“Stop the government takeover of healthcare.”
That’s the action line from the Family Research Council’s new ad. (Go see it on Politico.)
“Democrats released a healthcare bill that essentially tells seniors to drop dead." (From GOP.gov.)
“If some bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.” (From a Frank Luntz talking point list, which also recommends talking about a “government takeover” of healthcare, rather than “government run” or “government controlled”.)
“Destroying the best health care system the world has ever known.” (Courtesy of Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Alabama.)
And this choice one:
The Republican plan “will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government." (From Guilt by implication from Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina.)
At least Republican politicians and party leaders are predictable. Given any issue, they will turn to lies. What does this mean about them and how should Democrats respond?
What this means about Republicans is that they don’t have the right answer. If they had the right answer, they wouldn’t turn to lies and personal attacks. Lying about public policy means that they have weak solutions to a critical problem, and they know it.
It also means they believe American voters are gullible and easily deceived. Many voters are not well educated and can be kept away from inconvenient facts. (In fact, it is the mission of Republicans to keep voters away from facts they don’t like. That’s the point of charter schools, home schooling and religious schools. It keeps students away from learning about fundamental liberal ideas, like the labor movement, economic theory, and progress in civil rights.)
What is the successful strategy for responding to Republican lies? First, we have to understand that Republican politicians are tools being used, not human beings talking from their heart. The Republicans you see in public talking about healthcare are repeating what they’ve been told by healthcare industry lobbyists. Whether they believe what they are saying or not is immaterial to how to respond.
Profits in the healthcare industry are billions of dollars per year. A billion dollars buys a lot of publicity (amplified by the free publicity offered by news outlets whenever they bring these politicians and their close supporters on). It is unlikely that progressive Democrats can drown out this level of misinformation simply by talking louder, longer and more sincerely.
The way to respond is not to talk. The way to respond is to ask.
Instead of talking about how big the problem is and how much better the Democratic solution is than (1) doing nothing (the status quo) or (2) the Republican plan (doing nothing in a bigger way), Democrats need to ask the public to think.
Costs are rising three times faster than wages. Millions are uninsured and in danger of dying from any significant medical issue that comes up. Those with insurance often run out of coverage and go bankrupt. Healthcare money goes to the rich in profits while people suffer and die. You could be next. What should we do?
This is what we need to ask, and then we need to relax and listen. But, that doesn’t mean suffering lies passively. Listen and have prepared these answers to the lies, because you are sure to hear them repeated by people who have been listening to the industry tools:
Talking point 1:
“Stop the government takeover of healthcare.”
I want the government to take over healthcare. Until the government takes over healthcare, billions of dollars will be going to profits when that money should be going to end the unnecessary suffering and death of Americans. It is immoral to allow healthcare providers, insurance companies and drug companies to put their profits ahead of the health of the public. Whatever happened to the doctor’s oath to “first, do no harm”?
Rep. Anthony Weiner’s got it right when he says that the question isn’t why we should have a government option, it’s to ask why we should have any for-profit system to begin with. (See Anthony Weiner’s Masterstroke of Genius by Sluggahjells. Both videos are worth watching.)
Some lies require shock to stop them in their tracks. The assumption is that you, too, will be opposed to having the government take over anything (let alone something so private and vital as healthcare). So, don’t buy into the assumption. Take it on and show why the underlying talking points are bogus.
That talking point is that a private healthcare industry is better than a public one. But that runs afoul of the big problem with private healthcare: profits. Everyone loves private companies as a “concept”. But private companies in practice mean polluted air and water, callous and careless service, shoddy goods that have to be returned, and, worst of all, money going to the rich that should be going to alleviate suffering and death.
This is an appeal to a happy but completely unnatural state, where the interests of insurance companies gleefully coincide with the interests of the insured. That satisfactory state only exists while premiums are being paid and claims are not being made. Got a medical problem? Send a claim to our headquarters in the Caymans. Put it in a bottle and drop it in the nearest ocean.
Talking point 2:
“Democrats released a healthcare bill that essentially tells seniors to drop dead."
No, all of the Democratic bills so far will result in more healthcare services being provided to those who need them. That’s how you prevent people from dropping dead. The current system doesn’t care whether you live or die because it is based on improving their profits, not improving your health.
When someone says this, they are not thinking, they are reacting emotionally. This is a measure of their fear of what will happen if the system changes. Change is hard. It requires people to give up the familiar, which is always more comfortable than the unknown, unless they are personally in pain. Most of those making the decision are not in enough pain to motivate them personally to want much change.
So, not only do we need to respond to this talking point by reassuring the person that they’ve been lied to (no surprise there), but also that the underlying reason we want this change is because we care about people and we care about the future. We want to live in a world that’s better than the one we live in today. A world with better healthcare for everyone means that people will live longer and have a higher quality of life in their old age. Unless we streamline healthcare so that dollars go to care instead of waste and profits, we are shortchanging seniors now and the people who will be seniors tomorrow.
Talking point 3:
“If some bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.”
I want a government bureaucrat managing the system instead of an insurance company bureaucrat getting between me and my doctor. Have you ever tried to get coverage from your healthcare company? They have an army of bureaucrats with no other job than to get between you and your doctor. In fact, about 12% of all the healthcare dollars (about $264 billion per year) is spent on preventing you from getting the healthcare you need.* I want a government bureaucrat involved because they won’t be denying me coverage for bogus reasons.
This is another emotional talking point. By using the word “bureaucrat” they invoke a carefully cultivated fear of government, one that has been reinforced numerous times by jokes and anecdotes about how bad the government is compared to private enterprise. But, in fact, there is little difference between a government and a large corporation. And, the primary difference is that, as an individual, you have some say in what a legitimate government does. Try that with a corporation! How much influence do you have over Blue Cross? Do you even have a vote about who sits on their board? Unless you own shares, you have no influence whatsoever, and even if you own shares, that’s generally meaningless unless you own millions of them.
In contrast, a federally-run system means that the bureaucrat in the loop is responsible to the President and Congress. You get not just one but four votes in this system (one for the President, one for House, and two for Senate).
Pick the government bureaucrat over the corporate bureaucrat. You might not have much say, but that’s better than none at all.
Talking point 4:
“Destroying the best health care system the world has ever known.”
Compared to which real country? Bill Maher notes that the U.S. healthcare system is ranked 37th by one reckoning, and our longevity ranks 50th. Want “the best healthcare system the world has ever known”? Try France. Which Republican doesn’t think that the south of France would be a fine place to live?
The U.S. spends more per capita than any other country, but we rank well down the list on all meaningful outcomes. Longevity? Infant mortality? Percentage of people with access? Pfft! Our system is the best in one, outstanding way. It is the best system for parting those in need from their money.
Talking point 5:
The Republican plan “will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government."
And, this is an improvement over the Democratic plan how? If you hear that the Democratic plan is going to somehow kill you or cause you serious harm, then you know the person telling you this is lying. They have been practicing their trade by phishing on the Internet. (Okay, that’s too subtle for those who don’t use the Internet. Try: “Their last sale was a large bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan.”)
No, no one will be asked to tell the government how they want to die. No one will be forced to have a consultation with the government. Those are damn lies and industry talking points. They are designed to get paranoid people worked up. Are you paranoid?
This is about emotion. This talking point is designed to scare people, especially seniors. The reason that Republican strategists are targeting seniors is because they know that elderly seniors are not up to following subtle arguments and can be swayed by very simple but compellingly told lies.
This would be the equivalent of me telling frail, elderly great-grandparents that corporations have decided that people are no longer profitable to have around once they reach 80. So, the insurance companies have decided that they will deny coverage to people late in life for any procedure or drug that’s “inappropriate” (too costly). They know that if they just delay for a while the patient might kick off before they finish all their appeals. It’s all about profits, seniors! Some actuary in these companies is making up a chart right now to determine whether you live or die.
But, I’d be lying about this. I think.
Talking point 6:
“It costs too much and your taxes will go up.”
How do you figure? Anyone can say anything about what it will cost or how it will influence your taxes, especially before any actual bill comes to a vote. But, the bottom line is that any reasonable reform will bring down meaningful costs. What are meaningful costs? That’s the cost to get a medically beneficial result.
How do we know? We know because all other advanced countries do so. Following their lead will either lead to lower meaningful costs or it will mean that someone is gaming the system. A public option that includes everyone on both the paying side and the receiving side will bring down costs here just like in all the other countries because (1) it will eliminate immoral profits, (2) it will eliminate administrative costs, and (3) it will result in more preventative care and better living habits. If it doesn’t do these three things, then it isn’t real reform.
As for increased taxes, so what? You can increase my taxes all you want as long as you decrease my premiums by as much or more. And, in any case, I’m not worried about taxes. Taxes are not too high; my income is too low. Anyone who is worried about paying their taxes isn’t earning enough money. So, when a politician talks about how taxes are too high or how they want to cut taxes, we should be thinking about how to organize a union or get the minimum wage increased.
Talking point 7:
“The Democratic plan is socialized healthcare.”
Thank goodness and about time, too! Socialism means that the community is getting together to solve a problem that’s too big for any individual to solve on their own. As Bill Maher points out, “It’s okay for some things to remain non-profit.” A capitalist system as applied to healthcare means that some of the dollars go to profits. When healthcare dollars go to profits, they are not going to health care. That’s just evil.
Profits in the healthcare system literally kill people. A dollar not spent on care is a dollar ultimately not spent on keeping someone alive. It is immoral to spend dollars for profits while those same dollars could be going to alleviate suffering and death. Until everyone has the basic care they need to stay alive, there is no place for profits in healthcare. Every vote in Congress against public healthcare is a vote to let someone die for lack of coverage. Which Senators and which Representatives are going to vote in favor of death? Which ones are going to go in front of the American people and proudly (or shamefully, as they should do) say, “I voted to put innocent people to death rather than prevent money going to already rich people”? Not only is it morally reprehensible to vote to continue a system that results in so much unnecessary agony and death, but Democrats need to say so. At least it’s the truth.
And, more importantly for getting real reform, Democrats need to be on the strategic offensive. There is a huge (and disgusting) tendency for Democrats in office and their vocal supporters to be reactive, negative and defensive, rather than proactive, positive and aggressive. Companies and lobbyists in the healthcare industry need to be set back on their heels. We can do this by attacking their profits as evil. Not all profits are evil, but profits that literally result in the death of American citizens are evil profits. It’s high time we said so, forcefully and in their faces.
And, this should be personal. Who owns the stock in these companies? Who is profiting from the suffering and death of Americans? Who are their executives? What are those people making?
I demand that the “press”, the guys that are supposed to be freed by the First Amendment, get some answers to these questions. Are you going on TV or radio? Are you talking to a print reporter? Are you actually a journalist? If so, then why aren’t you asking these questions? What kinds of profits are these companies making and why are we letting them do it?
I’m an American citizen (one with a birth certificate) and I demand to know the answers.
---* $264 billion is the difference between a reasonable administrative cost for a fully single-payer plan, 3%, and the current system which burns up 15% for administrative costs, given that total healthcare spending in the U.S. is about $2.2 trillion per year.