This Is What Passes For A Reasonable Conservative These Days

Ken AshfordHealth Care, Right Wing Punditry/IdiocyLeave a Comment

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

Jonathan Cohn complains that "health-care reform" is being "swiftboated." I think the parallel holds up. A mixture of true, false, and partly-true-but-hyperbolic claims are being made against a liberal cause, and liberals are for the most part using the false criticisms to avoid dealing with the valid ones. They're also ignoring the falsehoods and bullying on their own side. From what I can tell, Betsy McCaughey has done Ezekiel Emanuel an injustice, as Cohn says, and what she says about health care should be taken with several grains of salt. But it seems to me to be worse when the president of the United States claims, falsely, that doctors frequently do unnecessary tonsillectomies for profit. Similarly, opponents of health-care reform should not be drowning people out at town halls. But it seems to me much worse for a president to tell his opponents in a debate to shut up.

Ponnuru acknowledges that the topic of health care is being "swiftboated" by the right.  He acknowledges the existence of falsehoods, but that Democrats are in the wrong for responding to those falsehoods rather than real criticisms.

What he conveniently ignores is the fact that the "real" criticisms are themselves being drowned out by the falsehoods.  That's precisely one of the goals of "swiftboating" — to distract from the main issues with nonsense false issues.  The fault should therefore be placed on the swiftboaters, not those on the other side.

I also think his point would be much stronger if he didn't "swiftboat" himself at the end of his post — by claiming that the president told "his opponents in a debate to shut up".  Obama did no such thing — in fact, in his town hall meeting, he went out of his way to solicit comments from those who oppose him.

Yet Ponnuru sets this up as some kind of bizarre equivalence: health care opponents should not be drowning out people at town halls (something which happens frequently, and is wrong), but that's not as bad as Obama telling opponents to shut up (something which never happened, and even if it did, it was only in response to those loud heath care opponents that won't let anyone get a word in edgewise, who Ponnuru admits are in the wrong).

Policy Swiftboating, by the way, has been around for a while.  Even in heathcare matters. In 1961, Ronald Reagan said Medicare, if it became law, would lead federal officials to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, Reagan warned that if Congress passed Medicare, there was a real possibility that federal officials would control where all Americans go and what they do for a living.

It didn't work then, obviously. But the swiftboating machine in the modern era is far better-oiled.  With the Internet and other high-speed communications, a lie really can make it half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on.