Columns » Max Brantley

‘The tree of crazy’

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I remain convinced that the best path to quality universal care is a single-payer health insurance system. In other words, Medicare for everyone, with the usual optional supplements for the well-to-do. But I knew from the outset of the current debate that my preference wasn't going to happen, or anything reasonably close.

Any civilized country you can name provides health care for all — including foreign visitors — at a lower cost than we pay. Plus their citizens live longer and newborns don't die as often.

Yet, it seems a given that only a minority endorses a trade of the existing U.S. system for these cheaper approaches and their better outcomes.

OK, so I lose. But that hasn't prevented near coronaries over the bodacious lies being told to defeat whatever the Obama administration brings to the table. (What is that plan, you ask? Beats me. The vaunted Obama message machine has been on the fritz for months.)

I didn't expect honesty from Republicans — the Just Say No party. They are outraged by Obama's election. The shout-down halls are a free platform to share that unhappiness, loudly, with the world. Race — the fear of black males that permeates so many decisions in America still — is an undeniable factor.

It has been discouraging to see Democrats stoke the hysteria. U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, who has always trucked in fear, is an unsurprising example. Whether waving a miniature flag to endorse Pledge of Allegiance legislation or bashing gay people or swinging a shotgun around or casting women with difficult choices as baby killers, Ross has never been a profile in political courage.

Ross was never going to support meaningful health reform, despite the huge poverty in his district — tens of thousands without health care or bankrupted by inadequate insurance.  He's politically invulnerable and beholden to the medical industry. Still, some of his utterances have been stupefying. Like what he said on CNN:

“I will never vote for a bill to kill old people, period.”

There is not, was not and will not be any such bill. But this non-existent demon has come to embody Obama's health plan for the zanies. Opportunist Ross is happy to take advantage, too. He might as well have added: “And I'll never vote for a bill that makes a tattooed 280-pound black man your executioner.”

The media bears some blame. Rather than call a crazy a crazy, today's media quote the craziness straight and, for “balance,” get a brief sane response. Something like:

“Hundreds of angry protesters besieged U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln at a Benton County picnic Saturday to shout loudly that the earth was flat. They said Arkansas was perilously close to falling off the edge. A NASA scientist said later that satellite imagery suggests the world is round.”

Rick Perlstein wrote in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post that  serious journalists didn't waste time with the crazies in the golden days of Cronkite.  “The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of ‘conservative claims' to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims,” wrote Perlstein. “Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as ‘extremist' — out of bounds.

“The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest.”

And fertilized by Mike Ross.

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