There are a lot of irritating things about the healthcare/insurance debate, but to me one of the most irritating is how conservatives are creating their own reality, how they are shaping the debate in the way they describe it.
When healthcare/insurance reform (which I am going to just call healthcare from here out) started a few months ago, a majority of Americans were in favor of it. It is easy to see why, right now the 15% of us without health insurance and the millions of us who have lousy health insurance have to pay astronomical bills even for brief emergency room visits. Those of us with employer based coverage get a great deal in paying for only a tiny fraction of our health insurance (and we get a tax break on what we do pay), and our employers also get a tax break, but still the cost of our insurance adds maybe ten grand on average to our employers payroll costs per employee. That factors into the cost of everything we make (including export goods). And of course there are the stories of medical cost driven bankruptcies (apparently about half I think), and the anecdotes of people’s coverage being terminated right before they have an operation or some expensive treatment. All of which is to say there was, as there should be, a fair amount of support for changing the system.
Now, Obama had decided to allow Congress to actually write the healthcare reform bills. He gave them some guidelines he wanted to see, and I guess he thought maybe Congress would get together and produce something bipartisan (this time, as opposed to what happened with the stimulus). That didn’t happen, and in fact when the bills were produced, the Republicans particularly targeted one House bill, and circulated emails with distortions of its various provisions. I suspect (really, believe) that those distortions were also communicated on the conservative talk radio and TV shows. Republicans started to push back, in the Senate, suggesting that because the Democrats did not have 60 votes (with Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd ailing), they would block any legislation with a largely united front and a couple of defecting Democrats. The end of July deadline was missed, and then the townhalls started. At first, only a couple of speakers were screaming and carrying on. But when it happened, it was captured on video and played in an endless loop on the TV news. Conservative pundits seized on these episodes as signs that public support for health care reform was dropping, and as they did, they created that reality. When people heard that other people were no longer supporting health care reform, their own support wavered. When they heard socialism and death panels, they forgot about saving money and started worrying that we would become Nazi Germany.
Last Friday I heard the analysis of Shields and Brooks on the PBS News Hour. Generally I like David Brooks at least some. But on this occasion he leapt out of the gate with the statement that public support for health care reform was below 50%, and it looked like nothing would be done. Naturally Shields backed him up, because nobody wants to tell the News Hour viewers they are too stupid to understand the issues (and to be fair, the people who no longer support health care reform never understand the issues).
There has been some intelligent push back. TR Reid has just published a book comparing health care systems all around the world. The more people hear the nuts and bolts, the down and dirty good and bad of other countries health care systems, the more they may decide we really do want something more like what they have. Up till now, conservatives’ anecdotes of how people have to wait for inferior care in Europe have dominated the news cycle. But if French men and English women are actually heard, they will talk about how waits are not the norm, and how the care is both complete and inexpensive.
Some Congressional Republicans, in their incredible hubris, have actually been upfront that their goal is to hand Obama a defeat. It does not matter to them that millions of people will continue to suffer if health care reform is defeated. And meanwhile they are aided by the legion of conservative pundits; some, like Limbaugh, Beck and Quinn who are so deluded they simply don’t know better, and some, like David Brooks, who ought to be ashamed.