New media progressives were giddy this weekend after a segment about health care reform aired on The Ed Show this Friday. Air America joined the celebration, too. No new ground was covered. Yet here I am writing about it five days later. Why? Because while the dust-up may have made good theater, it was bad for progressive politics.
David Shuster hosted the discussion between Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and the former representative from Colorado's 6th District, and sometime presidential candidate, hate-monger extraordinaire, Tom Tancredo. The conversation got hot a few times, and then boiled over when the three discussed veteran health care. It was the political media equivalent of pro-wrestling, Fox News painted blue: unintelligent, argumentative, and pointless.
The trouble started when Shuster asked Tancredo if the Veterans Administration--a single-payer system--is "a threat to our freedom." A loaded question for sure, given that the service members affected by the shooting at Fort Hood (the day before) had all received care there. Tancredo claimed that he had never met a service member who didn't think that the Veterans Administration was "a bureaucratically run program that didn't meet their needs." He went on to say they would all prefer a voucher system.
Okay. It was a laughable statement. So, on cue, Moulitsas laughed in that gleeful, "OMG you're so dumb" way that only he can muster. Fair enough. That stupid, ideological lament, tawdry little nothing of a lie that Tancredo was trying to sell the audience was after all a joke.
Fast-forward. Markos said something that bears saying often in the hothouse of tea-baggers, Astro-Turf activism, and race-baiting populism that emerged after President Obama was sworn in.
People want a more effective VA. That's more money....This is a threat to Republicans. They've built an entire ideology predicated on telling people that government does not work. They are terrified of government programs that work, because then people will realize that government is not the enemy, and they're going to vote Democratic because Democrats are the party who realize that people need help, and government can sometimes offer solutions.
It was a good thing to say, and Markos said it well, between the barks of an unhinged political manqué, but it did not merit FireDogLake's proclamation that, "Markos Moulitsas Destroys Tom Tancredo on MSNBC." We missed something when I fast-forwarded to the above statement. Tom Tancredo did not leave the set because big government works. So, what did Moulitsas say?
He said: "I'm a veteran."
Fair enough. You might expect him next to say that he has been the recipient of fantastic medical care at the Veterans Administration, but he doesn't say this at all. He does not cite a single instance of the VA in action. Instead, he defames with an ugly air of superiority that undoes whatever persuasion might have worked its way into the minds of the conservatives (and independents) who were "out there" eavesdropping on those liberal crazies over at MSNBC.
Tom. I am a veteran. I did not get a deferment because I was too depressed to fight in a war that I supported in Vietnam. I'm a veteran.
Tancredo is best known for being a xenophobic hater of people of color--or at least someone who abhors their presence in the United States of America. (People like Moulitsas, whose family hails from Ecuador.) He was lauded in the past by white power folks for keeping America safe from illegal immigrants even if it cost the nation $200 billion. He even called out Sonia Sotomayor for being a member of the National Council of La Raza, which he dubbed "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."
Tom Tancredo is not a difficult person to debate. As a matter of fact, you merely need to let him talk to defeat him. So why on earth, in a conversation about health care, would you deride a man for not serving his country because of a debilitating illness that, by the way, affects 8 to 12 percent of the population? Would he also attack people with schizophrenia? Partial blindness?
For a person with as much pull in influential circles as Markos Moulitsas to engage in a pissing match, and a petty one at that, with a man who does not deserve a minute of his time is to belittle the importance of the work that actually needs to be accomplished, or to vastly underestimate his potential influence on debates that matter, such as the one around health care reform.
When Crashing the Gate was published however many years ago, I remember thinking that Jerome Armstrong and Moulitsas were 100% correct in their assessment of what ailed the Democratic Party. There was no cohesion of message and purpose. No unity. No sense of mission and professionalism. Single-payer could get no traction because there wasn't a committee in Washington that could have had a civil conversation about its merits. That's a sign of a sick party.
Getting back to Moulitsas and Tancredo on The Ed Show, they did not have a civil conversation because they were not supposed to have one. That's a media problem as well as a message problem. But the fact remains, there is victory in dignity, and it is time we started lauding instances of the bad guys getting short-circuited not by a public drubbing, but by a sound argument. We can behave like the gold standard for logic has changed, but it hasn't. The slap fight anti-intellectualism of essentially South Park-like discourse is great at a cocktail party--and it has a place in the realm of politics--but it cannot safely replace thoughtful debate, or we will see the completion of Roger Ailes' political vision: the country club edition of The Lord of the Flies. It's a dangerous world where childish memes and raw bullying can change the law.
First things first. An expanded Medicare will do for now. And while the Stupak amendment is a sharp slap in the face for what most of us on the left deem an acceptable outcome, there is the fact that we're seeing legislative movement for the first time in years on the issue of health care reform in America. And Tom Tancredo can say whatever he wants about vouchers. I'm still hearing, "Latino KKK."
When people think about Markos Moulitsas, it would be great if they thought about what he had to say regarding government programs and the GOP, but they won't, because you could barely hear him over Tancredo's cross-talking. What most people will remember is the second quote where he stoops to conquer and winds up sounding just as mean and derisive as a Republican. Maybe that's necessary. Maybe we need a few more Carvilles running around being fast and furious with the truth, but we also need to cut through the noise and hysteria sometimes.
Markos Moulitsas is a million times better than that. We're better than that. The below video isn't the best example of something better, but it's recent and one of many.