouldn’t Post reporters be detailing the pros and cons of healthcare reform?  Instead of spending time covering town hall shoutfests, shouldn’t reporters look into the debate and collect expert opinion on how reform might work, what consequences and trade-offs are, and what other countries have done to address the issues we face?

Swift Boating Healthcare Reform

Indeed, it’s the same scenario.

But what has been perfectly consistent is the way the press has, again, fallen for a right-wing smear campaign and dressed it up as news. Just as with the Swifties, the press has turned over its summer coverage to a band of agitators spreading misinformation. Five summers ago, the Swift Boat Vets helped hijack the election. They lied about documents, they lied about eyewitness, and they lied about their partisan affiliations and connections. For several crucial weeks during the campaign, journalists turned away from the pile-up of Swift Boat falsehoods and contradictions, rarely daring to call the Swift Boat attack out for what it really was — a hoax. Too spooked by the GOP Noise Machine and its charge of liberal media bias, the press propped up the Vets as serious men and showered them with attention.

The key point here is that the right has had a decades long, disciplined campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  The MSM, with their thin skins, reacted by bending over backwards to be “fair,” which means they give prominence to the most outrageous charges from the right, afraid of the abuse they might get if they resist.

Why doesn’t the left do the same?

Is Obama Tough Enough?

The left punditry is starting to come down on Obama, wondering whether, as Politico’s Roger Simon points out, Hillary Clinton was right:  You may campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose. 

In her former life as a presidential candidate, Clinton warned voters that Obama would let them down. She warned them that when the going got tough, he would fold up.

She said it was not just a matter of Obama lacking experience — that was the least of it — but that he lacked the strength, the toughness, the will to get the job done.

Obama seems at this juncture weak-kneed.  The right’s tried and true strategy of intimidation seems to be working, as it does whether they are in power or out.

Even Gene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist and one of Obama’s most ardent defenders, is beginning to wonder.

It’s true that politics is the art of the possible, but it’s also true that great leaders expand the scope of possibility. Barack Obama took office pledging to be a transformational president. The fate of a government-run public health insurance option will be an early test of his ability to end the way Washington’s big-money, special-interest politics suffocates true reform.

…What the president hasn’t done is the obvious: Tell Congress and the American public, clearly and forcefully, what has to be done and why. Take control of the debate. Consult less and insist more. Remind the Blue Dogs who’s president and who’s not.

Giving up on the public option might be expedient. But we didn’t elect Obama to be an expedient president. We elected him to be a great one.

It’s fair to criticize the country’s most progressive voices.  While some leaders are vocal, the progressive base is silent.

So where are the liberal protesters? The initiative has passed to the know-nothing right for two big reasons.

One is Obama himself. This president recoils from confrontation, even with those who are out to destroy him. He has had ample opportunities to put himself on the side of popular economic grievances and to connect America’s economic troubles to the forces that Roosevelt called "economic royalists." But Obama, whose propensity for consensus is hard-wired, keeps passing up those opportunities.

…Despite the president’s history as a community organizer, his style as president is to tamp down popular protest, not rev it up. I know of several cases in which the White House requested allied progressive groups to cool it.

Cohen’s second reason for the lack of protests is that unions can’t organize the necessary protests.  I disagree.  When you’re unemployed, there’s plenty of time to go to meetings and rallies to demand the change Obama promised.

Simon thinks that the president will eventually push for a public option and make it happen, even if it takes reconciliation so it can’t be filibustered.

I’m skeptical, but have been surprised before when Obama has pushed hard when he gets near the goal line.

I can’t believe that he thinks ditching the public option and other concessions to the right will help him electorally.  If he caves on this, I won’t be working for him next election.  By then, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to work for a new progressive party.  It may not be practical, but if you want to get a party to move in your direction, build a movement that threatens to take votes from them.  Maybe then Democrats, including Mr. Congeniality, will take notice.

White House Caves…Again!

What chance is there for a public option – or even significant healthcare reform, if the White House caves in to GOP pressure on such a small matter as this.

Following a furor over how the data would be used, the White House has shut down an electronic tip box — — that was set up to receive information on “fishy” claims about President Barack Obama’s health plan.

…Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote a letter to Obama raising privacy concerns about what the senator called an “Obama monitoring program.”

Media Incompetence

Another voice calling for calling a lie a lie.  Obama’s hope for a new kind of politics because of media’s incompetence.

I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

Krugman goes on to challenge Obama to get better at delivering his healthcare reform message.

It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

What Krugman leaves out is that it is up to Obama to challenge MSM to engage in something remotely related to responsible journalism.  Right now, MSM is letting the cable news echo chamber define the debate.  At least the New York Times is trying.

A Vote for the Worst

Thanks to Political Wire for pointing this out.

After going on for several days now, who looks worse in this town-halls-gone-wild story? An Obama administration that promised a new era of American politics, but that isn’t delivering on it? A Republican Party/conservative movement — less than seven months removed from the White House — stoking this anger and hoping it returns them to power? American citizens who can’t treat their neighbors or elected officials with respect, even when they disagree? Or a media covering the story but also amplifying the exaggerations and outright lies being told at these town halls? Ah, the classic political story … nobody wins, we’re all losers in these eyes of the true silent majority: the radical middle? To look at this debate through the prism of campaign politics, has anyone raised their POSITIVE ratings or simply succeeded in raising the NEGATIVE ratings of an opponent?

For the worst, I vote for the media.

Report the Facts: What A Concept!

Well, maybe we’re getting some consensus here.  After all, the country’s foremost media critic (he said with little attempt to hide his sarcasm) has stumbled upon a novel concept for today’s journalists:  Point out, gently I presume, that a politician, or anyone who has the ear of the almighty reporters, doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about.

Gently, of course.

Howard Kurtz: Yes, there is a point where the media should say a politician is wrong, and this is the point. There may or may not be a legitimate discussion about the end-of-life counseling in the Obama health plan (which is voluntary, by the way) and whether it is intrusive. It’s a long way from that to "death panels," even by the loose rhetorical standards of modern politics. I was surprised that the ex-governor’s Facebook comments didn’t get much pickup at first, though that is starting to change in the last couple of days. As I noted in this morning’s column, wasn’t it Sarah Palin who demanded that journalists "quick making things up"?

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are decried for calling the town hall protests “un-American.”  (Let’s forget that those same charges were frequently leveled by Republicans at those protesting the Iraq War.)  And Steve Pearlstein has been taken to task for calling Republicans “political terrorists.” 

But if we are to look for someone to blame for the level of discourse in this country, I think we know who to blame.

For after all, it’s still true that if a tree falls in the woods and no one can hear it, it doesn’t make a noise.  It may make a sound but noise is something you can’t avoid.  And today, you can’t avoid the shouting masses at meetings who aren’t just airing their grievances, they are preventing others from hearing anyone but them.

Because the media has decided we need to hear it, whether it makes sense or has any connection to reality.

You and I can raise all the hell we want about the state of journalism today, but it mostly falls on deaf ears.  What’s needed is someone with cojones who is the subject of media coverage to call reporters out on it.

Conventional wisdom says you never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.   But conventional wisdom, not so long ago, would also dictate that you don’t report the sky is yellow just because someone made the claim.

Whether it’s President Obama or anyone else in public life, they need to start holding journalists accountable for their coverage, which is to a large degree the result of laziness and lack of editorial leadership. 

It’s easy to write about a boisterous town hall.  All your evidence is in one place.  You can easily get quotes from both sides and generally give both sides equal weight, and boom, you’re out the door and into your favorite journalists’ barroom where everyone complains about the shrinking market for their increasingly marginal skills.

If just once, someone would say when asked a question about the meaning of the loudmouths at town hall meetings, “ Mr. Gregory, that’s the wrong question.  It’s the easy to question ask, because it absolves you from doing some work.  Instead of reading the health care bill and trying to help the public understand what’s being proposed, what the pros and cons are, you react to a mob.  You allow over-the-top behavior save you from doing work.  It’s a stupid question and I won’t entertain it.  Next question.”

The powers that be need to challenge a lazy, inept press.  If they won’t do the job their supposed to do – inform the public about the the pertinent issues of the day – then the hell with them.  Stop doing press conferences, stop doing press briefings, stop taking any questions.  Communicate directly to the public. 

Let newspapers die.  They deserve to.