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Put Joe Klein Out to Pasture Like an Old Cow

12/12/2005 03:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'd like to nominate Time Magazine's Joe Klein for an award. By mastering the art of spewing back stale conventional wisdom, he has consistently set new standards for how pundits today should be obedient, neutered government spokespeople. And this week's piece by Klein does not disappoint - it shows why Joe Klein needs to be honored as a true icon of modern day journalistic failure.

Klein's piece is about what he calls a "remarkable" health care plan proposed by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). After slobbering all over himself in describing Romney's good looks and oh-so-incredible personality, Klein tells us Romney calls his plan "a personal responsibility system." Sounds pretty good, right? Sure does to Klein, who from his comfortable, cushy perch at Time has rarely gone out and actually reported on the real-life struggles of ordinary Americans. But when Klein offers us the details of the plan, we see that its not so great after all:

"Massachusetts now spends about $1 billion a year to provide emergency health care for at least 500,000 uninsured citizens. About 200,000 of those are young people, predominantly male, who are making enough money to buy health insurance but figure they don't need it. They would be required to buy a relatively inexpensive health insurance policy, with higher deductibles and co-pays--that's where the "mandate" comes in. Another 100,000 are extremely poor people who are eligible for Medicaid; a concerted effort would be made to bring them into the system. The remaining 200,000 are the people who have been most neglected by the system in the past: the working poor, people who have low-end service jobs or work part time for employers who don't offer health coverage. Romney's gamble is that Massachusetts can take the $1 billion it spends on the uninsured and use it to subsidize coverage for the working poor."

Let's see -- where to start? First and foremost, Klein ignorantly characterizes 200,000 uninsured people as "making enough money to buy health insurance" who simply "choose" not to buy insurance -- and then he provides no proof of that. That's not a surprise because most often, there is no proof. You may recall, this "uninsured because they choose to be uninsured" line is a well-known right-wing myth, and politicians have been publicly embarrassed for trying to pawn it off on their constituents who know better. As just one example from out here in Montana where I live: when in 2000 Sen. Conrad Burns (R) said "most [people without health care] elect to be uninsured," he was challenged to produce even one citizen who didn't have insurance because they "chose" not to, and couldn't. Why? Because as Montana's state government found in a landmark study a few years later, "Being uninsured is not voluntary, with 90 percent of the uninsured reporting being unable to buy health insurance after paying for food, clothing, and shelter."

Put another way, Klein's pathetically narrow intellectual boundaries never allows him to see that the idea that most people "choose" to be uninsured is a right-wing myth that plays on the subjective nature of the word "choose." Here's what that really means, as reported by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker:

"Gina, for instance, works for a beauty salon that offers her a bare-bones health-insurance plan with a thousand-dollar deductible for two hundred dollars a month. What's her total income? Nine hundred dollars a month. She could "choose" to accept health insurance, but only if she chose to stop buying food or paying the rent."

But, of course, Klein happily swallows Romney's statistics claiming that half of his state's uninsured "choose" to be uninsured. Klein then claims that most of these people are in the mold of a rich "28-year-old software designer" driving around a motorbike, refusing to buy insurance because he wants to buy the newest Ipod. Klein likely wants to believe this garbage because it makes him, a wealthy comfortable pundit, feel better about the fact that while he rakes in his fat paycheck, roughly 1 in 3 Americans report not being able to financially afford to see a doctor at some point during the year.

Still, more troubling than Klein's willingness to idiotically regurgitate the subjective information given to him, is his eagerness to justify and glowingly package a proposal that is highly regressive. Basically, Romney wants to force one section of the poor to shell out their precious little income to buy exorbitantly-priced private insurance -- a policy that is nothing more than a forced giveaway to the HMO and health insurance industries, without demanding anything in return (say for instance, lower prices) from those industries. And then, instead of extending that individual mandate to low-wage employers like Wal-Mart and forcing those employers to cover their workers, he wants to simply give away taxpayer cash to subsidize those workers' health care -- another huge giveaway to a big industry, paid for by you, the taxpayer. Finally, he wants to shove the rest of the poor into Medicaid -- a program Romney's GOP colleagues in Washington are currently trying to destroy with draconian budget cuts. Yet, in Joe Klein's insulated little world, this represents a "Republican who thinks big on health care" -- someone who wants to put the squeeze on those already squeezed, while subsidizing already wealthy corporations, thus giving those corporations an excuse not to provide minimum benefits.

This is Joe Klein at his most, well, Joe Klein: a totally insulated, morally bankrupt shill for the corporate conventional wisdom that dominates American politics. So stale, dried up, and unable to step back and think about what he's writing about, he serves as a conduit for smarmy corrupt politicians like Romney to package their corporate-written proposals as somehow populist and "remarkable."

It is long past time for Joe Klein to be put out to pasture. But then, that would be cruel and unusual punishment for the old dying cows that would have to listen to his inane B.S.