Department of corrections

By James Morrow in Sydney

23 March 2010

Oppose ObamaCare? You must be racist. That's the not-so-subtle message emerging from the wash-up of this week's healthcare vote. Not surprisingly, the New York Times is among the loudest dog-whistlers of this tune, running an article explicitly linking the fight to spend a trillion dollars to insure thirty million Americans to the fight to achieve civil rights for all. Opponents of the bill - 59 % of the American people according to one CNN poll - are no better than Bull Connor, or so goes the implication.

Don't believe me? Check out the lastest from Paul Krugman, who in his latest health care column claimed that Newt Gingrich compared Barack Obama's signing of health "reform" to LBJ's signing of civil rights legislation, saying they were both cosmic errors:

And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

Only, of course, it wasn't true. Check out the correction sheepishly appended to Krugman's column:

Editor's Note: This column quotes Newt Gingrich as saying that "Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years"  by passing civil rights legislation, a quotation that originally appeared in the Washington Post. After this column was printed, The Post reported that Mr Gingrich said that his comment referred to Johnson's Great Society programs, not the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Oh, well, I guess that's OK then. I'm not sure which is worse: that no one at the Washington Post thought the original, erroneous, and defamatory quote might require a double check, or that Krugman didn't smell a rat and check it himself. Either way, it suggests a lot about the mentality of those in the media and how they will likely deal with their opponents on the Right in the months leading up to November.

It's funny, just as Tom Wolfe famously quipped that fascism always seems to be descending on America but landing on Europe, those who claim their opponents' tactics are based largely on fear-mongering seem to do plenty to whip up fear themselves.

UPDATE: A correspondent has taken me to task for not drilling deeper into one of the above links. I must apologise for not making clear that the nasty segregationist Bull Connor was a staunch Democrat. My bad.

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Marty Murphy, Brooklyn, NY

12:36 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

"A fact too good to check."


12:46 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Notice the NYT closed the comment section before they made the correction.

Hugh Dudgeon

12:55 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Algore used to enjoy saying he was inspired to a political life while watching, from the balcony, his father in the debate over the '64 Civil Rights Act, until it was pointed out that his father was a leader of the filibuster against said legislation.


1:00 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Facts? Who needs stinknig facts?

Peter Shalen

1:05 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

The quote from Gingrich appearing in the Post was simply "Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years." I see no indictation from the correction that the Post had ever claimed Gingrich was talking about civil rights. As far as I can tell the fault is entirely Krugman's, not the Post's.


1:18 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Albert Gore, Sr., was hardly a "leader" of anything in the Senate, although he did vote against the 1964 CRA.

Say, wasn't the reason we can "trust" Old Media so much more than what we see on the internet supposed to be their "layers" of "editors and fact-checkers" that protected us?

The New York Times has to issue an awful lot of corrections for something so "deeply fact-checked" . . . and the WaPo isn't far behind.

Sertan Saral

2:16 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

"It's funny, just as Tom Wolfe famously quipped that fascism always seems to be descending on America but landing on Europe, those who claim their opponents' tactics are based largely on fear-mongering seem to do plenty to whip up fear themselves."

If I'm understanding this correctly, you're comparing an error in a WaPo column, which was then used in error by Krugman and later corrected ("sheepishly" or not), to fear-mongering tactics like "death panels"? If the Democrats get their own Sarah Palin - if say, Alan Grayson ever decided to sink so low intellectually - I can see how this column by Krugman might be twisted and blown out of proportion in the coming months. But it hasn't happened yet and it likely won't. Democrats just don't play the narrative game as well as Republicans do. The irony is that the proof is in this blog post.


2:27 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

If there were no "death panels" then why'd they have to take them out of the bill?


2:39 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

MSNBC was running the same erroneous Gingrich quote - same old racism smear the left uses all the time


2:44 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

@Saral - One major difference is that the "Death Panels" are probable. They are well-established in the British and Canadian government healthcare systems.


2:49 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

This is how the Leftards play the game. One columnist writes a bald-faced lie, then another picks it up, then it's quoted in a column, and before you know it, it is written up in a thousand Kos and Huffington posts, each linking back to the previous. By the time the correction is printed in the first paper, the correction is irrelevant. And since Leftards believe everything they read that fits into their worldview (see Global Warming, et al), it's becomes a fact. To them.


2:52 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Sertan, I say "Nonsense." The Democrats are full low-life, so-called intellectuals, just like you're full of something too. As to the "Death Panels," sorry, but you leftists own that concept. (As in the creepily-named "NICE" panels under National Health in the UK, where government apparatchiks get to decide who gets what treatments, and who doesn't." And really, to say if Alan Grayson were "to sink so low????" That sack of puss is the scummiest punk in the Congress today (maybe Wiener is a close second).

Jeremy Pressman

3:48 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

I would urge readers to actually look at Gingrich's backtracking on what he did or did not say:

It looks more like Gingrich realized his initial claim came across poorly so he contacted the Post by email to 'clarify.' Even in his clarification, Gingrich still claimed Civil Rights played a role. This is far from a clear denial of his initial quotation. Gingrich just muddied the waters.


3:51 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Wonder when the NYT is going to get around to correcting these statements:

The only real question about the planned "surge" in Iraq â

Sertan Saral

3:57 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

"If there were no "death panels" then why'd they have to take them out of the bill?"

The answer is kind of in your question. "End of life counselling" isn't political doublespeak - it's counselling. "Death panels", on the other hand, conjures up a vastly different picture suggesting malicious intent. Once the Republicans successfully associated this image with end of life counselling, there was no way it could be included in the bill. This is what I mean by the narrative game. If the Democrats successfully associated opposition to this bill to Civil Rights era racism, it's another example of this game at play (and it is no less misleading than death panels). Where Mr Morrow believes this is exactly how it will play out, I don't. Aside from Rep. Alan Grayson (who many see as a remedy to Republican rhetoric), Democrats just don't know how to be as intellectually disingenuous as Republicans.

(That last sentence was a deliberate cheap shot.)

@Braveheart - I don't know enough about the British and Canadian systems to comment on that, except to say that I'm pretty certain nobody knew them as "death panels" before the Republicans coined the term.


4:39 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

For liberals, the term "racist" has become no different than the term "heathen","heretic", "witch" or "n-lover". It is a slur that is supposed to scare the faint of heart from expressing their point of view.

In the end, the slur passes away and attaches itself to those who once used it. We are almost there.


5:09 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

In one respect, of course, Newt was correct. After the 1965 Civil Rights Act the Democratic Party did more or less fall apart. Nixon swept the South in the next election. Why? Whites voted against Democrats for the first time in 100 years. Note, too, that this was the very first time LBJ supported a civil rights bill which contained Federal enforcement powers.


9:22 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

The Democrats would have to be intellectual before they could be intellectually dishonest.


10:33 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

Excellent point, Becky. "Racist!" is becoming so diluted that it's losing its effectiveness. Your extended point of actually attaching itself to those who utter it is brilliant. It won't be long before the majority will simply roll their eyes. "Oh, he's one of those. How quaint...."


11:24 AM on Wed 24 March 2010

'"End of life counselling" isn't political doublespeak - it's counselling. "Death panels", on the other hand, conjures up a vastly different picture suggesting malicious intent. '

Yes, it does. That is the point. What may be merely counseling or efficient use of scarce medical resources from one perspective, is death panels from another. Especially after numerous additional bureacracis start calling the shots. And there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence in other Western countries' government run health care systems.

"Death panels" are not an unlikely outcome and it is incumbent on government-run HC proponents to convince people otherwise. Merely saying it is not so does not change minds.

Sure, the phrase is a little over the top. But the phrase instantly sums up a host of arguments against government-run healthcare. And, so far, it is telling that most of the arguments have not been combatted by proponents of this type of reform.


12:24 PM on Wed 24 March 2010

It's important to note that it was DEMOCRAT Senators, led by Richard Russell, Democrat from Georgia, that provided the opposition to Civil Rights legislation all through the 1950's and up to 1964. Also important to note that to pass the 1964 bill, the Senator had to vote for cloture with a 2/3rd's vote (67, not 60 like now), and that Congress at the time would never have been able to play games with the process and the current Dem leadership has done, and pass major legislation without an appropriate Senate vote to end debate. They worked it out and earned 67 Senate votes, rather than engage in this type of shenanigans.


12:27 PM on Wed 24 March 2010

To those putting down Sarah Palin and her "death panels" statement. The best thing to do is to actually READ what she WROTE on her Facebook page. She explains how these panels work and she gives footnotes so that you can check what she is writing. you could also try thinking about what president Obama himself has said, that people at the end of their life really should think through any procedures that extend life but DO NOT enhance the quality of that life. Of course, when it comes to his family, there will be no restrictions on their healthcare procedures, because they won't live under the same rules as the rest of us!


1:29 PM on Wed 24 March 2010

Jeremy Pressman urged us to read what Gingrich actually said about LBJ's civil rights legislation, and though there was some doubt about his position. So I did; this is what I found: "... [Gingrich] said, the civil rights revolution of 1956-1965 was "morally absolutely necessary" for the country and Johnson was correct in pushing for the legislation." No confusion there.

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