Juan Williams

I know you all are desperate for my thoughts on the Juan Williams matter.  I think Juan diagnosed it exactly correctly in comments I just heard on TV this morning.  NPR has been looking for an excuse to get rid of him due to all the Fox News commentating and they hit upon this as an excuse.   I don’t have a problem with it because I don’t like the idea of an NPR reporter providing fake liberal cover on Fox News.  On the other hand, it does strike me as  a mistake to fire a reporter over a single statement that’s really not all that inflammatory (especially taken in the full context).

The asymmetry (again)

As you know, one of my bugaboos is media types (and my students) insisting on creating symmetry in politics where it does not exist.  Sure, there are liberal nuts, but they are just nothing like conservative nuts in scope or influence.  Kevin Drum proposes a theory on why:

Here’s my list: (1) Conservatives go nuts faster. It took a couple of years for anti-Bush sentiment to really get up to speed. Both Clinton and Obama got the full treatment within weeks of taking office. (2) Conservatives go nuts in greater numbers. Two-thirds of Republicans think Obama is a socialist and upwards of half aren’t sure he was born in America. Nobody ever bothered polling Democrats on whether they thought Bush was a fascist or a raging alcoholic, but I think it’s safe to say the numbers would have been way, way less than half. (3) Conservatives go nuts at higher levels. There are lots of big-time conservatives — members of Congress, radio and TV talkers, think tankers — who are every bit as hard edged as the most hard edged tea partier. But how many big-time Democrats thought Bush had stolen Ohio? Or that banks should have been nationalized following the financial collapse? (4) Conservatives go nuts in the media. During the Clinton era, it was talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. These days it’s Fox News (and talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page). Liberals just don’t have anything even close. Our nutballs are mostly relegated to C-list blogs and a few low-wattage radio stations. Keith Olbermann is about as outrageous as liberals get in the big-time media, and he’s a shrinking violet compared to guys like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I think it is basically a combination of #2 and #4.  I think it is entirely possible that the personality traits consistent with being a politically conservative are likewise consistent with a certain “paranoid style” that makes some conservatives more likely to believe ridiculous things.  Throw in the right-wing media noise machine– especially Fox News– and there you go: nuttiness asymmetry.

Chart of the day (it’s the Medicare spending, stupid)

Sure, the long-term finances of Social Security aren’t the greatest, but when people rant and rave about the future costs of Social Security and ignore Medicare, they just really have no idea what they are talking about.  The long-term fiscal committments of our country are absolutely dominated by the projected rise in Medicare spending.  This is why it is so damn important to get health care spending under control (and the ACA was really just a very modest start).  Anyway, here’s the chart from the title:

And here’s Dave Leonhardt from the column accompanying this:

The huge budget deficits that the country faces in coming decades are, above all, because of Medicare. The program will have to cover growing numbers of baby boomers while health costs are likely to keep going up.

It won’t be possible to pay the bill by cutting other programs. They’re not big enough. Making big cuts to everything but Medicare and Social Security — shrinking the military and other programs to their smallest share of the economy since World War II — might save $200 billion a year by 2035. But by then, annual Medicare spending is projected to grow by more than $1 trillion.

So any deficit strategy needs to focus on Medicare.

Leonhardt continues with (what strikes me as) a great proposal for keeping costs down:

In the new issue of the journal Health Affairs, two doctors, both former Medicare officials, have laid out a plan to do so. It would give expensive new treatments three years to prove that they worked better than cheaper treatments, or their reimbursement rates would be cut to that of the cheaper treatments.

I understand that the idea will strike some people as — gasp — rationing. More modest ideas were shouted down during the debate over health reform. But I’d urge anyone who does not like the doctors’ plan to think a bit about how Medicare should be changed. The status quo isn’t really an option.

We waste huge amounts of money on medical treatments that are no better than way cheaper options.  That simply has to end.  Leonhardt runs through some compelling examples you should read.   Take away, though– our long-term fiscal health is largely about Medicare.



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