Thursday, June 21, 2007

This is the man I blog for

My weekend blog host Ezra Klein was on Larry Kudlow's CNBC show earlier, and he was amazing. You can see him here.

I love the beginning, where Ezra makes the little comment that takes control of the show. In his first chance to talk, he shifts the conversation away from Michael Moore to the substantive issue -- the quality of care in government-run systems like the VA. It's one of the many areas that Larry Kudlow, being Larry Kudlow, thinks he's competent to hold forth on. So Larry bashes the VA system and walks right into Ezra's trap: "Rand corporation ranked VA highest on quality. The Annals of Internal Medicine ranked it highest. The New England Journal of Medicine ranked it highest on quality. They keep healthcare costs down and they have slower spending growth. I don't understand what you don't like." Of course, what Larry Kudlow doesn't like is that it's state-run. I doubt he knows anything else about the VA, which leaves him with little else to say.

Another special moment comes when Kudlow and his other guest are beating up on the Canadian system. Ezra mentions that the Canadians have fewer health care resources because they spend half what we do per capita per year on health care -- $3K to our $6K. We find the right-wing guest stammering for a response, and all he can do is make the point that part of the reason Canadian health care is so much cheaper is that they're skimping on spending. Which is exactly Ezra's point put in reverse, and takes the force out of the free-market attack on Canada. If you're going to beat up on the Canadians, you have to show that they're getting a clearly worse deal -- and when you concede that they're just making a tradeoff so they can save $3000 per person annually, your attack is a failure.

And then there's the moment where Kudlow is wishing for consumer-driven health care, and Ezra comes back by saying that we are doing consumer-driven care now in HSA's, and studies show that people aren't using them and don't like them very much. Ezra has the facts; Kudlow doesn't. And Ezra wins.

The facts, of course, usually have very little influence on proceedings like these. Hosts control their shows with an iron grip, and use their guests merely as props to shout about matters far outside their expertise. They often sidetrack the discussions in ways that keep the important facts from being expressed. But Ezra uses every one of his few opportunities to maximum effect, and comes away from the long-odds fight of a lone progressive guest against a right-wing host and his minion with something that looks a lot like victory.

1 comment:

DivGuy said...

Great analysis. I agree that Ezra did an amazing job.

I think one of the keys here is that while Ezra had the facts on his side, he also used them in a distinctly unfair way. As you say, he used the VA as a trap - most people in America think Walter Reed is a VA hospital. He used the facts not as simple building blocks to construct a larger point, but as emotional evidence that he knew stuff, and Kramer was ignorant. that was the key. The high points of the debate were Ezra's listing of facts about the VA - which he had brought up, not Kramer - and when Kramer said he disagreed about HSA's, and Ezra said that they were facts, you can't disagree with them.

What impressed me wasn't so much Ezra's command of the facts, but the way he wielded them to make it feel like he was right and the others were wrong.