While reading through the Baucus Healthcare Bill two words jumped out from the page at me. Actually it was one word written twice and I admittedly word searched to find the second. What was the offending word? "Propaganda." One might ask how a silly little word like "propaganda" could finds its way into legislation concerning healthcare. I asked myself the same thing.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (New Edition 2004) defines propaganda as "the spreading of ideas to further or damage a cause." It doesn't specify whether that information is true or not, however it's safe to assume that most of us are in agreement that propaganda usually connotes anything from bending the truth to straight out lies. It conjures Orwellian images of Big Brother or Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. That notwithstanding it still doesn't explain why this word appears in this legislation - or does it?
Its first appearance on page 236 prevents nonprofit health insurance issuers from using any funds appropriated under the CO-OP Program for "carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation." It does not specify which legislation so we must assume it applies to all legislation. I do agree with the concept. It prevents these nonprofit health insurance issuers from using these appropriated public funds for lobbying. But the hypocritical reality is that publically funded propaganda is the strict domain of this administration, which sees no problem in using the publicly funded National Endowment of the Arts to further its own general agenda or in hiring AKPD Messaging and Media (formally associated with David Axelrod) with $12 million dollars of taxpayer money to tout the president's healthcare platform. Clearly some people are more equal than others.
The second appearance on page 245 is more nefarious. It says that nonprofits will lose their exemption status just for "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation" (publically funded or otherwise). It further stipulates that the organization must "not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."
Two things come to mind. The first is who decides what is propaganda? I grew up to believe the truth is the truth no matter where you find it. But in the dichotomy of ideas and paradigms that exist in our country right now, one person's truth is another's lie. Defining what is propaganda and what is not is an extremely subjective calling that's as fleeting as the political wind and might require an entire administrative staff to define enforce its decisions. We could call it the Department of Truth.
The second thing that comes to mind is the First Amendment. By creating legal conditions within a bill that require you to forgo your right to free speech (as a person or organization) in order to receive the benefits of said bill stands as another just another of growing monuments to the assault on our Constitution.