November 22, 2009
Deliberative Analysis: RIPBy Keli Carender
A troubling trend has emerged in regard to hot-button issues like anthropogenic global warming and health care. It may not come as a surprise, but there no longer appears to be an interest by many on the left to engage in deliberative analysis and debate about proposed legislation. There are a handful of stereotypical accusations and responses from the left, whether from the Democrat leadership (including the president), or the average, everyday liberal. These irrational attacks must be addressed, broken down, and put away for good.
A popular form of attack from the left is the accusation of mental incapacity. For eight years, the funniest joke that supposedly talented comedians could write was a "George W. Bush is dumb" joke. Somehow that passed as hilariously sticking it to the man and speaking truth to power, even as he was leaving office. Luckily for the left, Sarah Palin took that mantle from Bush, and rather than address her shortcomings legitimately and constructively, the left has just labeled her as stupid. Whew, no threat there.
That is what it is about, isn't it? When one labels a person as dumb, idiotic, stupid, or brainwashed, is it not an attempt to stop the debate before it even begins? After all, there is no need to discuss an issue if the person with whom one is discussing it is "stupid." The "brainwashed" attack is a good one because it implies that a person is not only dumb, but that he or she is so brainless and helpless that someone else has been able to imprint a new system of values upon his or her mind. The ultimate aim here is to demean an opponent's capacity for independent thought and thereby artfully dodge a substantive debate on government run medicine.
The new all-purpose tool of leftists everywhere is the charge of racism. It is used frequently in regards to those who oppose any of Obama's policies, and it works quite well in bullying people on a variety of other issues as well. Are you a capitalist? Racist. Do you believe the U.S. is and should be a meritocracy? Racist. Do you oppose bailouts of all sorts, from large corporations to the individual homeowner? Racist and "teabagger." Do you believe that people should be responsible for their own health care and medical costs? Racist. Do you believe in reforming the legal immigration process to provide more people with a legal pathway into the U.S., while simultaneously cracking down on illegal immigration? Double racist.
You get the idea.
Fortunately, most rational people not only see through this ruse, but are also appalled at the indiscriminate use that devalues the impact the words racist and racism should make. It is similar to using the word holocaust to describe things that are most definitely not holocausts. It trivializes the words that we use to the point at which we can no longer use them to describe real injustice or even genocide.
Next is the clichéd use of personal anecdotes. A few personal anecdotes should never be the primary basis for any public policy, especially policy that affects 305,000,000 people. Yet with the health care debate, this tactic is sometimes the only argument deployed. It is a purely emotional attempt to persuade, convince, and finally bully the opposition into acquiescence and acceptance of a possibly irrational proposition.
The real problem here is that everyone has a story to tell. The question then becomes, to whom do we listen? Which stories deserve to influence and shape public policy? For instance, there are many anecdotes about health care rationing and the lack of quality care available in countries like England and Canada as a direct result of their "free" medical care. Here are two domestic examples as well. If we are to use personal stories (the sadder the better!), which stories do we use?
Lastly, vague stories float around about people being turned away from emergency rooms. How? In 1986 the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring hospital emergency rooms to treat people regardless of ability to pay or citizenship status. Thus it is rare that people are "left for dead," and if this does happen, it is highly illegal. Patient dumping, however, is another story altogether.
This tactic is meant to distract, confuse, or stump an opponent by using a detail that is actually unrelated to the debate at hand. It is reminiscent of "word problems" in mathematics. Those problems usually contain extra information that is not necessary to solve the problem, much to the consternation of many a math student. One such red herring is the claim that U.K. residents get free health care in many other countries outside of the U.K.
A little Googling finds that the U.K. has an arrangement with all European Economic Area (EEA) nations, and reciprocal heath care agreements with 27 other countries, allowing UK residents to receive some state-provided medical services for free or at a discounted price. Private care is not covered. It would take an act of Congress for the U.S. to participate in similar programs, and the current legislation snaking its way through Congress does not address reciprocal health care agreements.
This raises a question of entitlement. Should tourists receive free health care as well? No. The notion that a nation's taxpayers are somehow responsible for a tourist's medical bills is unreasonable, and to complain otherwise defies logic.
After exhausting the previous arguments, the debate finally approaches a genuinely debatable topic: costs. First is the complaint that health care costs in the U.S. are too high. Great. Everyone agrees here, though the left works hard to paint their opponents as naysayers on this issue.
Next comes the grumbling about premiums of all sorts, including travel insurance for tourists. The good news is that if the costs in the U.S. system decrease, premiums will decrease as well. The bad news is that the Pelosi bill increases costs and spending, and paves the way for severe rationing. Why? Because the real goal of this bill, if Pelosi and Obama were honest about it, is not to drive down costs, but rather to open the door to a single-payer health care system. How else to explain the threat of prison for violating the part about individual mandates? There is another bill, proposed by the Republicans, that actually lowers premiums, but it will unfortunately never make it out of the Democrat-controlled committees.
All participants in the health care debate deserve respectful discourse on the merits of the legislation when considering that it will impact fully one-sixth of the American economy and the individual health choices of 305,000,000 people. This authentic exchange of ideas requires first a positive analysis of the proposed legislation so that the consequences can be honestly assessed. Positive analysis results in statements that "can be proven true or false by comparison against real world data."
After the possible outcomes are investigated, all parties may then perform a normative analysis, meaning each participant makes a value judgment regarding the legislation's purported consequences. Of course, this presumes that there exists concrete legislative language, an opportunity to read the text, and legislative hearings in which there is actual discussion of individual sections of the bill. It does make it difficult to apply such an analysis when none of these elements exist.
There was a time when our public discourse was serious and substantive. We have the example of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention who spent long and arduous days interacting until they arrived at elegantly meticulous language. We can only wince at the poverty of the current civic discourse into which we have fallen.