Let’s Agree

Let’s stop subsidizing the wealthy. Stop crony capitalism. Stop corporate welfare. Means-test our entitlement programs.”

The above quote was not said by some wild- or starry-eyed liberal. It was said by the Buddha of budgetary knowledge on the right, Paul Ryan, on ABC’s This Week last Sunday. 

In the spirit of the New Year and New Beginnings, let us end this year with a note of agreement. I agree with Mr. Ryan that we should stop crony capitalism—the only kind there will ever be without adequate public attention—and stop corporate welfare—corporations are doing just fine, thank you—and we should means-test our entitlement programs—especially Medicare, which is, as Paul Ryan knows very well, the biggest driver of our long-term debt problem. 

And Paul Ryan also knows very well that the plan he advanced earlier this year—which nearly every Republican this side of the Asteroid Belt voted for—would end the system created in 1965, even if the name would live on. (No matter what Politifact says.) Let’s all at least agree on that. 

And let us agree that the current Medicare system, which took more than 50 years to bring into reality, should be preserved. After all, it was signed into law by a Texan, Lyndon Johnson, and was supported by almost half of the Republicans in Congress at the time. 

So sensitive are Americans to perceived government interference, that even the sainted FDR dared not force the issue of public health insurance—which he supported—before the enactment of his social security bill was assured in 1935. And despite Missourian Harry Truman’s efforts to get the job done—President Johnson would eventually credit “the man from Independence” for those efforts and make the 81-year-old fighter the program’s first enrollee— it took another generation before folks without means could rest a little easier knowing they had at least basic health insurance they could afford, when they were on the unprofitable side of life. 

And among those who could rest a little easier were my parents. My dad, who was 56 years old when Medicare was passed, worked all of his pre-heart attack life. My mom worked full-time at home and part-time at what she called the “dime store.” Were it not for Medicare, well, the alternative for them would have been and, for me, remains, unthinkable.  Let’s agree that, for them and millions of  people like them, access to affordable government health insurance made—and for now, still makes—America a better place in which to live.

Truman, in a special message to Congress in November of 1945—1945!—said there were “certain rights which ought to be assured to every American citizen.” One of them, he said, was “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” What a shame, more than 65 years later, we are fighting over The Affordable Care Act, which guarantees Americans, sick or well, rich or poor, the right to health insurance, or rather the right to purchase health insurance from profit-minded private insurers. It is, by no means, a fulfillment of the vision of liberals, old or new. But it ain’t nothing. 

And yet we fight. Let’s agree to stop fighting about something so necessary. 

Truman said: 

In the past, the benefits of modern medical science have not been enjoyed by our citizens with any degree of equality. Nor are they today. Nor will they be in the future—unless government is bold enough to do something about it. 

People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes. The poor have more sickness, but they get less medical care. 

He didn’t must make that statement in 1945 without evidence to back it up. And he had plenty: 

The people of the United States received a shock when the medical examinations conducted by the Selective Service System revealed the widespread physical and mental incapacity among the young people of our nation… 

As of April of 1945, nearly 5,000,000 male registrants between the ages of 18 and 37 had been examined and classified as unfit for military service. The number of those rejected for military service was about 30 percent of all those examined. The percentage of rejection was lower in the younger age groups, and higher in the higher age groups, reaching as high as 49 percent for registrants between the ages of 34 and 37. 

Think about that. And think about the health of those back then who were in their forties and fifties and sixties and beyond. Truman, understanding that the child is father of the adult, said that it is “important to resolve now that no American child shall come to adult life with diseases or defects which can be prevented or corrected at an early age.” 

Let’s agree that health care involves inter-generational agreements. Old folks, let’s make sure the young are cared for, even if their parents are not rich. Young folks, let’s make sure the old are cared for, even if they lack wealth. All of us are either young or getting old. The Affordable Care Act is simply a part of these inter-generational agreements—without which any modern and civilized society cannot continue to be modern and civilized. It ought to be without controversy, or at least without animus. 

But it’s not. We have folks around the country, and folks in Congress, who are fighting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a kind of religious zeal, as if to lose the battle would mean the end of a God-blessed America. There are even some radicals who would move us back to not only 1964, before Medicare, but to 1934, before Social Security. They would leave the non-rich at the mercy of charities or family and friends, of whatever means. 

But if we can’t finally agree, as Paul Ryan seemed to suggest last Sunday, that entitlements—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—are a permanent part of our social fabric and that in order to afford them we may need to, among other things, means-test them, then I’m not sure there is anything we can agree on as a civilized nation.

As Harry Truman said so long ago, our government needs to be “bold enough” to do something about inadequate health care in our country.  All he was really saying was we-the-people need to be bold enough.

Bold enough to agree.

Domesticating The Dogs

I don’t think there should be a profit motive in health care. I think all the health care dollars should go to care.”

—Elsa Stone, a North Haven, Connecticut, pediatrician

Well, what do you know.  The universe is starting to make sense. 

From Thursday’s USA Today:

HARTFORD, Conn. – In the past decade, most states have turned Medicaid over to private insurance plans, hoping they could control costs and improve care. Nearly half of the 60 million people in the government program for the poor are in managed-care plans run by insurance giants such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna. 

Connecticut, the “insurance capital of the world,” is bucking the trend.

Beginning Sunday, Connecticut will jettison its private health plans from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program. Instead of paying the companies a set monthly fee to cover the health costs of more than 400,000 children and parents, the state will assume financial responsibility.

Why?

Glad you asked:

State officials say the companies, including Hartford-based Aetna, did not fulfill their promise of lower costs and better care.

Take that all of you private-insurance lovers out there.

Notably, our neighbor to the West, Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the Milky Way, doesn’t trust the private insurers either, and hasn’t for a while:

Oklahoma moved away from private plans in 2005, and officials there say they have no regrets. “While achieving very encouraging marks in both member satisfaction and quality, the cost per member has grown at a very low average annual rate of 1.2% over the last five years,” says Mike Fogarty, Oklahoma’s Medicaid director.

It appears that in Connecticut (and elsewhere, of course) too much money is being spent on things that have nothing to do with health—like, say, profits. The USA Today story cited,

a 2009 state-commissioned report showing Connecticut was overpaying insurers by nearly $50 million a year–about 6% of total expenses.

Other state reports found the plans were spending too little on health services and published networks of doctors that were misleading because many doctors refused to accept Medicaid patients when “secret shoppers” called for appointments.

And, thus, the story touches, albeit indirectly, on a major problem with the very conservative Affordable Care Act:

Many doctors are happy to see the state’s experiment with managed-care plans end. Many had been frustrated with having to follow different rules for different plans. They also complained about payment delays and problems referring patients to some specialists.

You see, because too much worry is exhausted on who gets paid, the folks in the middle—doctors and patients—tend to suffer. The ACA, while guaranteeing everyone health insurance, still keeps in place that profit-minded system.  In fact, Paul Ryan’s budget plan—fully embraced by the Republican Party—would essentially do for older folks, who would have a hard time getting health care, what the ACA does for younger folks, who can’t afford or aren’t able to get health care. 

Yes, it’s true.

An important but little noticed point made in the recent controversial Politifact article, “Lie of the Year 2011,” explains:

Under the current Medicare system, the government pays the health care bills for Americans over age 65. Under the Ryan plan, future beneficiaries would be given a credit and invited to shop for an approved plan on a Medicare health insurance exchange…Ryan’s plan requires private insurers to accept all applicants and to charge the same rate for people who are the same age…

“Ryan basically proposed the Affordable Care Act for future seniors,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who advised both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney on health care. “I don’t understand how you can like it for future seniors but not like it for today’s needy uninsured. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Of course, it also doesn’t make sense how most people in the country can like Medicare for seniors and not like Medicare for everyone, but Republicans have done such a darn good job of demonizing everything that comes in contact with government that it  is somewhat understandable why there is such cognitive dissonance out there.

Fortunately, some states, most recently Connecticut, are coming to their senses about how health care is delivered in this country, and it’s not through motivating private insurers with profits. And that, despite all the Republican criticism of it, is what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act.  It is an improvement over the dog-eat-dog insurance system we have now, but the dogs are still out there.

Beyond A Doubt?

I want to connect two issues, recently in the news, that may not seem related. 

In a piece in Tuesday’s USA Today, “When will USA get over breastfeeding hang-ups?,” Katherine Chretien hopes that one day, “breastfeeding in public will be seen as nothing out of the ordinary”: 

Let’s face it, we live in a society that has sexualized breasts so much that any display (even in its primary, all-business function) is seen as indecent, allowing the hardy vestiges of American Puritanism to place shame-hexes on nursing moms.

Now, I have never understood the hang-up about breastfeeding, in public or private, but I do understand “the hardy vestiges of American Puritanism,” the unrelenting bigotry of which is able to survive in our otherwise permissive culture.

There is another form of puritanical bigotry increasing in this country, almost unnoticed by the mainstream press, that also has to do with women: the harsh, inflexible anti-choice movement. Here is a story from CNN that illustrates the point:

(CNN) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry revealed a hardening in his stance on abortion Tuesday, telling a crowd in Iowa that he opposed abortions in all cases, including when a woman had been raped or the victim of incest.

Previously, Perry had not opposed the procedure in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life was threatened.

Perry claims that his just-in-time-for-the-Iowa-caucuses “transformation” happened after watching a propaganda film produced by Southern Baptist preacher and Fox “News” host Mike Huckabee, who was the former governor of Arkansas and a former presidential candidate who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008.

From the CNN story:

“…I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest. And some powerful, some powerful stories in that DVD.”

Perry said a woman who appeared in the movie who said she was a product of rape moved him to change his mind about abortion.

“She said, ‘My life has worth.’ It was a powerful moment for me,” Perry said.

I find it interesting that men like Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee and many leaders in the anti-choice movement, a movement that has been very effective in limiting the choices women can make, will never be victims of rape or incest, but feel comfortable forcing women to have children under such circumstances. More than interesting, I find it appalling.

But Rick Perry—who earlier this year signed a bill in Texas forcing women seeking abortions to undergo sonograms and forcing doctors to tell those women the size of their fetuses’ body parts—isn’t the only GOP candidate/extremist against abortion rights. Oddly, the man most people identify as a libertarian, Ron Paul, is staunchly anti-choice. He said in 2005:

I believe beyond a doubt that a fetus is a human life deserving of legal protection, and that the right to life is the foundation of any moral society.

“Beyond a doubt?” That man is expected to finish first or second in Iowa next week. He also said that,

Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny; the State simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law…the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.

Again, that is a so-called libertarian running for the GOP nomination speaking.

Mitt Romney, whom the mainstream media treat as a “moderate” and whose evolving-devolving position on abortion is legendary, has essentially confessed—to none other than Mike Huckabee himself—that he is an extremist on the “life begins at conception” issue. The two former governors were discussing Romney’s now-controversial health care plan in Massachusetts, which Romney claimed the courts determined must provide the right to an abortion:

Mike Huckabee: “Was there any way that you could have blocked [Romney’s health care plan paying for abortion] administratively or through forcing the legislature to have created enabling legislation before it went into effect?”

Romney: “This was something which existed exactly even before our bill was passed. They said people who are receiving care in that was in any way subsidized by government had the right to get abortions as part of that care. And they said that was constitutionally required. So the only way to we could have changed that would be to carry out a constitutional amendment to block the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Mike Huckabee: “Would you have supported the constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception?”

Mitt Romney: “Absolutely.”

It is true that the Romney campaign disputes the claim that he is in favor of so-called “personhood amendments,” which would grant political rights to minutes-old fertilized eggs, but even in the context of Massachusetts politics, how can a man say he would be in favor of a constitutional amendment that would establish “life at conception,” if that didn’t also mean granting that “life” political rights, most notably the right to be born? If it doesn’t mean that, then just what does it mean?

And remember, Romney made his statement about the constitutional amendment establishing life at conception in the context of restricting “the right to get abortions.” Clearly, he is willing to support measures that would prohibit women from controlling their reproductive decisions.

When Romney vetoed a bill in Massachusetts in 2005 that would have expanded access to emergency contraception, known as the “morning after” pill, he explained his veto by saying this:

The bill does not involve only the prevention of conception: The drug it authorizes would also terminate life after conception…I have spoken with medical professionals to determine whether the drug contemplated under the bill would simply prevent conception or whether it would also terminate a living embryo after conception. Once it became clear that the latter was the case, my decision was straightforward.

Romney tried to hide his extremist position by saying that his decision was based on the “promise” he made to “the citizens of Massachusetts” that he would “not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.” Similarly, he tries to hide his extremism by claiming that such things should be left in state hands. His spokeswoman, Gail Gitcho said,

Mitt Romney is pro-life, and as he has said previously, he is supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception. He believes these matters should be left up to states to decide.

That, in perfect Romney style, is trying to have it both ways. He wants to send the message to the anti-choice community that he is committed to their extremist views, while sending the message to the rest of America that he will not change, as a federal official, the status quo. He wants to send Rick Perry’s and Ron Paul’s message without actually sounding like Rick Perry and Ron Paul.

But who can believe a man who has been a true-believing bishop in the ultra-conservative Mormon church and who once was thrown out of the house of a man who lived in a Boston suburb for insisting that the man not allow his daughter to have an abortion. According to a  report, the man was “appalled at the arrogance of Romney.

Bigotry is a form of arrogance, of course. And whether it is the comparatively trivial impulse to stop women from breastfeeding in public or whether it is the profoundly important matter of trying to restrict a woman’s right to choose to become a mother, the bigotry that goes with the  “hardy vestiges of American Puritanism” is evident, particularly in the politics surrounding abortion in the Republican Party.

Even if the mainstream media largely ignore it.

Off My Chest

What’s wrong with this picture:

Answer: Not a damn thing. 

What you see is an American family headed to church on a Sunday, which happens to be Christmas. 

Over that same Christmas weekend, I received an email from someone containing some nonsense with the title, 

WHERE ARE THE GIRLFRIENDS of OBAMA? 

It began: 

I hadn’t thought about this—but where are O’s past girlfriends—surely he had a least one? No past girl friends popping up anywhere? Strange—strange to the point of being downright weird! 

Now, understandably, since this email is usually passed around by Republicans, they find it “strange” and “weird” that President Obama’s past is not replete with relationship scandals, since relationship scandals have plagued folks like, say, Newt Gingrich for years now. 

But the real point of this disgusting email is expressed in this line: 

…none of us know [sic] one single humanizing fact about the history of our own president. 

You see? The idea is that Mr. Obama is not one of us; he’s an outsider, a stranger. The same old stuff that has been around since before the 2008 election: 

Does this make any of you wonder? Ever wonder why no one ever came forward from Obama’s past, saying they knew him, attended school with him, was his friend etc.? Not one person has ever come forward from his past.

This should really be a cause for great concern. Did you see the movie titled, The Manchurian Candidate

In case you needed some evidence for your concerns that Mr. Obama might be a brainwashed son of right-wingers who is part of a Communist conspiracy (the plot of the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate”) Fox “News” is cited. That should settle it. 

In any case, this stuff (the email is full of other lies, as well) has been debunked time and again, but without much success against those who believe that something in their Inbox, sent by like-minded Republican friends, must have at least a grain of truth to it. 

The end of the email, which may have been written by someone just wanting a long and satisfying laugh at the expense of gullible Republican Obama-haters, must ring true to the conspiracy nuts on the right-wing: 

One of the biggest CONS this country has ever seen, and they are getting away with it. 

I, for one, have had enough of it, holiday season or not.  I returned the following message:

Why don’t you and those others out there who think this crap is worthy of attention go see a bleeping doctor. There is something seriously wrong with this fixation on the imaginary “otherness” of Mr. Obama. Do you think he was beamed here from outer bleeping space? Was he hatched in a bleeping laboratory? Was he put together in the basement of some communist Frankenstein?

Seriously, folks. The man is President of the United States, for God’s sake. Deal with it and vote for one of your right-wing nuts for President, as you please. But this stuff should embarrass you all.

Of course, I know that it won’t embarrass people who propagate this awfulness, but it helps a little to get it off my chest.

Christmas Cheer

Now that the two-by-four of public opinion has knocked some sense into House Republicans on the payroll tax cut and unemployment extension issues, there is other good news this Christmas season, courtesy of USA Today:

♦  “The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since April 2008, extending a downward trend that shows the job market strengthening.”

♦  “In another encouraging report Thursday, the Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators rose strongly in November for the second month in a row suggesting that the risks of another recession are receding…The index puts the economy on track to grow at a 4% annual rate in the fourth quarter…”

♦  “Some 1.4 million jobs have been created this year, and the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4% at the end of last year to 8.6% in November, according to the Labor Department. Last month the jobless rate declined in 43 states.” 

♦  “According to data compiled by the Peace Research Institute Oslo, 55,000 people a year have been dying in war since the dawn of the new millennium. That’s a little more than half of the rate during the 1990s, a third of the rate during the Cold War and one hundredth the rate during World War II.”

♦  Once there were about 160,000 troops in Iraq. Most are now home. 

♦  “Net oil imports have dropped from more than 12 million barrels a day in 2005 to 8.8 million today, according to the Energy Department…This makes the United States less dependent on imports from unstable or unfriendly nations.” (Note: Part of the reason for this good news is “more efficient cars,” which the government—the government!—has had a major hand in demanding.) 

♦  Traffic fatalities last year were “the lowest level ever recorded,” in terms of deaths per miles traveled. (Note: Government involvement helped here also, as “safer cars, with airbags and rollover protections, combined with improved driver awareness about the dangers of driving while intoxicated or without buckling up, are main factors.”) 

♦  “Violent crime fell 6.4% during the first six months of this year, according to the latest FBI report, defying hard economic times and continuing a trend dating to the 1990s.” 

And finally, instead of mixing their religion with right-wing politics and instead of getting their marching orders from GOP Jesus, some Christians are forsaking politics and following the more traditional Christ of the Gospels: 

Clean, accessible water for the world’s poor is one of the hottest causes of the season…The water cause has ridden three major currents in the past decade: a boom in ordinary churchgoers taking short mission trips to the Third World to see needs firsthand; the explosion of social media multiplying vivid images of the needs; and a raft of celebrities attaching their names and energies to it…

The Christian connection is a strong component for most of the U.S.-based water charities…giving to water causes rose 36% from 2009 to 2010. 

Christians root their ties to water in Jesus’ life and words, says theologian and writer Colin Hansen. “Water is imbued with powerful spiritual significance” from Jesus’ baptism to biblical teaching that Christ himself is the water of life. 

Now, doesn’t helping 900 million poor folks without clean water sound better than having conservative Christians tell us how much GOP Jesus likes tax cuts? 

Merry Christmas!

The Shade Tree

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

—Genesis 2:8,9

 

At the end of ABC’s This Week last Sunday, which was a “Great American Debate” with the resolution that “There’s Too Much Government In My Life,” George Will summed up his case in favor of the resolution: 

…I think big government harms prosperity. It harms prosperity by allocating resources not in terms of efficiency, but in terms of political power that directs the allocation. I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. And most of all, big government today harms equality. It harms equality because, by concentrating power in Washington, in big government, it makes itself susceptible to the rent-seeking by big, muscular interest groups. The only people who can come to Washington and bend the government to private purposes.

Get the government out of our lives more and more, and you’ll find that freedom and the market allocations of wealth and opportunity prevails.

Jefferson understood—Jefferson understood that you can have a government with minimal attention to the absolute essentials we have talked about. Of course, we want government to build roads, we want government to defend the shores, we want the government to deliver the mail. But after it does the essentials, understand what Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan said we’re going to have less government—under Reagan, respect for government, something we all want, respect for government rose as government’s role declined.

Now, there are several things wrong with what Will said (especially that erroneous claim about Ronald Reagan), even as he expressed very well the traditional, mainstream conservative arguments against big government, which contradict some of the extremists in the Tea Party and elsewherethat don’t necessarily even want the government to build roads or deliver the mail. 

But I want to focus on what appears to be the heart of his argument, as expressed by his shade tree metaphor, which does echo much of what teapartiers say today about Barack Obama and his mythical attack on our liberties: 

I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. 

Let’s look at that metaphor a little more closely because it illustrates the difference between conservatives and liberals quite well. 

I write this in the middle of the Arizona desert, where the sun in all its glory can be quite harmful, not to mention deadly. In the summertime, without shade, it is relentlessly efficient in its ability to scorch skin and earth. And there is a relentless efficiency in the laissez-faire approach that, much like the desert sun, would harm its potential beneficiaries, if there is no relief, no shade tree to thwart that sometimes destructive efficiency.

And that is what government does, or at least should do: Provide some shade from a relentless and necessary power source, a source without which we can’t live but with which we must take precautions to keep it from wilting us, or worse, from searing our civilization. So, there are those of us who welcome such a large shade tree, and we know there are species—”smaller institutions of civil society“— that can thrive—indeed, can only thrive—under its beneficence. 

Obviously, there are activities that can only be done in the sun, out from under the blessings of government’s penumbra. But in order to fully enjoy and benefit from those activities, we need to know that the tree of government—of “we the people”—is there when we, the people, need some civilization-saving relief from a withering sun. 

And that is, thanks to George Wills’ metaphor, a good accounting of the difference between those of us who call ourselves liberals, who see the value in a big shade tree, and those who call themselves conservatives, who do not. 

Good News Means Bad News For Some

Maybe the reason House Republicans put the kibosh on extending the payroll tax cuts for middle-class folks is because there are continuing positive signs that the economy is getting better and extending those cuts would only keep the improvements coming. 

In yesterday’s USA Today for instance, we find: 

Home Building increases in November 

Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000 homes in November, up 9.3% from October, the government said. It’s the highest since April 2010. 

Shoppers in the stores, report says 

Compared with a year ago, sales for the week rose 4.6%. 

Strategists predict a glowing 2012 

In what could be a prelude to what Wall Street pros say will be a better year for investors in 2012, stocks rose nearly 3% Tuesday amid better news on housing construction in the USA and some positive headlines out of Europe. 

Jobless rates decline in 43 states in November 

The number of states showing a drop in unemployment rates, at 43, was the most since October 2003. 

With all that good news, it is necessary, of course, to inject some uncertainty into the mix, since good news for the economy means not-so-good news for anti-Obama Republicans.

 

Iraq And Iran, Truth And Consequences

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked this morning on MSNBC what he thought about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Here is his reply:

We are beginning to face the reality of what we have accomplished, namely, that we have destabilized Iraq; we have destroyed it as a state; we have reignited sectarian conflicts; we have contributed to ethnic distinctions between the Kurds and the Iraqis. 

We have a problem on our hands, which we didn’t solve by war, and which we cannot resolve anymore because we can’t continue to war indefinitely. It is a contribution to greater middle-eastern instability. 

Even as we see that sectarian violence has increased since we left Iraq, Mr. Brzezinski notes that, 

There are some people who are overtly arguing now—overtly!—that we should start a war with Iran. I don’t think that’s going to be exactly a very constructive contribution to greater middle-east instability…starting wars in the Middle East was not the solution ten years ago and it is not a solution two or three years hence… 

If Republicans want to make Iran an election issue, Democrats should welcome it. If Republicans don’t want to make it an issue, Democrats should insist on it. If there ever is a war with Iran, it should be because we are forced into it, not because conservatives talk us into another foolish preemptive act.

How Anti-Obama Memes Are Made

Yesterday on Morning Joe, and throughout the goofy right-wing blogosphere and on the even goofier Wall Street Journal editorial page, much was made of an excerpt, apparently not originally aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes, from an interview of President Obama, who uttered a fairly standard defense of his accomplishments so far, saying they would compare favorably with other presidents at the same point into their terms.

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who never tires of telling us how awesome he was in Congress, was beside himself that Mr.Obama would be so uppity as to say he was “the fourth best president.”  Here was the graphic displayed on MSNBC while the discussion over the remarks took place:

Image

PRES. OBAMA COMPARES HIS RECORD TO LINCOLN & FDR” and “4th Best President?” Wow, what an uppity guy who sits in the White’s House. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s header:

Image

Whenever the right-wing gets all nasty with Big O like this, trying to create yet another anti-Obama meme that supports the weird conservative critique of the President, it becomes necessary to look at what actually was said. Here is the complete question and answer from the interview:

KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished?  

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we’re not done yet. I’ve got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we’re gonna start lowering health care costs and you’re never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we’ve got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we’ve expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America’s respect around the world.  

The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re gonna keep on at it.

First, note that he was actually asked about his accomplishments, which he did a decent job of listing. But then notice the offending sentence:

I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.

Where in there did he say he was “the fourth best president“? Where in there did he say he was better than any president? No where, that’s where. To put something up “against” something else is to say that a favorable comparison can be made, and naturally Mr. Obama, like any leader, believes some of the gargantuan things he has done will be viewed kindly by history.

But he was only talking about “our“—our!—”first two years” in office, not an entire presidency. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Perhaps President Obama has been taking history lessons at the knee of Newt Gingrich. His recent self-assessment of his tenure rivals any historical analogy that the former Speaker and college professor has come up with…

Newt Gingrich? They are comparing Obama to Newt Gingrich, whose appetite for self-aggrandizement is just slightly smaller than his appetite for waste-aggrandizement? Huh? Newt thinks he is the savior of Western civilization, for God’s sake. Not only has he compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Henry Clay and Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and both Roosevelts, he has compared himself to Sam Walton and Ray Kroc!

In any case, that is how it happens these days. Obama says something rather normal for a man in his position—running for another term and thus necessarily talking up his accomplishments—and his uppityness so outrages folks on the right that they have to say nasty things about him.

Like comparing him to Newt Gingrich.

Silence Of The Fact Checkers

The left is rightfully outraged over Politifact’s designation as “Lie of the Year” Democratic claims that Republicans, when voting on Paul Ryan’s budget plan, voted to end Medicare.

Politifact was wrong and Democrats are right.

Even if Politifact and FactCheck.org are technically correct that the program “would not end” under the Republican proposal, that is a distinction without a difference. Voucherizing the program for all people under 55 would completely change it from its original conception by inventing a new system to take its place. Republicans weren’t so dumb that they would actually change the name of the program, but they would completely change its nature and its name would mean something totally different from what it means today.

What Republicans would actually do—we know this because almost all of them in the House and Senate voted to do it—is kill Medicare for those under 55, skin its corpse like Buffalo Bill did his victims in “Silence of the Lambs,” and dress up their new program in Medicare’s pelt. 

Now, if Politifact and other fact-checking organizations still think it is fair to call what’s underneath that layer of skin “Medicare,” then they are doing their readers a great disservice and it is up to Democrats to educate people before it is too late and the program is in the morgue—where many conservatives have wanted to put it since it was born.

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