Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Apparently the operative word in this week's Republican Party memo to their pet columnists is "Fail!". And like the good little drones they are, David Brooks and Michael Gerson have produced poorly reasoned editorials that toe the party line. First, Brooks offered up "The Obama Slide", in which Obama's slide can mean only one thing: He should give the Republican Party everything it wants. Brooks observes,
The public has soured on Obama’s policy proposals. Voters often have only a fuzzy sense of what each individual proposal actually does, but more and more have a growing conviction that if the president is proposing it, it must involve big spending, big government and a fundamental departure from the traditional American approach.
If Brooks is correct, you can fault Obama for allowing himself to be drowned out by the Republican noise machine. For decades the Republican Party has fought to frustrate healthcare reform, and they've consistently relied upon fear and misinformation to impede reform. More to the point, for eight years, fear has been their leading tactic in election campaigns, and the gutter tactics of Karl Rove and his ilk are stuff of legend.

It's pretty clear that Obama sensed that an onslaught of lies might be coming his way - thus the pressure to get a vote on a reform bill before the August recess. He should have anticipated the delay, and that absent a plan of counter-attack that the Republican Party, and a complacent (sometimes complicit, sometimes dimwitted) media could overwhelm his message.

But step back for a second. Brooks is stating that people don't understand the President's policy proposals. So when he claims that they've "soured" on those proposals he's being disingenuous - they've soured on ideas they don't understand due to a concerted campaign of misinformation. A responsible columnist might try to clarify the proposals, examine their policy ramifications, help educate his readers. Brooks? Get real.

Rather than addressing the core issues, Brooks prefers to drone about polls, comparisons to Clinton's healthcare proposals, whatever else he wants. Having brought up Clinton, you would think that Brooks might recall how "It's the economy, stupid", factors into a President's approval ratings. If the economic recovery takes root, and the employment market starts to rebound, Obama will have a lot less to worry about.

Brooks shares a rather insipid argument about Senate procedure,
Some now argue that the administration should just ignore the ignorant masses and ram health care through using reconciliation, the legislative maneuver that would reduce the need for moderate votes.

This would be suicidal. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path.
Actually you can. You can do all sorts of things without regard for public opinion. Recall Dick Cheney's thoughts about the importance of public opinion?

The difference between "then" and "now", of course, is that back then the memo from the party Brooks follows instructed him to cheerlead the President. And let's not pretend that the Bush-era Republican Party disliked reconciliation as a tool to cram through legislation favored by the President.

What reconciliation would do, of course, is significantly limit the scope of the reform bill. The shame of having to effect reform through reconciliation would be that some of the necessary elements of reform would be eliminated, or at best deferred. But you want to know something wild? Save for whatever hypocritical fervor the Republicans can whip up through a continued disinformation campaign, the country at large isn't going to either notice or care that a bill passed through reconciliation with "only" a majority vote as opposed to having a supermajority necessary to defeat a partisan Republican filibuster.

Brooks also presses the fabrication that Obama's healthcare reform proposals - those same proposals he previously admitted aren't understood - are not "consistent with the spirit of the nation and the times". Brooks claims to be extremely concerned about budget deficits but, although Brooks wasn't one to applaud Bush's blank check approach to government, serves as a reminder of how unimportant Brooks found these issues during G.W.'s tenure. Did he even once lecture Bush that his tax-cutting, deficit spending fiscal irresponsibility was inconsistent with the "spirit of the nation" - i.e., Un-American? Again, get real.

Brooks then lectures the President that he must "align his proposals to the values of the political center", whatever that means. After all, Brooks says people don't even know what the President's proposals are, and he gives no indication that he personally has any appreciation for Obama's proposals. (In fairness, I think he does have a decent comprehension of the issues - but his goal here is to undermine reform, not to help people understand what's at stake.)

Obama has most of his party on board with reform. Key Republicans who are supposed to be negotiating the reform bill in the Senate have been happily embracing the lies, and the tiny number of moderates remaining in the Republican Party seem cowed. Which voice which is arguably "centrist" or "moderate" does Brooks believe isn't already on board with reform?

And then along comes Gerson, repeating the party theme with a vengeance:
The incompetence of President Obama's health-care reform effort is undeniable, and unexpected.
I hope Obama's listening - if anybody should have a sense of Presidential incompetence, and how a mediocre President can turn a string of opportunities into a string of failures, leaving the country bogged down in multiple quagmires and with a devastated economy, it's Gerson. As with Brooks, "back in the day" he seemed to think that was largely a good approach to governance, but some of us prefer competence from whomever happens to be in the White House.

Gerson continues with what even he must know to be a lie:
The president's summer recess legislative deadline was hasty and unserious.
The Obama administration set a legitimate timetable, based upon the fact that these issues have been thoroughly discussed and debated, and the only thing that was likely to come from delay was... well, what we've been seeing. The legitimate debate drowned out by lies and disinformation. Had Obama succeeded with his timetable, he probably wouldn't have suffered the slide in his ratings that Brooks celebrates - he may have even seen a bounce upward based upon his victory. Why is Gerson so venomous? Because he knows that victory may yet come, along with that bounce.
As Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour points out, Obama spent more time picking out the White House dog than he permitted for comprehensive health-care reform.
You want to talk "unserious" - how about regurgitating a childish insult from a governor who lacks both the spine and cajones to correct even the most absurd fabrications about healthcare reform. And parroting Brooks and the party memo, Gerson again highlights how afraid the Republicans are of reconciliation:
And talk of imposing "go-it-alone" partisan legislation now seems desperate.
Yeah, just like G.W. and his tax cuts.

Gerson argues that some form of reform is likely so, like Brooks, he essentially argues that the best path to reform is to give in to the Republican Party's wishes and not have reform. I'm not distorting his message - look at what he actually proposes:
Obama could drop controversial plans to introduce new players in the health insurance market - either the public option or insurance cooperatives - while retaining the core elements of his current plan: health insurance reform, an individual insurance mandate and government subsidies to individuals to purchase insurance.
So first and foremost he must cave in to the Republican Party's demands that there be no new competition in the healthcare market that would press private insurers to increase their efficiencies and decrease costs, while simultaneously forcing every healthy person to buy insurance at the current, absurdly inflated "individual policy" rates that keep a lot of them out of the market. It's an insurance industry wet dream. And when people find out how little they were getting, whether in terms of a subsidy or insurance coverage, under that mandate, it would prove to be exceptionally unpopular, thereby rounding out the goals of the Republican Party.

If Gerson is serious about his next proposal, he's either totally incompetent to write about the issue or dishonest to the core of his being:
Second, Obama could abandon universal coverage and concentrate on health-care access for the poor and working class. A serious expansion of Medicaid - already included in House and Senate health proposals - is separable from other reforms and scalable to whatever level Congress deems affordable. And because this option expands an existing federal health-care role instead of creating one, it is less scary.

The primary objection comes from governors. Medicaid is a shared cost between the federal government and the states. Adding several million people to Medicaid involves a future cost to state governments. Even if the federal government foots the entire bill for a few years, states eventually would be forced to pay their share. Congress would need to offer state governments a sweet deal.
Call it "Gerson's Public Plan #1: Expanded Medicaid". The good news for the working classes - Medicaid is already available to them. All they have to do is become disabled from working and go bankrupt from their medical bills, and they qualify! And we can advance strong family values by encouraging people to divorce their sick spouses!

Really, what does Gerson think this will do for working people who can't afford insurance? Now if Gerson were proposing that Medicaid be authorized to create a "public option" form of insurance, funded by premiums, available to the working poor as an alternative to private insurance... well, that would be a "public option" which he's already told us is unacceptable. So what is it? Is he totally ignorant of Medicaid and how it works, is he incapable of completing even a simple thought on the subject of healthcare reform, or is he lying?

Gerson closes out with classic "lemon capitalism" - privatize profits and socialize losses:
Third, Obama could maintain his commitment to universality but dramatically reduce the ambition of coverage. It is catastrophic health costs - often coming after yearly or lifetime caps in an insurance plan are reached - that force individuals into bankruptcy. Obama could propose a plan that funds health costs for patients once their bills exceed a certain level.
Call it "Gerson's Public Plan #2: Government Reinsurance". In other words, we'll keep on doing what we're doing except we'll encourage insurance companies to cap benefits such that "high cost" beneficiaries are shifted onto the government. Never mind that there's an existing market for reinsurance, and that health insurers could avail themselves of that market to limit their liability. Never mind that Gerson's highlighting the absurdity of the present "health insurance" system - private companies only want to insure you when you're healthy.

Gerson expressed early concern that reform might be "ruinously expensive" and complained that it is "financed by a massive accounting trick" - so he's expanding his newfound role as a deficit hawk after taking the opposite approach under G.W.. Fair enough. Given that he proposes massively expanding Medicaid, and giving a massive subsidy to private insurers by having the government assume responsibility for the care of people who have the poor manners to become seriously ill, how do Gerson's proposals serve his needs as a nascent deficit hawk? In his own words, they do nothing to solve "the overall problem of health cost inflation". Gerson shares no ideas about how his proposals would be funded - suddenly it seems he's back in full-blown G.W. "deficits don't matter" mode. Go figure.

But who cares, right? It's about defeating Obama.

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