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washingtonpost.com - Michael Kinsley (washingtonpost.com)

Rep. Joe Wilson, the Republican from South Carolina who shouted "You lie" during President Obama's health-care address to Congress, has already apologized at least twice: once in a statement issued by his office and once in a phone call to the White House. He tried to reach the president and had to settle for Rahm Emanuel -- not, by all accounts, one of the more forgiving souls in politics. But some Democrats are not satisfied. They want Wilson to apologize on the House floor. Presumably this means during an official House session, and not actually while lying prostrate on the carpet. If he won't apologize on the floor, they want a resolution officially declaring that he's "it" or he has cooties -- or whatever the appropriate language is under House rules. "Fact checking" is a tradition of some publications, mainly magazines, in which one set of employees, called fact checkers, is called upon to reconfirm every fact in an article by another set of employees, called writers, generally by finding these facts in newspapers, which don't have fact checkers. During a blameless journalistic career, in which I have sometimes had occasion to mock this practice, I have always resisted criticism from colleagues that my real problem is with the facts themselves. But I'm beginning to think they may be right. Who can take facts seriously after reading the daily "Corrections" column in the New York Times? Although the purpose of this column is to demonstrate the Times's rectitude about taking facts seriously, the facts it corrects are generally so bizarre or trivial and its tone so schoolmarmish that the effect is to make the whole pursuit of factual accuracy seem ridiculous. The reason Americans have turned against health-care reform, after electing President Obama in part for promising it, is simple: Despite protestations to the contrary, Americans don't like change. You wouldn't know it, of course, if you listen to politicians in high-pander mode, or to talk radio hosts of the right or TV pundits of the left. Or, for that matter, if you listened to the president of the United States. You would think that while we might disagree about what kind of change we want, Americans are in total agreement that the current situation is intolerable in all areas and that change -- big, immediate change -- is essential. Americans do agree about this -- in the abstract. But as soon as it seems that change might actually happen -- as soon as we leave the abstract for the particular -- we panic. We suddenly develop nostalgia for the comforts of the status quo. Sure, we want change -- as long as everything can stay just as it is. Anne Wexler, who died Friday of cancer at age 79, had a life of romance, high drama, great causes and historical importance. For four decades she was at the center of American politics, meeting all the big players and playing a role herself in many of the big decisions. In 1966 she was a Connecticut housewife, married to a doctor and raising two children, when opposition to the Vietnam War got her into politics at the envelope-licking level. Like so many others, she swooned and worked for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. She swooned in a different way for a minister and 1970 Senate candidate named Joe Duffey, and he for her. He lost the election but won the girl. They left their respective spouses, married, moved to Washington and -- from all appearances -- lived happily ever after. He survives her.
You've probably heard by now that Harry and Louise have changed their minds. This fictional couple dreamed up by the health insurance lobby to stop the last attempt at health-care reform -- led by Hillary Clinton in 1993-94 -- is back on the air, declaring that reform is essential. A news release from the insurance lobby tut-tuts skeptics: "Health care reform is far too important to be dragged down by divisive political rhetoric from Washington, D.C." Divisive political rhetoric. Can't have that! (Write and tell them you agree. They're at 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, South Building, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20004.) Isn't it great to have a president who says something foolish or impolitic from time to time? "It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself." To achieve the goals of health-care reform -- universal coverage and reducing costs -- is it really necessary to overhaul our entire health-care system? The answer is probably yes. No one would design anything like our current system if he or she were starting from scratch. Why try to renovate this ancient mess of leaky pipes and rotting wood? Why not tear it down and replace it with something shiny and new?
(Note: Today's contribution to our series, "What Were Newspapers?," concerns what was traditionally one of a newspaper's most important functions.) Even though more and more Americans have no health insurance at all, Americans consider health care to be a right. Not just that: We consider the best possible health care to be a right. Few would find it acceptable for a poor person to die of a medically curable disease for lack of money. Even fewer would find it acceptable that they themselves should die because the system won't spend the money to cure them. This is all in theory, of course. In practice, people die all the time because some effective treatment is too expensive. But whenever an issue gets drawn into the political system and becomes explicit, it becomes harder. That is what health-care reform will do to the question of rationing. Sonia Sotomayor is a member of a highly unrestricted club: the club of people who deny the obvious about reverse discrimination. The club itself does not discriminate. It has members of every race, religion and sexual orientation. They include virtually all politicians and a majority of the Supreme Court. In the Age of Karaoke, more people (including me) like to join in the singing when they strike up the national anthem at public occasions. No one can stop you, no matter how embarrassed she might be by your obvious lack of talent. It's always disappointing when you're invited to stand and enjoy some high school glee club or famous opera singer. But chances are that even the opera singer won't get it right.
In myth and often in reality, newspapers used to be owned by grandees: wealthy and civic-minded individuals or families. Some, like the New York Times and The Post, still are. But many grandee families (their hands forced by rogue cousins who missed the lessons on noblesse oblige) have sold out to chains like Gannett. What conservative Republicans don't like about the Supreme Court can be summarized as the three, or maybe four, A's: abortion, affirmative action and activism. Somehow the notorious Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, giving constitutional protection to a woman's right to choose an abortion, has survived 23 years of Republican presidents (compared with only 12 years of Democrats). Recent Republican platforms have pledged to appoint judges who not only will overturn Roe but will make clear that fetuses have the same rights as people under the 14th Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws." SEATTLE -- I want the next Supreme Court justice to share my views on the Constitution. I don't care how she looks in a bathing suit, or halfway out of one. Miss California is a different story. Her qualifications, as a general rule, should be up to the people of California. Here in the state of Washington, we expect our beauty-contest winners to be able to split a log and appreciate good coffee. But Miss California's views on gay marriage have nothing to do with her qualifications for the job and shouldn't disqualify her for it. Even some loyal Democrats are feeling queasy about what will happen if, as seems likely, Al Franken wins the endless dispute over that Senate seat from Minnesota. With Arlen Specter's recent conversion, that would give the Democrats 60 seats, or three-fifths of the Senate, which is a filibuster-proof majority. With a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic president, suddenly politics seems like a more serious business.
So you're through torturing people. And you're never, ever going to do it again. You're not that kind of country. What on earth were you thinking? And what is the best way to put it all behind you? Before we decide whether to hang him or chop off his head, I think we can all agree that Steven Rattner -- President Obama's man in charge of saving the American auto industry -- is totally innocent. "Neither Mr. Rattner nor [his former investment firm] Quadrangle has been accused of any wrongdoing," the Wall Street Journal revealed under the headline "Rattner Involved in Inquiry on Fees." The New York Times went with "In State Pension Inquiry, a Scandal Snowballs," but another Times story said, "There is no indication . . . that Mr. Rattner faces criminal or civil charges." The Journal editorial page ["The Public Pension Shakedown"] declared that "there's no public evidence that he broke any laws," before recommending that government employee pension funds be taken away from "political actors" and turned over to the private sector. Many "hard" scientists regard the term "social science" as an oxymoron. Science means hypotheses you can test, and prove or disprove. Social science is little more than observation putting on airs. Among the social sciences, economists are the snobs. Economics, with its numbers and graphs and curves, at least has the coloration and paraphernalia of a hard science. It's not just putting on sandals and trekking out to take notes on some tribe. Members of Congress across the political spectrum have had fun the past few weeks playing umbrage leapfrog regarding the bonuses to executives at AIG and other companies. Who can express more indignation over the spectacle of greedheads taking billions in government bailout money and then carting millions of it home in wheelbarrows?
Few industries in this country have been as coddled as newspapers. The government doesn't actually write them checks, as it does to farmers and now to banks, insurance companies and automobile manufacturers. But politicians routinely pay court to local newspapers the way other industries pay court to politicians. Until very recently, most newspapers were monopolies, with a special antitrust exemption to help them stay that way. The attorney general has said he is open to additional antitrust exemptions to lift the industry out of today's predicament. The Constitution itself protects the newspaper industry's business from government interference, and the Supreme Court says that includes almost total immunity from lawsuits over its mistakes, like the lawsuits that plague other industries. "The parties may elect in respect of two or more Transactions that a net amount will be determined in respect of all amounts payable on the same date in the same currency in respect of such Transactions, regardless of whether such amounts are payable in respect of the same Transaction." Maybe you don't spend your weekends perusing SEC filings, so perhaps you missed the one in November in which AIG, the world's most unloved big company, reported that it planned to distribute $469 million in bonuses to some employees. This was after the government began pouring billions into AIG to save it from the fate of Lehman Brothers but long before populist outrage over the bonuses exploded this week. Diana Levine, a professional guitarist, "showed up at the hospital for the second time in one day complaining of 'intractable' migraines, 'terrible pain,' inability to 'bear light or sound,' sleeplessness, [and] hours-long spasms of 'retching' and 'vomiting.' " She was injected with an anti-nausea drug called Phenergan. The label on Phenergan says six times, in different ways, some of them in boldface capital letters, that if Phenergan gets into the arteries, the result can be disastrous. Nevertheless, a physician's assistant used the wrong method of injection, and Levine's arm turned gangrenous and ultimately had to be amputated.
"It's distasteful," the Treasury secretary said, "but it is essential if this country is going to be restored to full economic health. We've bailed out the banks. We've bailed out the auto industry. We're bailing out insurance companies and the housing sector. Now we must take the next step. This organization is part of the very warp and woof of our nation. We literally have a gun to our heads." "We're having an earthquake," said my wife. It was early one recent morning, as we sat drinking coffee and reading the day's gloomy economic news. Was she being metaphorical? At this hour? We sat in nervous silence for a few seconds, mentally listing our regrets. (Her: Why didn't we put flashlights in all the bedrooms? Me: Why didn't we sell all these bedrooms and rent?) Then we resumed our day. In January, Suze Orman, the blonde financial adviser who's all over TV telling you to cut up your credit cards, went on "Oprah" to discuss how to cope with the recession. Orman recommended not eating in restaurants for a month. The appalled National Restaurant Association pointed out that if every "Oprah" watcher took this advice, it would cost 53,000 jobs. It is still okay to discriminate against one group of Americans. This discrimination is not only legal, it is encouraged. You see members of this oppressed minority huddled outside in rain and snow, forbidden to seek refuge. No one feels sorry for them. And yet we may have just elected one of these pariahs as president.
In a famous example of ideological flexibility, the American Communist Party changed its mind completely about Adolph Hitler in 1939, when he signed a deal with Joseph Stalin. Previously, they hadn't cared for him much. Suddenly, he looked pretty good. Two years later, when Hitler ratted on the deal and invaded the Soviet Union, the Communists changed their minds again. Both times, it took only days. "On Thursday, as the convention moves from the indoor Pepsi Center to Mile High, an open-air football stadium, Democrats will have to balance their desire to spotlight Obama's enthusiastic following with concern that images of a cheering throng will ratify Republican attacks on the candidate as a glitzy but untested celebrity."

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