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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Does the Media Love Lieberman?

Here's an item that comes to us courtesy of Think Progress. In an interview with FOX News' Neil Cavuto, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, says he can't vote for the Senate healthcare bill as it stands now.



I’m struggling with this. As of this point, I’m not voting for the bill... I’m going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I’ve indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point. And here is the reason. When the public option was withdrawn, because of Lieberman’s action, what I worry about is how do you control escalating health care costs?


It's a good question and one that Joe Lieberman has failed to answer -- mostly because he doesn't have an answer. He's just a great big ball of malevolent neuroses who follows his nervously jerking knee. At every point, Lieberman's reasons for opposing healthcare legislation hasn't been founded in fact. The most widely held explanation of Lieberman's constant betrayal of his own caucus has been that he's out for revenge of past wrongs. If this is the case, then Sen. Joe Lieberman is irrational.





And there's good evidence that this is the case. In November, Steve Benen found six different reasons -- changing monthly -- that Lieberman gave for opposing the public option. In every case, Lieberman was simply wrong or the arguments made no logical sense. They were, to repeat the word, irrational.

Later, in opposing the Medicare buy-in, Lieberman contradicted an argument he'd made just three months earlier, when he proposed nearly the exact same thing. This is Lieberman three months ago:

My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid...

When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group — post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re too young to qualify for Medicare.

What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. If you’re 55 or 60 and you’re without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because you’re older... you’re rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.


I realize I'm covering a lot of ground I've already covered this week, but it's really all leading up to one question; which Independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats do you think is going to get more press over his refusal to help pass this thing, Lieberman or Sanders?

I know what horse my money's going to be riding and, assuming you've been paying attention, so do you. Lieberman will continue to get all the media attention he so obviously craves. Why?

One is that no one, myself included, believes that Sanders would join a Republican filibuster of this bill. Lieberman would. So there's that. But assuming the parallel between the two was hypothetically perfect, do you really believe that Sanders would get the press Lieberman's getting right now?

Lieberman has become a media darling in part because of his ability to aggravate liberals and in part because his moves seem as capricious as they probably are. The Senator from Connecticut is unpredictable, is bent on punishing the Democrats he believes betrayed him, and seemingly doesn't care about the consequences of his actions. If this were a TV drama, Joe Lieberman would be a villain.

And, to a certain extent, the healthcare debate is a drama. News networks approach major policy debates the same way they approach a football game -- opposing teams, only one winner. To be fair, complaining that this portrayal is inaccurate is inaccurate in itself. Any conflict where one side wins and one side loses is a game and players who don't approach it as a game will lose. But the media fails to put this game in context, fails to show the consequences of the victory of one team or another. We see this best demonstrated in the "horse race" reporting of presidential campaigns. The game is only a part of the story and a more important -- yet widely ignored -- aspect is what happens to the nation after victory and defeat has been achieved. It's all about the conflict itself and, in the case of healthcare reform, there's very little coverage of the reason for the conflict.

From this perspective, Joe Lieberman is dynamic. You have no idea what he's going to do next, he has a history of betrayal, and he seems driven only by spite. Seen in a dramatic context, Bernie Sanders is boring; he makes sense, his arguments aren't based on outrageous lies, and he really does seem to have the good of the nation at heart. Bernie Sanders simply is what he is; a dedicated public servant doing his job in a way he sees as serving the public interest.

Yawn.

Of course, this approach creates a sort of negative feedback loop between the media and Joe Lieberman. The worse Lieberman behaves, the more irrational his position, the more the media likes it. And Joe, being a supremely vain and self-important man, loves the media attention; this provides incentive for him to continue his campaign of unreasoning, knee-jerk opposition to reform -- to the point where he opposes even his own ideas. In other words, the media is enabling Lieberman by rewarding him for his reckless and unthinking campaign against the hated liberals.

It's a pity that the media isn't more concerned with real world consequence than TV drama. If they were, Sen. Sanders' arguments would get a lot more play and Sen. Lieberman's would be exposed as the sad ravings of a bitter narcissist.

-Wisco


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