Posts Tagged ‘Matt Yglesias’

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America’s] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

The Disparity Between the President’s Foreign and Domestic Powers

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Matt Yglesias makes an extremely important and fundamental observation regarding our system of government:

If the President wants to do something like implement a domestic policy proposal he campaigned on—charge polluters for global warming emissions, for example—he faces a lot of hurdles. He needs majority support on a House committee or three. He also needs majority support on a Senate committee or three. Then he needs to get a majority in the full House of Representatives. And then he needs to de facto needs a 60 percent supermajority in the Senate. And then it’s all subject to judicial review.

But if Scooter Libby obstructs justice, the president has an un-reviewable, un-checkable power to offer him a pardon or clemency. If Bill Clinton wants to bomb Serbia, then Serbia gets bombed. If George W Bush wants to hold people in secret prisons and torture them, then tortured they shall be. And if Barack Obama wants to issue a kill order on someone or other, then the order goes out. And if Congress actually wants to remove a president from office, it faces extremely high barriers to doing so.

Whether or not you approve of this sort of executive power in the security domain, it’s a bit of a weird mismatch.

Harry Reid’s Heroism

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again:

If you’re trying to follow the ins and outs of the health care debate, there’s no better source than Ezra Klein. But for the moment, I wanted to cite one particular post of Klein’s citing Matt Yglesias:

[L]iberals have rarely found themselves hailing Reid’s leadership. But the fact of the matter is that there’s almost no precedent for the legislative mission he’s been asked to accomplish of turning 59 Democrats, one loosely Democrat-aligned Independent, and two slightly moderate Republicans into 60 votes for a package that’s simultaneously a dramatic expansion of the welfare state and a measure that reduces both short- and long-term deficits.

On top of the intrinsically difficult nature of the task, he’s facing a really ugly political situation back home. Because Beltway mores dictate that you can never hold a member of congress morally culpable for actions undertaken in the name of raw politically self-interest, it must have been very tempting for Reid to get distracted. But he’s stayed on point and focused, dealt with the timid members of his caucus, dealt with the ignorant members of his caucus, dealt with the egomaniacal members of his caucus, and dealt with the all-too-typical Senatorial combination of policy ignorance, egomania, and political cowardice among some members. For his troubles it looks like we’re going to get a bill that liberals feel churlish about at best. But it’s really an extraordinary achievement.

America’s Schizophrenic Abortion Politics

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

The Stupak amendment has brought out the least attractive side of many progressive pundits:  a doctrinal, ideological, visceral disregard for opposing views. Right wingers regularly accuse liberals and progressives of this, and perhaps I cannot see it on most issues as I am firmly in the liberal camp. Or perhaps on abortion, there is an element of ideological certainty which is different than on other issues. I don’t see the same knee-jerk dismissal of opposing views as I do on the issue of abortion with regards to government intervention in the society or economy,  various social issues, or American empire. It was fair to say, as most liberals did, that opposing the stimulus was madness, and the arguments against it were often fatally flawed. It was fair to label the “enhanced interrogation techniques” torture, for that is what they were. It is fair to see homophobia as the greatest motivator of opposition to gay marriage, even if it is not the only one. It was fair to call much of the opposition and debate over health care reform “unhinged” – as the debate bore little relation to the moderate bill being proposed.

Yet, as someone who grew up a Catholic, who went to Catholic schools all my life, who has read and wrestled with Catholic doctrine and thought, I get frustrated reading the ignorant and arrogant ramblings of many pro-choice pundits as they discuss the real motivations of the pro-life movement. By ignoring the stated motivations, these pro-choice pundits are able to attribute the opposition to abortion to an anti-woman animus. It seems to me such dismissals are meant to avoid tackling the core question, which is difficult, and nearly impossible to resolve or even discuss. As such, abortion is perhaps the subject least subject to the type of technocratic solution that most Democratic politicians and policy wonks seem to favor.

(Side note: The attempt by the Obama administration to work on this issue was commendable though – attempting to reduce abortion through contraception and education. Unfortunately, the Catholic bishops scuttled this deal as they oppose contraception as well as abortion – a longstanding position. As if to prove their clueless-ness, Matt Yglesias and Atrios at that point stated that this proved that the Catholic Church didn’t really think abortion was murder – because if they did, they would set aside their silly opposition to contraception. While I agree that the Church’s position on contraception (as well as sex in general) is silly, only someone who knows nothing about the Catholic Church would be surprised at this or think it calls into questiontheir opposition to abortion, as I explained at the time.)

In the midst of the fallout from the Stupak amendment, pro-choice pundits once again demonstrated that they misunderstand the politics of abortion. Atrios, for example, tweeted:

2010’s gonna be a bloodbath if dems vote to take away abortion rights

This impression – that support for keeping the status quo on abortion rights is popular – is in fact now, and has long been, untrue. A majority of the country does favor keeping abortion legal, but much of the same majority believes it should be harder to get abortions and supports significant conscience opt-outs regarding abortion. This majority includes a majority of women. Most people do not see abortion as simply “a medical procedure,” but as a profound act. Matt Yglesias dismisses this distinction made by the majority of Americans as “arbitrary” and as merely part of an effort to delegitimize abortion.

Yglesias, a favorite blogger of mine, wrote a similarly clueless post – in which he suggested that nothing was achieved with the Stupak amendment – as Republicans continued to oppose it, the National Right to Life continued to oppose it, and the Catholic bishops only supported the amendment rather than the whole bill. Of course, Yglesias ignores the clearest goal of the Stupak amendment – to get pro-life Democrats on board, without whom the bill wouldn’t have passed. As to the groups Yglesias addressed, the National Right to Life committee gives the pro-life movement a bad name – as it has become entirely co-opted by the Republican Party and now merely distributes propaganda for the party. But the bishops had previously said they would not support any specific legislation, even as they supported the goals of this health care reform. Their only reason to oppose the bill was whether or not it would be “abortion-neutral.” The Stupak amendment removed their opposition – and even lead Cardinal Francis George to call Republican Minority Leader Boehner to make sure “the GOP didn’t play any games,” blocking health care reform on the pretense of a pro-life position. Yglesias failed to take these into account because they interfered with the point he was trying to make: that pro-lifers are insincere in their opposition to abortion and instead just oppose the Democratic Party and the rights of women.

What Democratic politicians realize – but progressive pundits do not – is that Democrats will only win if they can with the Catholic vote. And the largest impediment to winning the Catholic vote is the issue of abortion, for which Catholics bear a great deal of the blame for the schizophrenic position of the majority. There is a hard core of conservative Catholics, but they are a small portion of America’s largest religious group, which includes almost all of the fastest growing ethnic subset, Latinos. They are also the ultimate swing vote, having voted for the presidential candidate who won the popular vote (and except in 2000, the winner), in every election since 1960 save Richard Nixon’s 1968 win.

At the same time, the attitudes of younger Americans have also moved away from the Democratic Party line, as the young favor gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and restrictions on abortion.

If Democrats do not figure out how to either convert pro-life voters to pro-choice voters, or to soften their opposition, they will not hold onto power. So, what are Democrats to do? To win over the Catholic vote – and a significant percentage of the younger pro-life vote, there are a few simple steps:

  • Respect. They can stop using the propagandistic terms “anti-choice” or “anti-woman” to describe those who disagree with them on abortion. They should be consistent and either refer to both sides by the terms they prefer: pro-choice versus pro-life; or describe the issue more precisely as anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights.
  • Civility. They can stop questioning the motivations of their opponents and accept the rationale offered. Nothing turns off someone who disagrees with you on one issue, but agrees on most others more than claiming that their opposition is based on something they claim it is not.
  • Dialogue. Rather than dismissing concerns about abortion as “arbitrary,” take some time to think through the issue from the beginning. I find it somewhat incongruous to consider a zygote a full human being. It’s much harder though to distinguish between a fetus who has not yet taken a breath of air from one who has. That border does seem quite arbitrary. Consider – for a moment – whether or not pro-lifers are actually only concerned with keeping women in their “proper place.” Consider that they may be wrong, but that they are raising some valid arguments. Any political philosophy is successful to the extent it can deal with and subsume the arguments opposing it. On abortion, the Democrats are failing miserably.
  • Common ground. Keep working on reducing the number of abortions. The Catholic Church and thus most pro-life organizations may continue to oppose such measures, but it will win over the center. In fact, better yet, just pass a bill that reduces the number of abortions without worrying about whether or not you have their support. Make the Democratic Party the party that will fight to keep abortions legal, but will help reduce them as it was under Bill Clinton.
  • Attack partisan groups. If – when – the National Right to Life committee and other pro-life groups continue to shrilly oppose the Democratic Party, isolate and attack these groups as not attempting to find a solution to this issue.

Coincidentally, this bears a great deal of resemblance to the approach Obama has taken to his political opponents generally, including on the issue of abortion – using respect and civility as a potent weapon. And this is why both serious Democratic candidates in 2008 sought to soften their pro-choice stands.

[Image by Steve Rhodes licensed under Creative Commons.]

An Empire or a Just Society?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Charles Krauthammer wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard that is getting some attention – a piece apparently following up a speech he gave last week. His theme: Decline Is a Choice: The New Liberalism and the end of American ascendancy.

The criticism from liberals has been fast and furious, swatting away at Krauthammer’s many lies and distortions: Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Joe Klein, FireDogLake, Robert Farley.

But from the right, Krauthammer seems to be finding some traction (along with the Cheneys) in creating this narrative about Obama – and his attack has the advantage of being a comprehensive critique of Barack Obama’s administration and its promise. I don’t think the responses from the liberals so far have defused the attack, which I think will gain traction as time goes on.

Krauthammer’s critique is a profound one: that Obama’s New Liberalism – domestically and internationally – makes the conscious choice to let America decline as a global empire. As Krauthammer explains it (updating Niall Ferguson’s more honest description of the choice in his Colossus), America faces a choice between creating a just society at home or maintaining an empire abroad. As a neoconservative, Krauthammer believes we must choose empire because we are the one, special, unique nation, exalted above all others. The declining dollar; the deficits; the withdrawal from Iraq; the rise of China, India, Brazil, and other emerging powers; the scaling back of the panicked urgency in responding to terrorism; the effort to engage in diplomacy; the acclaim for Obama: all of these become points in the Obama narrative being created.

Thus far, the liberal response has been tepid – swatting back the lies and distortions. (For example, most of these dire situations undermining American power are the direct result of Bush administration policies that Krauthammer supported or failed to object to.)

[Image by B MOR Creeeative licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Lessons of 1993/1994 (cont.)

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Usually I try to contextualize a writer – for example by saying what publication they write for. Other times, I presume the name conveys enough. But I don’t know Sean Trende from Adam. However, he has an interesting column published in Real Clear Politics about what he calls the “myth circulating in the blogosphere and the punditry.” (He gives Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, and Senator Jim DeMint as examples; I also made this point.) He says this myth is “threatening the Democrats’ majorities.” He describes it:

It goes like this: In 1994, Democrats failed to pass a healthcare bill, and they lost their majorities. Ergo, if Democrats fail to pass a healthcare bill in 2009, they will be at serious risk of losing their majorities in 2010, so to save their majorities, they should make certain above all else to get something passed.

He parses through the data – read his column for the figures – and concludes:

In other words, the problem for Democrats in 1994 was not that they didn’t support Clinton’s agenda enough. It was that they got too far out in front of their conservative-leaning districts and supported the President too much.

Overall, I found his piece rather persuasive – as Trende styles himself a poor man’s Nate Silver – at least on the narrow question of whether or not a Democrat in a right-leaning district would be hurt by rejecting any controversial measure pushed by Obama. But what he doesn’t deal with is the counterfactual – as there isn’t the data available in the set he is looking for to take this on. (Reading a bit more of Trende, it also seems he isn’t that sympathetic to health care reform or the Democrats – making his adopted pose of concern that a “myth” is “threatening” the Democrats’ power in Washington a bit grating.)  While it’s true that Democrats in right-leaning districts might save their seats by opposing cap-and-trade legislation, the stimulus, and health care reform, the party as a whole will undoubtedly suffer from their failure to advance the issues they were most passionate campaigning on.

Kevin Drum – in a post which is overall worth reading about why he is optimistic about reform – makes this persuasive counterpoint:

[I]f they [the Democrats] cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they’re probably doomed next year.  Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.

This is exactly the counterfactual that Trende doesn’t address – and it was the fear of Bill Kristol and many other Republicans in 1994 that this is exactly what would happen if the Democrats passed a successful health care reform. It clearly seems to be the fear many Republican leaders are feeling now – as they seem determined to resist any pressure to work towards a bill they can accept in favor of simply continuing with the unsustainable status quo.

Defending the Use of Reconciliation on Health Care

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

A meme among left wing bloggers in recent days (spawned no doubt on JournoList) has been variations on a particular defense of the use of the reconciliation process to achieve health care reform. Here’s Ezra Klein for example (though Matt Yglesias made an almost identical point):

Reconciliation began as a limited way to expedite passage of the budget bill that came at the end of each year. It did this by limiting debate and short-circuiting the filibuster. But year by year, administration by administration, it’s becoming more significant. It was used to pass much of Reagan’s economic agenda. Clinton expanded it to balance the budget, reform welfare and change the tax code. George W. Bush used it for tax cuts, trade authority and drilling in ANWR.

I wasn’t aware of this history when I wrote this earlier post suggesting it wasn’t the best option. But I think the political analysis still stands. Unless there is some hook that makes a certain set of facts stick, it will do nothing to derail the impression that most Americans barely attention get that health care reform was only able to get through a Cognress with a strong Democratic majority by trickery. This is a bad thing – though not worse than no bill at all in my opinion. I suggested:

A show of force whereby Obama pushes the Democrats to forthrightly endorse a bill would be – and play – much better in my opinion. Shenanigans – while legal – can be forgotten in time if the legislation proves popular; but a show of force would be more effective on almost every other level.

Of course, Obama would need to find some leverage to push people like Senator Ben Nelson – and it’s unclear at the moment what that would be. The best rationale though for pushing the reconciliation process is that it will make such a process unnecessary – as Ezra Klein explains:

If Republicans can kill the bill, that’s their first-best outcome. But if they can’t kill the bill, the second-best outcome, at least for some of them, may be to deal on it. If there’s going to be legislation, Snowe and Collins and Voinovich and a few others might want to see their priorities included rather than simply content themselves with a protest vote against the legislation. Reconciliation might actually get you to 60, because it ensures the endgame includes a bill rather than a failure.

[Image by Greg from Cobb Mountain licensed under Creative Commons.]

Yglesias: “Progressive politics at its best isn’t about bigger government but about attacking privilege and power.”

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Matt Yglesias tells the story of “Ted Kennedy: Deregulator” – and takes away about the conclusion I expected:

The moral of the story isn’t that “regulation is bad” but that progressive politics at its best isn’t about bigger government but about attacking privilege and power. At times that requires more government and more regulation (right now we badly need more regulation of polluters whose carbon dioxide emissions are threatening the viability of the planet) but at times the forces of privilege and power are using existing regulatory structures to re-enforce their own position. Kennedy, rightly, saw no contradiction between his record as a deregulator and his record as a champion of the little guy. [my emphasis]

Yglesias has made the point – and I think he’s right – that right wingers since Reagan have been more ideological than any left wing equivalent. Yglesias – echoing an influential article by Jonathan Chait from a few years ago – attributes this right wing tendendcy towards ideological thinking to the fact that right wingers see government as an inherently bad thing – and oppose many government interventions simply because they are government interventions. Liberals, progressives, and leftists of various sorts also oppose many government interventions; and they support some government interventions; and they believe it oftentimes is worth trying a program to see if it will work rather than sullenly tell everyone that, “The world is as it is,” and there’s nothing to do about it. In this way, they are pragmatists.  (Not all of them – Communists for example believe the state must control the economy and thus are the ideological equivalent of the far right wing. But Communists have little to no role in the leftist movements in America, except in the imagination of the right wing.)

Though conservatives and right wingers like to suggest that Obama or other liberals simply want to have the government controlling everything – and see this as his hidden agenda – they make the mistake of imputing on liberals and other leftists the opposite of their ideology rather than the more subtle goals of liberalism – which are inherently pragmatic and moderate.

Tricking Us Into Real Health Care Reform

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Matt Yglesias posits a legislative maneuver to split the health care legislation into two parts: one with various insurance industry reforms, creating the health insurance exchange, an employer mandate, and a weak and underfunded co-op that would get 60 votes. And a second bill passed through the reconciliation process which would only need 50 votes which would strengthen and tweak the co-op to make it stronger – and get it closer to what progressives want.

To a great degree, those with power can often just push and get away with anything. Look at George W. Bush’s behavior on tax cuts, on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, on the Iraq war – or Bill Clinton on Bosnia. But in this climate, this type of trick isn’t what we need. A show of force whereby Obama pushes the Democrats to forthrightly endorse a bill would be – and play – much better in my opinion. Shenanigans – while legal – can be forgotten in time if the legislation proves popular; but a show of force would be more effective on almost every other level.

The Smearing of Britain’s National Health Service

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Alex Massie is probably right that there are “two essential truths in international health policy,” namely that:

No-one sees fit to copy the National Health Service and no-one sees fit to copy the American system.

But even given this, the right wingers have taken smearing Britain’s National Health Service too far. Chuck Grassley claimed, for example, that “Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would be refused treatment for his brain tumor in England.” As Matt Yglesias pointed out:

[T]here’s actually a two-fold lie here. First Grassley falsely implies that congressional Democrats are proposing to create an NHS-like system. Second, he lies about how the NHS operates. And he pays no price for it.

And despite what Cassandra over at Villainous Company has to say, Grassley is lying. Calling Yglesias an “evil-monger” and saying that “Google is not Matt Yglesias’s friend,” she claims that the drug Senator Kennedy is being prescribed for his tumor is prohibited by the National Health Service. Her source? An “expert” quoted by NewsMax – who forgets to mention that the drug – Temodar – was invented in Britain and has been prescribed by the National Health Service since 2007 2005. The “expert” also claims, the drug would be “available to every American.” Which is true. Every American who can pay for it. And the same was true in Britain even when the National Health Service did refuse to prescribe the drug. Now, of course, in Britain, the drug is actually available to everyone in that country – whether they have the money to spare or not.

This two-fold lie about the National Health Service  is one of the pillars of the right wing smears against the proposed Democratic health care plan – most disasterously used of course by the Investors Business Daily in discussing Stephen Hawking. Hawking later told the Guardian:

I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS,

But that’s still not the point. This whole conversation about Britain’s National Health Service is a distraction. Very few Democrats or liberals or progressives want anything resembling the British system. What is at issue is a plan to improve upon the system we currently have – modest steps. Though, as Ezra Klein explains, the modesty and popularity of what the Democrats are proposing is the reason Cassandra, Senator Grassley, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and other right wingers are pretending the Democrats have proposed something else:

In part, that’s why the debate has had to move toward fear-mongering and lies: There just aren’t that many scary elements in the bills, because the legislation is oriented toward preserving the existing system and avoiding points of controversy.

And so, we face this unhinged debate about totalitarianism – a fearful fantasy – instead of a reality-based discussion of the system we have and how it can be improved upon. Which is why the right wingers spreading these lies and smears and distractions just so they can achieve a political victory and slingshot their way back into power as they did in 1994 should be ashamed.