William Saletan, "Trick or Entreat? Was the bipartisan health care summit a fraud?" March 24
MY abject distain for local Channel 8 news was tempered last week, as CBS was covering college hoops and my Poor Wife had to get her ten-to-the-hour weather updates from Channel 13, which is the top-rated local news, evidently because its anchor team most closely approximates a troop of circus performers.
And 13 was touting its sponsorship of the upcoming Susan B. Komen walk, which meant a promo in which those same anchors had removed half the clown makeup, and were shouting at half-volume, because the one they employ for people with twenty defecating dogs, or toddlers let loose on highways* would be unseemly when blowing one's own horn. 13 Cares! was the tagline, which really tended to underscore, at least for the somewhat partisan viewer, how little 13 seemed to care about reporting larger issue of healthcare with something approaching accuracy. You may say I'm a dreamer.
And without further ado, here are back-to-back Slate columns:
Joe Biden has proved that even after a year of debate over health care reform, not everything had been said. At a White House signing ceremony for the legislation, the vice president turned to the president and said, as he embraced Obama, "This is a big fucking deal." The remark was intended to be private but was picked up by the microphone at the podium.
Let us now resolve that among the unenumerated duties of the vice president is to occasionally uncork an expletive in public. This is not Biden's first time. At a ceremony announcing funding for his beloved Amtrak, he was greeted by a former colleague as "Mr. Vice President." He replied, "Give me a fucking break." Biden's predecessor famously used the same epithet in an exchange with a senator.* [sic] And Vice President George H.W. Bush, when asked how he did against Geraldine Ferraro in the vice-presidential debates in 1984, said, "We tried to kick a little ass."
Biden's remark may have been inappropriate for polite company, but it was apt. It summed up precisely the nature, scope and impact of the legislation better than any of the 627 words he had just spoken. He lavished such praise on the president, Obama was forced to stare at the floor just as my fabulous and accomplished children do when I tell everyone how fabulous and accomplished they are.
Yes, Reader, the author of this piece is old enough to be a parent and doesn't mind you knowing this.
That asterisk, by the way, leads to an explanation that Dickerson had, in his original draft, confused a Cheney expletive, tossed at an opponent on the Senate floor, with the microphone-overheard "major league asshole" from Candidate Bush in 2000. Maybe it's just me and my galloping senility which are shocked, but that Bush thing got a lot of play back then. The remark was made to Cheney, and it may not be too surprising that someone would reverse the attribution a decade later, but forgetting Cheney's Fuck you!, which was first denied, then celebrated, seems more like an example of the sort of Press scrutiny the Bush/Cheney administration got at the time.
Anyway, alert readers may have noticed that I have little problem with that Late 17th century (at least) expletive of uncertain etymology, though I avoid employing anything stronger than "damn" in what bodice-clutching Slate reporters like to call "polite company", not that I'm invited there very often. I'm pretty sure that fucking has been a settled issue since Norman Mailer shocked polite company with fug over sixty years ago, and that the Nixon tapes confirmed that politicians occasionally indulge, just like real folks. Biden now stands accused of saying healthcare legislation is "a big fucking deal"? It is a big fucking deal. What was he supposed to say, "Capital achievement, wot?" Give us a fucking break. It was picked up by a microphone. Let's kill those, and imprison the owners.
And I dunno about you, but as far as I'm concerned, Biden's "give me a fucking break" on being addressed--who knows in what comic seriousness or inborn obsequiousness?--as "Mr. Vice President" by an old colleague (also overheard by the spinsters of the Press) is the highest achievement of this administration so far.
But it's another day, another pressing political issue at Slate, as William "The Solution To The Abortion Question Is For Everyone To Agree With Me" Saletan tries some mouth-to-mouth on the month-old corpse of that Bipartisan Health Care Summit:
A month later, health reform has passed without a single Republican vote, and Democratic aides are boasting about how their bosses used the Feb. 25 meeting to outsmart Republicans. "Behind the scenes, Obama had, in fact, already settled on a strategy," Politico reports. "He would invite Republicans and Democrats to a summit, to give them one last chance at compromise, knowing they wouldn't budge. And privately, he had decided that his favored approach was a comprehensive bill."
The New York Times gives a similar account…
The Wall Street Journal agrees…
So does the Washington Post…
Of these four accounts, only the Post reports any sincerity in the cross-party outreach, and that sincerity, partial at best, is Obama's alone. As for Reid and Pelosi, the Times account suggests their participation was a diversion. At the meeting, Reid denied that Democrats were talking about using budget reconciliation to bypass a filibuster. "No one has talked about reconciliation," he told Republicans. "We as leaders here, the Speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this."
Well, if the mass-market Inside Baseball Beltway reporters all agree on a theme, I guess the matter's settled. Q.E.D. Jimmy Carter Brand™ cardigans for everybody!
Y'know, I know everybody at Slate was busy celebrating the imminent removal of the imminent threat that was Saddam Hussein, but someone might have noticed that political grandstanding and legislative maneuver got us into that seven-year-and-counting disaster. What excuse there was for not noting at the time the howls of Bipartisanship Equals Treachery! coming from the Right, except for the fact that the howling is so constant few can pay attention and not go mad, I can't begin to figure.
For us, "as reported by Politico" is enough to resolve the question. But, sheesh, let's grant that the whole thing was a charade. So what? Republicans have been claiming a real concern for healthcare reform for a year now, and they were demanding the bill be scrapped and a new beginning made. And saying so paints them in the most favorable light; what they were really doing was salivating over a Democratic defeat and Republican landslide in November, and that's being nice about it. And they had their hand called. That there was no bipartisan approach possible on this Plane is entirely the doing of Republicans, who have shown, without dispute, except possibly at Slate, that they would vote in unison against Sunrise or the Ten Commandments if there was a hint Barack Obama would benefit from them. I've been suspicious about these guys since I saw my first Impeach Earl Warren billboard, and even I'd be surprised if it turns out they are so far gone en masse they can no longer figure out that every issue has at least two sides.
Is this story false? It's hard to believe four news organizations would independently concoct it. But it's also hard to understand why the reporters' obvious sources—Democratic aides—freely told it. Don't they see how bad it makes their bosses look? Aren't they embarrassed?
I don't think so. I think they're proud of it. That's why they're telling the tale to one reporter after another. When you've been in politics too long, shrewdness becomes more important than earnestness. You'd rather get credit for suckering the other side than be accused of having been suckered by them. So you reduce the summit to a stunt. You exaggerate your boss's gamesmanship and minimize his naiveté. Better to be thought a liar than a fool.
That's too bad. One of Obama's best qualities—a quality he shares with George W. Bush—is his overall sincerity.
Jesus fucking wept.
* Two episodes of highway-toddling escapees in the past week, and they've been quite instructive. First, the infants in question are inevitably described as being "clad only in a diaper", as though decent parents dress theirs in morning jackets and prom dresses. Second, it's always noted that Child Protective Services have been Called In, and all children in the home removed temporarily to government care (unless somebody at the house once smoked a joint, in which case everyone's headed for state receivership of some sort or other), but the actual dispensation of the case is never reported. In the first incident last week, a reporter was on the spot checking the screen door successfully for an absent or malfunctioning lock, and then later to interview the (Hispanic) uncle who showed up to fix it. You may compare--the "news" people sure aren't going to do it for you--the coverage earlier this month when the boat-encrusted Hamilton county ice at Morse reservoir proved no match for seven- and four-year-old sisters who, fortunately, were wearing more than diapers. That one was a miraculous rescue tale, with God in a major role.