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Joe Klein’s Hack Column of the Day (Update)

John on August 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I love the smell of hackery in the morning, it smells like victory.

The #1 item over at Time magazine right now is Joe Klein’s latest titled “The GOP has become a party of nihilists.” If Klein’s column were a bad action film, the voice over would start like this — Joe Klein is back and this time it’s personal:

Let me tell you something about my family situation, a common one these days, in order to illuminate the obscenity of Palin’s formulation…

The family portion takes up 396 words in all. The payoff for his tangent is this:

Given the heinous dust that’s been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that’s a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists?

All of this and nothing. Alas, it is a column about nihilism so maybe that’s appropriate. But the big, not-to-be-missed point is that Republicans are nihilists!

There are quite a few definitions for nihilism. The one that probably fits best with Klein’s rant is this one:

Those who believe the world has no meaning or purpose other than a dark, cruel, unceasing struggle for power and existence.

In other words, Joe is upset because he thinks Republicans care more about defeating Obama politically than they do about his dad, and by extension all dads everywhere. Because we all know God is dead on the right and therefore everything is permissible for the hated GOP.

Joe spends the next two paragraphs (about 360 words) issuing caveats, then (about halfway through the piece) he unveils his grand list of complaints:

There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the “death panel” canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.

Well, it’s true there is no Republican plan. Of course it’s also true that there is no Democratic plan. In fact there are several plans making their way through various committees in the Senate and a couple more in the House. Republicans have offered hundreds of amendments to those bills, most of which have been voted down party line. Republicans can’t be blamed for not playing the game so long as the party in power is hogging the ball to themselves.

Of course, as Joe is well aware, there are conservative alternatives out there for dealing with these problems. But that sort of nuance doesn’t find a foothold in this stem winder. Next objection…

It’s true that many conservatives favored intervening in the forced starvation of Terri Schiavo. To call this nihilism is perhaps one of the dumbest thing Joe has ever said, and he’s had a long career. [See update!]

There is not a single definition of nihilism that could apply here. Pro-lifers who favored intervention wanted the state to err on the side of life. They were idealists making explicitly moral arguments. And they did so, ultimately, at great political cost. They were emotional, anti-science and tre’ uncool.

And yet it looks as if Joe is trying to take this — practically a totem on the left — and argue that end of life counseling is the same sort of thing. And if it’s the same, well then Republicans should be for it.

Only Joe didn’t support intervention in Terri Schiavo’s case, so his position would seem to be just as inconsistent as ours. Maybe that’s because the two cases have little in common. One was about defending a helpless woman from end-of-life decisions forced upon her by others, the other is about the wisdom of making end-of-life counseling a mandatory government-owned service for everyone.

And that brings us to Joe’s final point. Sarah Palin’s use of the term “death panels” was all about preventing another Schiavo situation. Why would we want government involved in these decisions, especially if their chief aim is to save money.

Of course in her case the statement was speculative and hyperbolic. She wondered what might happen to her disabled son under some future health regime where the government has a monopoly on what care is funded and what care is not. Inevitably such power comes with “hard choices.” The President himself has said so, why can’t Joe Klein admit as much. Some of those hard choices will indeed involve cost/benefit analysis.

Ultimately, the point Palin made so effectively is a simple one. Once we turn this over to a monopoly, there’s no court of appeal. Once the government runs the entire system, you will play by their rules. What if the rules are unjust? Perhaps it’s better not to concentrate that power in so few hands, especially those of politicians.

Ultimatley, I don’t think any of this is what motivated Joe’s column. It’s a lot simpler than that. Joe’s side is losing and they need someone to blame, a villain to help make sense of the loss. Because of course it can’t be Barack Obama’s fault. It can’t be that the plan is a bad one. It can’t be that people have discovered Jacob Hacker’s plan was premised on deceiving the American people. No, it must be the vile dishonesty of the other side. Enter Sarah Palin and her death panel comment.

Because if Joe really cared about nihilism or “shark jumping” there are quite a few other examples he might have noted:

  • The CIA lied to Congress! Well, not really, but ya know…it sounded good and it helped out the Speaker so shhhh.
  • We’re going to bring back the draft! Remember this one. Not one shred of truth to it, but numerous Democrats went on TV to suggest it during the 2004 elections. Speaking of which…
  • Bush stole the 2004 elections! Diebold did it! Of course that was just the sequel to…
  • Al Gore won the 2000 election! Well, no, he didn’t and wouldn’t have under any conceivable count, but it made a nice libretto for the liberal anthem over the next four years.
  • Plamegate! Sure Joe Wilson was a fraud and a liar but there must be something worthy of a feature film in this story. What was it again?
  • We’re about to be overrun by dominionists! Just a couple years ago you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dominionist. Where’d they all go?
  • Let’s assassinate Bush! You want nihilism? How many off-Broadway productions, books and films featured this as a storyline in the last several years?
  • Bush knew about 9/11! Somewhere between a third and half of Democrats subscribed to some sort of Trutherism. Funny those numbers were never the focus of a Joe Klein rant.

One party, Joe’s party, is the source of all of these fantasies. For him to issue a cease and desist now is beyond laughable. Where’ve you been, pal?

Update: Mary Sue, who blogs at Ruby Slippers, wrote a reaction to Klein’s piece as well. She dug up this gem from the Klein archives:

What would you do if Terri Schiavo were your daughter? Why couldn’t Michael Schiavo just give custody over to the parents? What do we do about custody in a society where the parent-child bond is more durable than many marriages? The President’s solution, to “err on the side of life,” seems the only humane answer—if there is a dispute between parents and spouse, and the disabled person has left no clear instruction.

That was 2005. Looking through my own archives, I found this Klein statement from 2007:

You had an administration that endorsed the troglyditic religious views of Christian fundamentalist mullahs, intervening in the private life or death decision of the Schiavo family…

Apparently, somewhere between 2005 and 2007 Klein had a change of heart which persists to this day.

Of course Joe Klein is famous for changing his mind. He was for the Iraq war. Then he was anti-war. In a related vein, I wrote about Klein’s ever-evolving position on “torture” here.

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Category: MSM & Bias |

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