Sunday, January 31, 2010

What do we know and who knows it

On learning that Pew Research says only 26 percent of U.S. citizens know that it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster and thus enable the Senate to end debate and vote on a bill, I did what I often do when I want to get a slant on popular opinion: I asked my partner what she thought her students knew about this. She teaches college freshman at a moderately selective private college. Her young people seem a plausible slice of smart young people.

"Easy," she replied. "They all saw 'How a Bill Becomes a Law' in high school." Here's a YouTube version of this high school classic. [3:01]

Note there is no mention in this of the filibuster or other undemocratic aspects of legislative procedure -- no wonder folks don't know how Senate procedure is stifling democratic (small "d") government.

The Pew Survey linked to above is interesting. Only 32 percent of us know that every single Republican voted against health care reform. You can take the quiz yourself and see how well you line up with the general public.
Meanwhile, the progressive blogosphere is a agog because President Obama visited the Republican Congressional caucus meeting on Friday, took policy questions, and swatted the dim-witted drivel the Republicans offered out of the park -- all live on TV. Transcript is here. Here's the video. [85:56]

Here's an idea: how about something a little more demanding for our brilliant leader? It would be great to see whether he could interact so intelligently with people who have a little more intellectual heft. The President should go on live TV with a panel of folks who actually know something about health care reform and take a shot at explaining why the strangely contorted half-measures that Congress has come close to passing is good for us. Some suggestions for the panel:
  • Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) who has introduced health care reforms in 27 sessions of Congress;
  • Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who champions drug importation to create price pressure on the pharmaceutical industry;
  • T. R. Reid, a journalist who has studied health care around the world;
  • Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Blogosphere health policy journalists who've done the work of helping hapless Democrats explain what they've come up with may be somewhat compromised, but Jonathan Cohn and Ezra Klein would make smart moderators.

Now that's a TV show I'd tune in to. I think this President might be up to it. But, unlike the Party of No, these folks would require him to work to make his points if they weren't too cowed.

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