Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Don't Ask People to Embrace A Public Health Plan; I Do Ask People to Act Like Decent Human Beings

I have opinions on the health care debate, but I won't try to persuade you to agree with me. Not now, anyway. Instead I'll say a few things about the debate itself. The conversation (and only in the loosest sense of the word can it be called a "conversation") about health care reform has brought out the worst in the American people. Grown men and women are acting like children and children are being used as propaganda tools in a debate that they (and, apparently, the adults who enlisted them) know little or nothing about.

That said, here are a few things that every person who discusses health reform in this nation needs to keep in mind:

  • Avoid obvious mis-truths and distortions. I'm sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose the health care bills that the House and Senate are currently mulling over, but "Obama wants to euthanize old people Soylet Green-style" is not one of them. Allowing Medicare to pay for consultations about living wills and assorted other end-of-life matters does not equate to creating "death panels." If something you read in an e-mail or hear about on talk radio sounds like something from a dystopian science fiction novel, do some research before you pass it along. Websites such as Fact Check.org and Politifact aren't perfect, but they do their homework. Even if you disagree with Fact Check or Politifact's conclusions, these sites tend to be more thorough in their assessment than the average chain e-mail writer or AM radio personality.

  • Don't assume that the worst possibility is the only possibility. Consider again the supposed death panels. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and other high-profile opponents of health care reform saw language in the bill about paying for patients to discuss with physicians end-of-life issues, and they assumed the worst: that the government would be deciding when grandma's time was up. A more reasonable (and in this case correct) interpretation of this same language would be that public health care would pay for people to educate themselves about living wills, hospice care, and that sort of thing.

    Similarly, last week this appeared on the White House blog:

    There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

    This says to me that the White House wants to be aware of health care-related rumors so that they can respond directly to people's concerns and misconceptions. But some, including former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson and current Texas Senator John Cornyn, concluded that President Obama was putting together an "enemies list" that he would use to persecute or blacklist his political opponents (or something). I don't know that publicly soliciting tips from anyone with an Internet connection is a good idea on the administration's part, but it definitely isn't an effective way to compile a list of enemies.

  • Don't threaten your political opponents with violence. This one should be obvious, but, judging from this and this, it isn't.

  • Avoid invalidation by association. It's tempting to lift up people who say things like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" or to point to conservative publications that take Stephen Hawking's name in vain and accidentally undermine their own argument as grounds to dismiss all opponents of health care reform. But that isn't fair, and focusing on the loudest misguided voices often is just a way to avoid engaging people who have legitimate concerns. Granted, those on both sides of the debate should respond to influential people with national platforms who misrepresent or ignore the facts. But a few bad apples (or even an orchard full of bad apples) do not invalidate the case for or against health care reform.

So there you go.


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