Mark Ambinder Thinks Granny “Really” Is a Clunker

Mark Ambinder wrote a controversial post in which he compared efforts to protect social security in 2005 with the GOP’s Rent-a-Mobs now. His argument, basically, is that just because the Rent-a-Mobs were organized by the corporations trying to doom healthcare reform doesn’t mean we can assume the anxiety expressed by people at Town Halls isn’t "real" justifiable anxiety. And if that anxiety is "real," we need to deal with it.

When you find Astroturfing, the next question ought to be: but does it reflect anything real? If it does, then you’ve got work to do.

Now, Ezra has the best rebuttal to claims that the press should treat the Rent-a-Mobs as reflecting "real" anxiety. If it’s so important to report what goes on at these town halls, then why hasn’t the press reported the consistent call for single payer at town halls–sustained over a much longer period of time?

I’ve been attending health-care panels and events on a pretty regular basis for four or five years now. Each event, of course, is its own precious snowflake, with its own set of graphs and bullet points and dweebish jokes. But one thing is perfectly predictable: The Q&A session will be dominated by single-payer activists asking about HR 676.


The media hasn’t shown the slightest inclination to cover their presence at event after event after event.

That’s worth keeping in mind as people begin to focus on the anti-health-care tea parties. The political system does not have some sort of consistent reaction to grassroots pressure. Rather, it picks and chooses when it wants to listen to the views of the very, very non-representative groups of people who sit through at town halls and panel discussions.[my emphasis]

Aside from Ambinder’s seeming fascination with Rent-a-Mobs to the detriment of single payer activists, there’s another problem with his argument. He argues that we can’t assume that the concerns expressed by the Rent-a-Mobs aren’t "real" concerns because there is "real" uncertainty about how health care reform will turn out. Fair enough. But to make his case, he chooses a wonky issue not really raised by the Rent-a-Mobs. He suggests the anxiety of those at the Rent-a-Mobs stems from their understanding of how iMAC will work (or, more specifically, whether it’ll even be passed by the Senate).

Take, for example, the question of whether people would have to change their policies or their doctors as the result of a robust public plan. Obama says no — and he makes a credible argument for it. Many real people — regardless of their motives — have legitimate and credible reasons to believe that the answer is yes. In cases like this, maybe there is no middle ground — ya just believe it or you don’t. But empirical data-gathering and analysis isn’t set up to answer questions like these, because they derive their power from emotion and gut feelings. Will the iMAC proposal lead to reduced health care costs over the long-term? Anyone who says they KNOW it will cannot possibly be telling the truth: there is no way to know whether lobbyists will be successful in getting the 50 members of the Senate, say, to overturn a particular provision. We can make a reasonable guess that by changing the context and forcing Congress to vote "no" on something billed as a cost-cutting measure, it’ll be tougher for lobbyists to work their charms. But we don’t know.

Where do you draw the line? It depends on the issue and the context. For example: evolution is true and supported by evidence, and enough evidence so as to overwhelm whatever value-laden arguments its opponents muster. I think journalists can call evolution "true" without compromising their duty; indeed, I think that our duty demands it. But that question is categorically different than asking journalists to come down on the side of a policy option where the truth cannot be known until the experiments are run. Taking the truth seriously means, I think, being able to know when and where the truth can be discerned.

By pretending this is about wonky disputes, Ambinder gives himself the luxury of distinguishing between certainties–like evolution and (later in his post) Obama’s American birth and citizenship–and uncertainties like cost-control in Medicare.

He of course totally ignores what ginned up the Rent-a-Mob anxiety. Not discussions–good faith or not–about iMAC or even, really, discussions about whether people could keep their current healthcare plan. But claims that a measure to ensure end of life care discussions as an option is tantamount to a plan to euthanize the elderly. Or claims that Obama wants to take away seniors’ Medicare and instead force them to use a government-run program (ha!).

Ambinder’s presumption that the anxiety of the Rent-a-Mobs is "real" frees him from having to explain the connection between the deathers’ claims–that Obama’s health care will treat Granny like a clunker and freeze up her engine with a silica solution–and the Rent-a-Mob.

There is some "real" anxiety expressed at the town halls (including from those who believe single payer is the only way to fix health care). But there’s also a whole lot of anxiety ginned up by claims that are as non-sensical as creationist and birther claims. Ambinder’s happy to speak in lofty terms of the duty of journalists to insist that evolution is "real." But he’s seems perfectly content to simply presume that the worry that Granny will be offed by the government to save money is also "real."

  1. behindthefall says:

    It seems that the “Equal Time” principle of current journalism is a bad way of arriving at the truth — or even of reporting.

    • greenwarrior says:

      when was the last time democrats got equal time? i sure haven’t seen it in a very long time. i’m not even discussing progressives.

      • behindthefall says:

        When was the last time the wingnutters deserved the time they get? That’s the point. Somehow, there has been put in place a doctrine that says that “no intellectual evaluative filter can be justified; just report everything”. As soon as you accept this premise, you’re going to be in a minute-counting or line-counting squabble.

        I wonder how it got started in journalism. It smells a lot like the Constructivist movement in education, which has proponents in surprisingly high places. However, up to a point I can construct a view of the world which is faulty just as readily as I can build one which is consistent (and therefore more likely to be correct).

        Editors edit: they decide how a paragraph should be built. They don’t give equal time to rational paragraphs and to hodgepodge paragraphs. Apply similar judgment to the news.

        Eh. This is going to take more time to work through than I have right now. You get the idea of where my thoughts are, I hope.

  2. Leen says:

    Really appreciate that Ezra sheds some light on how the MSM has ignored the efforts of single payer advocates activities over the years and years.

    Rachel Maddow, Matthews, NPR missed the Health Care Now march last Thursday. As Chris Matthews was covering the “Rent a mobs” crowd for several nights he actually had the balls to ask “where are the folks from the others side”

    This is one time it was clear that Chris Matthews had his head up where the sun does not shine on this issue (and I have stood up for Tweety on many occasions). But clearly the MSM completely ignored the Health Care Now Rally last Thursday in D.C. (Rachel Maddow) missed it too. I guess that rally was too well behaved.

    Rachel, Matthews etc were all too dizzy from playing that same damn clip of the Obama beer summit that same day.

  3. bmaz says:

    For those wondering (like me), IMAC stands for Independent Medicare Advisory Council. It is a group of medical professionals who would be charged with eliminating waste and making Medicare more efficient.

  4. Leen says:

    If those “rent a mobs” people are so concerned about the grannies and grandpas in the U.S. Their time would be better spent visiting the tens of thousands of abandoned older folks in many of the nursing homes across our nation.

    I have been in three nursing homes and 14 or so Independent/ assisted living facilities (shopping for my father) over the last 2 years. Most of the folks in those nursing homes are being kept alive on lots of pills. I would bet money on..that if given the chance or choice some of those individuals lying back in a chair, drool streaming down their chins, teeth rotting in their mouths (most do not have much attention given to their teeth,(those aides are overworked and underpaid), eyes blank, endlessly repeating “help me, help me, help me”. If given the choice long ago by simply filling out a directive.
    Tens of thousands being kept alive on pharmaceuticals would choose (if they could) to pass. Put money on it.
    Pharmaceuticals putting their money into keeping them alive. CCCHHHING

    I have taken 6 of my nieces and nephews (ages 11-15) into these nursing homes to visit their grandfather and do some volunteer work (really gave them the heads up before they went into the first place). Their perspectives and opinions were fascinating. Given the information about what they would see and how many of these folks have been abandoned by their families all of these young folks stepped up to the plate. Talking with and interacting with many of these older folks…helping them smile for a few minutes is so worth it

    Now there are older folks who have family members visit them every day and you can tell that it makes such a difference. But It is truly heart wrenching to witness many of the abandoned older folks being kept alive on pills who sometimes sit at the doors of the nursing homes waiting for their family members or just watching the activity. I have really talked in depth with many of the aides, nurses and other health care workers over the last several years. It breaks their hearts.

    Watching the body language of these seniors is fascinating. An old gent will be sitting there all slumped over, head down, eyes shut, sad. Son shows up the old gent sits up straight smiles, puts his hands up and shouts out to the rest of us “here is my son, here is my son”

    Those “rent a mobs” folks should take the time to “rent a Granny or Grampy” and spend their time giving these people much needed attention

    • greenwarrior says:

      that’s awesome work you’re doing with the young people. and the old people. you’re teaching the young ones what really matters and bringing some sweetness and joy into the hearts of the older people. it warms my heart to hear about what you and your family are doing. thank you so much for sharing that with us.

      • Leen says:

        I sincerely do not share these stories to get pats on the back but to encourage others to get their asses in to those places to not only visit their own family members..but to think about “renting a granny or grampa”. the only reason I had ever gone to visit anyone in a nursing home was an old gal here in Athens that I had become friends with over the years. It is a pleasure hearing her stories, practicing moving really slow when you hang out with these folks etc.

        When you get past the shock of the condition of some of these folks is one thing. But soon after you realize these places our treasure troves of wisdom, stories and very sweet people who need some attention, touch and love. I actually get kind of high asking them questions, allowing their minds to take as long as need to bring up the sentence filled with memories and watching them smile. The smallest act is so appreciated.

        One thing that I have also come to realize is that the bulk of the work in these places is done by the aides who are underpaid, understaffed and overworked. States really need to pass legislation that sets higher wages for these angels on earth

      • Leen says:

        Crying can be really good

        Your heart will grow and more tears will fall if you take the time to go into one of these places to hug some of these abandoned seniors, listen to a story, rub lotion on some wrinkled skin, wipe a bugar from a few noses, thank the aides and nurses for their generally tender and loving work. Some more tears will fall but your heart will surely grow.


        Scarecrow has a winner up at Seminal
        NYT Front Page: Have You Hugged Your Health Insurance Company Today?

        Instead of hugging a senior in a nursing home the “screamers” want you to hug your Insurance company. Those fat cats need some hugs on top of their millions

  5. fatster says:

    Excellent work, EW, just excellent. Many thnx for this.

    I went to wiki to see what I could learn about Marc Ambinder (not much at wiki). I did learn a bit about the National Journal, however. That is a very in-crowd pub and according to wiki “is mostly read by members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers, the White House, Executive Branch agencies, the media, think tanks, corporations, associations and lobbyists. Most of the journal’s content can be accessed only by subscribers.”

    The owner of the parent organization, Atlantic Media Company, is also interesting, supposedly a neocon. Assuming wiki is accurate, that would explain Ambinder’s tack on worrisome things happening with the “tea-baggers”.

  6. BoxTurtle says:

    The thing that confuses me is that the only real losers in the public plans I’ve seen are the insurance companies. Yes, some taxes would go up for business but once the health care is transfered to single payer the cost differential would be pretty nearly zero.

    Yet the wingnuts are out in droves. Corporations and political parties are renting mobs. The GOP is frantically throwing mudballs against the wall, hoping that something will stick. Obama’s not a US citizen and he’s going to euthanize me while making me pay for my granddaughter to be aborted. Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

    We used to have a cuss bucket at my house. Every bad word cost you a quarter. Sometimes, it was worth it. Mom never paid for laundry once the cuss bucket was in place. I think we need a stupid bucket. Every time a politician or talking head says something stupid, they gotta throw a dollar in the stupid bucket. That could kill the national debt in a year!

    Boxturtle (Dobbs alone would be a mid six figure donor!)

  7. BMiller224 says:

    Classic “both sides” balance on Ambinder’s part. Out here in the real world, anyone of normal perception can tell the difference between someone asking challenging or even hostile questions and protesting, on the one hand, and an organized effort to shut down a public meeting. I’ve been in two meetings, both of them as it happened organized by Catholic parishes, where far-right groups attempted to shut down the meetings. They succeeded in one case, not in the other. The footage I’ve seen on the Republican goons-light actions at the town halls are pretty much exactly the same tactic those rightwing groups used in the two cases I mentioned. It really is not hard to tell the difference between dissent or protest and a thuggish attempt to shut down a meeting. Ambinder needs to get out more.

  8. R.H. Green says:

    Ambinder writes:…evolution is true and supported by evidence…”. This is scientific nonsense; it suggests a case where a proposition (such as evolution) can be true and not supported by evidence. While such a situation can logically exist, in science “truth” is derived from observation, not independent of it. This gives rise to look askance ot other propositions espoused by the writer; I find this one troubling: “…asking journalists to come down on the side of of a policy option…” Just who is asking the journalist to do this comming down on any side. Taking a side in any debate (scientific or public policy) would depend on where the facts lead, not on some predetermined position which is then “supported” by a selected array of convenient facts. I doubt anyone has asked Ambinder or any real journalist to come down of the side of a public option, but I don’t doubt that someone has “asked” him to promote the other side. Ambinder’s breath smells of koolaid.

  9. Civlibertarian says:

    OT, astonishing article in The Nation:

    Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder

    A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

  10. bobschacht says:

    What’s really behind Ambinder’s piece is that the MSM is afraid to evaluate and assess anything. This is partly driven by fear of lawsuits: You’re “safe” in today’s media market if you just present “both sides” as if they’re of equal value, and “let the public decide,” which is a cop-out.

    This is part of a larger problem: A gap in most education programs. Driven by No Child Left Behind, priority is given to basic reading proficiency and math skills (studying to the tests that will be used to evaluate a school’s educational proficiency.) All other skills, like civics, as well as evaluation and assessment skills, fall down the scale of priorities, and are neglected. This deficit is important in other ways, too: Many of today’s internet users have no idea how to evaluate and assess the sources they find on the Internet.

    Of course, evaluation and assessment is hard work. It not only requires thinking, but may require additional research.

    The “truth” goal is problematic in another way: How does one determine truth? This has, in fact, been one of the most important subliminal debates for more than 10 years. Basically, there are the pragmatists and others who care about science, who value evidence, versus the ideologues (don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up). Republicans recite as an article of faith that tax cuts are the answer to almost every problem. There is no need to appeal to evidence: To them, it is “true”.

    Journalists are faced with a problem in this regard: in such a field of play, how do you discern truth? Should one appeal to evidence, or ideological truisms? On such a field of play, it is just easier to throw up one’s hands and present “both sides,” and let the public decide, using their own calculus of pragmatism or ideology.

    Bob in HI

    • Leen says:

      “You’re “safe” in today’s media market if you just present “both sides” as if they’re of equal value, and “let the public decide,” which is a cop-out.”

      Big problem is they do not present both sides of an issue. health care covering the “screamers” but not those who have been pushing for single payer of a very long time. Hell Rachel, Matthews, Ed, Olberman all missed covering the Health Care Now Rally last Thursday. It was right in their back yards.

      They do not present the other side of the Iranian protesters. the milions who voted for Ahamadinejad

      They do not have the head of the IAEA who has said no “hard evidence” to back up the endlessly repeated claims that Iran is pursuing Nuclear weapons. David Gregory, Stephanapoulous, Maddow, Terri Gross , Neil Conan just allow the warmongers to repeat these unsubstantiated claims. NEVER NEVER A challenge.

      They do not cover both sides of issues..

      • bobschacht says:

        Well, you’re right, of course. Many issues have more than two sides.
        Foreign policy issues don’t count in the same way, however. The “other” side, if it is foreign-based, doesn’t merit consideration in today’s media world. And if there are more than two sides, the MSM is satisfied as long as it can present more than one side. I suppose they are assuming some kind of Hegelian dialectic to the universe.

        For example in the health care debate, supporters of single payer health care can be ignored so long as you can get a Democrat and a Republican to argue over the issue du jour, whether it’s patient’s choice about end of life issues (portrayed as euthenasia), the co-op option, or whatever.

        Bob in HI

        • Leen says:

          Did you witness any of the MSM have former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter on before the invasion of Iraq. Hell no. Did you witness them have IAEA El Baradei on their programs to announce to the American people that the Niger Documents were false. Fuck no. They only had one side of the story the lies.

          And for some time we have been hearing the unsubstantiated claims about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program be repeated on the MSM and those claims are never NEVER challenged. I have heard David Gregory roll over when Hillary repeated them, Stephanapoulous roll over when McCain repeated them..I have heard Obama repeat these unsubstantiated claims about Iran on Face the nation…no challenge. John Bolton has been on Talk of the Nation several times and Neil Conan never challenges his repeated claims

          Rachel Maddow and Terri Gross repeat these claims themselves.

          The MSM is not asking challenging questions when these claims are repeated they are only allowing one side. Did you see any coverage or any interviews on the MSM of people who had voted for Ahamdenejad? Hell no It was Iranian Protesters of the election 24/7

          And our MSM is doing their part in undermining the government of Iran…including Rachel. No challenges no guest from another perspective, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, Scott Ritter. When is the last time you saw Seymour Hersh on one of these programs sharing another perspective

          The consent to back up Israel if they pre-emptively strike Iran was being manufactured via the look how bad Iran is coverage during the conflict over their elections.

          Our MSM gave far far more coverage to those protest than to the protest that took place against the invasion here in the states.

          They do not even show two sides to issues

        • 4jkb4ia says:

          Nazila Fathi spoke to someone who voted for Ahmadinejad a few days after the election when she could still be in the country.

  11. Loo Hoo. says:

    Leen, admirable work on the old folks’ homes. Back when California had money, I paired up the kids in my class with a resident of a nursing home. The kids would make cards and pictures to deliver, learn songs and dances to perform, etc. The residents loved it, and it was really good for the kids.

    • Leen says:

      I had no idea what my nieces and nephews would do after they had been given a little coaching on what to expect. Have now taken them into several nursing homes several times and they really stepped up to the plate and seemed to really enjoy their time

      if I was the Queen I would require all middle school and high school kids to volunteer an hour a week. They would get credit maybe to buy off a poor grade over their high school career..something like that.

      Keep thinking the Obamas will have Michelle’s mom (the White House Grandma) do some commercials encouraging all of us to step up to the plate and take better care of our seniors especially emotionally

  12. fatster says:

    But, can she extend her sentiments to the US?

    WEDNESDAY AUG. 5, 2009 14:06 EDT

    Hillary Clinton demands accountability for war crimes
    (updated below)
    Glenn Greenwald


    • Leen says:

      Yowser Glenn hits another home run
      “We need to teach those Kenyans that if they don’t prosecute their criminals in high office, then they’ll perpetuate their “culture of impunity,” and that would be awful. Those Kenyans apparently fail to understand that if you immunize high political officials when they commit crimes, that creates a “culture of impunity” — I love that phrase — which ensures future rampant criminality in the political class. How can those Kenyans not realize this?

      Clinton’s sentiments echoed what Obama told Africans when he spoke in Ghana last month, when he demanded that they apply “the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice” and vowed that “we will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable” — meaning African war criminals. As we send murderous, crusading civilian units around the world to accompany our invading armies — while ushering a regime of torture wherever we go — and then announcing we will only Look to the Future, Not the Past, when their crimes are exposed (despite our best efforts to keep them concealed), do we actually expect anyone to take these sermons seriously?”

      Barak’s message of back to the future is not flying in some circles
      Barak to the future

      • 4jkb4ia says:

        I wanted to post original NYT article on possibility of trials in Kenya by Jeffrey Gettleman as a subtle hint from that paper.

  13. bobschacht says:

    America– where hypocrisy is our game, and we’re the world champions!

    We don’t torture! Because when we do it, it isn’t torture!
    Besides, our interrogators were just following orders!
    We don’t commit war crimes, either!

    Bob in HI

    • chetnolian says:

      Can someone explain to a non-American how your politicians can go out saying these things to Africans with a straight face. They surely must KNOW it’s obvious the US has committed War Crimes. Let’s face it, that is exactly and clearly what Mr Yoo set out to permit. Why can’t Africans make up reality as well as Americans? I so want to love the USA. Why is it so difficult?

      • Petrocelli says:

        That’s the thing, HRC and Co will be hearing more of this when they’re meeting away from Cameras … ObamaCo has to set the example or it’s all just fluff !

  14. DrDick says:

    Hell, the demand for single payer is so strong here in Montana that Mad Max stopped attending in person months ago. He was getting reamed every time he appeared. Now he just sends his lackeys to get reamed, which they do. Bear in mind that this is a pinkish state so the support is significant and it is statewide.

  15. jawbone says:

    Dems have been approaching this whole health CARE argument ack-basswards:

    People do not cherish their insurance companies; they value getting health CARE when they need it preferably from providers of their choice. So, why are Dems trying to sell private insurance’s rapacious plans to the public, when what they want is a program which allows choice of provider with certainty of CARE? Medical and financial security is what people want and desperately need.

    Medicare for All with a Robust Private Option

    That says what people want, and what Dems should be arguing for and talking about. Voting for.

    BTW, I do know some people who don’t want to give up their insurance plans: people on Medicare and a vet with VA coverage. All government plans, single payer.

    Why not choose the plan which can actually save money? Why settle for “only” 50-70% cost increases instead of 100% increases? Medicare for All single payer would save $350 to $400 Billion a year, $350 to $400 Trillion over 10 years. Not an increase of 50-70% of whatever the cost is as this year.

    Medicare for All with a robust private option — The uniquely American solution.

  16. LKN2 says:

    Granny may not live long enough to go on Medicare. The compromise working its way through congress will give insurers the right to charge older people up to 7 1/2 times the rate for younger people, in exchange for covering “pre-existing conditions.” That’s a massive increase compared to current health insurance plans. The government will FORCE granny to purchase health insurance, at the expense of food and shelter. Guess that’s where the “euthanasia” comes from!

  17. fatster says:

    Stuff in the news this pm.

    “Cold Cash” Jefferson guilty on 11 of 16 charges.

    Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) has received a death threat over the health care bill and so has cancelled his town hall events for August.

    The RNC is getting overwhelmed “with angry calls over its practice of overrunning town hall meetings” on the health care bill, so overwhelmed that they are now redirecting those calls to the DNC.

    The O-Team has identified the “top candidate for a US Attorney position.” He is a former “copyright and cyber-security lobbyist for companies like Microsoft and IBM. . .,”