Saturday, March 27, 2010

Health care debate gets buried by hyperbole

This blog was inspired by seeing this billboard posted on facebook:

One of the comments underneath the facebook posting of that billboard reads "I have my gun ready."   This is ridiculous!  Methinks the rhetoric and hyperbole have gone too far.  I don't remember the reaction being this strong in 2003 when Bush involved us in an (IMHO) unnecessary war that killed thousands of Americans. Other examples just from this morning's read of the newspaper:

  • several states threatening lawsuit over the 'unfunded mandates' of the health care law (nevermind that the charges to states budgets don't kick in until 2017 and then only a small percentage)
  • protesters hurling racial and anti-gay epithets at Congressmen on Sunday (the irony being that John Lewis was one of the targets ... kind of takes you back to the '60s, doesn't it?)
  • Sarah Palin saying "Don't retreat, instead RELOAD"
  • all the comparisons of Obama to Hitler and Stalin
It's perfectly fine for people to protest our government and it is our right to vote against incumbents that we don't like.  But when people resort to violent rhetoric (and actions) a line has been crossed.   I am actually starting to feel nervous that we are headed for a violent split in this country.  Technologies such as twitter and facebook have helped to amp up the volume.  Our divisions seem to be deepening, and hardening and we are forgetting the many things that unite us.  Politicians on both sides contribute to this by demonizing their colleagues in the other party and by drawing comparisons to socialism, totalitarianism, even fascism!  Go and read up on those ideologies and you will see that nothing that we are doing today remotely approaches those forms of government.  Yes, the Obama administration believes that government has a role to play in the protection of the people; reasonable people can disagree with that and prefer to let the free market sort things out.   That's what elections are for.  My point is that we should engage in a reasonable debate over the role we want government to play.   Let's do that and drop the hyperbole.

As to the health care law, I have a couple of points I want to make, with regard to some of the reactions I have heard:
  • People are criticizing Congress for going against the wishes of their constituents.  They forget that Bush was praised for not being a slave to the polls.  They also forget that in 2006, Bush ignored a wide majority of the American public and the recommendations of his own blue ribbon, bipartisan panel, and he escalated the war in Iraq by going forward with the surge.  Guess what - that worked out pretty well!  Sometimes a politician has to do what he or she thinks is right even if public opinion is opposed.
  • The issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate is very interesting.   Supporters cite the commerce clause as justification.  I read one blog that said that, while the current interpretation of the commerce clause probably exceeds the original intent of the framers, several Supreme Court decisions in the mid 20th Century expanded the modern definition of the clause to cover a wide range of legislation.  Other examples of individual mandates include Social Security and Medicare taxes, and income taxes in general.  So there is precedent, and the likelihood of the issue even getting to the Supreme Court is remote.  Most scholars that I have read believe that, despite the current conservative leaning makeup of the Court, if it did reach that far they would uphold the law as written.  As recently as 2005, Justice Scalia wrote "noneconomic local activity" can come under federal regulation if it is "a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce." 
  • The other constitutionality argument being made by several states is that the government is imposing an unfunded mandate on the states by expanding Medicaid.  Here, the "supremacy clause"(Article 6) states that "the laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land".
  • The health care law is not a "socialist" law.  A single payer system would be an example of a socialist policy.  Even with the "public option" this type of legislation was never part of Obama's recommendations.  The law Obama signed on Tuesday keeps private insurers in place, and is, in fact, a very moderate change in policy.  Yes it will cost more, and there are legitimate concerns about what it will do to the deficit.  However, it is not socialist.
OK, I've had my rant.  Feel free to comment / rebut as you see fit!


  1. I agree that "I have my gun ready" could be considered extreme. However , in context it does not imply any aggressiveness and fear is more the sense intended. (IMHO) "I have my gun ready", simply says, if they are at my door they will not get in without a fight. Ridiculous ? Not entirely.

    Have things gone too far? Nothing has changed in Washington, we still have an elite class making bad decisions in the arrogance of a self-styled vacuum. And we all suffer.

    Now to the other rants. First any reference to GW or the Iraq war is simply not relevant to a discussion of Healthcare Issues or Crisis. So it would be dismissed out of hand by anyone you might be trying to pursuade that what happened in Washington over the last week is a victory for the American people. If that is what you are trying to do?

    This country is not on fiscally solid ground right now. (Or perhaps you think it is?) How we got here is useful to study, but doesn't really tell us what the wisest steps to take to improve the situation NOW.

    There are clear Constitutional issues involved with the substance of the Bill that passed. They are being clearly articulated and deserve judicial review. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will repeal the Bill. But, more than likely, it will be a 4-5 vote. It really depends on what Constitutional specific question they are asked to decide. There are several arguments that may make it all the way.

    Violence by any person or group is always unacceptable in a civil society. And abusive verbal attacks should not be tolerated. It is occurring on all sides and it is condemned by any legitimate leaders.

    President Obama has shown some far left leanings and sympathies both in the past and in the present. This is clear and undeniable(IMHO). As far as Hitler he hasn't killed anybody as far as I know. :) I don't know that he is evil, he is simply misguided. Government is not the solution, it is the problem.

    I think we should clean house. Vote every single one of the 536 out, next chance we get.

    As to the health care law: There has been no reasoned debate on the Health Care solution. That is the fault of both sides of the aisle. The bill that passed is far too intrusive. The costs are unknown but will surely Anyone at any level that thinks that the bill will save taxpayers money is living in a fantasy world. It is a nice fantasy, but it is a fantasy. Digging our bankruptcy hole deeper is not the solution to reining in evil insurance companies. Real unintended consequences are already in the news. This bill is bad policy.
    Nearly every existing foreign and domestic government program cited as precedent is an abject fiscal failure. Including Massachusetts.

    Politicians on any side are elected to represent their constituents. They are not elected to serve only those that voted for them. And they are not elected to sell their votes to get special favors for anybody or to promote their own pet projects. And they are not elected to bring home the bacon to their constituents either.

    Technology has made things a whole lot different. The problem is that the masses are just not good at sorting through the bullshit. That is the fault of our educational system, but that is another topic. Save to say that critical thinking needs vocal advocates at high levels.

    To dismiss the magnitude of the problem with "Yes it will cost more, and there are legitimate concerns about what it will do to the deficit." seems like the reaction of a ostrich. Look around you. It is getting worse every day. People do not have jobs and companies have no plans to hire. At least in part because of the increases in Health Care costs they will be incurring in the very near future. Such far-reaching legislation does not have its impact in the vacuum of a utopian lab. The health care problem needs to be fixed. First we need a single definition of the problem and then we can proceed to find reasonable solutions. This bill is not one of them.

  2. eratta:
    "The costs are unknown but will surely Anyone at any level that thinks that the bill will save taxpayers money is living in a fantasy world."
    should read "The costs are unknown but will surely be significantly higher than currently imagined. Anyone at any level that thinks that the bill will save taxpayers money is living in a fantasy world."

  3. Jeff, thanks for your comments. While I disagree with most of them, I (mostly) enjoyed reading your response; this is the kind of dialog that makes being a political junkie fun! I did not, however, appreciate the comment about the ostrich. First, that seems beneath you, and second, it completely misses the point of my blog. I thought it was clear that my intent was not to debate the relative merits of the health care law but instead to comment on the various (IMHO) overblown reactions to it. Next time you're in Atlanta let me know and we can get together over a couple of beers and have an engaging discussion! (Call it another 'beer summit'!)

    I won't rebut your rebuttal except to say that I stand by what I wrote and that if things were as black and white as you make them out to be, then there would be no debate. If only things were that clear cut.

  4. Brian,

    As you know, I was concerned, and still am concerned, about the long-term cost of the recently passed bill. I felt that not enough emphasis was placed on reducing costs; especially drug. medical insurance company and malpractice insurance costs. As far as the reaction of the right to this bill, I find myself wondering how much is really about the legislation and how much is about who proposed and passed the bill. My concern in this regard is that I'm afraid that many on the extreme right will be against anything that the President does, and that their reasons have more to do with where he might have been born (the birthers.) his middle name (the religion thing) or -- heaven help us -- the fact that he is black. Nevertheless I feel that some of those on the extreme right who are hyper-critical of all Republicans, including those moderate and socially-conscious "saints" like me are just as guilty of extreme rhetoric as the Rush Limbaughs, etc. I watched Bill Maher last night and he was doing his usual "all Republicans are ignorant crazy idiots who are threatening we nice people with extinction" routine. He, like Michael Moore, should not throw stones at that particular window.

    Back to the legislation. I think that given today's proliferation of social network sites, the internet, etc. that we would have had similar reactions to Lyndon Johnson in '65 and for that matter to FDR in the 30's. How many right wingers would like to cancel Medicare or Social Security? Yes, I know that there was reaction from the right to these bills (and those "socialist Presidents",) but it would be difficult to find many who would be willing to cancel them. I have a high degree of confidence that over time, care for the under 65 will be considered by the bulk of the population to be the same as the care we now provide for those on Medicare. I also believe that the system will be appropriately tuned in order to make it work even as social security and medicare are continually being adjusted. I even believe that we'll somehow find a way to pay for it because I am a very strong believer in the American People being able to solve our problems under the form of government in which we operate.

  5. Why does Obamacare exempt Congress and the White House from having to buy the same health care plans that the law forces other Americans to purchase?

    Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa) tried to close this loophole, but Harry Reid wouldn’t even let it come up for a vote.

    Great quote from Grassley: “It’s only fair and logical that top administration officials, who fought so hard for passage of this overhaul of America’s health care system, experience it themselves. If it’s as good as promised, they’ll know it first-hand. If there are problems, they’ll be able to really understand them, as they should.”

  6. My biggest concern is the cost. The Congressional Budget Office (nonpartisan) has said that Obamacare will cause the average family’s premiums to go up by as much as 13 percent by 2016.

  7. Brian,

    Ostrich comment was not pejorative in intent. Sorry if you took it as such. It is nearly impossible for me to understand how anyone can be paying attention and not see the collossal folly of the financial irresponsibility of this HCR solution as it stands. Therefore IMHO ,To support this legislation is to ignore the obvious. The costs of this massive intrusion have the potential to do us in. It is bad policy, based on misguided notions. Not because the problem does not need to be addressed, but because this is not a sane solution.

    What is needed is a bill that both the right and the left are not entirely happy with. It is a long established axiom in the legal realm that the best desicions in resolving lawsuits are those where both partys are not entirely happy with the result. Similar logic applies here.

    In principle I an actually a Libertarian. I believe that the purpose of the Federal government is 3-fold. 1- Provide for common defense. 2-Provide safety nets for those who are unable to provide for their own basic needs. 3-To properly regulate foreign and interstate commerce so as to minimize abuses and promote vigorous competition.

    The federal government was never meant to be the social engineering vehicle that it has become. I do not see how this legislation, as it stands, even falls within the proper role of the federal government.

    I do believe that some things are black and white. :)

  8. How do we know this "hate" isn't being manufactured by the Left and fueled by the media? In the past, several of the incidents of violence at the town hall meetings ended up being caused by liberal union thugs. I'd also like to point out that recent claims of racial shouts and spitting by the Tea Party protesters remains uncorroborated by video evidence from the events.

  9. Well, Michael and I were actually discussing the topic of the increasingly violent and angry rhetoric, which has been accelerating on both sides. Democrats were vocally abusive of Bush, and Republicans are perhaps more vocally abusive of Obama and his policies (or perhaps it is just that I now live in Oklahoma--the most Republican state in America). I am disturbed by some comments I have heard on both sides over the years. I think we all need to remember that, as bad of a rap as we give politicians, the majority of them are smart, well-meaning people and do not deserve being abused in manners which are not within the realm of their political decisions. In my past week working in a rehab hospital, I have heard patients call Obama a "black man with too much white in him", the N-word, and say that they would personally shoot him with a rifle if they ever meet him and he should be scared for his life. I think it says something that anyone in our country would say such awful things about someone as educated and in such an important position as our president. I think this lack of respect is also being taught to children --which I think is already a big enough problem in my generation and will be much more of one in generations to come. Can't we all remember what it means to be gentlemen and ladies and discuss the issues instead of demonizing the people? As for healthcare, I thought this was a bill that both the left and right are not satisfied with--I would have been happy to see a public option. Perhaps t is working with so many children with disabilities who cannot get the care they need because of our current system and wishing they could have as much peace of mind as the older patients I now see that are on that government healthcare product of medicare.

  10. Thanks everyone for their comments! This is fun. I absolutely enjoy an intellectual political debate, as long as it doesn't get personal (which it has occasionally in the past 2 years). The main point of my original blog was that people are taking it too far with talk of revolution and calls to arms and violent threats and actual incidents of violence. By the way, Charles, I don't believe that the incidents are being manufactured by the left; that sounds like something Glenn Beck would make up! Next we're going to learn that the violence in Birmingham and Selma and Mississippi was caused by people who were actually for civil rights and wanted to get their efforts into the news!

    Some quick responses to your comments (do you all get email updates when comments are added?):

    Jeff and Brandon and Dad - I too am very concerned about the cost. I think the CBO estimates of net revenue gain in 10 years are, while bi-partisan, based on optimistic expectations. I wish they had kept either the provision to tax employer provided health care benefits as income or implemented the tax on "Cadillac plans" sooner then 2018 (which we all know will never pass then). As far as putting a label on my political stance, I guess I lean toward moderate Democrat in that I do believe that government should provide a safety net, as Jeff said, but I probably (just guessing here!) go further on that issue than you do. I believe that basic health care should be provided by the govt. I would agree that the original framers probably did not mean to include it, but they also did not mean to include abortion laws or laws against gay rights! The world has changed since 1776 and we have to try to remain in the spirit of the framers and not necessarily the exact original intent (Oops, now I've opened a can of worms on constitutional law!). I am also Libertarian to a degree; I felt that the Patriot Act was an intrusion into my rights and I don't believe in laws regulating personal morality. However, I have read the Libertarian platform and find much to disagree with. Finally, I am Republican when it comes to national defense (even though I am very anti war (as a child of the 60s should be!), I reluctantly supported Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. I also am fiscally moderate to conservative which leads to some internal struggles as it bumps up against my belief in safety nets.

    Dad - I agree that many Republicans seem to have made a pact in November 2008 to oppose anything and everything that Obama supported. I think this is their campaign strategy and, sad to say, it appears now that it may pay off. However it's a long time until November. I also agree with you and Rebecca that Democrats have been guilty of over the top invective (although not to the level we've seen in the past 2 weeks). I dislike Michael Moore and Bill Maher as much as I dislike their counterparts on the right. There are a few conservative commentators that I like, even though I usually disagree with them, specifically David Brooks and George Will.

    Rebecca - as always you summed things up very nicely! It sickens me that your patients are talking like that. It is interesting that most of the health care workers that I know personally (you, mom, Cindy B, Jane T, others) support health care reform, if not the exact law that passed, but most of the care provisions and insurance regulations that are in it.

    Work beckons! Thanks again to you all for the robust dialog!

  11. Thanks for posting the blog, Brian. The very families that need the financial protection healthcare insurance provides the most are the ones least likely to have it. How do you not feed your kids today so you can pay for healthcare they may or may not need tomorrow? If people with mental illness had access to adequate care and medications, things like the Columbine and VA Tech shootings could possibly have been prevented. I have a hard time understanding why the people of this country WOULDN'T want to get together and figure out a way - even one that would require some level of sacrifice - to make sure ALL sick people get care.