Thursday, August 13, 2009

Say What?

Over the last few days I've listened to various programs about the ongoing healthcare debate and about the tone and lack of civility associated with that debate. Some of the statements and allegations that I've heard have made me furious (the whole "death panel" suggestion being at the top of that list) while others have left me puzzled. I want to take a moment to highlight two comments that fall into this latter category:
  • "Universal healthcare is universal confiscation of our liberties."

Huh? Can somebody please explain to me how the extension of healthcare to the uninsured could be a "confiscation of liberties"? Can someone please explain to me how a government-sponsored healthcare plan is a "confiscation of liberties"? And before answering, don't forget about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Veterans' Administration. The only way that I can put this statement into some kind of context is if we were to adopt a single payor system and eliminate the right to participate in supplemental private insurance programs, but even at that I'm not sure that I see how a particular liberty interest is impacted. We require people to pay into Social Security and Medicare; is that a "confiscation of liberties"? If so, then isn't any tax a confiscation of liberties. Is that what this is really all about?

  • President Obama is "shredding the Constitution".

Say what? Which particular provisions of the Constitution has President Obama "shredded"? I guess we could be talking about the whole "Birther" nonsense, but somehow I doubt that is what was meant by the comment. I'm curious to know what the person making this claim thought about the Bush administration's policies concerning torture, illegal wiretaps, imprisonment without charge or access to counsel, leaking the identity of an undercover intelligence officer and then lying about it, and lying to the country about the justifications for going to war. Let's compare those policies to President Obama's efforts to prevent another great depression, to keep several of America's largest employers from closing their doors, and to reform a healthcare system that leaves more than 40 million Americans uninsured and costs a staggeringly large percentage of our gross domestic product. I can certainly understand the viewpoint of those who disagree with President Obama's policies, but "shredding the Constitution"?

A few nights ago I had dinner with a friend with whom I agree on some things and disagree on other things. On the issue of healthcare, we largely disagree. Yet he and I were able to discuss the various healthcare proposals, talk about the problems with the current system, express concerns about what might or might not result if a particular policy were to be implemented, examine the particular interests of various constituencies in the debate, and discuss what we believed were the basic minimum levels of care and coverage that should be required. While we continued to have much upon which we disagreed, by talking to one another we were able to find common ground and articulate certain broad policy objectives. That is the type of conversation that needs to be going in on living rooms around the country as well as in the halls of Congress and in those town hall meetings. It would be nice if our media (not to mention some political leaders) tried to assist in those types of conversations, but I suppose that thought-provoking, intellectual discussion doesn't generate ratings (or political contributions) the way that name-calling, fear-mongering, and obfuscation do.

If we can't find a way to sit down together and talk in a civil manner without yelling, without lying, and without resorting to unsupportable rhetoric, is it any wonder that we can't find ways to solve problems and bridge the ever-widening divides tearing at the fabric of our society?

One more note: The non-partisan website PolitiFact's Truth-o-Meter has been working overtime to fact check some of the things being said in the ongoing healthcare debate. Do yourself a favor and pay that site a visit. Regularly. (I note that Rep. Michelle Bachmann [R-Minnesota] has had six of her statements analyzed by PolitiFact. Her score: 3 false and 3 pants on fire false. Talk about credibility...)

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