Why The Health Care Debate Is The Way It Is

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

Rudy Ruiz, guest commentating at CNN, has some thoughts:

Why has it become so difficult to even consider changing our minds about important issues?

Here's my diagnosis.

Increasingly, the willingness to change one's position on political issues has been misread as a mark of weakness rather than a product of attentive listening and careful deliberation.

Three factors exacerbate this paralysis by lack of analysis: labels, lifestyles and listening.

First, the labels ascribed to many potential policy tools render sensible options taboo, loading what could be rational, economic or social measures with moral baggage. This narrows our choices, hemming in policy makers.

Any proposal including the words "government-run" elicits cries of "socialism" and "communism." Any argument invoking the words "God" or "moral" sparks accusations of "right-wing extremism," "fascism," or "Bible-thumping." Instead of listening to each other's ideas, we spot the warning label and run the other way.

Second, our lifestyles favor knee-jerk reactions. The way we think, work and live in the Digital Age demands we quickly categorize information without investing time into rich interaction, research and understanding.

We're hesitant to ask questions because we don't have time to listen to the long, complicated answers that might follow. And we lack the time to fact-check competing claims. In our haste, it's easier to echo our party's position than drill down, questioning whether party leaders are motivated by our best interests or the best interests of their biggest contributors.

Third, we tend to listen only to like-minded opinions as media fragmentation encourages us to filter out varying perspectives. If you're a liberal, you avoid FOX News. If you're a conservative you revile MSNBC. The dynamic is even more pronounced online, where a niche media source can be found for any outlook.

I think he's largely right, but I also think he's largely describing the right.  On the left, there is more of a tendency to listen to the "long, complicated answers" and to educate oneself.  There is a bit of an echo chamber, but I find that most people on the left — myself included — pay a great deal of attention to what is said on Fox News, if only because we know that so many others turn to Fox as their sole new source.

I also think the left is less-guilty of seeking out like-minded opinions.  This, in part, is why the left has a hard time governing, even when it is in the majority.  It's because its own ranks are fractured and splintered, rather than trying to carve a cohesive whole.

Those on the left may watch Rachel Maddow, but they don't follow her as the gospel-giver.  But Joe Klein gives us anecdotal evidence that the same isn't true for the other side:

I was at a Blanche Lincoln town hall meeting in Russellville, Arkansas, yesterday–and the number of people who believe that the President has larded the government with communists (!) was astonishing. One woman said there were four known communists in the government and that she'd researched it on the internet. When I asked her afterwards, she said environmental adviser Van Jones, legal advisor Cass Sunstein (who was last spotted being excoriated by the left for supporting the FISA revisions), someone named Lloyd and she didn't remember the fourth. And wasn't it suspicious that Obama had all these czars working for him–that was a Russkie commie term, wasn't it? When I asked, the woman admitted that, among other things, she occasionally listened to William Bennett's conservative radio show. I pointed out that Bennett had once been the Drug Czar, appointed by Ronald Reagan. Life sure can be complicated sometimes.

I was later told by a local observer that many of these vomitous, disgraceful notions were the fruit of Glenn Beck's fruitful imagination. "We are living Glenn Beck's fantasy life," said this audience member. The amazing thing remains not only the unwillingness of responsible Republicans–a term that is in danger of becoming an oxymoron–to call bull– on this, but also the willingness of many prominent Republicans to join in the slinging of garbage. Michelle Cottle reports that there are Republican-sanctioned efforts afoot to have parents not send their children to school on September 8 because the President is scheduled to address the nation's school-children that day and they are afraid that he will fill their little heads with socialist propaganda. That is somewhere well beyond disgraceful. 

Could I just say that the intensity of this getting pretty scary…and dangerous? We are heading toward a cliff and the usual brakes of civil discourse are not working. Indeed, the Republicans have the pedal to the metal–rushing us toward a tragedy far greater than the California health care forum finger-biting Karen describes below. I'm usually not one to panic or be overly worried about the state of our country–even when we do awful things like invade Iraq and torture people, we usually right our course before long–but I have a sinking feeling about where we're headed now. I hope I'm wrong.

I hope he's wrong, too, but I really believe he's not.