Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Devil and Keith Olberman

with 6 comments

It’s Friday, which is always bad news on the sensibleness front–if sensibleness is a word.  Yesterday, I had nothing much to do and so ended up doing nothing.  But one of the things I did do was to watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which is an opinion show on MSNBC, and which I normally watch regularly.  Or semi-regularly.

I’m stumbling over myself here, but bear with me.  This is kind of hard to untangle.

Keith Olbermann is a liberal commentator, sort of like the mirror image of Bill O’Reilly over on FoxNews.  My younger son and I started watching both shows back during the last Presidential campaign.  Olbermann is on at eight o’clock, and so is O’Reilly, but O’Reilly reprises first thing in the morning, so we tended to watch Olbermann in the evenings right after dinner.

And I like Olbermann.  He does a version of political stand up comedy that can be very entertaining, even when I don’t agree with it.  He’s often unfair, but I don’t mind that either.  So is O’Reilly, and they’re both running opinion shows.

Just before Christmas–back in October, actually, I think–Olbermann’s elderly father fell out of bed and landed in the hospital with what looked like serious and unfixable problems.  At around that time, Olbermann devoted an entire show to a single “special comment” on the health care/health insurance reform system, a ringing endorsement of the public option and denunciation of the individual mandate.

It was, as far as I’ve seen, the best program Olbermann ever did.  And I think I’d still believe that if the comment hadn’t mirrored my own feelings about health insurance reform exactly.  The talk was well written, cogently argued, passionately delivered, and emotionally and intellectually compelling.

One of the reasons it was all those things is that is was an appeal to a shared moral principle–that is, that Olbermann assumed, wholeheartedly and without embarrassment, that all the people who were listening to him believed that caring for the sick was something each of us owed our fellow human beings because they are our fellow human beings.

Or, to be more specific, I suppose, that it is morally wrong for any one of us to allow other people to die, or to suffer, when it is p;ossible for us to relieve that death or suffering.

This is a principle that, I think, most people would agree with in theory, if not in practice.  And the principle itself does not tell us how to go about making sure we alleviate the suffering and spare the deaths that we can.  I think there is a good case to be made that the only way to do so adequately and equably is to institute some sort of public program, or at least a not-market one.

I’m convoluting that last thing a little.  Let me put it this way:  I think that there is something in the nature of medical care that makes it illsuited to a market approach.  I could go on for some length as to why, but that’s not the subject of this post, so I’ll leave it to later.

What concerns me now is this:  in the time since that comment originally aired,Olbermann went off the rails and completely nuts in terms of any of his segments on opposition to the health care bill, so much so that even Jon Stewart of The Daily Show started mentioning it.

Instead of ripping up people’s arguments, Olbermann began to run segments on how there weren’t any black people at the last tea party rally, for instance, or how all the signs at an anti-health-reform rally were talking points put out by Republican operatives or insurance company lobbyists.

This is the essence of an ad hominem attack–it doesn’t matter if the people at the tea party were all Martian space aliens here to take over the world, the arguments are the arguments.  They’re true or false on their merits.  If Hitler had discovered that the world was round and every decent person on the planet had insisted itwas flat, the world would still be round.

I don’t want to beat the guy up too much here.  His father was dying.  I think it’s probably normal that he wasn’t staying screwed on too tight, if that makes sense.

But that kind of approach to the argument is not only not helpful, it’s positively desstructive.  And, yes, I’ve seen some of the wilder nuts, and I know they’re both infuriating and something worse–but there really are issues, real ones, and they need to be dealt with. 

Because this issue is not going to go away.  Not even a little.  It won’t go away if the bill fails, and it won’t go away if it passes. 

Countdown reran that comment last night, along with anotice that Olbermann’s father had died.

It’s worth listening to if you can get it online at MSNBC or anywhere else.

It is, in fact, the best single speech on the health care issue I’ve heard yet.

Written by janeh

March 19th, 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'The Devil and Keith Olberman'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The Devil and Keith Olberman'.

  1. OK. Long post, but a serious topic, and we’re coming to a decision point on the issue.

    Am I under a moral obligation to help out my fellow man in sickness or injury? I think I am, just as I’m under the same moral obligation to see he doesn’t starve to death or die of thirst.

    Oddly enough, there is no right to potable water under the Constitution, nor in Federal law. Many municipalities sell water, but the operative word is sell, and most break even or make a little money on it, charging the same rate per gallon to rich and poor. Get out beyond the city, and you’re expected to drill your own well and set up your own septic system. Some drink Evian and Dassani, and some drink whatever comes out of the tap—yet I see no protestors saying “Water is a Right!” or demanding the same water Congress drinks.

    Not long after independence, Dr Julius Nyere, President of Tanzania and The Teacher, decreed that so basic a right was water that it should be illegal to sell it. As a result, the people who brought potable water to remote villages and sold it for pennies found other sources of income, and many of those villages had no safe drinking water until The Teacher’s eventual retirement, when they were again allowed to pay for it. Figure the deaths from water-borne diseases over his long rule, and Dr Nyere might rate as one of the serious mass murderers of the 20th Century—but his intentions were good, so it doesn’t count.

    Food. In graduate school, we’d buy really cheap hamburger and mix it with bread. When I was just broke, I used to buy pasta to match whatever was in the Hamburger Helper, toss a cup or so in, and make two meals for three people out of it. When things got better, I’d take the kid to the cheapest steakhouse in town on payday. These days, the local Outback worries if I miss a Friday dinner or Sunday lunch.
    In saner times, the Federal government purchased staples when prices were low, and gave away flour, corn meal, butter and cheese for school lunches, or to individual families through the county commissioners. Now it’s food banks and food stamps. Yet I see no protestors saying that everyone should be eating in a steakhouse two meals a week, and no one should be mixing bread with their hamburger.

    Perhaps as well. An idealist approach—stiffing the greedy, evil farmer and providing low government-directed prices for the needy virtuous consumer—has created a good many famines. India kept on with this until Lyndon Johnson told the Congress Party that if they insisted in creating famines, he’d stop shipping free grain. Once the CPI stopped fixing staple prices, India stopped having famines and became a modest food exporter.

    Applicability to health care? First, the same system need not and should not apply to someone brought into an emergency room barely alive after a serious accident which applies to Joe Smith who shows up in that same emergency room about once a month because he’s feeling poorly, and anyway there’s nothing on TV. In the first case, Jane’s normal argument about the patient being outside free market principles makes sense. In the second it does not. And telling people they can have as much free stuff as they can use or want just means the limits will be set some other way. Sort out that accident victim, the renal failures, the cancer victims. The people who really have a choice whether to see a doctor or take some Tylenol and go to work should pay something—money or labor—for choosing to see the doctor. The ones with the normal range of maintenance issues—sprained ankles and bad knees—need some sort of financial incentive to go to the place and person who will deal with them efficiently and economically. If NONE of the money is yours, why not pick the most expensive item on the menu?

    Secondly, we don’t need a procrustean hospital bed. We need a floor. A millionaire’s Evian takes nothing from my tap water, and his vintage wines nothing from my Diet Coke. We don’t worry that everyone drinks eats or dresses the same. We worry that the poor are clothed and fed, and that their tap water is safe. I can be as healthy in a thirty bed ward as in a private room, even if I will not be a comfortable. And, though we do not want to say so, at some point we mostly give up. There is generally a medical hot dogger around with an expensive and untried miracle cure for almost anything, but at some point both the state and private insurers conclude that the patient’s just going to have to die. We need someone to pay for that expensive and unlikely cure. It’s one of the ways medical science advances. And if some sick millionaire wants to give it a try, it’s his money, and takes nothing away from me.

    Finally, I’d like to note that the rhetoric is conflicted. If we call for a common obligation to aid the sick and injured, well enough. When we also say that only the top 1% or 2% of taxpayers will be expected to finance the benefits, we are NOT calling for shared sacrifice, but only that tired line from PAINT YOUR WAGON: “He’s got two of what we ain’t got any of!”

    One justification or the other, please.


    19 Mar 10 at 6:13 pm

  2. Okay, here’s the thing.

    This time, I absolutely insist on arguing my own position, not the position of the twenty five other people who are discussing this subject and seem to be on “my” side because they think we should have a government health insurance program–well, another one, besides the ones we have now.

    First, I never said that I thought health care was a right.

    In fact, I don’t think it’s a right. Rights are negative. They’re restrictions on government power. That’s all they are.

    Nobody can have a right to something somebody else has to give them.

    I said I thought that caring for the sick and suffering was a moral obligation for all human beings.

    And what interests me about the Olbermann special comment piece is that that is what it is arguing–he assumes that the only way to discharge that obligation is through a government program, but he doesn’t actually argue for a government program.

    He argues only that there are people out there sick, suffering and dying and that we have an obligation to help them. And you can’t watch this thing and think he’s being cynical about it.

    Second, I have never advocated taxes targetted to the “rich,” however defined, to pay for such a program, if one is instituted.

    In fact, I think it’s a bad idea. Social Security is untouchable to a large extent because we all pay into it at the same rate, and therefore feel equal under its provisions.

    A “soak the rich” approach to a national health care program is likely to look and feel like welfare for everybody, and if so it will not last.

    Third, I’m aware that there are certain kinds of health care services that actually work quite well on a free market model. That’s what happens with cosmetic surgery, for instance, where doctors have the system so well organized they can quote you a package price up front for any procedure and provide you with payment plans to make it possible.

    The problem is that it’s not quite so simple as dividing the cheaper stuff from the more expsnsive stuff. I’m not shocked and appalled that people don’t go to the doctor when they have a cold because it will cost too much money, or more than they’re willing to pay.

    I do have a problem with their not going to the doctor for regular check ups because they don’t have enough money, because there are a raft of diseases that are easier and cheaper to handle the earlier you detect them. Colorectal cancer is now entirely preventable, if you catch it early enough.

    In other words, I don’t want some fifty year old guy skipping annual physicals when the skipping may mean that we don’t catch something like that until it’s likely to cost us several hundred thousand dollars and him his life.

    Fifth, I am not a fan of the present health care bill. I think we’d be better off if it failed.

    The closest thing I can think of to what I do want would be simply to allow anybody who wanted to buy into Medicare to buy into Medicare, and have it regularly cover people starting at, say, fifty.

    What I actually think would be better would be a three tiered system–government coverage for chronic conditions (like MS and cystic fibrosis); catastrophic private insurance for the really big stuff, with very high deductibles that were fully tax deductible; and a free market (no more insurance coverage at all, from anywhere) for the routine stuff.

    But my point in posting this post was not that, and it certainly wasn’t to support the present health care bill.

    It was to point out that there are actually two issues here, and only one of them is about government run insurance.

    The other is about the moral obligation we owe to our fellow human beings, and the fact that Keith Olbermann and I have exactly the same take on that, in spite of being largely at odds politically on most issues.

    And I think lack of attentiveness to that issue–to the moral obligation issue–is hurting the people now being most vocal against this bill.

    There is a moral obligation here. And it must be addressed.

    If you don’t want a government system to address it, then come up with something else.

    Talking about how the world is going to end and we’re all going to descend into the dark night of Fascism if we do what Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Ireland and half a dozen more countries have already done is just not going to cut it.


    19 Mar 10 at 7:07 pm

  3. Robert wrote: ” A millionaire’s Evian takes nothing from my tap water, and his vintage wines nothing from my Diet Coke.”

    This is true, but if the millionaire uses *my* money to buy his Evian, and denies me the same privilege at the same time, that is wrong. And that was my protest against Congress not having to utilize the same health care system (and payment system) the rest of us do. They get special coverage, at special rates, just the same way they exempt themselves from all sorts of laws that are good enough for the rest of us, but not for them. Minimum wage laws, anyone?

    I too hope against hope that this bill will fail, and we’ll be able to start over. The problem is that although people of good will can come to a decent compromise on almost any issue, it seems to me that there are very few people of good will in Washington these days. Venial and self-serving motives will get this thing passed, and we’ll all have to live with it until it collapses, or we collapse underneath it.

    I think passing the bill will actually kill Obama’s hopes for a second term. He’s screwed either way. If it passes, though, in two years we’ll be deep into paying for it, but 4 years away from seeing any benefit. He’ll never get re-elected in that case. If it doesn’t pass, he’ll look like a failure, and end up a lame duck. Clinton managed to survive his brush with health-insurance reform by letting HIllary be point-man and distancing himself from the disaster. Obama is right in there in the muck, and there will be no distancing when those tax bills hit!


    19 Mar 10 at 7:38 pm

  4. I’ve re-read my post, but I can’t quite find the point at which I wrote that departing from fiscal prudence was descending into the dark night of fascism. I was, as you have, discussing the general principles on which one might construct a workable system. Why am I under fire because not all my ideas disagree with yours? Have I reached a point at which I am presumptively in disagreement?

    The more general principle of what we owe each other–and why–is somewhat more interesting, though less pertinent. I know why I feel I have such an obligation, but it’s grounded in Christian doctrine not applicable to you, and I have no information on whether it applies to Olbermann. I was scamping the ethical question because it referenced a video. If you refer to another video, I’ll ignore it again. The moving pictures and the noise are what we do to avoid facts and reasoning, and I do not go to “television personalities” for questions of ethics.

    Actually, from what I’ve seen, general ethical principles hardly enter into the health care debate at all. This is just the usual “we’re going to make other people give you stuff” which is the foundation of redistributionist politics. If you asked Obama, Pelosi and company for a moral basis to justify taking from other people and giving to those she favored–let alone the moral limit of such–they’d be stunned. Taking and giving is the foundation of their politics, and it doesn’t occur to them that it has a moral–as opposed to a political–limit.


    20 Mar 10 at 5:32 am

  5. I didn’t say anything in your post indicating that anything at all about the health care debate meant we were descending into the dark night of fascism.

    I was referencing the way this thing has played out in the media, and specifically the way it has played out in the tea parties and on things like Glenn Beck.

    Which are, yes, accusing anybody who wants a government run health care program to be trying to drag us all to the gas chambers.

    As for the ethical question “not being pertinent”–it’s the ONLY thing that’s pertinent to this post, because this post was specifically about the ethical question, not about the health care bill. Or about any future bills, for that matter.

    And no, I don’t go to television personalities for ethical advice either.

    I referenced that particular video because it’s interesting to see and listen to–because it ISN’T the usual kind of thing.

    And because it’s ABOUT the ethical question.

    But more on the ethical question a little later this morning.


    20 Mar 10 at 6:10 am

  6. I didn’t see the video because I was too busy at work and don’t have a fast enough connection at home. I certainly agree that it’s a moral duty to help the sick, but moral duties don’t seem to be very popular selling points these days. It always seems necessary to find an additional pragmatic reason to argue for things I support out of moral duty in order to get anyone to take my arguments seriously. Fortunately, that’s often not hard.

    Any system – whether funded by taxes or the users’ insurance plans – is paid for by the consumer, in whole or in part. Questions about what percentage comes out of my taxes and what out of yours are really a matter of fiddling with the details; what the US appears to be trying to do is to figure whether it will come out of a common fund (like taxes) at all, or directly out of someone’s pocket – the employer, the user. That’s a far more basic question, and from this distance, it looks like Obama is taking a massive amount of political damage wrestling with it.

    I think that access to highly experimental and non-essential (ie cosmetic) procedures should be limited – that is, paid for by the consumer, or, in the case of someone who volunteers for a genuinely experimental treatment, by the researcher. I don’t agree at all with user fees or with a two-tiered system with a deluxe or private one sucking resources away from a public one. The second point I’ve mentioned before. The first – anything I’ve read, including a report or two on studies, shows that any user fee – including quite low ones – deters the very same people we reall don’t want to deter, such as the person who feels healthy and can’t pay or doesn’t want to pay for a colonoscopy and is in the early stages of colon cancer (an excellent example; really hits home). And some of the more determined hypochondriacs aren’t deterred from their beloved hospital system. I’ve never really understood the appeal of visiting a doctor unnecessarily, but there’s going to be a certain level of that in any system.


    20 Mar 10 at 6:19 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 246 access attempts in the last 7 days.