Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 1, 2009

SHAMELESS.... After watching RNC Chairman Michael Steele's new television ad on health care, The Atlantic's Patrick Appel wrote, "Shoot me now." Describing Steele as having "the fake earnestness of a vacuum cleaner salesman," Appel added, "It's surreal witnessing how unprincipled the national GOP has become."

"Unprincipled" isn't the first adjective that comes to mind, but this is a family blog so it'll have to do. For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, Steele tells viewers, "When you disagree with Washington, how come they act like it's your problem? That's what the Democrats have done with health care. They say you're the problem." I have no idea what any of this means.

Steele proceeds to tout "a new Seniors' Bill of Rights," that would prevent lawmakers from taking a series of radical steps that exists only in the twisted imaginations of Republicans. The dimwitted RNC chairman concludes, "Oh, and President Obama, it's not too late to change your mind. Stand with us and stand with senior citizens. After all, they've earned it."

Anyone who can watch the whole thing without pounding your head against a hard surface is a stronger person than I am. An ad like this is so breathtakingly stupid, and is so shameless in its cynical assumptions about the gullibility of the nation, it's literally painful.

The strategy is straightforward enough: Steele thinks he can kill the reform the nation needs by scaring the hell out of seniors with ridiculous lies. If Steele were a sane, responsible person, he'd choose a different path. After all, just last week, Steele said -- within a 24-hour timeframe -- that Medicare is a) a great government program that Democrats are trying to undermine and the GOP is trying to protect; and b) a terrible program that doesn't work and should probably be privatized. And this only came after Steele ran one of the all-time dumbest op-eds to ever run on health care policy.

A lesser man might think it'd be a good time to let someone else run with the ball for a while. But not Michael Steele. He's not very bright, and he's counting on you to be equally unintelligent.

In terms of substance, the Media Matters Action Network fact-checks the ad, point by point. In terms of politics, the RNC is running the "Medi-scare" ad on national cable and in Florida, which not incidentally, is home to a lot of seniors.

Steele is counting on a lot of elderly Americans to be just foolish enough to believe a weak con job. We'll see if he's right.

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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This is a family blog? I fear some of my comments may have strayed over the fargin line.

Posted by: Shalimar on September 1, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's an add with all the credibility, seriousness, and insight of Michael Steele.

Posted by: Sisyphus on September 1, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'd love to believe this will backfire, but no one ever lost an election by scaring the seniors.

Posted by: gradysu on September 1, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

I would remind you that bullshit in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that coherence in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on September 1, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Its a terrible thing to waste ones mind.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on September 1, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, he's right, Steve. You can't watch the screaming, moronic seniors who want government out of Medicare without coming to the conclusion that Mr. Steele has tapped into a vein of the highest-grade stupid. Stand back, this one will be a gusher.

Posted by: Antonius on September 1, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

You would think enough seniors would be able to remember which party was for the creation of things like Social Security and Medicare, and which one was against it. It is always a sad day when stupid seems to be winning the debate.

Posted by: qwerty on September 1, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

There is such a simple way to counter all this: say the Democratic plan is to let people keep private insurance with new protections OR to let anyone who prefers buy into Medicare. That would be the end of the elderly strategy the GOP is pursuing. Dems ARE largely responsible for the confusion and misinformation that is out there!

Posted by: Theda Skocpol on September 1, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

The music alone is enough to make me scream

Posted by: martin on September 1, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

"You have absolutely no reason, none, to trust our word or our actions at this point." - RNC Chairman Michael Steele on Fox 2/13/09

Posted by: mr. irony on September 1, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

"...so shameless in its cynical assumptions about the gullibility of the nation..."

Let me dissect and correct this statement:

"shameless" WTF. We do not do shame in the republican party. The democrat party is the apology party!

"cynical assumptions" WTF. Nothing cynical about these. We flat out lie. We know we lie. There is no penalty for lying. We will continue to lie.

"gullibility" WTF. BS. Ignorance and stupidity are the key factors here. Statistically, 25% of the population will believe our lies. Another 40% will be totally confused, throw up their hands in surrender, believe that both sides must be lying, and half believe our lies.

We count on our corporate media to perform their assigned roles of 'he said - he said', adding to the confusion, and providing an ongoing echo chamber for our message.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on September 1, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

As they say, the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. Deuterium and modern Republicanism are just subtypes.

Posted by: DH Walker on September 1, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Call your mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, grandparents and other relatives -- tell them what's up, guide them through the information they need, and tell them to get in touch with their friends. Help them if necessary, to explain what is at stake here, and build a movement to counter the "health scare industry's" propaganda.

They'll love you for it, when they realize what they gained, compared to the con that's being perpetrated today.

Posted by: SteinL on September 1, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I have to add: is there any provision in any Republican plan to offer subsidies for acting lessons?

I mean, ok, Steele did manage to keep his extended middle finger hidden while saying his lines, so I guess that's something.

Posted by: DH Walker on September 1, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Steele tells viewers, "When you disagree with Washington, how come they act like it's your problem?

Maybe Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) of Kansas can clarify that for you Steele! [from just two threads down GO BE A GROWN UP"] Even the R's can't keep their lame story straight!

Posted by: Kevin on September 1, 2009 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Vomitu Sancti

Posted by: GTrollop on September 1, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

99.999% of Americans would watch this without thinking it's in any way deceitful. Thank you, Democrats, for completely failing to discredit the lies all last month. Now we're just going to get more and more of them.

Posted by: Steve M. on September 1, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Fifteen years ago, my father suffered what turned out to be a medical emergency. Being stubborn, he was prepared to grin and bear it. My mother was PO'd about his attitude. She wisely contacted a Kaiser registered nurse, described my dad's symptoms, and was told he required immediate attention. An ambulance was dispatched, and the story had a happy ending.

Later, Kaiser attempted to bill them for the ambulance. My father was a retired administrator for the Public Health service and wasn't buffaloed. He contacted the MD who had performed his surgery, who (angrily) reassured him that he would personally straighten it all out. He did, and that was that. (As well, of course, my folks were fortunate enough to have been covered in the first place).

But another elderly, more vulnerable individual who didn't know the score could easily have been stressed out their minds when confronted with such a bill. Instead of contacting the physician, they might have contacted another bean counter, and been told they were indeed on the hook. Or not known where to turn at all, and done nothing.

In fairness, I believe that particular error was an honest one by Kaiser. I've since dealt with them a number of times on behalf of another elderly relative, have had ambulances dispatched, and all's been well. I do not extend such good faith to the operating procedures of other health insurers, however. I consider them nothing less than organized racketeers.

My obvious point is that people and institutions that prey on the elderly and vulnerable are the scum of the earth. Or, in the case of Steele and the GOP, those that prey on their fears. They are evil. If I were the type, I would pray to God to strike them down.

Instead, I'm forced to endure the ongoing convolutions of an enfeebled democratic party. I alternate between outright despair and thin hope that they will manage to do the right thing.

And if indeed they fail to do the right thing, the just thing, in bringing those racketeers to heel, goddamn them too.

Posted by: JW on September 1, 2009 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

This is just like his clumsy attempts to build a connection between Republicans and the Hip Hop culture.

Steele: Say my man, whaassuuuuuup!!!?? What it be like houseboy? You be da man. We be sorry about dat Jim Crow, and Rodney King, and Katrina and shit. Ma bad.

Posted by: Banana-Eating Jungle Monkey on September 1, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

AARP could do all of us a favor by broadcasting the truth and identifying the liars and the lies. Unfortunately, I think they are probably as compromised as the other corporate shills. I just joined AARP, but don't hold a lot of hope for them.

As many have said here, our population is so ignorant and deluded as to be susceptible to lies and to follow the liars.

st john

Posted by: st john on September 1, 2009 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is a fool. The more sane Republicans must cringe when they see him on TV.

Posted by: OC on September 1, 2009 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

99.999% of Americans would watch this without thinking it's in any way deceitful. Thank you, Democrats, for completely failing to discredit the lies all last month. Now we're just going to get more and more of them.

Sad but true.

Democrats have ZERO message management on this issue.

Debunking "death panels" once or twice is not enough. Dems should have created an alternative narrative about the "real" death panels and then turned around and painted a real horror show about what costs will look for seniors if there is now reform.

They are still laboring under the illusion that this is sausage making rather than myth making.

You don't rely on the legislative process to turn around a battleship in a bathtub. Sure, change will necessarily be evolutionary, but the first big change needs to break the hammerlock that private insurers have on health insurance and the lobbying groups that support the industry. The only way to do that is to tap into the already existing outrage at the status quo and focus it on an alternative.

Instead, the Republicans tap into the lizard brain outrage and redirect it through lies.

Gee, it's not as if they haven't done that for the past sixty years! Who could have seen it coming?

Posted by: lobbygow on September 1, 2009 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats have ZERO message management on this issue.

Take a look at the Sunday talk show guest lists then, explain to me how Democrats are supposed to manage the message when Liz Cheney gets more air time than the Speaker of the House.

This is why the rethugs made so much noise about the Fairness Doctrine. Rupert Murdoch and several other corporate interests own all of our media. When Obama and the Democratic leadership conceded the issue, they made their beds.

Posted by: Winkandanod on September 1, 2009 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

I couldn't be happier that Steele did the commercial himself. He might be able to sell to his base, but did he ever have any appeal to the middle?

Posted by: tomj on September 1, 2009 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama: "Nobody Is Talking About Cutting Medicare Benefits." During a health care tele-town hall with AARP members, President Obama said: "'Nobody's trying to change what does work in the system...We are trying to change what doesn't work in the system...Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits. I just want to make that absolutely clear,' he said emphatically." [AARP.org, 7/29/09]

What they are talking about is "bending the cost curve": saving enormous sums of money in Medicare by substituting more "cost-effective" treatments for expensive but less "cost-effective" treatments among the aged population whose costs are close to 80% of all medical costs.

There is no "fact" substantiating a claim that such a thing can be done without removing some benefits that are now available. What's more, some proponents of health care reform firmly advocate that such a substitution would be a wise outcome should one of the proposed laws pass.

In this case, as in others, what is presented as a "fact" is an unbelievable claim by proponents; or a set of contradictory claims by proponents; or both.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on September 1, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

I think we need a post-election version of The Great Schlep, in which younger voters/citizens take it as their responsibility to communicate with their elderly relatives, and do whatever they can to make sure the old ones have accurate information, and are making their decisions about what to support based on the truth, not on fear.

Posted by: Ohioan on September 1, 2009 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

How many Bills of Rights does America need?

And why do Republicans always try to get us to sign something that sounds quasi-legal, like the Contract With America, the Seniors Bill of Rights. I have a feeling Michael Steele is getting ready to ask me for money.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on September 1, 2009 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Take a look at the Sunday talk show guest lists then, explain to me how Democrats are supposed to manage the message when Liz Cheney gets more air time than the Speaker of the House.

There would be no need for a "fairness doctrine" if a prominent Democratic senator or congressman held a press conference and called out the Republicans for lying in clear, inflammatory language. They would be on the next available talk show slot or at least in the news cycle.

The GOP is in perpetual campaign mode -- the Dems need to counter forcefully and unequivocally.

My guess is that most of them are afraid of pissing off industry donors and that's the reason we don't see a compelling counter narrative.

Rahm called progressive blogs putting pressure on Blue Dog Democrats "stupid."

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Having a public option available is favored by a majority of voters -- and many representatives. It should NOT be hard to tap into that.

What the hell are they afraid of? Being called names? They're going to get called socialists no matter what, so you might as well go for what you think is best and demonize the hell out of the opposition.

I used to believe in this consensus stuff until the healthcare debate started. The problem is crystal clear -- the insurance companies do not want to give up one scintilla of profit and they'll spend mounds of cash to preserve the status quo.

No one said it was going to be easy. Corporate media may be a factor, but it's no excuse.

Posted by: lobbygow on September 1, 2009 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

unfortunately it'll still play to the GOP base

Posted by: jamie on September 1, 2009 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

lobbygow: Exactly. Hindsight has 20/20 and all, but it's not as though Dems haven't seen this routine before. How about this: if, over the course of the summer, there had been an unending stream of personal hell-stories of insurance predation - rescission, bankruptcy, denial of critical services, unnecessary deaths, etc. - one after another on America's teevees, this thing would be a done deal. Skip the sappy, heartrending muzak; just put the folks on and let them speak to America. It's not as though these stories would be hard to find - everyone knows someone who's been screwed, and that's the point. And of course, every time you tie these heartbreaking tales of fraud and malicious venality to a Democratic solution. I mean, christ, how hard is that? When will Dems/liberals/progressives in charge "get it" that expecting a teevee suckling America to 'come around' to the 'truth' and good intentions is, and will always be, a losing proposition? One does NOT have to lie or amorally manipulate (we gots our shadow evil twin Repukelicans for that); one DOES have to win hearts and minds. Notice: hearts first, then minds. This thing should've been a slam dunk; by no means easy, but in the end a blowout. F*** all the analysis of "independent minded" Dems and "lockstep" Repukes; they win these skirmishes (which they have, even though they're losing the battle - and herein I think lies the strategic error) because they fight. Sure, they fight like hysterical women, but they fight. If Team Obama and the Super Dems had come out swinging (so to speak), the end result policy-wise might not have been terribly different, but our country's discourse and self-narrative would be qualitatively different (as in better). Damn, boys and girls, just step up to the plate already. Thank god for Anthony Weiner, Howard Dean, and a late but welcome Chuck Schumer; without them this fiasco would've been unendurable and irredeemably toxic. Christ, I hope the powers that be are taking careful notes.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on September 1, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP is bargaining in bad faith. The GOP knows Obama wants to be inclusive and they are manipulating the President's desire in order to buy some time while they pay for Steele's ads, send anti-reform Tea Bag tour buses to our towns and encourage outside agitators to disrupt our town hall meetings.

Obama will find no clearer indication of the GOP's intention to throw wrenches in the health care gears than Steele's ads. Steele is not just offering a contrary opinion he's spitting in Obama's face.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on September 2, 2009 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that the Republican Party has presented us with an opportunity we cannot ignore. We should sigh heavily, capitulate to their demands, and decide that the only public option they seem to favor and the public understands is Medicare, so we propose allowing anyone the opportunity to buy in. This might also reduce the resistance of seniors. Am I crazy?

Posted by: frankk on September 2, 2009 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

Also in the Senior's Bill of Rights:

1. The right to not have your grandchildren taken away and eaten. [Democrats make no such promise.]

2. The right to not be shot and killed by liberals for leaving your blinker on. [Democrats make no such promise.]

3. The right to watch Matlock without being violently beaten to death in a home invasion. [Democrats make no such promise.]

4. The right to eat at Olive Garden at 4:30 without having your car riddled with bullets by a dope fiend. [Democrats make no such promise.]

5. The right to free and open erections. [Democrats make no such promise.]

6. The right to forget a name or two occasionally without having some union scum steal your identity on The Google. [Democrats make no such promise.]

Posted by: chrenson on September 2, 2009 at 7:51 AM | PERMALINK

A pitchman who's lost his marbles tries to hustle a crowd that is increasingly losing theirs.

Posted by: bob h on September 2, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

You have no idea what "They say you're the problem" means?

Here's a hint: Every poor bamboozled healthcare protester who's spoken up - often in a very misinformed way - has been called names by Democrats. Redneck. Racist. Teabagger. Etc.

Let's put blame where it belongs: with the bamboozlers. The big pols who take insurance company money, and the millionaire "reporters" who cover them.

Posted by: Tracer Hand on September 2, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

If they give someone else the ball, I'll give Steele a pair of scissors to run with.

Posted by: VaLiberal on September 2, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

GOLD STAR for Tracer Hand!

"Liberals" will continue shooting themselves in the foot for the foreseeable future.

"A pitchman who's lost his marbles tries to hustle a crowd that is increasingly losing theirs."

Obama? Careful there!

Posted by: willyjsimmons on September 2, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I just got back from a 10 day vacation visiting with family in Ohio, W. VA and Virginia. They don't know what to think about the health-care debate, and this ad would make perfect sense to them, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Republicans have figured out how to talk to them. Why can't Democrats? Just reviling them reinforces their predisposition to view intelligent discourse as snobbish condescencion from the "Liberal Elite."

Posted by: CU on September 2, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

"...the Media Matters Action Network fact-checks the ad..."

That and two or three dollars will get you a gallon of gasoline.

How many of those Florida seniors will be checking with the Media Matters Action Network?

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on September 2, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

If the Republicans are so stupid, why are the Democrats always playing defense, and very often losing? Stop calling people names. Get a message.

Posted by: R Antaya on September 2, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about terminally stupid messaging, how about putting down those middle class people who are trying to make a living selling vacuum cleaners? Or the tens of millions of middle class people who try to sell a whole lot of products or services. What a frickin' idiot!

The Daily Howler pisses me off frequently, but he's certainly dead right on this one if you've been following it. Patrick Appel just succeeded in reinforcing one of the Republicans' central talking points for the past half-century: liberals look down their noses at you.

Posted by: urban legend on September 3, 2009 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK



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