Boyle’s 15 Minutes

The journey of “Britain’s Got Talent” contestant Susan Boyle has been an interesting case study in the modern media. Boyle was a classic Cinderella story, who, due to the wonders of YouTube, became an in international sensation overnight, but before too long the media turned on her. Just last week, the British tabloid the Sun reported on a series of ranting profanity-laced tirades by the small town Scottish woman, who they dubbed “RamBoyle” after the Stallone character. And she ended up losing on the reality show.

In today’s New York Times, Ricky Jay puts the Boyle phenomenon in a broader historical perspective as only he can, comparing Boyle to another unexpected performance, by Mathew Buchinger in the Council Chambers in Edinburgh:

Buchinger demonstrated his skill on more than a half-dozen musical instruments (some of his own invention), danced a hornpipe and performed conjuring tricks with cups and balls, cards and dice. In front of the lord provost he fashioned a pen and with it produced a fine calligraphic document of the coat of arms of the city. The year was 1726. Buchinger was 52 years old, 29 inches tall – and, he had neither legs nor arms.

Jay continues:

[Buchinger] was heralded and discussed: the subject of stories, verse, jokes, slang expressions, souvenir prints and royal command performances. Samples of his calligraphy, fashioned by Buchinger holding a pen in between his unarticulated fin-like excrescences, are saved in the collections of the world’s most formidable institutions. He is even immortalized in a 1726 English broadside, “A Poem on Mathew Buckinger: The Greatest German Living.”

Both performers, Jay argues, benefitted from high ability relative to low expectations. However, after giving a few more examples of performers throughout the years, Jay observes that, “Our first look at Ms. Boyle generated not only expectation but surprise. But as she became overexposed, our surprise diminished. The extraordinary became commonplace….A performing cycle that once could have taken years is herein reduced to days. She’s unknown, we’re surprised. She’s embraced, we’re disenchanted. She’s the runner-up … next?”

For those who aren’t familiar with Ricky Jay, he’s one of the world’s leading sleight of hand artists and historians on the bizarre. You also may recognize him as an actor in David Mamet movies. If you have the time, check out this stunning card trick he pulled off.

Bending the Cost Curve

President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers is out today with a new report about the benefits of curbing the growth of health care costs. Reducing growth inflation from 6 percent to 4.5 percent, the report says, could mean as much as $2,600 in more income for the typical family of four by 2020, and $10,000 by 2030. Such cost savings could also reduce the unemployment rate by a quarter point, or 500,000 jobs.

But as the Washington Post notes:

The report contains few details about how those ambitious goals would be achieved, however, and does not address any increased federal spending needed to implement health reform. And the White House economists acknowledge that shaving 1.5 percentage points off the rate of growth in health spending would be extraordinarily difficult — “probably near the upper bound of what is feasible.”

The full report is available here.

Meanwhile, the industry groups that promised last month to save $2 trillion in health care costs over the next decade, are back with a more detailed letter. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet (available here), but here’s how they vow to save money:

– Utilization of Care: $150 – $180 billion

– Chronic Care: $350 – $850 billion

– Administrative Simplification and Cost of Doing Business: $500 -$700 billion

In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s adds up to a range of $1 trillion to $1.7 trillion.

Progressive Groups to Spend $82 mln to Push Gov’t-Run Health Care Plan

A collection of a liberal activist groups and Howard Dean, on Monday announced plans to spend more than $82 million in an effort to support President Obama’s health care push and press for legislation that includes a new government-run plan modeled after Medicare to be offered on a national insurance exchange.

The effort is being announced in a press conference right now as part of the annual progressive conference, “America’s Future Now” (previously named the “Take Back America” conference during the Bush era).

“We’ve put together enough resources to win this fight,” Richard Kirsch, the campaign director of Health Care for America Now, a coalition of 1,030 national and local progressive groups. He said that the coalition, which includes the major unions AFL-CIO and SEIU and and MoveOn.org, would organize events nationwide and take out ads to promote their brand of health care reform, which they expect to pass by the fall. “This will be the crowning achivement of a new era of progressive politics.”

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, which organized the conference, said that the United States was in the midst of the “greatest era of progressive reform since the 1960’s.” He said conservatives were splintered and isolated, and the movement “lost its verve,” while progressives were better organized than ever. 

Along with other speakers, Borosage argued that America is now a left-of-center nation.

“The election of Barack Obama was the beginning,” Dean said. “It was not the end.” It was now up to progressives to make sure that Washington doesn’t prevent Obama from achieving liberal goals.

Celinda Lake, a progressive pollster, presented her research demonstrating that Americans have rejected Reaganomics and now want government to be part of the solution of their problems.

UPDATE: During the question and answer session, I asked Dean about his comment that the inclusion of a government-run plan is a line in the sand for progressives, and whether he would not support legislation if it did not include such an option. “I think that everybody up here agrees that a public option is essential,” he said, and said such an option should resemble Medicare.

In response to another question, Dean said it was more important to have a bill with a government-run plan than to have Republican support. “What’s the point of having a crummy piece of legislation that’s bipartisan?” he asked rhetorically. “Bipartisanship isn’t an end by itself.”

He said while it would be wonderful to work with Republicans on health care reform in theory, “If they’re in there just to shill for insurance companies, then I think we should pass it with 51 votes.”

More of the Same Bush Bashing

Chris Cillizza notes that in the 2010 Senate races, Democrats are once again trying to use the strategy of tying Republican candidates to former President Bush. Much of the article focuses on whether the practice will get too old and whether Bush’s popularity will improve like other former presidents, but at the end of the day, the effectiveness of such an approach will depend on how Americans view President Obama. If Obama is still broadly popular, the economy has improved, and things are relatively stable on the foreign policy/national security front, then I think Democrats will be able to run campaigns saying, “If you like the way the country is heading now, then don’t vote for Republican X, because he wants to return to the old, failed Bush policies.” However, if Obama’s popularity is starting to wane, the economy is in turmoil, and/or there’s a major international crisis or national security incident, any Democrat who starts in with the Bush bashing will just look desperate, like they’re trying to distract attention from the current administration’s problems.