Tribalwatch! The desperate need for the demon!


That’s pretty much wrong: Paul Krugman gets it right today—after he gets it wrong.

In the bottom two-thirds of his column, Krugman makes some basic, important claims about health care—claims we assume are correct. But a lot of people won’t read that far, because of the way he started.

Early on, Krugman discusses Monday’s night’s Republican debate. In the following passage, he describes the way the audience reacted at certain points. To be honest, his account is pretty much wrong. This pretty much isn’t what happened:
KRUGMAN (9/16/11): I’m referring, as you might guess, to what happened during Monday’s G.O.P. presidential debate. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about—taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”
From that account, a reader would think “the crowd erupted with cheers” when Blitzer asked Candidate Paul if “society should just let him die.”

But that basically isn’t what happened. Krugman builds a very strong negative judgment out of that claim. But his basic factual claim strikes us as pretty much wrong.

You can watch the tape for yourself. For Blitzer’s full exchange with Paul, click here, move ahead to roughly 6:45. The full exchange takes roughly two minutes.

Question: Does the crowd “erupt with cheers” when Blitzer asks that question? Actually, no, it doesn’t. (And Paul’s response to the question is “no.”) There are several shouts of “yeah” at that point, but we’d have to say it’s quite unfair to say that “the crowd erupted.”

Krugman makes a specific factual claim in that passage. We’d pretty much say that it’s wrong.

In fact, the crowd does applaud as a group at three separate points in that two-minute discussion. Below, you see the first point at which it applauds after Blitzer asks his question.

What follows comes straight from the Nexis transcript. We would regard it as accurate:
BLITZER (9/12/11): But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals.

A few people do shout “yeah” when Blitzer asks that question. But the audience doesn’t act as a group until a bit later. As a group, the audience applauds when Paul pictures the man getting care.

As he continues this morning’s column, Krugman says that Paul was dealing in “fantasy” at that point. For the most part, we assume that’s correct. “People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have—and sometimes they die as a result,” Krugman writes.

We would assume that is accurate. We would assume that the charity model just can’t cut it in a large, sprawling, transitory, medically over-priced society like ours. Krugman goes on to make important points about medical care—but many people won’t be listening, because of the way he began. Because of snarky remarks about the cheers of that crowd which are marbled through the rest of his text.

More and more, the liberal world seems to be desperate for the demon. With respect to this particular incident, we were struck by Digby’s need for the demon, a need she seemed to express in this post. Here’s the way she started:
DIGBY (9/15/11): Facts without context

I think it's great that newspapers have found the resources to employ fact checkers. But strangely, they often seem to have such a skeptical attitude that they become rather thick literalists and fail to take context into consideration.

For instance, the Washington Post is "debunking" the idea that the Tea Partiers "cheered" for the death of the uninsured during the debate the other night:
Digby links to this blog post by Erik Wemple, from which she offers a quote. But we’d have to say Wemple was basically right in what he wrote in his post. For ourselves, we don’t think it would be accurate or fair to say that the audience “cheered for the death of the uninsured.”

Of course, if you take enough “context into consideration,” you can pretty much make any claim you like! The mainstream press corps has been proving that point for years. In the past dozen years, progressive interests have been badly harmed by that very loose approach to “consideration of context.”

Did that audience cheer for the death of the uninsured? As she continues, Digby gets busy “considering context,” letting that unpleasant claim stand. She doesn’t mention the fact that the crowd applauded when Paul seemed to say that the uninsured man would get treated.

That part of the context just couldn’t stand! But then, it never does at such moments.

On balance, did Paul advance a “fantasy?” We would assume he did. But increasingly, the liberal world seems to be desperate for the demon, as tribal groups often are.

At such times, it isn't enough for the other team to be wrong. The other team has to be evil.

That said, here’s the good news:

If we “consider the context” enough—and leave other shit out—we can get any outcome we want! Whether it’s “racial resentment” or “cheering for death,” we can reach a judgment that is sufficiently ugly.

As usual, we thought Rachel Maddow was worst on this topic, in this play from her Tuesday night program. Note her effortless move from “some audience members” to “the audience—exclamation point.”

In our view, Chris Matthews ran a close second—but then, Chris has been repurposed. Brother Matthews in the business of pleasing us pseudo-libs now.

He has been picking and choosing his “context” for lo, these many bad years.


  1. Brilliant post, and I guess by "brilliant" I mean that you actually read the transcript, which is a sad commentary.

  2. Not only that, Paul was liberally pelted with Oreos.

  3. That's funny. I just watched the video at the link you posted, and I think Krugman described it fairly accurately. I would say the whole audience cheered and erupted with applause at the earlier statement from Paul that "that's what freedom is all about", referring to the guy receiving no care because he chose not to pay for healthcare. That's 7:39-7:42, with another six or seven seconds of applause.

    At 7:53, in response, Blitzer asks point blank if society should just let the guy die, and while Paul stumbles on it, at least three people in the audience shout "yeah!", with some others applauding.

    I'd say you're right about the 7:53 explicit question, but Krugman's right about the less explicit version just before it that's referring to the same thing. So factually, he's right.

  4. Getting into Zapruder territory.

  5. I love Krugman and read the Howler daily. Love ' em both.

    But my question for Bob is: when was this magical time in the past when Krugman, our MVP, *wasnt* tribal? By your standards, how did he ever become MVP in the first place?

  6. I wish Krugman had been more precise in his language, but he was writing a column with a strict word limit, rather than a blog, so he is not able to include the nuances you might like.
    That said, kjmclark's comment is spot-on.
    Watching the tape, we see Blitzer ask, "But he doesn't have that [major medical]. He doesn't have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?"
    We see Paul giving a "who cares" shrug as the question is being asked and as he replies, "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks [interrupted by loud applause]. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody..."
    I think any reasonable observer would conclude that all those engaging in the earlier applause shared the sentiments of Paul's "who cares" shrug and the "let him die" shouts of "Yeah."
    My vote on this one goes to Krugman for accurately describing the mood of the audience.

  7. I agree to some extent with what Geoff is saying about Krugman, though I think he generally deals in things that are demonstrable and quantifiable. That said, sure he strays into tribalism at times (though far less than most pundits, for lack of a better term). Is better by degrees good enough to advance progressive interests? Maybe, but like Bob always says, playing the other side's game likely won't help in the long run.

    By the same token, one could make the argument that readers of the Howler (and the Howler itself) are a tribe unto themselves. A tribe of anti-weak news media. And having worked in television news for a number of years, I can attest to the overall laziness, incompetence, and self-adoration that prevails in the newsrooms (at least in the local markets where I toiled). That's one of the reasons I read the Howler-- I need to know that others recognize the vacuousness of that world the way I always have.

  8. I watched the clip. Ron Paul clearly suggests that the hypothetical 30 y/o should be SOL as a matter of policy and principle. The crowd clearly approves of these sentiments.

  9. I have to say that I disagree with kjmclark and anonymous here--a few isolated cranks yelled 'yeah' at the 'let him die' comment.

    And I don't see how Krugman advances his argument by misrepresenting that fact.

    What Bob is pointing to is really important; it show a huge flaw in the progressive electoral strategy. A lot of the conservative voters I know--and I know many--actually are sympathetic toward others' plights in life. They realize that everyone is fallible. After all that is essential part of the Christian creed to which many of them subscribe, recognizing their own sinfulness, need for an external savior and forgiveness, etc.

    Although their sympathetic impulse stands in tension with the fundamentalism, which is much more judgmental, this sympathetic impulse is real. It accounts for the cheering about churches providing charity care.

    These voters can easily understand that charity care is not an end all solution, but not if we keep hating on them.

    Wouldn't it be better to try to show them that Obamacare would actually prevent a situation like that Blitzer describes from actually happening, and the Paul's quaint notions of personal responsibility and charity care as savior are an example of doublethink?

  10. I agree with kjmclark...and I agree re the Zagruder territory comment. In enjoy the Howler...very much. And, in most cases, not all, but most cases, I respect what Bob has to say. But this, and a few other examples like this post, put me in mind of the guy who would be worrying about the fact that lights in a burning house may have been left on.

  11. I would characterize the audience's reaction as some Whoops!, Yeahs!, and a smattering of applause. But since others disagree, I guess it could be a matter of interpretation.

    That said, the reason we're focusing on the audience and not the debaters is because Ron Paul, as he does every once in a while, gave a reasonable answer. Basically he asserted that changes in licensing as well as the possibility of uncompensated care through a hospital would avoid that outcome.

    The reason no one on stage came out with a full throated endorsement of the uninsured dying in the street is that assuredly most people, including Republicans, believe that it would be wrong. Certainly, it's not mainstream Republican orthodoxy that people should die in the streets for lack of insurance (though that may be an unfortunate consequence of some of their policies). It doesn't even appear to be Paulian libertarian doctrine that the uninsured should die in the street.

    In other words, even granting that the audience "erupt[ed] in applause," it's still an unwise way of characterizing the event because it creates an uncharitably monolithic, and probably false, view of the Tea Party. The odds are very good that no matter who is elected President, even Paul, we're not going to have 30 year old uninsured people denied care. And to imagine, as Krugman does, that Republicans or Tea Partiers or whomever are actively rooting for this result (again, as opposed to being a possible unfortunate consequence of R policies) is silly.

    Undoubtedly, some segment of the American populace believes that denying care would be a just outcome, but there are a lot of segments of the populace that believe a lot of things. And at the very least it is uncharitable to paint with such a broad brush. It's probably also bad politics and factually false.

  12. @Chris Prom

    A few isolated cranks yell "Yeah". A large number of people applaud. Krugman perhaps should have written that sentence in a way that couldn't be misinterpreted.

    Ron Paul does his best to avoid answering the question, the question raised by the clear implications of his ideology. But those implications are indisputable -- the 30 y/o should either go back in time and purchase coverage, or perhaps enlist his friends to wheel his gurney to the nearest church.

    This may count as compassion to Ron Paul and the many people who applauded his reasoning, but it doesn't count as a practical solution to providing medical care in 2011. As a practical matter, it matters less what Tea Party believe than what can reasonably expected to happen if they try to reconcile those beliefs with the real world.

  13. I think it's debatable whether they were cheering and clapping for 'let him die.' More likely they were cheering for the rest of Paul's ridiculous answer- which, really, is every bit as chilling as if they were cheering for 'let him die.'

  14. I thought Wolf's question was off-target. The rightwing meme is that people don't want insurance and those are the people who are uninsured. It's their same response to everything: poor people are actually rich, school teachers make too much money, anyone who says they're being discriminated against is actually privileged, etc.

    Buying the conservative premise that people just don't want insurance is silly from the start. Why not ask about a 30 year old who can't get coverage at his job because his employer doesn't provide it and he has a preexisting condition? Or a 30 year old who works crappy jobs and will never have enough money for insurance? Why doesn't this 30 year old have to be one of the few wankers who rejects health care because he thinks nothing will happen? Why, in Republican world, do all the people who have bad things happen to them have to just be irresponsible?

    Anyway, Krugman's sentence could have been better constructed, although they did cheer Paul's "this whole idea that you have to take care of everybody...." The people who applauded weren't so dumb that they didn't know what Paul was referring to.

    But Krugman still shouldn't have started a column with that incident. It's too inconsequential. Yeah, some wankers on the right behaved like wankers, but it's not their fault we have the health care system we do in the US. When health care lobbyists were dumping over a million dollars a day into Congress, writing their own legislation, and having secret meetings with powerful pols, all while a majority of Americans supported a single-payer type system, you can't blame these folks no matter how nutty they are and doing so makes it less likely to convince them.

    Liberals often get the blame game wrong and let the wrong people off the hook, mainly because liberals only have a vague idea of how the world works. We could have an angry mob cheering for letting the private health care industry die, but we don't have either the clue or the pull needed to convince people of that one.

  15. I'm inclined to do some mind-reading here, and damn me for it if you wish.

    I think sometimes it's just too unpleasant to see and comprehend the ugliness that is right before our eyes. Would people really hoot and cheer in favor of some poor soul dying because they don't have health insurance? Would people really cheer at the mere mention of how many people Texas has executed?

    Maybe it's more soothing to the mind and soul to look away and imagine it ain't so.

    I'll leave the Zapruder-like dissection of the tape to others.

  16. Perhaps to Rep. Paul the 60s were the good old days, but to the non-whites who were turned away and sent to "seperate but equal" hospitals, not so much.

    His memory is influenced by a reality distorted by his being in the ruling class and by his being part of a professional elite.

    Many of us weren't and aren't so lucky. He needs to consider that.

  17. If only as a persuasive strategy, Krugman might well have refrained from entering the real meat of his column today via the (arguable, obviously) reaction by the audience in the Blitzer/Paul exchange. On the other hand, you could say he was trying to call attention to some of the outrageous things said/argued by some conservatives (e.g. at least some members of this audience), things that have to be called out at regular intervals so that they don't gradually enter "normal" discourse.
    I do detect in Krugman (on his blog even more than his columns) a growing impatience and frustration. I share both, and I can only try to imagine the frustration he must feel as someone whose voice has earned the right to serious attention from powerful players inside the Village and the WH who only ignore his voice, when they aren't expressing disdain for it.
    But we all have to be careful not to let our legitimate anger and frustration get the better of our judgement about strategy and tactics. I haven't formed an opinion about the prudence of Krugman's column today (sometimes the prudent tactic is to let your anger show, even if you may be a bit unfair to some people). But I do agree with bob somerby that, collectively, we can't let our legitimate concerns, sense of outrage, anger, all of that, allow us to lower our own standards of accuracy and fairness or to become impatient. Here I'd invoke MLK. True patience is very hard work, and it doesn't mean never showing your anger or not pressing for swift changes. But it does mean not getting distracted by the impulses born of frustration.

  18. The only thing more likely to offend liberalism-skeptics than a liberal with a spine is a liberal without a spine. People may not like to be confronted, but they prefer confrontation to condescension.

  19. Props to Bob Somerby for critizing a pundit who he often respectfully quotes.

    Blitzer's hypothetical question was biased IMHO. Blitzer postulated a man with the means to buy health insurance who irresponsibly chose not to do so. Blitzer implicitly assumed that a government health system would be more responsible for each individual. Is that really so?

    No doubt an individual may sometimes act irresponsibly toward himself. However, in my experience there's a greater risk that a goverment program will be imperfect and not work for some people. That's particularly the case with an unintelligible monstrosity of a bill like Obamacare.

  20. Re: the need for a demon. Any entity fighting the eva'doers is goodness incarnate.

    How many fear-peddling progressives condemned the terror alert systems under Bush-Cheney? It was us vs. them, the other, then and now. Such a polarization is necessary to cloud the discourse, negating any alternative viewpoints/energy.

    Those expressing such rot may actually believe it, but like all faiths, it contains a will to believe. Are they benefitting from the current two-tribe system? Are the mass of men better off in this system, or just relatively pampered professionals with the leisure time to blog extensively.

  21. kjmclark and those backing him/her have got it about right. And so, by extension, does Digby. Bob, you're doing a bit of selective attention here, yourself -- at best. Which is fine -- everyone screws up. It's the way you combine your own mistakes with that condescending tone that makes your mistakes twice as irksome.

  22. Orwell: To see what's right in front of one's nose is a constant struggle.

  23. I agree that major figures should be a bit more restrained in their language.
    On the other hand, Krugman presents an accurate picture.

    This is an e-mail to me from a person that calls himself a libertarian.

    "What do you think of the current bailout? Who do you think is to blame for it? Why should the taxpayers be on the hook for an amount which is larger than the total Federal budget for the coming year?

    I think they should all lose their homes if they can't pay. Also, so what if most people can't get credit? They probably can't afford to pay it off anyway, so we'll just be bailing them out. I played by the rules, paid all my bills, am not in debt, and didn't even get my "stimulus" check. I guess I'm just too "rich".

    I agree that your money is YOURS, but you and XXX think it is proper for the government to take it and give it to people who haven’t earned it. Yes, I know how half of America lives, they’re doing it off my dime, and it pisses me the **** off. There, I said it. I want to cut them off entirely."

    This is not just anecdotal evidence. These same words are repeated over and over thousands of times every day on hundreds of blogs and comments on blogs.

    The argument is the federal government has no right to use tax money to give handouts, and that it has no right to force people to buy health insurance.
    The truth is that these people just don't care. They see the less fortunate as less than human.

  24. The "charity model" or "thousand points of light" also fail in a democracy because the good people are forced to spend their money to solve our problems, while the not-so-good people can free ride, save their money, buy up our economy, and use that power to control who gets elected.

  25. Disease vs. Al Qaeda. Which is the more deadly enemy? How many people do you know who've been killed too young by disease?

  26. Wow! comments, the way it should be.Thank you all.

  27. gravymeister -- That's really unfair to say that people who hold the views of your libertarian friend "see the less fortunate as less than human." I read that message and conclude that the author has a real gripe -- why should he, and others, who acted responsibly have to pay the bill for others who chose not to act responsibly? This attitude isn't just toward "the less fortunate," but also toward the irresponsible persons in the financial sector, who blew up the world economy while making millions each year, and now their firms are bailed out by the taxpayers.

    But, as with most things in life, the issue is more complex. That's why the simplistic libertarian arguments won't work in real life -- there are too many instances where responsible people end up needing help, through no fault of their own. However, to dismiss libertarians as not caring is overly simplistic, too, as well as being unfair.

    By the way, the video clearly shows that only a couple jerks appeared to rejoice at the mention of a 30-year-old dying for lack of health insurance.

  28. First, I didn't say the writer was a libertarian, I said he called himself a libertarian.
    He was more of a Randian (Ayn) than a libertarian.
    The attitude is closer to social Darwinism than it is to social justice. The writer has no axe to grind with the very wealthy, only with the very poor.
    He, and his ilk, see all of the so-called 50 percent of those that "pay no taxes" as parasites. They are not him.
    He identifies strongly with the millionaire class, and considers himself a junior partner and cheerleader.
    Regardless of the response in the video, I still say there are millions out there
    that believe the chronically unemployed in today's economy are there because they were stupid, or lazy, or shortsighted. Not from forces beyond their control.
    If you don't believe me, I invite you to read the comments in any conservative blog.
    He blames Barack Obama for TARP, even though it was a Bush administration program.

  29. Ayn Rand was on publicly-provided welfare in her declining years. Funny how that works.