Columns » John Brummett

Un-American? Alas, no


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U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln blundered last week and had to make a retracting apology for calling the actions of misinformed, boorish constituents “un-American.”

She was right to retract that. Misinformation and boorishness actually are all-American.

Our Constitution protects nonsensical, offensive and irresponsible expression. Some of our people like to take full advantage. You may legally burn a flag. You may wholly misrepresent the truth about what your president is trying to do on health care. You cannot get thrown in jail merely for being wrong and rude.

These people about whom Lincoln was complaining, and to whom she was then apologizing, are sometimes called “wing-nuts.” That is a boorish term itself. It refers to people on the emotion-consumed extremes of irrationality in American politics — to the right in this case, but the left can be just as genuinely all-American. These people are not in touch with, and don't seem much to desire, reality and informed perspective.

A swarm of these wingnuts of the right crammed into a public forum on health care last week at the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.

They assailed U. S. Reps. Mike Ross and Vic Snyder, who happen to be two of the more responsible and pragmatic members of Congress.

Ross is so catching it from both sides on the health care issue that you have to figure he has it close to right.

There is much to question about these proposed health care reforms: How are we going to pay for them? Might changes in Medicare reimbursements and regulations run the risk of impairing medical care for seniors? How exactly does the president intend for us to pay less for unnecessary tests and more for good health “outcomes”?

But those kinds of issues got lost in the hooting, heckling and shouting, all reflecting the most destructive of emotions, meaning fear, particularly of change.

It's not that these people disagree thoughtfully. It's that they loathe blindly. So let's separate some of the audience's fear and loathing from fact.

Fear and loathing — Government is taking over health care.

Fact — Government  long ago took over health care for seniors, veterans, poor people and many of our children. But, by current proposals, government would not take over health care for anyone else -- unless someone so chose.

Government would instead create a public insurance option to enter the marketplace and, as the idea goes, engender competitive efficiencies in a more vibrant private sector, in the way the Post Office presumably makes FedEx and UPS better.

Fear and loathing — President Obama advocates a single-payer system of national health insurance and Ross and Snyder are trying to help him.

Fact — Obama is taking heat from wingnuts on the left precisely for NOT advocating a single-payer system. He wants to preserve and encourage the employer-based system. Ross has been leading Democratic opposition even to Obama's centrist and incremental plan. He is protecting Blue Cross on the theory that small rural hospitals in his district can't survive the lower reimbursement rates of government competition with Blue Cross.

Fear and loathing — Obama's plan would pay doctors for euthanizing sick people. (Sarah Palin, one of the more famous wingnuts, posted on Facebook the other day that she fears Obama will set up “death panels” that will take the life of her child with Down Syndrome. Newt Gingrich, not wanting to offend wing-nuts in his potential political base, found a way to side with Palin. He did it by saying no one knows what might happen under government's “selective standards.”)

Fact — The House bill calls for giving doctors Medicare reimbursements for counseling Medicare-receiving seniors on their purely voluntary end-of-life options about living wills and whether to decline artificial extensions of life. Nobody would be forced to sit for such a session, much less sign anything. Nothing in the health care debate remotely threatens the medical care and protection of Palin's child.

Fear and loathing —This is all socialism.

Fact — It's a quasi-socialist component of a uniquely and time-honored American hybrid mix-and-match of capitalist and socialist principles, like Social Security and Medicare and bank bailouts.

A college student spoke up to say he was comforted by what the congressmen were saying. Some of the wingnuts hooted and one told the guy to get a job.

That was bad advice. It's a tough economy for jobs right now. Education is a greater need, obviously.


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