Calhoun’s Cannons for June 30, 2012
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking-Glass”
Tax? Mandate? Penalty? Broccoli? Hmmmmm. Such are the unnecessary problems created when you live in Grover NorquistLand. But Chief Justice Roberts sussed out the verbal hairs to be split and split them: No to the commerce clause, yes to the taxing power of Congress. And, Poof! Obama Care became constitutional because a mandate by any other name is a tax. And the Apocalypse, to hear some members of Congress, will commence today. (Happily, you’ll at least have medical insurance coverage so you can repair your skull that was injured by the falling skies.)
Because all the Republicans in Congress have sworn a blood oath, not to the Constitution, but to a wealthy corporate lobbyist named Grover, the rest of congress and the country has to twist itself into a pretzel to get anything done that requires any expenditures that might, conceivably be called a “tax.” So nothing becomes straightforward and we end up playing semantic games. Facts become mere opinions, our politics and policies become incoherent and we are turned into a nation of liars shouting fake slogans at one another.
This state of affairs makes Frank Luntz very happy (and very rich.) Luntz, the most dangerous man in America, is a Republican pollster/political strategist and wordsmith extraordinaire who uses focus groups to winkle out the most effectively deceptive buzz-words and phrases that will conceal whatever he’s hired to conceal. It’s fakery at a very high level. And his most effective winkled-out fraudulence will become Republican talking points, run through the great 24/7 news cycle noise machine to be amplified up and down the line until it becomes received wisdom; Truth, in fact. Or, as Stephen Colbert calls it, “Truthiness.”
Remember “Death Panels?” Perfect example of the kinds of lies we now have to swim in daily. The real (factual) provision in the Portable Care Act would have paid a doctor for a consultation with his patients to have a serious end-of-life care discussion and go over all options (and limits and costs) available to them so they and their families could make decisions about what they wanted for themselves. That’s all that was.
But that provision in the health-care reform act would have been helpful, would have actually done something good for real citizens, might even be popular, which meant it also might offer some benefit to the opposing political party. So, of course, it had to be lied about, demonized and destroyed, even if it hurt real people in real time.
And so it goes. Our discourse is full of false narratives, fake “facts, and hysterical rhetoric. Nobody can speak truth any more. Real facts are too dangerous. They might benefit one political party over another. Never mind that facts might benefit the citizens. They no longer matter. Not in Frank LuntzLand. Not in Grover NorquistVille. In that world, the only thing that matters is winning. And nobody bothers to ask, “Win what?”
We spent years caterwalling about our lousy health care system. People were going bankrupt paying hospital bills, people with “preexisting conditions” were unable to get health insurance at any price, insurance premiums and health care costs were rising to unsustainable levels and our hospitals were now being overburdened with the growing numbers of uninsured who showed up in the very expensive emergency rooms.
Clearly, some sort of health care reform was needed. But from day one, the fakery kicked in as any honest attempt at reform, from the single-payer expansion of Medicare for All, expansion of Medicaid for more uninsured, or any regulations on the insurance industry and Big Pharma, was falsely labeled “the government takeover of healthcare,” and promptly swept from the table.
And so we ended up with a for-profit, overly expensive cobbled together mess that few people liked, (or understood, or bothered to read) and twisted ourselves into semantic knots full of “mandates” and “penalties” and “broccoli,” because nobody could use the “T” word honestly.
Thus we have turned ourselves into a nation of idiots. I mean, how can you have a sane discussion about health care reform when millions of people happily receiving Medicare are simultaneously raging about “socialized medicine.” The reality disconnect there is too large to bridge. And it’s now become impossible for people to understand that if you want things, even good things that benefit you and your family, you actually have to pay for them and that payment is called a “tax,” and it’s O.K. It’s how government gets big things done. Everybody gets in the pool, everybody participates, everybody pays a little, and roads get built, public schools open, and bridges rise.
And a slightly better national health care system gets underway with possibilities for great improvements ahead. If, that is, people can get their heads out of NorquistVille and LuntzLand and stop believing that shovels are teaspoons.