Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, October 2, 2009 12:05 am

All apologies

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., continues to carve new orifices in the festering bodies of the deserving. Having previously gone after investment bankers, he’s now going after Republicans who are 1) continuing to reject Democratic health-care reform proposals even though Democrats have made concession after concession that the Republicans demanded, and 2) refusing to offer any substantive alternative to the status quo. And while the two minutes of Grayson you’re about to see aren’t going to make anyone forget the Gettysburg Address, he does a remarkably good job of framing the issue in simple but accurate terms:

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

If you follow the link to the YouTube page, you will see that this particular clip was posted by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who believed that most right-thinking Americans would be horrified by Grayson’s incivility. Perhaps he had good reason to think that. After all, pollster Charlie Cook, whose Cook Political Report is apparently very well respected in Washington, said that Grayson’s comments “reinforce our view that he will be highly vulnerable when the spotlight is on him, regardless of whom Republicans nominate.” Cook went on to move his assessment of the 2010 race in Grayson’s district, the Florida 8th, from “leans Democrat” to “toss up.” And Cook did this, remember, even though, at least as of a couple of weeks ago, Grayson was not only unopposed, there wasn’t even anyone out there raising money for a possible challenge. On top of that, ABC News chief Washington correspondent and “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos, who, remember, once worked for a Democratic president, called for an apology as well.

It’s also worth remembering that Congress did vote to chastise Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for calling President Obama a liar during his health-care speech to Congress, so one might conclude that there is little appetite for this kind of rhetoric in Congress. (And never mind that the primary Republican calling for Grayson to apologize, Tom Price of Georgia, voted against the Wilson measure, along with 166 of his party mates.)

And, finally, it’s worth recalling that when Republicans started accusing the president of including “death panels” in his health-care reform package who would determine whether the very old and/or very sick would receive needed treatment, the party overwhelmingly condemned this behavior. Well, many Republicans did. OK, some did. All right, a few did. Well, someone must have. Right?

Anyway, under such circumstances, a prudent congresscritter might well consider the possibility that issuing an apology was in order. So Grayson, being nothing if not prudent, did just that:

This probably was not the apology that Eric Cantor and Charlie Cook and George Stephanopoulos had hoped for. Indeed, Stephanopoulos called it “doubling down,” implying that Grayson was only compounding his error.

Grayson, who clearly valued the insight and wisdom for which Stephanopoulos is so justly known, took his case to Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room” on CNN and promptly violated the First Rule of Holes:

Now, granted, he was kind of provoked: GOP operative Alex Castellanos insisted that, by calling for tort reform, the GOP really was going to fix this country’s fundamental health-care problems, which is sort of like my saying my own personal flatulence is going to save Mothra the trouble of leveling Tokyo. But Grayson, fighting not only Castellanos but the CNN “journalists” who were trying to make Grayson’s tone the issue rather than making policy the issue, persisted, unapologetically.

So, according to all the conventional wisdom, he’s a dead congresscritter walking.

Except a funny thing happened on the way to the end of Grayson’s one-term congressional career. Between his remarks on Tuesday and a few minutes ago (i.e., around midnight Thursday), more than 3,400 people nationwide donated about $110,000 to his campaign. Not that he needs it; he’s independently wealthy. But what Grayson said appears to have resonated so strongly with people that even in these horrific economic times, people dug down and gave. A lot. Quickly.

And people on both sides of the aisle noticed.

The aforementioned Cantor whined to the Washington Times — and if anyone else cared, I couldn’t find a record of it — that the president hadn’t met with Congressional Republicans on health care since May. This apparently passes for “strategy” in the GOP, and it’s inane inasmuch as since May all the action has been in congressional committees, not at the White House.

And former Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the Democratic elders helping to shepherd health-care reform through Congress, has apparently come to grips with reality and and said that Republicans “will not be at the table” when the Senate merges the Finance Committee’s version of reform with the Health/Education/Labor/Pensions Committee’s version. And why should they be, if all they can contribute to the conversation is the inane notion that “tort reform” will solve most of our problems?

Well, I must say, Grayson has been such an inspiring example to me that I, myself, feel the need to apologize.

Unlike Grayson, however, I’m not going to apologize to the 44,000 Americans who die every year for lack of adequate health insurance, and their families. Apologizing to the dead is a tasteless stunt, after all; it cheapens our society and degrades our discourse. So I think I’ll apologize to the living. Two specific members of the living, to be precise: my brothers, both of whom have Type 1 diabetes. I can say this to their faces tonight when we get together and hoist a (probably nonalcoholic) glass, but I can also say it here and now.

Guys, I am sorry that the party to which I have belonged for 31 years couldn’t get its act together long enough to do anything besides oppose something that would make a little easier your lives, the lives of those who love and depend on you and the lives of lots of other people like you and the people who love and depend on them. I’m sorry it didn’t make more of an effort to bring some ideas to the table that might actually mitigate the very real problems you and tens of millions of other Americans face in this arena, instead of denying there was a problem and claiming that even if there were a problem Americans, unlike the people of so many other countries, have no right to a solution.

I’m also sorry the craft of which I was a part for 25 years has done such a piss-poor job of explaining to the American people what’s going on that significant numbers of people can still criticize “socialism” while warning President Obama not to mess with their Medicare. I’m sorry it gives whores like Alex Castellanos and Betsy McCaughey a forum instead of consigning them to the obscurity they so richly deserve. I’m sorry it continues to allow Americans to live in ignorance of the fact that the only industry besides health insurance with a federal antitrust exemption is major-league baseball. And I’m sorry it covers the politics at the expense of the substance, on this subject and every other.

Against all the odds, against all the health-insurance industry’s money and influence, there’s still time and a chance for Congress to do the right thing. If it does, Alan Grayson’s leadership on this issue will be a big part of the reason. And about that, I’m not a damn bit sorry.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009 6:15 am

Health-care whoroscope

Betsy McCaughey appears in the news/cable arena a fair bit, typically as a health-care “expert.” Her qualification for this gig consists primarily of the fact that she published a piece called “No Exit” in The New Republic in 1994 that was a takendown of the Clinton healthcare-reform plan. Only here’s the thing: “No Exit”? Both wrong and the spawn of cigarette maker Philip Morris:

For the archenemies of Obamacare, however, [GOP pollster Frank] Luntz’s anti-Washington script didn’t go nearly far enough. To amp up the panic, they decided to spin the “takeover” fear to its most extreme conclusion: Washington bureaucrats plan to institute “death panels” that would deny life-sustaining care to the elderly. That portion of the script was drafted by Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, who insists that her expertise as a constitutional historian enables her to decipher the 1,017 pages of legalese that comprise the House health care bill.

McCaughey first unveiled her “findings” on July 16th, during an appearance on the radio show of former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson. “I have just finished reading the House bill,” McCaughey declared. “I hope that people listening will protect their parents from what’s intended under this bill.” Citing page 425 of HR 3200 — a section that outlines the same kind of optional, end-of-life counseling that Republicans have voted for in the past — McCaughey uncorked a terrifying lie. “Congress,” she said, “would make it mandatory — absolutely require that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” The Obama plan, she added, is financed by “shortening your mother or father’s life.”

McCaughey has run this con before. During the debate over Clinton’s health care overhaul in the early 1990s, McCaughey — then an academic at the right-wing Manhattan Institute — wrote an article for The New Republic called “No Exit,” in which she claimed that Hillarycare would prevent even wealthy Americans from “going outside the system to purchase basic health coverage you think is better.” Even though the bill plainly stated that “nothing in this Act” would prohibit consumers from purchasing additional care, McCaughey’s claim was echoed endlessly in the press, with each repetition pounding a stake further into the heart of the reform effort.

McCaughey’s lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey’s writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton’s health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company’s strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to “work on the development of favorable pieces” with “friendly contacts in the media.” The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

“Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan.”

This is the kind of “expert” who gets given a platform to discuss the key issues of our time. So talk to me again about the liberal media.

UPDATE: Yet another example of how McCaughey’s lying — and there’s really no other word for it — contaminates public discourse. Can we please let the people who know what they’re talking about and aren’t corporate shills have a turn discussing key issues now? Thank you.

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