Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare Reform In The Excited States....The Crux Of The Matter


There was a point, just before the 2004 election down south, where I got into a couple of pretty big online fights about Michael Moore's soon-to-be-released Farenheit 9/11.

And one of those tussles was on an old Whiskey Bar thread, where, overall, the level of discourse on all things political was just about the best that I've ever come across, before or since.

Anyway, the fights started when I had the temerity to suggest that I didn't think that it was necessarity such a good thing that so many folks were pinning their hopes on Mr. Moore's mostly fact-based send-up of all things Rovian.


Well it was that modifier 'mostly', which means that no matter how you slice it, Mr. Moore's movie was propaganda.

And I truly believe that all prop, either 'bad' or 'good', is just that.

Which is not a good thing, because all prop muddies the waters.

And muddied waters make always make it harder for folks to call demonstrable falsehoods precisely what they are.


I've had that 'all-prop-is-bad-prop' feeling about the American Healthcare Reform fight for quite awhile now.

Please don't misunderstand me.

Because I fully understand that pushback against toxic astroturf and hidden, big money-backed corporate agendas is always required.

It's just that I think that we all lose when that pushback has even a sliver of prop in it.


Because then it can be easily discredited.

Which leads to a rise in false equivalencies that generates a jaded public that thinks everybody lies.


With that in mind, I thought I'd proffer the best nugget of no-prop reasoning that I've come across so far that gives insight into why last night's Congressional vote on the Healthcare Reform Bill was so important.

It's from Paul Krugman, writing in last Friday's NY Times, and it describes, as near as I can figure it, exactly what this bill has been designed to do, and why:

"Americans overwhelmingly favor guaranteeing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions — but you can’t do that without pursuing broad-based reform. To make insurance affordable, you have to keep currently healthy people in the risk pool, which means requiring that everyone or almost everyone buy coverage. You can’t do that without financial aid to lower-income Americans so that they can pay the premiums. So you end up with a tripartite policy: elimination of medical discrimination, mandated coverage, and premium subsidies...."

Of course, a lot of folks are going to be screaming bloody murder about the last two aspects of that policy in the coming days, weeks, and months during the run-up to the midterm elections.

And they will be screaming from both sides of the issue, using, unfortunately, prop to support their points of view (ie. prop to support a public option and prop to denounce creeping socialism).

Which is too bad, because that will just muddy the waters even further.




Noni Mausa said...

"...I think that we all lose when that pushback has even a sliver of prop in it. Why? Because then it can be easily discredited...."

Except that ... this problem of being discredited appears to have little or no effect on the original propaganda. The talking points/lunacy of the right wing has been discredited over and over for years, with no effect that I can see. Propaganda can only be discredited to people who are alert to the possibility that what they are being told is false or pernicious. Apparently this is lacking in a lot of people.

But much RW prop isn't actually this or that argument -- it is instead the systematic undercutting of this alertness, and discrediting of the intellectual tools people use to judge between solid fact and poisonous nonsense. They have even undercut people's ability to tell unambiguously whether a government initiative has harmed or helped them.

I am not saying that propaganda should become a tool of the left wing, because I dislike it also. But the art of rhetoric -- propaganda without the lies and stirring up of bile -- has a central place in all political endeavors. Truth clothed in beautiful speech, unforgettable garb, can do amazing things. Naked truth, clad only in a few spreadsheets, just doesn't get the same attention.

Ian Reid said...

I agree with the no-prop argument, except when I agree Noni Mausa, which is also most of the time.

I've been living down there for a bit and find it extraordinarily frustrating to follow their politics. And I've blogged a bit about it:

My current conclusion? It is so massively screwed up by special interests, big money and myth as opposed to reality that I believe you use whatever works - reason, propaganda but most of all toughness. I've been very impressed by Obama/Pelosi over the last few weeks because they had that last quality in spades.

Anyhow, good post.

RossK said...

Noni Mausa--

You said:

"(Much RW prop) is instead the systematic undercutting of this alertness, and discrediting of the intellectual tools people use to judge between solid fact and poisonous nonsense."

I very much agree.

I'm just saying that the best way to fight this crap is straight-up. And Moore could have done that. And Bill Maher could do that too. Instead, though, they always try to go over-the-top and score a homerun every time, which is when we lose because this often leads them to juice their swings/cork their bats when they don't have to.

And then we all lose because the corked-bat is falsely equated with the efforts of a side that is playing the game of real life not on real grass, or even on astroturf a good chunk of the time, but instead on a Nintendo Wii.


RossK said...


Excellent points - I just happen to think it's much easier to be tough, and hold your ground if you go at things straight-up.


I'm off to read your stuff.

Thanks for dropping by!


Noni Mausa said...

"...which is most of the time." Aw shucks.

I was in Minnesota visiting relatives in the wake of 9-11, on the runup to the Iraq invasion. My brother's friends were over visiting and were all excited about getting into a war and hitting "the enemy" real hard so they wouldn't dare invade again.

But, but, they hit us hard,* and we responded by invading them. What happened to cause and effect?

There seem to be some topics where Americans jump joyfully into serious steaming piles of stoopid, and in fact will punish people who refuse to join them, or who point out the stench. Sigh.


* Yes, I know "they" (the Iraqis) didn't hit "us", but in the weird world of Americans, all vaguely Middle Eastern furriners are conflated into a homogenous slab of dangerous Muslins, who meet every night to plot our downfall. More Sigh.