Sunday, September 6, 2009
Some Things I've Noticed
It has been fascinating to watch the swirl of public political activity surrounding the issue of healthcare reform this spring and summer in rural and small town Connecticut. It’s also been quite disturbing. Freedom of speech is alive, but hardly well. The public debate is distorted and even sabotaged by major failures of government and the mainstream news media. Polls indicate that a large majority of the American public are in favor of health care reform. Beyond that, the “Public Option” as a necessary component of real reform is polling at about 60% favorable. But some politicians have declared that the public option is the choice of only “the left of the left” and some of the stenographers in the corporate media report this as fact.
It has been interesting to observe the reaction of drivers who pass pro- and anti-reform rallies and demonstrations. My unscientific simple observations and counts show majority support from passersby for groups demonstrating in favor of health care reform, and only about a 20% show of support for groups against reform. In an interesting aside, the ‘anti’ groups generally have signs for multiple agendas, like opposition to “Cap and Trade,” to “Socialism” in general, to Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and invariably in Connecticut, well-designed, highly legible posters opposed to Senator Chris Dodd. The “Dump Dodd” signs are the ones most easily read from a passing car. Dodd, like any politician who has been in office for decades, has significantly “high negatives.” I think it likely that if the only signs the anti-reform, anti-administration rallies showed were those against Dodd, they might get that same 20% positive response from passing motorists.
The anti-reform forces are stunningly mis-informed and dis-informed. It’s not just the ludicrous “death panel” meme, or the claims that Obama wants to kill your babies and grannies.
There are several mechanisms—it would be false praise to call them rhetorical tricks—that I saw people use in Congressman Murphy’s formal and informal meetings with constituents this past week (see earlier blog posts, below). One was a sequence of reading out a section of a proposed bill and then announcing “what it really means.” Except the claimed meaning is as far from reality, or plain English, as the death panel accusations. What appears to be open debate is only a sham when tactics like this are deployed.
Another deception is the use of false “personal anecdotes.” This one is sneaky. There are plenty of studies showing that, for example, the health care systems of Canada and Great Britain, which are very different from each other, each manage to provide genuine universal health care on about half the per-capita expenditures of the American system while delivering better outcomes in a wide range of categories. So a simple claim that “the Canadian system doesn’t work” can easily be disproved by data from scientific studies.
There seems to be an organized tactic to get around this inconvenient situation—inconvenient at least to anyone who insists that the current system provides Americans with the best health care in the world. A participant in one of the discussions will tell his personal experience of an aunt in England, a cousin in Scotland, or business associates in Canada, and the terrible disaster those health care systems made of their lives. Problem is, another participant in another one of these meetings on another day in another city turns out to have the same aunt in England, the same cousin in Scotland, those same business associates in Canada. Or the story is about an aunt in Norway, but the details of the specific medical disaster brought about by socialized medicine sound suspiciously familiar. Some of these personal narratives are, not to put too fine a point on it, false.
The biggest whopper I encountered may have been from a man who identified himself as a charter pilot. He said that when he flew into Boston he was amazed to see the huge number of air ambulances parked there. He asked a local associate what this was about, and was told it was for all the Canadians flying in to get heroic medical treatment at Mass General, treatment they couldn’t get in Canada. Really? How many desperately ill Canadian multi-millionaires are we supposed to think are out there? Only the very rich could afford to ignore their own country’s universal health care system to pay out of pocket for treatment, not to mention air ambulances, in the American system. Anyone whose bullshit meter isn’t set off by this tale didn’t grow up in New Jersey.
Lying to fellow citizens and to your elected officials hardly seems like a good way to protect traditional American values. But then elected officials in the Senate and Congress are publicly endorsing some of the most blatantly false claims against reform, so the dishonesty is coming down from the top.
The dominant emotions I’ve seen at these gatherings are concern, worry, and outright fear. The pro-reform people are very worried because they see that our current health care system is a train wreck in mid-crash. Without reform it’s headed straight down the tubes with an immense impact on an economy that is already staggering.
The anti-reformers are afraid of change. To some extent this is because they don’t understand the status quo. Yes, Virginia, I really have in these sessions encountered many people who want the government to stay out of their Medicare. Who think that a self-employed American who doesn’t like the health care plan he pays for can just go buy a better plan from another insurer. They don’t know, or refuse to accept, that half of personal bankruptcies in this country are caused by catastrophic medical bills, and that three-quarters of those bankrupted by medical expenses had insurance. It just wasn’t any good. These folks are frightened to death of “socialism” when what ought to frighten them is the possibility that the health insurance currently provided by their employer is nothing but a sham that will leave them high and dry if they get a serious or chronic illness. If their insurance really is good and takes care of them when a chronic illness strikes, that may mean they will be trapped at their current job because the now pre-existing condition will make it impossible to obtain private insurance if they leave that job, and likely will make it impossible to find new employment that offers insurance. It’s ironic (though of course no accident) that there is so much fear of reform when it is the status quo that is cruel, dysfunctional, and terrifying.
I’ll continue to watch what’s going on and probably manage to make more pictures to post here.