Saturday, July 25, 2009
We are a trivial country with a trivial media. We stand at the threshold of confirming the best of what we believe “the land of the free and the home of the brave” stands for, and we are riddled with ADD. With a national health care program clearly in our sights at long last, our eyes dart instead to the sideshows on the sidelines—the C Street hotbeds, the “wise Latina” brouhaha, the blathering Birthers.
So we have the plight of Barack Obama’s press conference expressly “about the progress we're making on health insurance reform and where it fits into our broader economic strategy” upstaged by a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times, Lynn Sweet, who posed the last question to the President—about health insurance reform, of course: “Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you and what does it say about race relations in America?” Obviously, Lynn’s attention must have been riveted by the president’s remarks up to that point.
It didn’t take sophistication or savvy for anyone to realize what the story would be. No matter how the President answered, race was the issue and “that incident” trumped the president’s concern for “the 47 million Americans who don't have any health insurance at all” and the “14,000 Americans [who] will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.” It dwarfed “the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn't pay a dime for her cancer treatment” and “the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs and woke up from the emergency surgery that he required with $10,000 worth of debt.”
Not to take anything away from “Skip” Gates, a distinguished scholar who happens to be among my intellectual heroes, nor from the appalling appearance of possible racial profiling in the Cambridge police’s handling, or mishandling, of the iconic Harvard professor, but regrettably, as the highly-charged situation became the distraction not only of the day, but easily of many a day to follow, the consummately important issue of our time, health care reform, faded from sight for a time, essentially unnoticed.
I’ve yet to see the Cambridge affair dubbed WaterGates, but don’t hold your breath. I saw a clip of Rush Limbaugh fuming, “The president’s reaction was not presidential… we got the militant black reaction.” I watched Chris Matthews, who opens his hour on MSNBC declaring, “Let’s play Hardball!” but often as not doesn’t even lob softballs to guests like those on Thursday night’s show. Before him sat the newly- and likely briefly-famous Lynn Sweet, but instead of using the opportunity to ask her why she veered from the press conference’s vital subject matter and changed the subject—particularly after she had said she found it “remarkable… that Obama decided to engage in the question in a very animated way…”, he concluded his non-inquiry of her by telling her, “Good question last night! Talk about makin’ noise in this country!” Guess he wants her back on the show.
Midway through the hour, Matthews introduced G. Gordon Liddy, a leader of the Birthers, those tiresomely-dogged agitators who refuse to accept evidence that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen because they refuse to accept that a man with black skin and an African name is the legitimate President of the United States. (Matthews might have asked why the American people didn’t ask George W. Bush, or Teddy Roosevelt for that matter, to prove their citizenship, but he didn’t.) Quite a show, right? Liddy said that Obama’s “Certificate of Live Birth,” issued in Hawaii and certified by the state’s Republican governor and everyone else but the right wing-dings, wouldn’t qualify him for an American passport. (Note to Chris: why didn’t you ask Liddy to explain how Obama traveled all over the world long before and ever since he entered political life?) So we were treated to the spectacle of a convicted felon accusing the President of the United States of being an illegal alien.
Just hours ago on “Hardball,” radio talk show host Michael Smerconish said that after twelve hours on the air over the past two days, the Gates/police/Obama issue “is the only thing the American people want to talk about.” As for health care? God Bless America.