Monthly Archives: February 2010

Cynicism, To What Purpose?

William Branigin, who once wrote a story I was involved in and did it pretty well, had the first full summation of the healthcare summit yesterday on The Washington Post’s website.  At least, I think he did.  My aging mind, diminished further by a few too many falls off my bike (I am notorious to my friends for my lack of balance), may be failing me here.  I would link you to the story, but it now appears gone.  I immediately copied the url before I had a chance to write this post.  It was  But it now links to a shorter story with different reporters.

Branigin’s story, posted at a few minutes after six o’clock, was a good summation of the key issues and was fair to both parties in summarizing their ideas.  But he had this paragraph that I took issue with.

Republicans and Democrats attending the meeting at the presidential guest house across from the White House indicated that they remain far apart on key provisions advocated by each side. There were also major unresolved divisions within the Democratic Party, whose leaders were looking beyond a meeting they expected to amount to little more than political theater and focusing on a final round of negotiations within the party.

Yes, it was political theatre.  But who says a good show doesn’t serve some higher purpose.  It was a chance for Americans to see the two parties discuss their ideas in the open, face to face.  Not a bad practice, even if there were make-up and a little artistic flourish.

Branigin’s use of the phrase suggests a cynicism that I’m not sure all Americans share.  We say we want to see folks talking with each other.  Why dismiss it, as if to say, “Folks read no further; there’s nothing here to read”?

A Big Idea

Congressional Republicans achieved a goal during yesterday’s healthcare summit. They shed their “party of no” label. They had ideas.

But Obama saw them and raised them one. He framed them as the party of small ideas while Democrats have a big idea. As in, we’re planning to fix healthcare instead of, as Sen. Tom Harkin said of the GOP plan, throw 10 feet of rope to a man drowning 50 feet from the boat—with a promise that at some later point, we’ll throw him a 20 foot rope.

The GOP did their homework well. As is usual the case, they were, in large part, more articulate than many of the Democrats, the president included. They had fire in their bellies and a list of facts and ideological bon mots. Even when they threw hanging curve balls, the Dems took called strikes. When I commented on that in a contemporaneous post yesterday, a friend also in my line of work called incredulous himself. The response to that oft charge of letting the government makes decisions instead of “the American people and their doctors” is, “Oh, if it were only so. Now it’s the insurance exec making millions of dollars a year who now gets to make that decision.”

But the Dems warmed up a little by the late innings, both rhetorically and passionately. The best I heard all day was by Sen. Dick Durbin. After the two Republican doctors lorded their experience over the crowd, Durbin gave them the view from the street. He’s been a good old fashioned—and as the GOP would characterize, “ambulance chasing”—trial lawyer. He’s defended victims of medical malpractice and the doctors that perform it. And showing his summation skills, he spoke in smooth paragraphs.

As any good lawyer would, he eviscerated the “common knowledge.” Both the number and award amounts of medical malpractice have dropped precipitously over the years, not increased, he said. The number of paid malpractice claims decreased 50 percent in the last 20 years, and the amount of awards have dropped the same 50 percent in the last five years. Then, he played the jury’s heart strings by telling the story of a woman who went in to have a mole surgically removed only to have the oxygen ignite, scarring her face for life and submitting her to repeated operations.

“Her life will never be the same. And you are saying that this innocent woman is only entitled to $250,000 in pain and suffering. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Certainly, GOP Chairman Michael Steele could understand that, he who thinks one million dollars, after taxes, “is not a lot of money.” Two hundred fifty thousand isn’t even walking around money for the chairman.

CNN, probably taking a cue from, I believe it was, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell that Republicans weren’t getting enough hot air time, tracked the minutes party representatives talked.

Democrats spoke for a total of 135 minutes while President Obama spoke for 122 minutes, for a total of 257 minutes. Republicans, meanwhile, spoke for just 111 minutes, about 30 percent of the total speaking time.

The president spent too many of his minutes hemming and hawing as he is wont to do in extemporaneous situations. He often starts off searching for words in bursts of disconnected phrases. But when he warms, he can cut you with a butter knife.

His summation, which started in that same hesitant fashion, got legs. He cut through the GOP apocalyptic rhetoric.

“I know that there’s been a discussion about whether a government should intrude in the insurance market. But it turns out, on things like capping out-of-pocket expenses or making sure that people are able to purchase insurance even if they’ve got a preexisting condition, overwhelmingly, people say the insurance market should be regulated.

And so one thing that I’d ask from my Republican friends is to look at the list of insurance reforms and make sure that those that you have not included in your plans, right now, are ones, in fact, that you don’t think the American people should get.”

He reminded our representatives that they should be willing to let the American people have the same insurance coverage they have. He deftly framed his solutions as market driven as Sam Walton. His comparison of a wide open insurance market left to the states with what happened in the credit card market was one people could easily understand. He cited new statistics demonstrating how Americans already have chosen the government as their main source of insurance because companies can’t offer it anymore. And he used a little humor to undercut GOP criticism of the bill’s length and make the point that small ideas won’t work.

“I did not propose and I don’t think any of the Democrats proposed something complicated just for the sake of being complicated. We’d love to have a five-page bill. It would save an awful lot of work.

The reason we didn’t do it is because it turns out that baby steps don’t get you to the place where people need to go. They need help right now. And so a step-by-step approach sounds good in theory, but the problem is, for example, we can’t solve the preexisting problem if we don’t do something about coverage.”

By this time, Obama has found his voice. He’s talking smoothly and minimizing the “hums” and “uhs.”

He then made the observation that I would have put a little differently, though his way sufficed. The Republicans think compromise is first, Dems put their ideas out there. Then Republicans put theirs. And then we all accept the GOP plan—lock, stock and barrel. Voila, bi-partisanship!

Finally, in music to the ears of those who thought he has no soul or fight in him,

“We cannot have another year-long debate about this. So the question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?

And if we can’t, then I think we’ve got to go ahead and some make decisions, and then that’s what elections are for. We have honest disagreements about — about the vision for the country and we’ll go ahead and test those out over the next several months till November. All right?”

Yes, Mr. President, that’s all right.

Liberals “Lost Their Thunder”

From the Guardian

There is an astonishing lack of anger among liberals, progressives and radicals who have abandoned emotion to the right. Our role model continues to be not FDR, still less Malcolm X, but our "bipartisan" and apparently tone-deaf President Obama. In this second or third year of a devastating depression, not just recession, that has inflicted an epidemic of suffering on the lower half of the American nation, Obama is very busy being fluent and civil while being essentially untouched by the rage felt by so many of us. Our world, as we have known it, is being annihilated, and nobody in power shows signs of giving a damn.

Healthcare Summit

Ever notice that often–way too often, I think—Democrats are acknowledging good points Republicans make, but it’s never the other way around.  Play the game the way they play, Dems.

Healthcare Summit: Who Controls Costs?

I haven’t heard the basic response to the Republicans’ argument that we don’t want the government making decisions instead of the patients and their doctors.  The response is simply:  People don’t have control; insurance executives do.  Why the Dems don’t say that is beyond me.  Even when Sen. Kyl made the charge again before the lunch break, Obama said “everybody’s angry at Washington,” instead of pointing out that insurance companies now decide.

Obstruction Works; Bi-Partisanship Doesn’t

OpenLeft has a great post about how Obama’s quest for bi-partisanship played into the hands of the GOP’s obstruction strategy.  (A tip to Daly Kos) Check out the links where Sen. Enzi admits that his purpose in being part of the group of six Senators was simply to slow the process to ultimately prevent passage and Grassley’s admission that even if he got all he wanted from the negotiations, he would have voted against the bill.

But most important is the strategic argument Chris Bowers makes:  People don’t care about process.  Most don’t know what a filibuster is.  All they want is results.  If they like the results the party delivers, then the party will be rewarded.  But how you get there doesn’t really matter.

The country never cared about political theater.  As such, putting political theater–aka, making a show of reaching out to Republicans because you know they will reject you–at the center of your strategy was bound to fail.  All it did was delay, water down, and block important legislation that could have made people’s lives better.  Had Democrats instead made using whatever political process they could to make people’s lives better the center of their strategy, they would be a lot better off politically right now.


911 Call Costs $300

Is this our future?  No, it’s the present.

“Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Tom Friedman’s column is titled “The Fat Lady Has Sung.”  While he thinks Obama’s problems are not all about how he communicates, he has failed to offer a compelling narrative.  Of course, it not at all certain that he has an attentive audience.

I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

It’s true all over.  A week ago, many in my neighborhood were complaining about the lack of plows to remove the snow.  But Saturday when my state delegate and senator—David Bulova and Chap Petersen—had a town hall meeting, my wife recognized no one there from  our neighborhood.  I hope she was wrong. (I’m out of town for the week.) 

Bayh’s Weak Ideas

Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh has a New York Times column about how to fix our politics.  His first solution is for senators to have monthly lunches together.

The only recommendation that would really help is to reduce the number of votes to invoke a filibuster.  But then he suggests no way we can make that happen.

It’s a relief that a man with such a small mind and smaller ideas is leaving the senate.

Why The Post is Becoming Irrelevant

With all the problems the American way of life faces today–declining economic leadership and standard of living, two wars, a broken healthcare system, climate change, increasing energy costs, a financial system that holds the taxpayer hostage–what is The Washington Post covering today?

Before the papers even hit the driveways, I count on its web site 12—Count ‘em, 12!–stories/posts/commentaries, etc. on Tiger Woods’ apology yesterday.  And these are only the ones I can find links for on its home page:

“A disgusting apology,” Woods convinced me,” “Taking the blame,” “Call it a half-apology,” “Tiger Woods Apologizes,”Tiger Woods’…Mea Culpa,” “…Apology Leaves Little Room for Sincerity,” “Sincere and Thorough,” “…What Do We Believe,” “Woods Opens Door on Private Life…,” “Will Tiger Join the Shame Hall of Fame,” and last, but not least though certainly a new low for The Post, a poll, asking readers what they think.

Let me spare you all the wasted time reading the work of 12 writers and God knows how many editors, web and graphic designers, and the poor dead trees that gave up their lives for this.  Here’s the video of his public apology.

Let me save you more time:  Don’t view the video.  I didn’t.  And as Friday night rolls into Saturday morning in the central time zone, I can say I have survived not knowing what he had to say.  I may not make it ‘til morning.  I may wake up in a cold sweat and succumb to watching it and reading what all these underemployed journalists think about it. 

Most of them, of course, are pissed that he apparently took a swipe at them.  (I couldn’t help hearing that on a TV news report that caught me before I could run out of the room screaming.) They feel cheated:

“Tiger, would you let us know what your wife said to you when she found out?”

“Yo, Tiger, did you really tell a porn star you loved her and would marry her?  Oh, and how was she?”

“Please tell us, how does it feel to be so humiliated?”  (Note to non-reporters:  “How does it feel?” is the first question all reporters learn to ask.  Adding questions to their repertoire can help their careers, but isn’t really necessary.)

I’m willing to bet that when the paper comes out in the morning, you won’t find 12 full-fledged news stories in the A section.  As I’m out of town, let me know, and if proven wrong, I’ll admit it—in front of cameras with my family members in the audience.  And I’ll try to top Tiger by getting my wife to be there looking distraught and shamed that I guessed wrong.

But only if The Post apologizes to all those dead trees.