During my recent adventures in physical therapy, I overheard an elderly woman, also in physical therapy, talking about a relative who had received bad medical care while traveling in Italy. Then she shook her head and made a disparaging remark about “socialized medicine.” I wanted to ask her if Medicare paid for her physical therapy, although I didn’t. I suspect that if I had told her Medicare was “socialized medicine,” she wouldn’t have believed it.

I thought of this woman as I read Joe Conason’s article in Salon called “Stop ‘Hillary-care’ now!” He calls the Right’s attempts to scuttle health care reform pathetic, and on many levels they are. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work.

Conason writes that the Right’s strategy is to stoke fear of government bureaucrats.

But as his memo indicates, that task is becoming more difficult as the actual conditions that Americans confront grow worse. No longer is it sufficient to deny the reality of crisis in the healthcare system — and if Republicans continue to do so, the overwhelming majority of the American public that is demanding reform will dismiss them. What Luntz urges his party to do instead is to redefine the crisis not as an existing problem of millions of uninsured families and unaffordable care, but as a looming threat of government medicine run amok.

Maximizing fear is the true message of the Luntz memo: fear of government-run healthcare, fear that bureaucrats will intercede between doctors and patients, fear that those same faceless bureaucrats in Washington will deny lifesaving procedures to helpless people. He urges the Republicans to promote “horror stories” about care delayed and denied in countries with national health insurance. If they heed his advice, we can expect to see ads warning that “your child could die” because government bureaucrats held up a critical operation until it was just too late.

Of course, bureaucrats at private insurance companies have been doing these terrible things for years, but we’re not supposed to notice.

Conason reports something said by Republican Senator Jon Kyl: “Imagine needing a new hip that will make it easier to get around, but just because you’re over 75, the government denies you that surgery. We can’t allow that to happen in America.” But Medicare pays for hip replacements all the time. So won’t Americans notice how absurd the GOP’s arguments are? I say some will. But some won’t.

The Right has done an amazing job of turning Americans into people with bifurcated brains. There’s a clear cognitive disconnection between “big expensive government programs” and “programs I like (that are run by the government).”

Remember this Bushism from the 2000 presidential campaign?

We trust individual workers, and so our plan says we’re going to keep the promise to our seniors. But we’ll allow younger workers at their choice to invest some of their own money in the private markets to get a better rate of return so that the Social Security promise will be kept.

And this frightens some in Washington. Because they want the federal government controlling the Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program. We understand differently though. You see, it’s your money not the government’s money.

Of course, Al Gore pounced on that remark, and in a sane world candidate Bush would have been hooted out of the campaign. But Bush was not hooted out of the campaign, and I think that’s partly because many of the people who heard the “like its come kind of federal program” remark didn’t catch the problem with it.

And I know in my bones that you could find people who have been denied care by insurance companies, or who have no insurance at all, who are opposed to “socialized medicine” because they don’t want “government bureaucrats” making decisions about health care.

Conason writes,

In a typical Luntz language memo such as this one, he commands Republicans to repeat certain words and phrases over and over again, on the humiliating assumption that both they and their constituents will behave like mindless stooges. His underlying aim is to strip words of their meaning to evoke automatic responses — and to shut down rational thought.

Yes. And y’know what? They are really good at stripping words of their meaning to evoke an automatic response. Think of what the Right has done to “liberty” and “freedom” for example. They play “freedom” like a trump card. It doesn’t matter what they’re defending, including torture and warrantless wiretapping; once “freedom” is thrown on the table, the trump card is supposed to win the hand. But within the context of the ideas they are defending the word “freedom” has no meaning.

On the other hand, I can think of times in which a majority of the American people saw through the sham. I’m thinking of the privatized social security scheme Bush tried to sell, and the Terri Schiavo debacle. I’ve thought for years that eventually the percentage of Americans with really bad experiences with the health care system would grow into a critical mass. And when that happened, I thought, maybe we could get reform.

But then there are lobbyists. Someone should work out a citizen-to-lobbyist influence ratio, as in how many irate citizens does it take to cancel out the influence of one lobbyist? It would be a really big number.

Then again, citizen opinion must count for something, or the Right wouldn’t even bother to scam us, nor would the insurance industry have paid for those “Harry and Louise” ads of yore. Perhaps all is not lost.

20 thoughts on “Disconnections

  1. Unfortunately I must rip my father here. He rails on and on about “socialized medicine,” then blithely pulls out his Medicare card for a doctor visit or runs up to the nearby VA hospital. And he’s an intelligent, thinking person. Or I guess he USED to be…

  2. People identify with individual ‘stories,’ foreinstance a friend and her 93-year old (Medicare and BlueCross insured) mother had to wait for 5 hours for mom to see a doctor recently. Supporters of universal health care coverage need just relate story after story of people who have been ‘victims’ of our present system.

    (And if one isn’t available, make one up like Harry and whatshername.)

  3. Although I’d much rather just go to single-payer and be done with it, I’m rooting for the national public health insurance plan. It would at least be a huge improvement over the choices we have now.

  4. In a more rational country, the opposition party would realize that something actually must be done. If not for the people, then for the corporations that cannot compete anymore because it costs too much to insure the workers.
    But not here. They have yet to explore the last frontier – no more company subsidized health care. I’m sure that this is where this is all headed.
    The Conservative motto: “Hey, you gotta die sometime!” And since the rich can afford better care, oh well, dem’s da breaks!!!

  5. The Right has done an amazing job of turning Americans into people with bifurcated brains. There’s a clear cognitive disconnection between “big expensive government programs” and “programs I like (that are run by the government)”.

    This. Maha, thank you for stating it so succinctly. This bifurcation is also true for “pork” vs. “infrastructure improvements”. I live in Dennis Kucinich’s district and I was blown away when I heard his opponent in the last election (I’ve forgotten his name already) criticize Dennis for not bringing enough federal $$ to the district and then turn right around and call him a tax and spend liberal.

    Back to National health insurance. I truly think that the scare tactics are not going to work this time. I may be naive, but I suspect the majority of Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, have suffered at the hands of insurance companies or know someone who has. This, coupled with the number of people lacking any insurance at all, may well be a wall of personal experience that no amount of yelling “gov’t bureaucrats! Booga booga!!” is going to surmount.

  6. c u n d gulag – IF employers quit paying for health insurance AND if that amount of money shows up in pay checks, the federal government will be about $250 billion richer because the money in pay checks is taxed. So, in a sense we already have government subsidized health care.

    The way I see it, that 250 billion would go a long way to support a single-payer health care system. The French, reputed to have the best system going, collect for government funded health care the same way we collect for social security. I read a more than startling supposition that health care for an American family of four would cost that family about 5 dollars/week under a single-payer system.

    Big insurance is the enemy in all this and big insurance is a cash cow for sitting politicians. That’s the problem and it’s a huge one – like a major overhaul of our entire political system has to come first?

  7. we have social security to fall back on. however the repugs have been trying to get their hands on it dont you realize how much is in there.they have already been dippining into it like it was their own private slush fund. we need alaw passed that will keep them out. after all it is our money

  8. Although I’d much rather just go to single-payer and be done with it, I’m rooting for the national public health insurance plan. It would at least be a huge improvement over the choices we have now.

    I’m with you on that. I am also hoping this is the “foot in the door” that begins the march toward single-payer. Just breaking the private insurance monopoly is a big step, and is no doubt why they’re terrified. Not only would insurance cos have to compete with a government plan, but it could be the beginning of the end for them.

    I’d be even more impressed if the Congressional hearings would admit single-payer advocates to the roundtable discussion. Among other things, Obama could play them against the insurance companies, to get the latter to yield – and perhaps is doing so behind the scenes, is my hope.

  9. The wingnuts are going to try and bamboozle us with mistruths and strip words of their true meaning, are you sure about this?

  10. After some thought on the health care discussion, I think the question to our Congressional reps should be “Why can’t we all have a health care plan like the one you have?” If it’s good enough for Congress, then it should be good enough for the rest of us.

  11. Only tangentially associated with the post (thank you for the post, btw :-), but my “favorite” Republican word that does not mean what they think it means is patriotism. Apparently in order to be patriotic you must be a Republican, think that “government is the problem” (a line I’ve always felt was insulting to my country), and do whatever you possibly can to ensure the Democratic president fails. And most recently, it means that you’re kinda-sorta in favor of breaking off from the USA.

    (btw, I’m one of the people that cannot get decent insurance. And so I live knowing that I’m always thisclose to being one disaster away from losing everything. Socialized medicine? Lead me to it.)

  12. I recently decided to stay at my state job (which I truly want to leave and pursue my dream of becoming an artist full time) because I have insurance. Having gone with out insurance, I can only say that single payer or nationalized health care is way overdue.

  13. WOW!
    Great post, great comments!
    “we are known by the company we keep” How true………

  14. Well I’m about to be finished with the semester of University – and without insurance again. Until I can find a decent job I’ll just hope not to get sick.

    Its really odd that Americans interpret or think of health care the way they think of individualism,and not the free market. The free market dictates (I think) that bulk is cheaper (like Wal-Mart). However, for health care (I prefer calling it “sick care”) Americans think about their individual choice and not the fact that buying anything in bulk is more efficient. I think the reasons for this have two components: Rush Limbaugh and the not so liberal but profitable media benefits greatly and dominates the communication side of the “debate” by keeping single payer advocates out, an additional influence comes from the drug and insurance companies that make so much money off us they can hire a team of lawyers and lobbyists to write any new legislation for Congress – kind of like the banks. So felicity is correct – until we have elections funded by the government then we are doomed.

  15. Another example of bifurcation is seen in the recent flock of seccessionist ‘sovereignity’ bills being offered in Southern state legislatures. The object to the requirement that the feds require states to pass laws in exchange for certain federal funds. The bills don’t say stop giving us money, we won’t accept it, they just want to get it without having to do anything (to their ‘sovereignity’) for it.

  16. I think the truth is the American experiment is doomed to fail. It appears to me these southerns would prefer to live in a different country than people in new york or california. Lincoln got it wrong, we should let them secede.

  17. “we should let them secede”
    Damn right! Then we could invade, steal their oil fields, have a kangaroo court to punish and execute their leaders, and do some proper “nation building”. All that and more right in our back yard…………..
    Man, those folks just don’t think things through; stick your finger in the eagles eye and see what happens.

  18. Of course, bureaucrats at private insurance companies have been doing these terrible things for years, but we’re not supposed to notice.

    This is because the opposition to conservative corporate war on healthcare reform has been limited to advocacy of government administered plans rather than taking the battle straight to those who are engaged in war on government and thus the citizens it aims to serve.

    Some insurance company CEO will be making decision regarding my health? That’s authoritarianism…feudalism. There are readily available stories that must be replayed over and over to etch these realities into the minds of the stubbornly resistant.

    Don’t take a knife to a gunfight. Few democrats in Congress have faced up to the viciousness of the fight that must necessarliy occur if we are to have single payor healthcare. Few are taking the stand right now.

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