Warm Fuzzy Politics and Protests; the Facts of Life and Health

It’s “fear and loathing” time in Blue Land, according to Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, who writes that as the Democratic National Committee prepares to choose a new chairman, the “Anybody But Dean” campaign is once again in full swing among party stalwarts.

Ever since the early days of the 2004 presidential campaign, the country doctor from the State of Ben & Jerry has been the agitating principal of a confused, fratricidal and essentially leaderless party. Then, as now, Dean inspired an outside-the-Beltway, net-based crusade whose shock troops adored his social progressivism and his fearless opposition to war in Iraq. Then, as now, a party establishment — based in Congress, governors’ mansions and Georgetown salons — viewed him as a loudmouthed lefty whose visibility would ruin the Democratic brand in Red States.

Trouble is, Fineman points out, the establishment can’t find a Dean Stopper willing to step up to the plate. Dean, for his part, is trying to soften his rough edges:

Leaner and less mean than in the old days, Dean is wooing DNC members in one-on-ones. “He is giving a lot of ‘warm fuzzies’ to people,” a Democrat says. A warm and fuzzy Howard Dean? It sounds improbable, but it may be the winning story line of the next Democratic movie.

Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard headed out on Inauguration Day in search of some of the “untamed fire of freedom” that George Bush talked about, joining up with the bike-based Critical Mass protest team. The cyclists were but one of many protest groups during last Thursday’s festivities, he writes, teaming up with the likes of the Keys of Resistance, “a group that dresses like 1940s-era secretaries and bangs out dictated letters of dissent to elected officials on antique typewriters.” (No Web site, naturally.)

With Labash aboard his trusty Trek Navigator, the protestors (Code name Unicorn) head out, only to discover they’re too early to mount much of a counteroffensive.

So we roll on through the badlands of Northeast D.C. We’re not in the saddle 10 minutes before [team leader Nani] Wepaste bellows out another war cry: “Hot chocolate on New York Avenue!” The Unicorns look like a marauding band of bike messengers, but it’s not packages we’re delivering, it’s a list of demands. Foremost among them: What do we want? Hot cocoa! When do we want it? Now!

Even the most hardened cynics in Spandex share something with “the cashmere-swaddled, mink-stoled” ticketholders in the viewing stands, observes Labash. “[O]ne thing is clear as I watch my fellow Unicorns grow tame and saucer-eyed the closer they get to the inaugural spectacle: Everyone loves a parade.”

At National Review, Judith Kleinfeld rises to the defense of embattled Harvard University President Larry Summers, who last week raised the possibility that “innate sex differences” may help explain why fewer women reach the top echelons of scientific research. Summers said his remarks had been misconstrued.

“The feminists won the political fight in the academy (of course), but politics can’t change the facts,” writes Kleinfeld, who launches into a detailed biology lesson. Here’s a sample:

Male sex hormones shape a cognitive ability important to success in physics and engineering, the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects in space. Take a condition called “congenital adrenal hyperplasia” (CAH). Females with CAH are exposed in the uterus to abnormally high levels of male sex hormones. As adults, these females score substantially higher in spatial abilities. As children, they prefer to play more with “boy toys” and less with “girl toys,” starting them off on a path that develops their spatial skills.

Finally, Washington Monthly offers a fascinating look at an institution that has transformed itself and may now serve as a model for health care providers: the Veterans Health Administration. “By the mid-1990s, the reputation of veterans hospitals had sunk so low that conservatives routinely used their example as a kind of reductio ad absurdum critique of any move toward ‘socialized medicine,’” writes Phillip Longman.

If the debate is over health care reform, it won’t be long before some free-market conservative will jump up and say that the sorry shape of the nation’s veterans hospitals just proves what happens when government gets into the health care business. And if he’s a true believer, he’ll then probably go on to suggest, quoting William Safire and other free marketers, that the government should just shut down the whole miserable system and provide veterans with health care vouchers.

But such a person would be wrong:

Pushed by large employers who are eager to know what they are buying when they purchase health care for their employees, an outfit called the National Committee for Quality Assurance today ranks health-care plans on 17 different performance measures. … Winning NCQA’s seal of approval is the gold standard in the health care industry. And who do you suppose this year’s winner is: Johns Hopkins? Mayo Clinic? Massachusetts General? Nope. In every single category, the VHA system outperforms the highest rated non-VHA hospitals.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.