Few White House reporters provide more amusement, day in and day out, than Sam Stein of The Huffington Post. Don’t let that Columbia M.A. fool you — Stein is a true auteur of the funny journalism genre and an adept humorist, with a penchant for taking mediocre political humor and expanding upon it, elevating what would be typical Daily Show one-off jokes into vast monuments to the absurd. No one — no, not even Sacha Baron Cohen — can match his talents for gotcha comedy, aping the fast-and-loose factual sloppiness and stodgy self-aggrandizement of the old media with all the speed and alacrity of the new. Sam Stein is Buddy Hackett for the digital age, with a soupcon of Baghdad Bob — he’s perhaps the greatest political comedian of his generation, which makes it all the more sad to me that many of us working and writing online don’t seem to be in on the joke.
Stein’s latest endeavor in this vein deserves highlighting as a masterpiece of his approach. In the hands of a lesser comedian, this would fall flat on its face. But in Stein’s hands, it becomes epic hilarity. Via his HuffPo promotion whiz, Mario Ruiz:
A new effort by Senate Democrats to expand Medicare coverage by making it eligible for 55 to 64 year olds has had a critical (if not humorous) partisan side-effect. Republican Senators, who have been dogging their Democratic counterparts for weeks for pursuing what they describe as drastic cuts to the Medicare program, are now being forced to shift messages abruptly to fight against an expansion of the pgoram. (sic)
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) sent out a press release on Sunday, titled: “Cutting Medicare is not what Americans want.” That was followed by a new press release on Monday. Its title: “Expanding Medicare ‘a plan for financial ruin.’
“We already know that Medicare is going broke in seven years,” McConnell told Fox News on Tuesday. “They are taking money out of Medicare in this health care proposal not to make Medicare more sustainable but to start a new entitlement program for a different set of Americans. In addition to that, now they are talking about expanding access to Medicare and Medicaid, both of which are already in terrible trouble. This is the worst kind of political deal-making in this frantic attempt to get to 60 votes.”
Okay, so you’ve got the set up. Now Stein does his thing — remember to breathe between laughs:
The logic, Democrats contend, is more than a bit strained. For starters, Senate Democrats are eyeing cuts in Medicare to eliminate waste in the system, not to destroy it. The money saved would go to alternative reforms. But the so-called “new entitlement program” that McConnell mentions — presumably the public option — would actually save money over time, not require it, according to non-partisan budget estimates.
McConnell’s positions aren’t strictly contradictory. Republicans may be in favor of protecting Medicare for seniors who are currently enrolled while simultaneously opposed to expanding the program for others. But, politically speaking, the GOP position on the government-run health care program has become twisted, and then twisted again.
I’ll give you a moment to wipe the tears from your eyes. The verve! The life! He is Tartuffe the Spry Wonder Dog!
As anyone with a brain understands, of course, Republicans want to shrink, not cut, Medicare (there is a difference). They want Medicare to cover fewer people and be financially solvent, while Democrats, having failed to turn it into a personal slush fund for covering America’s uninsured, want Medicare to instead cover a ridiculous number of people and be financially insolvent, and are suggesting cuts to the program (not shrinking its responsibilities, only its budget) that are inevitably bound to be either illusory or arbitrary. Stein’s acceptance at face value of Democratic arguments that the cuts will be surgically targeted at heretofore unmolested “waste,” while the public option “would actually save money over time” is fascinating as performance art — like Dodgeball, it’s layered (it was made like that) — but doesn’t do anything to alter the basic drive towards a vastly expensive new entitlement coupled with an insolvent Medicare.
Yet you might ask, why would the Democrats want that? Well, as Rahm Emanuel told us, you ought never waste a crisis — and an insolvent Medicare, bankrupt and strained (with hospitals strained all the more, getting by on Medicare payments while covering a vast new pool of patients 55 and older), will require an infusion of more cash and loop in a whole new group of Americans, making them dependent on bureaucracy and the government teat, continuing the march toward total governmental management of health care in America.
If only Stein had a larger podium than the digital representation of the unending Arianna Huffington ego-stroke for his efforts — his style of humor is simply fantastic, an audacious, exhilarating and ingenious respite from the real and difficult policy debates of our age.