18 November, 2007

This explains quite a bit, actually

A small but revealing comment from NYT Opinions columnist (and former editor!) Gail Collins:

: There is a good reason we don’t talk more about them. The bottom line on that health care argument, which required some outside reading to comprehend, is that the Obama plan does not force people who aren’t covered by their employer or the government to buy health insurance on their own.

This in the midst of a column mocking the last Democratic debate. Note the punch line: "which required some outside reading to comprehend." This is, in a nutshell, and with very little hyperbole, everything that is wrong with the way we think about democratic politics. It reveals succinctly that we rely on candidates seeking office to provide us not only with the best interpretation of reality, but also with the basic facts and context regarding that reality. This is a recipe for disaster since, as the Bush presidency has amply demonstrated, those seeking power have few qualms about fabricating or exaggerating the veracity of those basic facts, or at least sowing a requisite amount of confusion regarding said facts to be able to act with impunity. Democracy is predicated on a decently educated and aware citizenry - but if coming to grips with the pros and cons of one of the most major social welfare programs that can be proposed takes any "outside reading", forget it. And this is from the once-editor of the New York Times Opinion section.

Musing, she wonders if

Perhaps you started watching it but had to switch off during the section on trade relations when you discovered your children had grown up and wanted to say goodbye before they left for college.

Really, can't we elect a king or something to deal with this stuff? On a roll, she concludes by supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton because

All these people believe pretty much the same thing, and when it’s time to take on the Republicans, I would prefer the candidate who knows how to change the subject and stack the deck.

There you have it: Clinton is the candidate for the unreflective, incurious, irresponsible partisan hack who believes that "all these people believe pretty much the same thing" because they belong to the Democratic party and shut up already about those misogynistic has-beens because Hillary is going to win the nomination because I say so and I write for the New York Times, so there. Seriously, with prominent pontificators such as this, what else can I conclude about the fate of the Democratic party under another Clinton?


spencer said...

The Democratic debates, quite plainly, suck. Not because there is no action (which there was in the most recent debate), but because they are not about finding the best candidate. I think Matthew Yglesias made the point that the Republican debates have about Republicans picking a good Republican to represent them--half of them are on Fox News after all--and the Democratic debates are about getting the Democratic candidates to fuck up. Wolf Blitzer and Tim Russert ask asinine questions looking for gaffes. Why not have a debate on PBS or C-SPAN hosted by a progressive who is truly interested in finding out the different positions?

Elliot said...

I agree, that would be a cool thing to do. What got me about the coverage of the last debate was the complaint/jeer that they talked too much about the issues to the point of being boring.

The 45 minutes I watched was actually very informative. In that time, I learned what each thought about immigrant drivers license policy and why, about education legislation - and there was real and sharp differences in philosophy there - and what each thought about the situation in Pakistan.

On the last point especially, I thought the discussion got to how each of the candidates frames US foreign policy and that, moreover, the differences between them, to me, are not matters of degree, but a matter of success versus continued failure. On Pakistan, Clinton was vague, Dodd showed himself to be completely uninformed, and Obama articulated by far the best answer.

And I get home and read the shit quoted in this post. Of course the asinine Gail Collins's dovetail with the asinine Wolf Blitzers, but for God's sake, you write for the New York Times. I don't know, maybe the rest of the debate was bullshit. I do know it was stacked by Clinton supporters - did you hear the boos when Edwards criticized her?

spencer said...

You must have paid more attention than I. You claim there are sharp differences between the candidates. Well, what are they? Having watched 3-4 debates I still can't say. Maybe I'm just bad at cutting through the rhetoric to see the actual policies that are being promoted.

I know that Obama is for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and that Hillary is not--but wait, I thought she was? Richardson is for them, but Edwards is not. They're all for securing the border. But why? What drives these responses? Obama seemed to make a claim that his position would promote safety. What's the argument against this?

I now understand that Obama's plan does not force people to get insurance and Hillary's does. But why?

Half of Obama's answers appear to be "I want to get out of the gridlock and the partisanship and I am so inspirational it even makes ME puke."

(By the way, if you go to CNN's site to watch some of the clips, they are not labeled "Health Care", "Education", etc. Rather, they are labeled things like "Obama gets all up in Hillary's biznack".)

The audience was ridiculously pro-Clinton. I thought they were supposed to stay silent during these things? I wonder if they were breaking the rules or if CNN let them do that to make the debate more raucous.

Elliot said...

1) Starting with Obama's inspirational message, I agree, it is pukey and mainly rhetorical. And more than just finding it empty, I also don't often agree with it. I don't want someone who will make everyone get along, I want some who will, as Wellstone used to say,
"give 'em hell" and stand up for something...and hopefully the right things.

But there are constructive ways of giving 'em hell. Hillary's is not. She wants to give Republicans hell qua Republicans. This will surely be a counter-productive attitude, and inspire unified opposition.

Behind Obama's rhetoric, on the other hand, I see a more principled - and more effective - type of give 'em hell. This is more issue-based give 'em hell that is capable of creating consensus or at least some sort of alliance with moderate Republicans.

Again, Wellstone was a radical in the Senate, but his issue-based give 'em hell won him respect among Republicans and allowed him to work with them on many issues, the most well-known being campaign finance reform. The same principle obtains with voters as well - Wellstone won surprisingly many Republican votes despite his radicalness. Obama isn't Wellstone, but I think he's tapping into that same desire for integrity that isn't just rhetoric.

2) The sharp differences I noted were on immigration and and foreign policy (for memory and brevity's sake I will compare Hillary and Obama). Immigration: Hillary realizes that drivers licenses are more unpopular than she thought and switches her opinion to oppose them. She takes the easy way out AND comes off as resolute, somehow. This says a lot about her and the press' credulity.

Obama: supports them. The logic here is that obtaining drivers licenses is not an incentive for illegal immigration, but on the other hand giving them to undocumented people dramatically increases public safety. But again, the larger issue here is that Clinton opposes an apparently common sense policy to pander to xenophobia.

As for foreign policy and Pakistan (the part I saw) Clinton tried to exude vague toughness. When asked whether democracy or American interests was more important, every candidate but one that I saw accepted that false dichotomy. Dodd went so far as to say that we shouldn't be so hasty about democracy in Pakistan because elections might produce an extremist government. I disagree with that because even a cursory review of history as well as the current situation suggests that extremists gain clout (and anti-American cred) the longer an undemocratic regime clings to power with our support.

Only Obama articulated anything close to a clear and compelling answer. He challenged the false dichotomy and made the argument (over Wolf's agonized cries that he wouldn't give a one-or-the-other response) that promoting democracy is indistinguishable in the medium to long term from our interest as a Republic. This argument smells bad from 7 years of Bush using it to promote unilateral aggression, but I think the fault lies with Bush, not with the argument.

Again, I don't know about positions on health care, energy policy, and other important factors. But that exchange provided me with sharp differences in both specific policy and general worldview.

3) Back to debate format: perhaps single issue debates? But surely this would be too boring for our poor citizens. I propose constitutional monarchy.