Monday, July 2, 2012

Trying to Pull Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

So the Supreme Court left most of the Affordable Care Act standing, to the fury of the Far Right and the glee of the Near Right. I don't have any links, but Avedon Carol also noticed that until the decision was actually announced, it seemed that most Democrats, like most Republicans, took for granted that the law would be overturned: "I told Jay Ackroyd and David Dayen that I'd be very surprised if the Roberts court struck down the mandate. I gotta say that because it seemed like everywhere else, everyone was all ready for the Supremes to kill it." This article quotes several people from both parties who predicted that the ACA wouldn't even pass, but it's a postmortem from two years ago and has no bearing on last week's Supreme Court ruling; it is of interest, though, as a reminder that even some politicians who supported the bill seemed not to believe in its viability.

I had no real expectation out of the outcome myself, so I watched the hullaballoo with a jaundiced eye. Liberal bloggers and Facebookers went wild with celebration, because for them politics is no more than a spectator sport, and all they care about is rooting for the winning team. It is of course utterly vital that their team, the right team by definition, be the winner, so that they can reward themselves by strutting and hooting and pumping their arms and imagining the other team's face being rubbed in the dirt, but they are much less informed than sports fans are about the actual working of the sport.

But that comparison is probably unfair to sports fans. Noam Chomsky likes to tell how,
When I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's at a level of superficiality that's beyond belief.
Two main themes recurred as the Obama cult netroots crowed over their victory: one was the stoopidity of the Republicans who said that they would move to Canada because of this ruling. They ignored the fact of real socialist healthcare in the People's Republic of Canuckistan, of course, but such threats, like the threat to Go Galt, are almost always meaningless anyway -- like the Democrats who vowed to move to Canada if Bush won in 2000 and 2004. Canada collaborated shamelessly with Bush, so what's the point?

The other big story was CNN and Fox News's misreporting, in their eagerness to be firsties, of the Supreme Court's decision as overturning instead of mostly upholding Romneycare. (As FAIR pointed out, this was far from the first, or most serious, time the corporate media has got things wrong in the first flush of a scoop.) The Obama fans hooted and pumped their arms and rubbed the Rethugs' faces in the dirt: Only a stoopid stoopid, and probably fat, would get their news from Fox or CNN!

Maybe so. Someone stoopid like this:
President Obama himself initially thought he had lost the healthcare vote because he was watching CNN.
The news channels wrongly reported that the individual mandate - the key part of the law - had been killed off.

The President had been watching on a TV in the White House and appeared calm as he tried to absorb the grim news about his signature piece of legislation.

But moments later White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler came in giving the thumbs up - because she had her facts straight.
I gleefully posted this story to my own Facebook wall, and linked to it in comments on other people's postings about the networks' gaffe. Nobody much was interested, and of course it was mean of me to harsh other people's buzz. One old friend from high school, a law professor with a background in statistics, was sympathetic: "Yep, when you have to rely on the media.... Of course, Chief Justice Roberts appears to have structured the opinion that way, intentionally. He needn't have done that." True, it's ridiculous to expect people to read past the first page of a Supreme Court decision, as Stephen Colbert declared sarcastically -- who ever heard of such a thing? As for relying on the media, the President is the one person in America who shouldn't need to rely on the media in such matters: even if he can't afford to have a messenger bring him a copy personally, couldn't someone at the Court e-mail him a PDF? Obama has been critical of the media in the past ("If everyone just turned off your CNN, your Fox, your ... TV, MSNBC, blogs, and just go talk to folks out there instead of being in this echo chamber, where the topic is constantly politics"), so his reliance on it here is even funnier.

My friend also remarked, "I don't know which media source Obama was following, but I think they all got it wrong first, and then corrected." I pointed out that Obama's media source was CNN, in the excerpt I quoted; I forgot to mention that "they" (the corporate media, I presume) did not "all" get it wrong first -- that must have been her apologetic invention. She responded: "Weird--would not have been my first choice. And why only one source?" Her own "first choice" would have been the New York Times, to judge from previous conversations I've had with her. (The Times is not a very reliable source either, but to each her own.)

This same friend and I had a couple of heated conversations over Facebook last weekend, on the media and on science. In both cases she lamented that people in this country aren't taught "critical thinking." I can agree with that, but training in critical thinking will be of little use if you don't use it. With doctorates in statistics and law and a strong background in computer science, my friend is probably smarter, and certainly better educated, than I am; but when it comes to politics she leaves her critical thinking on standby. She even protested, when I pressed her on the bias inherent in reporting the news from the viewpoint of the investor class, that she's busy and doesn't have time to investigate everything. Any Creationist Tea Party Republican could probably say the same, but my friend wouldn't see that as an excuse for them. You don't have to be I. F. Stone to broaden the range of your news input usefully: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting puts out less material in a week than any given issue of the daily Times, and it's a good starting place.

The Democrats' expectation of defeat over Romneycare also reminded me of something Whatever It Is I'm Against It wrote a couple of years ago after an Obama press conference:

WHAT SOME WOULD HAVE PREFERRED: “Now, I know there are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight, even if it had meant higher taxes for all Americans, even if it had meant an end to unemployment insurance for those who are desperately looking for work.” The assumption here is that he would have lost the fight. It’s pretty much always Obama’s working assumption that he will lose any fight. And then, funnily enough, he does.
This time he didn't; but there's always next time.