Manufactured Expertise

One of the privileges of living on the West coast is that one day blends easily into the next — You work late, and when things get into a groove at about 2:30 a.m., you can crank up the television and catch the morning political shows on the East coast.

Thus I have had a chance to get familiar with the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” which occasionally has something of interest, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.  But today their commentator Lawrence O’Donnell just reminded me why our participatory democracy is so full of hacks.  This fellow is going on and on about his responsibility for the Medicare budget in 1994, and I’m thinking “right, right,” and then then O’Donnell up and pulls out his “Health Security Card,” part of the Clinton administration’s effort to push for universal health care in 1993-1994.

“Hey!” I think.  “I know what that is!”  The “Health Security Card” was a gimmick by the Clinton administration, distributed as political propaganda to show Americans what a national health care system might mean for them — just bring your card to any clinic or hospital, and get care.  And stop with all the duplication of medical records, etc.

It was the simple answer to the Republican chart of immense complexity, the assertion that no American could get health care or even reach a doctor due to the new plan’s massive bureaucratic thicket.

So O’Donnell holds up his card for the camera.  And I expect something profound to come out of his mouth, which, as I quickly find out, was a stupid hope.

“They only printed about one hundred of these,” he says, “for us power-brokers up here on the hill.”  I suppose this kind of self-aggrandizement is why he is on television.  Because in fact I also have a “Health Security Card”! It was handed to me by a Clinton supporter on Capitol Hill in August 1994 not long after I got off a subway and walked into the maelstrom of pro- and anti-universal coverage forces.

But Lawrence O’Donnell is so enraptured with his own recto-cranial inversion that somehow MSNBC lets him get away with this kind of retch-inducing self-promotion.    Sorry, Lawrence, while that “Health Security Card” you are holding up  makes a very good point about the limited Obama approach vs. the all-or-nothing Clinton approach of 1994, it says nothing about your amazing status as a Washington power broker fifteen years ago.  They were handing the damn things out to teenagers on the subway, trying to compete with the conservatives handing out bright red bumperstickers that said “Gov’t Run Health Care Makes Me Sick.”

It was a useful reminder, but the point could have been made without the cloying assertion of exclusivity.

In any case, assertions like his are simply another reminder that sources, generally speaking, shouldn’t be trusted.

Like Fox News’ subtle but unmistakably modified Nazi propaganda posters.  Thanks, Rupert Murdoch and Glenn Beck! (Psst…. If at any time you need my notes on Goebbels’ diary, just let me know, because in spite of your fascination with the NSDAP, it seems you haven’t read much of their actual work.)

Someday a creative scholar is going to write a brilliant book-length cultural study of the history of narcissists, propaganda culture, so-called public intellectuals, rumor, and the limits of discourse on this failing medium of discourse — television — on Beijing’s CCTV and in the United States in the early 21st century.

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