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AmericaSpeaks But It's Not What Pete Peterson and Crowd Want to Hear

Valhalla's picture

Froomkin today tags the encouraging news that deficit-whiner and Catfood Commission architect Peterson's continuing attempts to convince us that we need to gut “entitlements” and slash taxes under the rubric of a deficit crisis backfired. Lambert promised me a sticky-post if I posted on one of the highlights (my first ever! Yaay!) of the rebellion, on single payer, so here goes:

The AmericaSpeaks events were a series of town meetings held across the country ostensibly to provide the public with a greater voice in influencing policy with regard to “fiscal responsibility.” But something funny happened on the way to the forum, as the plebes tuned out framing biases both subtle and blatant and came up with progressive solutions to our ills.

Froomkin concentrates on showing that participants emerged from the fora having moved toward more progressive positions, contrary to the sponsors' claim that the forums caused both liberals and conservatives to “moderate” their views regarding spending and tax cuts. But it's not just that participants moved toward traditional liberal positions, they pretty much arrived there. And on the way they weren't happy being coralled, in particular with regard to single-payer:

The AmericaSpeaks background materials actually did acknowledge that the rising budgetary costs of Medicare and Medicaid are driven by the fact that our whole health care system is broken -- and costing both the private sector and government programs much more per person than in countries that have much better health outcomes. They even acknowledged that thoroughgoing reform -- like single-payer health care system -- is the only way to control those rising costs.

However, when it came to options the participants were allowed to vote on, they were all variations on how much people wanted to cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits. At this point in the proceedings, the AmericaSpeaks founder and President, Carolyn Lukensmeyer had to acknowledge a rebellion in the ranks. People were demanding to have the option of voting for "single-payer" reform instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and when she announced a complicated process of writing in that alternative, a roar of approval went up from the crowd in several locations.

(Emphasis added)

Our own Letsgetitdone participated in one of the events and details its content and cattle-chute framing methodology here. Be sure to read the whole thing, but the framing biases included the choice of topic to begin with, curtailing the opportunity for discussion, presenting limited and often implausible information with regard to the scope of the deficit and options for its reduction, and of course the time-tested tool of opinion-manufacturers everywhere, biased multiple-choice answers for participants to choose from in expressing their solutions to the “problem.”

Lets sheds some light on the “complicated process of writing in” single payer:

theoretically we could add new options. But in my community conversation, it was difficult to include any additional options. When they were introduced there was no space for them on the sheet provided to record the choice of options. There were no blank lines on “the scorecard” where a participant could name an option and put a savings number on it, so that others in the group could become aware of the option and vote on it themselves. It would have been easy to provide additional space on the scorecard to make it easy to add new options. But since this wasn't done by AmericaSpeaks, it's not surprising that not a single new option was included in the final results that were going to be reported to AmericaSpeaks. New options were listened to by the facilitators in the conversation I attended, but they were not acted upon. It was as if they didn't count.

Despite the neglect of Lets' facilitators, a single-payer option was one of the most requested add-on options by participants. (p13).

Neither the strength nor subject matter of Peterson's propaganda efforts will be much of a surprise to anyone here. Nor should the results, as Aeryl points out:

Things like that are why I have trouble with the common conception that the American electorate is stupid. Time and time again, it's demonstrated that people want progressive liberal policies.

They do get manipulated into voting against their own interests, but to get pissed at the electorate for that, is akin to getting pissed at that older lady who gets conned by the professional con man. People of decency wouldn't get mad at her, they would feel sorry for her, but that same consideration isn't given to the electorate at large.

The Legacy-R narrative is that people are clamoring for deficit-reduction; the Legacy-D narrative is to agree to the deficit-clamor but argue (at most) that they're hamstrung because the “sheeple” are too low-information and stupid to understand the right thing to do. The Legacy-D narrative has the added bonus of making its supporters feel both intellectually superior (for truly understanding the issues) and morally superior (for supporting the right side) but absolving them from responsibility for having to actually do anything besides blog about it. In any case, it's yet another instance of one side lying and the other not telling the truth (h/t Lambert). But the real takeaway here is that despite being battered daily, even hourly, by virtually every corporate media and politician who can get within 10 feet of a microphone, people aren't buying it.

Froomkin is right but wrong when he connects the results of AmericaSpeaks to civility:

So the real lesson there would appear to be that if liberals and conservatives actually sat down and listened to each other, the result would be widespread agreement on what are traditionally called liberal positions on the issues -- but which perhaps should be renamed simply common sense.

That, I guess, is what happens when one side of the political debate has departed so far from reality that its arguments don't easily survive genuine contact with the enemy.

Every time I hear calls for more civility coming from elites, my immediate reaction is (like many here) “Fuck civility.” But that's only because “civility” is Versailles-speak for “STFU while we tell you what to think. Here, buy this Age-Defying Facial Cream.” What real civility does is facilitate the exchange of diverse and even diametrically opposed opinions, opening the door to finding common ground. It's not sufficient in and of itself, and it can't replace the louder volume and more laconic expression that characterize, say, protests. That part Froomkin gets right. What he gets wrong is the idea that it's only “one side” of the political debate which has “departed so far from reality” or that it's only Republicans who have “have a lot to fear from civil, deliberative discourse.”

AmericaSpeaks has a follow-up analysis (this is the piece Froomkin was primarily focusing on) here. Although the supposedly independent analysts (one was part of the study) tried to spin the results as positive for the importance of deficit-reduction particularly, even their conclusions were that participants' policy views were largely progressive (p44) and that actual and -- yes -- civil discussion results in greater agreement on policy direction:

We do find that individuals, when responding individually to our survey, tend to have preferences that are highly structured by ideology. This suggests very strongly the difference between survey responses and a structured public deliberation. When asked to discuss policies with their fellow citizens, participants tended to set aside their ideological commitments to work toward the common goal of fiscal responsibility. If one were to rely exclusively on individual survey responses to gauge public opinion, one would be misled to believe that our society can only consider policy options through a rigid ideological lens. But public opinion surveys have their limits in helping us understand the structure of public opinion. Public deliberation helps to reveal the considered opinions of citizens, a kind of opinion policy makers should care about as well.

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letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Thanks, VL, very nice piece on AS and its biases. Everybody's biases are showing lately. Today, Lori Montgomery claimed in a WaPo "news article" that the Catfood Commission report was "non-ideological." Wonder what she's been smoking?

In addition, the "progressive" deficit reduction programs have been coming out. Each of them accepts the deficit reduction frame, but with differing degrees of austerity.

Submitted by jawbone on

the Powers That Be (PTB) say is always correct (even if internally or temporally inconsistent), and their chosen ideas are the ones the MCMers* repeat like good little stenographers. And they can see all around them what is happening to people who lose their jobs, and they very much don't want to be thrown under the bus or out on the street.

What went on in the Peterson "town meetings" was very close to what was done in the Obama health insurance reform meetings run by OFA. It seems the Peterson crew learned from the OFA health insurance meetings --where the majority wanted some form of single payer, basically extend Medicare Improved to everyone-- that the structure had to be more rigid so that the meetings weren't taken over by the single payer advocates.

Of course, in both instances, the outcome was that single payer advocates were ignored, no matter how much input they managed to achieve. By the PTB and, in the OFA isntances, by Obama and his staff.

Froomkin's article should be plastered everywhere. But it will be ignored by the PTB and their MCMer minions.

*MCMers -- Members of the Mainstream Corporate Media (which includes most public broadcasting as well -- With Moyers off the air, we're pretty much down to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now).

carissa's picture
Submitted by carissa on

I took a look at No Labels over at my place. They don't sound so middle of the road, can't we put all ideas on the table to me. More like a front for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Brookings Institute.

I've also put some links in the comments in answer to the drive-by commenter who called me a conspiracy theorist.

Submitted by lambert on

... was the way that single payer advocates refused to be defeated, infiltrated it, and shaped it to their ends. This to me implies that we're more numerous than given credit for.