Michael Moore and GM

This isn’t meant to indicate agreement with Michael Moore. In general I agree with him on some things and not on others. I do find some irony in seeing him write about General Motors today. In 1989 Michael Moore first attracted attention with his documentary Roger and Me which alternated between Moore’s criticism of GM and his attempts to get the attention of Roger Smith, former chairman and CEO of GM.

Now GM is in bankruptcy and Michael Moore is just doing what he has always done. Back in 1989 who would have guessed where the two would be today.

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Michael Moore is No Rush Limbaugh


With ads such as the above being distributed by Americans United For Change some have looked to see if their is a situation for the Democrats analogous to Rush Limbaugh’s toxic influence on the GOP. Andrew Malcolm asks,  So if Rush runs the GOP, does Michael Moore head the Dems?

There are certainly some similarities. Both are primarily showmen, among other obvious shared traits. Still the question to this question is clearly no.

Michael Moore isn’t necessarily a Democrat. He has referred to Bill Clinton as “the best Republican president we’ve had since Abraham Lincoln.” In 2000 he backed Ralph Nader over both Al Gore and George Bush. Sure, in 2004 Moore begged Nader not to run against John Kerry. Does that make him a Democrat, or just someone who learned from his mistake?

Assuming for the sake of discussion (as there is no good way to really measure this) that Moore and Limbaugh are both equally far from center, there is a major difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. The extremists on the right dominate the GOP while the Democratic Party is far more centrist. For example, look at one of the top issues of the day which Michael Moore has expressed his views upon–health care reform. Moore backs a government run system. In contrast most Democrats, despite the phony cries from the right of “socialized medicine,” are pushing for a far more conservative plan which would preserve both private insurance companies and private practice. A plan as far left as Moore’s isn’t even on the table.

It is debatable whether Rush Limbaugh actually runs the  GOP, but there sure are signs of his influence over it. Start with the fact that the debate over whether Limbaugh runs the party comes primarily from the guy who, on paper at least, really does run it. The argument that Limbaugh runs the GOP is even stronger if you accept Joe Gandelman’s assessment that Limbaugh won in his dispute with Michael Steele.

Limbaugh’s dominance is also seen in the manner in which many party leaders backed him up when Limbaugh made a statement that any honorable political leader would reject.  Back in 1960  conservative John Wayne showed how it should be done: “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.” Now, during the worst economic downturn since the great depression, Rush Limbaugh expresses hope that Obama will fail. To him it is better that people live in misery than to have liberal economic principles show themselves to be successful.

While any reasonable person would be expected to reject Limbaugh’s statement, many prominent Republicans are backing Limbaugh. I’ve previously given Rick Santorum as an example, but many more have expressed similar beliefs. Bobby Jindal was unwilling to repudiate this statement and even said, “ I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives. I think he articulates what a lot of people are concerned about.”

This does not mean that every conservative wants to grant a leadership role to Rush Limbaugh. I’ve recently quoted both  John Derbyshire and Rob Dreher criticizing Limbaugh. Still, having been invited to be keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference is probably a stronger indicator of where most conservative Republicans stand on Limbaugh.

The Democratic Conspiracy To Prop Up Limbaugh and Palin

First Read sees identifying Republicans with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin as an effective strategy:

One of the things Republicans did very effectively during their 24-year run from ’80 to ’04 was define who the opposition was, whether it was raising the profile of a Michael Moore or a Jesse Jackson or someone from the most liberal or divisive wing of the Democratic Party (see Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton). Well, it appears Democrats in general, and President Obama specifically, seems to enjoy propping up two of the more divisive figures in the Republican Party, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. The more attention a Palin or a Limbaugh gets right now, the harder it will be for the Republican Party to pitch itself as a Big Tent party again. This is a dangerous period for the GOP, the party is, well, without definition. Is it a less-government, low-tax, fiscally responsible party? It’s hard to make that case after the last decade of governing. Because it’s hard to define the GOP on issues right now, it becomes easier for the Democrats to paint the GOP with the brush of a personality like Limbaugh and Palin.

If this was a conscious strategy it would make sense. Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin both represent the worst of the conservative movement. Expressing a hope that Obama fail is only the most recent example of how much Limbaugh despises America and the values this country stands for. A party led by Sarah Palin is far more likely to go the way of the Whigs than ever win a national election as long as the average I.Q. of the voters is greater than 70. As Michael Tomasky wrote in ranking her as the second Worst American of 2008:

Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded.

It would certainly be beneficial for the Democrats to identify Republicans with Sarah Palin, but can the prominence of Limbaugh and Palin really be written off as a Democratic conspiracy to prop them up? Rush Limbaugh has had a large following for years. In the previous post I noted that Limbaugh is Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini’s choice to replace William Kristol at The New York TImes.

Sarah Palin has also attracted considerable support among those on the extreme right. While polls at this point are more a measure of current interest than predictive of future success, a recent poll showed Palin a close second to Mike Huckabee for the 2012 Republican nomination. Now we even have SarahPac, which is certainly not a Democratic plot  to ensure that Palin remains prominent in the GOP.

Michael Moore Suggests Caroline Kennedy For VP

Michael Moore is receiving some attention today after calling on Caroline Kennedy to pull a Cheney by recommending herself for the vice presidential spot. This isn’t the first time the idea has come up. I discussed it back in June after Kennedy was placed in charge of the search. Moore writes:

What Obama needs is a vice presidential candidate who is NOT a professional politician, but someone who is well-known and beloved by people across the political spectrum; someone who, like Obama, spoke out against the war; someone who has a good and generous heart, who will be cheered by the rest of the world; someone whom we’ve known and loved and admired all our lives and who has dedicated her life to public service and to the greater good for all.

That person, Caroline, is you.

I cannot think of a more winning ticket than one that reads: “OBAMA-KENNEDY.”

Caroline, I know that nominating yourself is the furthest idea from your mind and not consistent with who you are, but there would be some poetic justice to such an action. Just think, eight years after the last head of a vice presidential search team looked far and wide for a VP — and then picked himself (a move topped only by his hubris to then lead the country to near ruin while in office) — along comes Caroline Kennedy to return the favor with far different results, a vice president who helps restore America to its goodness and greatness.

Caroline, you are one of the most beloved and respected women in this country, and you have been so admired throughout your life. You chose a life outside of politics, to work for charities and schools, to write and lecture, to raise a wonderful family. But you did not choose to lead a private life. You have traveled the world and met with its leaders, giving you much experience on the world stage, a stage you have been on since you were a little girl.

Obviously it will never really happen, which makes it easy to consider the attractive aspects of such a ticket and ignore all the reasons against it for the moment.

Are Conservatives Really This Confused About Health Care Plans?

The Daily Mail has an article on problems in the British health care system–a system I’ve also been critical of. It came as no surprise to review the conservative blogs and see them attempt to use this as evidence against Democratic health care plans. Some call this evidence against a single payer plan, but a single payer plan and a government run plan are two separate things. A government run plan is one form of a single payer plan, but is quite different from the plans advocated by most proponents of single payer plans in this country who advocate plans such as extending Medicare where health care is still provided by private doctors and hospitals.

Of the Democratic candidates running this year, only Dennis Kucinich has been pushing a single payer plan, and this plan is nothing like the British government-run plan. Assuming Kucinich has no chance at winning, a single payer plan isn’t even on the table. Right Wing News tries to confuse the British system with Hillary Clinton’s plans. While I’ve had disagreements with Clinton over health care, her plan is neither government-run or even a single payer plan.

While comparison of the British plan to the plans advocated by Democratic candidates is erroneous, it is valid to use this as arguments against the views of Michael Moore. I previously noted that a failing of Sicko was that, while it was of value in demonstrating health care problems in this country, it white washed the problems in other countries. It is worth noting that Moore, who advocate a government run plan, has opposed the plans of all the Democratic candidates, believing that Kucinich comes the closest but does not go far enough.

Conservatives regularly try to scare people from considering any reforms to the health care system by screaming “socialized medicine.” When they draw false comparisons between the British system and the plans advocated by Democratic candidates, I wonder if they are knowingly resorting to scare tactics or if they really have this little understanding of different forms of health care delivery. Either way, the views of those who regularly confuse these systems are hardly worth considering.

Giuliani’s Goal is to Stop, Not Achieve, Universal Health Care

As I and others have previously noted, there is no substance to Rudy Giuliani’s health care plan. Jonathan Cohn attempts to write about the plan for The New Republic but finds little there:

… it’s just a two-page summary of Giuliani’s general approach to reform–which, from the looks of it, is closely modeled on an idea President Bush proposed in January of this year. While there may be some differences between the two–it’s impossible to know, since the campaign isn’t getting into such details–it’s fair to judge Giuliani’s proposal based on the verdict experts rendered when Bush trotted out his idea. And that verdict wasn’t too good. At best, the Bush plan would have made only a small dent in the number of people without insurance–at a time when even other Republicans were endorsing far more sweeping schemes. And at worst? It could have resulted in more people struggling with their health bills.

Since that time, of course, two of the leading Democratic candidates (John Edwards and Barack Obama) have published detailed proposals of considerably greater ambition, with a third (Hillary Clinton) likely to follow soon. By that standard, Giuliani’s proposal seems even more diminutive. But does that bother the former mayor? Probably not. In the last few days, he’s spent as much time trashing those Democratic ideas as promoting his own. For Giuliani, you get the feeling, it’s all about what his plan isn’t (Michael Moore, Cuba, “socialized medicine”) rather than what it is. Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s about stopping universal health care–not achieving it…

he central feature of Giuliani’s proposal would be a tax deduction of up to $15,000, available to all Americans who buy an insurance policy–regardless of whether they buy it on their own or through an employer. That’s a change from the present setup, in which only people who buy coverage through employers get the break.

Making the tax treatment of individual insurance more like that for employer insurance could have far-reaching effects. Most experts agree that the tax break for employer-sponsored insurance has been instrumental in propping up our existing health insurance system, in which it’s assumed most working people will get coverage through their jobs. That’s been particularly true in the last few years, as employers have grown weary of bearing such a huge financial burden on behalf of their workers. Reducing or eliminating that preference will likely weaken the system further, because–as fewer workers demanded such coverage–even fewer employers would provide it.

In principle, that would be just fine–employer-based health insurance is nobody’s idea of a perfect system–just as long as Giuliani proposed to create something in its place. But there’s no such effort from Giuliani. Instead, he’d just let people shop around in the individual insurance market, buying whatever policies they could find.

And here’s where the problems start. People with pre-existing conditions–and if you have even a minor condition, like allergies, that means people like you–frequently can’t find affordable coverage because insurers won’t offer it. (Or, if they do offer coverage, it will be prohibitively priced.) Giuliani hails his approach as giving consumers more choices. But for these people, it’d actually mean less choice–or no choice at all.

That’s one reason that, at the end of the day, Giuliani’s plan is unlikely to make a significant dent in the uninsured. Another is that tax deductions, by definition, are worth less to people who are in lower tax brackets–who, as you might imagine, tend to make up the bulk of the people without health insurance. In a recent analysis of the latest Bush proposal–on which, again, the Giuliani proposal is patterned–the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted that married couples with taxable incomes between roughly $15,000 and $60,000 (the second lowest tax bracket) would get a tax break of $2,250. That’s not chump change, for sure, but when group coverage for the average family costs $12,000–and when individual coverage costs much more than that, as it does because of higher overhead and marketing expenses for insurers who sell to that market–it’s easy to see why few analysts think it will enable many more people to buy coverage.

Edwards Calls Giuliani “George Bush on Steroids”

It should be fairly clear to readers here that I don’t take John Edwards all that seriously as a contender to be president, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a good stump speech. He has improved as a campaigner and made one of the top lines this week:

“What Giuliani is, is George Bush on steroids.” Edwards said. “Giuliani, Romney and the rest of the Republicans running for the nomination are going to give the country four more years of crony capitalism, which is exactly what we have now. We have insurance companies and drug companies and oil companies running this government. They need to be stopped. And Giuliani just wants to empower them.”

I don’t have any further transcripts of this, so I don’t mean this as criticism, but I hope that Edwards went beyond this line. Democrats need to stress the difference between capitalism and Republican crony capitalism, and no longer tolerate the manner in which Republicans define both capitalism and Democratic beliefs.

If Edwards hopes to sell this message beyond those who already agree it is not enough to say that the insurance companies, drug companies, and oil companies must be stopped. It is necessary to discuss the have done and provide further evidence of their excessive influence over the Republicans. While this may go beyond a stump speech to supporters, ultimately Democratic candidates must make this case to the nation. In doing so they must also make sure it sounds like their message comes much more from people like Kevin Phillips than Michael Moore if they want to build a national consensus.

Giuliani Continues Usual Scare Tactics About Democratic Health Care Plans

Rudy Giuliani offered a health care plan lacking in substance, instead falling back on his usual tactic of name calling. Giuliani equated the proposals of the Democratic candidates with the views of Michael Moore, claiming the Democrats support socialized medicine.

This is the same tactic used by George Bush in 2004 when he claimed that John Kerry’s plan was a government take over of health care when it actually centered voluntary measures to assist businesses and individuals who were having difficulties with the cost of health coverage. Republicans typically scream socialized medicine when they are the ones who back increased government intrusion in health care decisions, including on abortion rights, end of life decisions, and medical use of marijuana. Giuliani has opposed allowing cancer patients to use marijuana for relief of symptoms.

Giuliani is especially dishonest when he compares the plans of the Democratic candidates to Michael Moore. While most Democrats probably agree with Moore’s description of the health care crisis, none of the candidates agree with Moore’s solutions. Of all the candidates, only Dennis Kucinich has backed a single payer plan, and Moore has said that even Kucinich’s plan does not go far enough for him.

Giuliani also promises to solve all our problems–quickly:

He said he can solve global warming in five to 15 years and would end illegal immigration in a year and a half to three years. “I give ourselves 18 month to three years to accomplish it,” he said.

Update: The New York Times has more on Giuliani’s proposals. Giuliani claims that under the current system “there is no incentive to wellness.” In general people would prefer to be well as opposed to being sick. However if promoting incentives for wellness is the criteria we judge plans by, Giuliani’s plan fails.

Giuliani is very vague on his plan, but he did discuss the use of Health Savings Accounts.  A major problem with HSA’s is that they are used along with high deductible insurance plans leading people to avoid routine care of chronic diseases and preventative care to avoid taking money out of their own plan.

I Disagree With Michael Moore

I disagree with Michael Moore on many issues, but that doesn’t mean I’d call him a liar or say his facts are wrong as some charge. I gave Sicko a favorable review because it succeeds in the important task of getting out the facts on the problems in our health care system. I disagree with some of his views on alternatives, but that comes from a difference in opinion as to the role of government in society and what Americans will tolerate as opposed to any disagreement over the facts.

CNN did something really surprising recently–they claimed to be fact checking Michael Moore. This is surprising as typically correspondents such as Wolfe Blitzer will repeat the administration line without question. Such fact checking is rare at CNN. Michael Moore has already debunked the claims that his facts were wrong and now writes an open letter to CNN chastising them for not admitting they were wrong.

There is plenty of room to disagree with Michael Moore without raising false claims that his facts are wrong. Moore does give what many would consider an overly rosy view of health systems elsewhere, but in doing so he makes the point that other counties do manage to provide far more comprehensive health care than we do in the United States. If Michael Moore was writing a scholarly review for a journal of health care economics he might be faulted for not providing all evidence for both sides. However he was writing a documentary to promote his position and should not be expected to provide all evidence for both sides. It would be fair to disagree with Moore’s opinions, and to discuss facts not included in Sicko, but that does not mean that there is incorrect information being presented by Moore.

During the 2004 campaign, I founded Doctors for Kerry (later merged with Nurses for Kerry) and for a while answered questions on health care for the campaign’s official forum. I found that large numbers of people who receive coverage from their employers were opposed to any system which would force them to give up their current coverage. Many Americans are fearful of placing their health care in government’s hands, even though the reality of the situation is that private companies are typically more restrictive than Medicare.

Michael Moore and I disagree on the solutions for the health care crisis, but that does not mean either of us would have to call the other a liar. While we disagree, I understand the economic arguments for Michael Moore’s position, and acknowledge there is validity to his arguments.

Conservatives tend to support the status quo and oppose any efforts to change the system. As their arguments do not hold up to close scrutiny, they rely on demonizing those who disagree with them. They cry “socialized medicine” even whey they are often the supporters of greater government restrictions on health care. This bogus fact checking by CNN is yet another example of conservative bias.

One good which may come of this is the greater realization of the conservative bias at CNN. Perhaps because of CNN being more liberal when owned by Ted Turner, the constant false claims of the right wing noise machine that the media is liberal, and because of CNN being far less conservative compared to Fox News, many have not detected CNN’s conservative bias. Moore’s open letter shows that this bias is part of a trend, and having Michael Moore devoting efforts to reporting on their biases might bring more of it to light. While there has already been one documentary exposing Fox News, maybe Moore’s next documentary should be on exposing conservative bias is much of the media.

Update: CNN has responded to Michael Moore.

Update II: Blog Like a Hurricane also suggests that Moore’s next documentary be on the mainstream media.

Both Parties Offer Plans on Health Care, But Only One Offers Plans Which Help

The New York Times demonstrates the importance of health care as a political issue by noting that “Sixteen months before Election Day, presidential candidates in both parties are promising to overhaul the system and cover more — if not all — of the 44.8 million people without insurance.” They provide brief overviews of the positions of several of the candidates.

To the degree that 1) health care is an important issue and 2) we have a real debate as opposed to a campaign won by the distortions and hysteria which will inevitably be created by the right wing noise machine, the Republicans can be in serious trouble. While the article is correct that the Republican candidates are also talking about health care, they are not providing any plans which will actually make things any better. I have already discussed the faults in Giuliani’s ideas on health care, as well as his demagoguery in calling Democratic proposals, which are very similar to those enacted in states under Republican Governors, “socialized medicine.”

Even the Democrats are not immune to criticism on the issue. Hillary Clinton has the problem of having proposed an overly-complex plan in the past, making her hesitant to provide details so far in this campaign cycle. Many in the liberal blogosphere are also criticizing the Democrats for not going far enough, such as at Firedoglake today. I do not think that a Canadian-style single payer plan will be accepted here immediately, and would prefer to see this option provided on a voluntary basis to those too old to obtain private coverage at an affordable rate by expanding Medicare. There is also value in such calls for a single payer plan as this positions the Democratic proposals as less radical and may help thwart the false claims (such as those debunked by Factcheck from Giuliani) that Democrats support socialized medicine. Firedoglake‘s post follows a viewing of Sicko in which Michael Moore does an excellent job of demonstrating the problems with our current system but also overlooks the problems in other plans. I previously reviewed Sicko here.