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!