I always like these occasional features in the NY Times Sunday Magazine about a mysterious medical diagnosis. This account, though, seemed particularly relevant at a time when the country is debating health care reform. [Spoiler alert] The patient, a sixty-four year old woman who is pretty clearly from the working class, loses her ability to walk because of weakness in her legs: she is suffering from a copper deficiency. It turns out that her dentures don’t fit properly and she has been piling on the denture cream, which contains zinc, which reduces the minute amounts of copper needed by the body. At the end of the piece we are informed that, while she “still cannot afford new dentures,” she has switched the brand of denture adhesive she uses and is going to physical therapy, though the nerve damage might me irreversable. So: an aging woman’s false teeth don’t fit and she can’t afford new ones — no insurance, you know — and as a consequence she unknowingly poisons herself and causes severe nerve damage in her legs. Still, in the end, she’s got the same old ill-fitting dentures. No insurance, you know. And the various mouthpieces of the medical-industrial complex and their political defenders are making up shit about a very modest healt care reform proposal creating “death panels” so as to quietly dispose of grandma on the cheap. One would like to ask them what they propose to do for people like the woman in the Times story, since they have such deep concern for the weak and unprotected.
. . . that does not lower costs or achieve fundamental reform. That is the “health care bill” that will emerge from Congress “before the end of the year.” Obama should veto it, but he won’t, since he has already bargained away most of the really progressive ideas he campaigned on in order to achieve the sort of fake consensus that Washington so dearly loves. I’ll be dead and my ashes scattered on the river before the US sees fundamental change in is disastrous health care system.
I usually wait for the transcripts and news summaries rather than watching TV, but yesterday, because I am keyed up about the subject, I wanted to hear President Obama’s remarks on health care reform. That meant turning on CNN. The remarks were scheduled to begin at 3:15, but didn’t actually begin until a few minutes after four o’clock. That meant watching forty-five minutes of CNN, god help me. I didn’t really watch for forty-five minutes because I kept walking out of the room or putting the sound on mute. It’s an established fact that every minute watching CNN lowers your IQ by a point; if I’d watched for the entire run-up to Obama’s talk, Carole would have had to put me in a home.
When I first tuned in, someone named Rick Sanchez was talking about the coup in Honduras. Sanchez was making a comparison between Manuel Zelaya and Fidel Castro. Zelaya, you see, wears a big hat and Castro smoked a big cigar, so they are ipso facto and without a doubt exactly the same. Sanchez forgot to mention that Zelaya is the democratically elected president of Honduras. Just never came up. Lots of archival footage of Castro, though. The expert brought in to confirm our worst fears about the trouble in Honduras was none other than Otto Reich, who was described as having “worked for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.” No mention was made (while I was listening) to the fact that Reich had called Latin American leaders in 2002 to express US support for the coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Perhaps they mentioned it when I had the sound muted. Sanchez, with his roll-on tan, blow-dried hair, and the bonhomie of a megachurch youth minister, is obviously a past master of the booga-booga-booga school of political fear mongering. Next, though, came half an hour of exquisite vacuity as Rick Sanchez turned his attention (is that what you would call it?) to the subject of health care reform.
Before bringing in his guests, Sanchez was careful to frame the president’s remarks as a response to a “crisis” that had developed because the CBO had come out with some numbers suggesting health care reform would not save money. [For some actual facts and policy options, see this piece in TNR; also: these notes from Matt Yglesias.] And because “even members of his own party” were “turning against” reform. I can’t really do justice to the genius of the framing in a summary, but suffice it to say that it was masterful. After all, the phrase “the white House is scrambling to respond” and variations were endlessly repeated. Every effort was made — quite successfully — to confuse politics with policy. As I said, masterful.
Well, I was going to go on to describe the ensuing conversation, but there really isn’t any point. Snachez brought in CNN’s congressional correspondent, another member of the tribe, Sanjay Gupta, who decided not to accept an appointment as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, I conclude, because he didn’t like the idea of working for a living, as opposed to opining. And for broad perspective, Sanchez brought in Republicn congressman Roy Blunt. It was quite a performance and it accomplished exactly what it set out to do: Anyone who watched the entire half-hour run-up to the president’s remarks on CNN would be stupider about the subject than when they began. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?
Look, the health care “debate” currently taking place in the US is between the center-right and the far right. Couldn’t we give the center-right a chance to make its case? Apparently not on CNN.
Update: I forgot to mention yesterday that, apparently in order to increase the stupidity feedback loop to excruciating and brain-numbing levels, CNN run’s a Twitter feed as a crawler beneath Rick Sanchez’s tanned face, to which he sometimes smugly replies. Which makes the whole thing “interactive” studpdity, which is a purer and more valuable blend, apparently.