Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Cure Is the Disease?

In terms of healthy (or should I say unhealthy) political discourse over healthcare reform, at MedRants, Dr. Centor diagnoses a problem:
So we have a debate similar to religion versus science. We have beliefs that no reasoned argument can address. We have an impasse in the debate, and thus we cannot reason our way to a solution.
He adopts the argument that it's a myth that the fight is won or lost over the quality of reason, and prescribes a solution,
The Democrats should change their strategy, because they cannot win on logical debating points.
He's far from the first who has made that claim, but happens to be the one I've most recently read. But really, if he were in an angry debate with another doctor who insisted that a gangrenous limb be treated with the mere application of a Band-Aid, would he truly abandon logic, fact and science? What's his proposal for winning debates on the merits without actually debating the merits? Punch the other guy in the nose?

Seriously, if the response to malicious distortion, lies, and dishonest "branding" of healthcare issues is for the other side to drop into the same gutter, how can you even begin to tell who has the better argument?

I think Rick Perlstein makes a much more sound observation In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition,
The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.
He notes a kernel of truth behind Dr. Centor's point,
Liberals are right to be vigilant about manufactured outrage, and particularly about how the mainstream media can too easily become that outrage's entry into the political debate. For the tactic represented by those fake Nixon letters was a long-term success. Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson1 would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.
Not so long ago, "a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as 'extremist' - out of bounds"; now "it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest". We have a failure of the Republican Party and a failure by the media - so who's to blame? Who needs to change? It must be the Democrats.

As usual, Seth Godin provides a good insight:
The screaming is a key part, because screaming is often a tool used to balance out the lazy ignorance of someone parroting opposition to an idea that they don't understand....

If you want to challenge the conventional wisdom of health care reform, please do! It'll make the final outcome better. But if you choose to do that, it's essential that you know more about it than everyone else, not less. Certainly not zero. Be skeptical, but be informed (about everything important, not just this issue, of course). Screaming ignorance gets attention, but it distracts us from the work at hand.
Godin suggests that the "screaming" approach to discourse " is ineffective, short-sighted and threatens the fabric of the tribe." He's right. And perhaps somebody comment that I needn't qualify this statement, but if we really follow Dr. Centor's advice and give in to the screamers, we're doomed at best to a future of bad policy and dysfunctional government.

1: He's alluding to an incident he previously described,
When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. "What's the matter, madam?" he asked. "What can I do for you?" The woman responded with self-righteous fury: "Well, if you don't know I can't help you."

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