Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two newspapers in one!

A regular feature of Best of the Web Today (at WSJ.com) is the “Two Newspapers in One!” excerpt, showing schizophrenic reporting by the same paper (usually the NYT) at the same time. Here’s my own entry on the Journal’s London-based rival, which editorially has shown a much greater affinity for national heathcare than does its American cousin.

Edward Luce, “Health opens a new front in America's culture wars,” Financial Times,US ed., Aug 15-16, 2009, p. 7:

Barack Obama has been accused by his more constructive critics of mishandling America’s increasingly deranged debate over healthcare reform …

To its surprise, the Obama administration is faced with a full-scale culture war over healthcare which has very little to do with arguments and everything to do with identity.

More than a generation ago, the great American historian, Richard Hofstadter, wrote the classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Having watched many public servants and colleagues in academia hounded out of their jobs on the flimsiest of pretexts during the “red scare” of the McCarthy era in the 1950s, Hofstadter identified what he saw as a peculiarly American pathology of proneness to conspiracy theory.

His theory holds up very well in 2009. Anyone who visits a few of this month’s rowdy town hall meetings can grasp that opposition to Mr Obama’s healthcare proposals is a lightning rod to a far larger world view, which seeks to protect American values and the US constitution from an alien takeover.

The multi-generation battle to reform healthcare will be won or lost over faith rather than reason. The more nuanced Mr Obama appears, the more frenzy it will provoke in his critics.
Clive Crook, “Obama took wrong turn on health,” Financial Times, US ed., Aug 17, p. 9:
Unruly protest makes good television and is especially welcome in a slow month for news. The protesters have been dominating US newspapers and news programmes in recent days.

It is all a little misleading. Many who are sceptical about the Democrats’ plans have asked intelligent questions. But this is too dull for prime-time, and before you know it, intelligent questions bog you down in complex details. Better to make the protests the story.

Rowdy demonstrations are not what the administration wanted, but in a way they have played into its hands. They have shifted the focus from the reform measures to the unreasoning anger of the least appealing opponents.

[T]he great majority of US citizens have health insurance and are happy with it. To appeal to this majority, Mr Obama argued that health insurance, both public and private, would soon become unaffordable unless healthcare inflation was brought under control.

Fine – until the independent Congressional Budget Office examined the Democrats’ plans and found that they all added substantially to long-term costs. The CBO’s estimates attacked the core of Mr Obama’s case and they especially rattled moderate Democrats. Yet the line from the White House never deviated. This entire exercise, the administration blithely repeated, is about controlling costs. Can anyone be surprised that moderates are having doubts?

… Mr Obama needs to rethink his approach. His mistake all along was to promise nearly all Americans something for nothing. The sensible, pragmatic, Obama-supporting centre of the country looks askance at that, and it is right to.

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