Why we voters don’t know a whole lot!


Now they’ve even got Krugman: Let’s face it: The third debate represents the last chance for serious discussion of serious issues in a presidential campaign.

After that, it’s nothing but cant. No serious discussion of serious issues is likely to prevail.

As an example of what we mean, consider the six reports about the campaign we found in our hard-copy New York Times today (“Washington Edition”).

Six reports! It sounds like a lot! But these are the headlines we found:
Headlines today in our hard-copy Times, all election reporting:
In Middle of a Messy Election, A Nightmare Makes Landfall (page A1)
Obama Is Even In TV Ad Race Despite PACs (page A1)
With Less Time for Voting, Black Churches Redouble Their Efforts (page A10)
Famous for Gaffes, a Candidate in Missouri Learns to Watch His Words (page A10)
What Works in a Campaign Commercial? Ad Executives Offer Their Takes (page A12)
Rural Ohio Is Startled Host To Diverted G.O.P. Ticket (page A12)
None of those reports deals with a substantive policy matter. On the other hand, two of these reports concern campaign commercials—and one concerns Todd Akin’s gaffes! But then, the focus on TV ads and gaffes has been quite constant as the slacker Times has pretended to cover this race.

Indeed, the Times has often seemed like some sort of professional journal for the advertising industry. These endless reports have taken the place of even the most simple-minded reporting about central policy matters.

Today, you get to read about Akins’ gaffes again. (No day would be complete without them.) You learn nothing about any policy matter—and speaking of the apocalypse, you even get a strange account of Medicaid from Paul Krugman, the long-standing MVP of the American press corps.

Or so it seems to us. Because we read papers like the Times, we can’t say we’re totally sure.

Romney’s proposal for Medicaid has been widely ignored in this campaign, as Krugman notes in his column. Just a guess: In large part, that’s because of the impression Krugman gives as he describes the program:
KRUGMAN (10/29/12): So this election is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid. And this, in turn, means that you need to know something more about the program.

For while Medicaid is generally viewed as health care for the nonelderly poor, that’s only part of the story. And focusing solely on who Medicaid covers can obscure an equally important fact: Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system.

So, about coverage: most Medicaid beneficiaries are indeed relatively young (because older people are covered by Medicare) and relatively poor (because eligibility for Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is determined by need). But more than nine million Americans benefit from both Medicare and Medicaid, and elderly or disabled beneficiaries account for the majority of Medicaid’s costs. And contrary to what you may have heard, the great majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are in working families.

For those who get coverage through the program, Medicaid is a much-needed form of financial aid. It is also, quite literally, a lifesaver. Mr. Romney has said that a lack of health insurance doesn’t kill people in America; oh yes, it does, and states that expand Medicaid coverage show striking drops in mortality.

So Medicaid does a vast amount of good.
As far as we know, none of that is wrong. But what about all the middle-class people who receive (expensive) nursing home care through the Medicaid program, at least in certain states?

In early September, Nina Bernstein did a front-page report in the Times which flirted with this topic. She keyed her report to a statement Bill Clinton made in his convention address—a statement she said was inaccurate. But this is the way she started:
BERNSTEIN (9/7/12): Medicaid has long conjured up images of inner-city clinics jammed with poor families. Its far less-visible role is as the only safety net for millions of middle-class people whose needs for long-term care, at home or in a nursing home, outlast their resources.

With baby boomers and their parents living longer than ever, few families can count on their own money to go the distance. So while Medicare has drawn more attention in the election campaign, seniors and their families may have even more at stake in the future of Medicaid changes—those proposed, and others already under way.
From that point on, things got rather murky, in standard Times fashion. But right in Bernstein’s opening paragraph, she referred to “millions of middle-class people whose needs for long-term care, at home or in a nursing home,” are paid for by Medicaid.


To what extent does Medicaid pay for nursing home care for middle-class seniors? To what extent do middle-class voters understand this topic when they heard that Romney wants to slash spending for this program?

We don’t know the full answer to that first question. That said, we’ll guess that the vast majority of middle-class voters don’t understand that Medicaid may pay the bills for the future care of their own parents or grandparents.

And we’ll have to say, few voters will get a clear picture of this from reading Krugman’s description today. From his oddly murky account, would a reader understand that nursing home care for middle-class seniors is (sometimes? often?) paid for by Medicaid?

(We know, we know: He doesn't contradict that fact. But would readers come to understand that fact if they didn't already know it?)

Just a guess: Most Times readers have no idea about the way this works. We certainly know we don’t! But go ahead! Enjoy another report about Akin’s gaffes! (Gaffes are entertaining.) And by all means, please keep reading about those campaign ads! Keep track of the states in which the candidates keep saying the same old crap!

Make no mistake: The Times has worked hard, all through this campaign, to avoid discussing matters of substance which can’t be made entertaining and fun. Romney’s tax proposal made no earthly sense. In its Potemkin news reporting, the New York Times still hasn’t told you.

People are working hard, and sincerely, at those black churches. At the New York Times, not so much.


  1. This post is a good example of the advance of the cult-o-somerby. PK highlights a top campaign issue and explains why it's important--using non-technical, non-bureaucratic language to get his message across to the millions who read his column.
    But it's not good enough for the Howler. Nope.

    However, if PK used more technical and administrative language to demonstrate that the Romney campaign was promoting knowingly impossible claims about the fantastical impact of their proposed health care changes, the Howler would shoot that down in an instant as well--

    PK wrote a good column about a topic that nobody else at the NYT would touch.

    1. It's funny that "flak" was one of the (weaker) media filters pointed out about 40 years ago and yet you think your comments make *him* look bad.

    2. Absolutely, tinbox. This blog is now all about "liberals" who don't say it exactly the way Somerby commands, and about very little else.

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  2. Kevin Drum responds to this post:


    1. Color Somerby semi-puzzled. However, Bob's thesis is essentially correct - most middle-class people think Medicaid doesn't apply to them.

    2. I have no idea what Somerby believes "most middle-class people think" but I do know that the following paragraph, even by his own admission, is pure speculation:

      "We don’t know the full answer to that first question. That said, we’ll guess that the vast majority of middle-class voters don’t understand that Medicaid may pay the bills for the future care of their own parents or grandparents."

      Well, Bob, if we are allowed to "guess", then I will "guess" that "the vast majority of middle-class voters" have already experienced this with their own parents or grandparents.

      Says something about you that you haven't. But please, don't project your lack of personal experience onto the "vast majority" of any group.

    3. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll that Drum cites says 61% of middle class respondents consider Medicaid important to them and of that number, 49% said it was because "you or someone you know" has received long term nursing care via Medicaid. Doesn't sound like a vast majority to me.
      And Somerby has written several times about someone he knows personally who is receiving nursing care through Medicaid. Dont remember what the relationship is.

      Ray DeLagarto

    4. 67 percent also said they favored the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare. 2-1 sounds like a pretty vast majority to me.

    5. The "guess" (and the uninformed snark) I was responding to was that "the vast majority of middle class voters" have already experienced this (long term nursing care paid for through Medicaid) with their own parents or grandparents. That is not backed up by the poll data, which puts that number as 49% of 61%.
      I also find it worth noting that Drum says he agreed with Somerby, until he read the poll.

      Ray DeLagarto

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