With reports that the Obama Administration is considering backing down on the public option – a health care proposal that is supported by roughly 3/4 of the country – due to the way the debate is being portrayed in the media, I get the sense that we’ve witnessed what might be an even larger media failure than what happened in the run-up to the Iraq War. At least then, the public was in far more of a position to buy into the lies being put out by the special interest groups leading us into that mess. But what has happened over the past few weeks in the health care debate has transcended that. A narrow set of interests who profit very handsomely from our incredibly overpriced health care system have managed to derail a popular initiative put forth by a popular president. It’s another loud warning that the ability of Americans (and media personalities) to figure out when moneyed interests are lying to us is not keeping up with the myriad ways we’re all being lied to.
A big part of this distorted debate has focused on end-of-life issues. An innocuous provision in one of the health care bills was incorrectly characterized by former Alaska Governor and losing Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin as “death panels“. The issue itself was nothing more than a provision to allow for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions to be covered. As I’ve pointed out previously, these end-of-life sessions have a well-known positive effect when people take advantage of them. In fact, those who discuss these issues openly and honestly with their doctors tend to outlive those who don’t. The idea that there’s anything to fear from something like this is so absurd that even Sarah Palin herself didn’t buy it back in 2008 when she endorsed end-of-life counseling as Governor of Alaska.
Instead, much of what happened after Palin dropped that turd into the health care debate punch bowl reminded me a lot of what happened last year during the I-1000 campaign, where opponents of the death with dignity initiative piled lies on top of bullshit on top of more lies in order to convince people that a law that was working very well just across the border in Oregon would somehow be a disaster here in Washington. One can easily see the parallel to the current health care debate, where we can look to countries like France – which has a world-class health care system that relies heavily on government involvement alongside private insurance – to see that moving towards more “socialized” medicine is not a slippery slope. And we rarely saw the media (either last year or right now) take a forceful approach to separating fact from fiction this way.
Fortunately, the I-1000 debate was only about a single contentious issue, and in the end, it didn’t really matter that Martin Sheen was telling whoppers in a commercial that aired every 10 seconds in October, or that the Seattle Times was giving editorial space to a crackpot conspiracy theorist who actually believes that Washington’s death with dignity law was specifically worded to allow people to kill their rich parents. It still passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote. I think that’s one thing to be optimistic about. I remember having a conversation with Will around this time last year (he was working on the I-1000 campaign) as he was freaking out about all the bullshit being shouted through media outlets who arguably should have had much better baloney detectors. I told him there’s no way it wasn’t going to pass, and I ended up being vindicated on that front.
The national health care debate right now is a complete buffet of every contentious issue that borders on health care. End-of-life care is just a small tibdit. Abortion, government regulation, illegal immigrants, and taxes are each separate elephants crammed trunk to tail into this room. And while the people whose paranoia far outweighs their ability to grasp complex issues continue to show up at town halls and scream their heads off, I still hold out some hope that enough Americans are taking the same thing away from the spectacle that I am, that we’re really not doing a good enough job in this country of treating the mentally ill – and that’s just another reason we need to improve our health care system. Sadly, we’ll still likely have to improve how we keep ourselves well-informed first.