Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Opponents Are Ignorant And Irrational

Cross-posted from Critical Condition on National Review Online.

I’m grateful for the thoughtful, open-minded liberals who read my work and take the time to challenge their views—and mine—on various topics. This post is not about them.

But it’s one of the most frequently recurring themes of liberal commentary on Obamacare: all of the smart people, Harvard professors, etc., support the new health care law; and the only people who oppose it are idiots, or demagogic liars who rant and rave about “death panels.”

Julie Rovner of NPR has put out the latest piece on this topic. While charitably suggesting that myths about Obamacare “have at least some basis in truth,” opponents of the law remain “still a little confused about what it does and doesn’t do.” She lists a series of “outlandish” but “popular myths about the law,” such as: Obamacare requires people on government insurance to be implanted with a microchip; the law creates a new private army for President Obama; the law dictates what you can and can’t eat; and the law requires hospitals to fire obese employees.

Hardy-har-har. Those kooky conservatives. Let’s all have a laugh at their expense.

It’s reassuring to think that the reason people disagree with you is because they’re mental. This is, indeed, an ancient theme of liberal politics, at least as old as the Victorian age, when John Stuart Mill said, “although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” In the 20th century, Lionel Trilling did Mill one better, describing conservatism as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

What’s funny about stories like Rovner’s is that they ignore all of the myths that supporters of the law believe. Like, for example, all of the people who flooded the phone lines of insurers and doctors’ offices, asking “Where do we get the free Obama care, and how do I sign up for that?”

How about the fact that, according to a Kaiser poll, 46 percent of Americans believe that the law will be “very or somewhat successful” in “reducing the total amount the country spends on health care,” and that 51 percent believe that it will “reduce the amount the average American has to pay for health care and health insurance”? Or, how about all of the commentators and reporters who believe (or claim to believe) that PPACA will reduce the budget deficit?

Apparently, hundreds of millions of Americans haven’t yet received the latest PowerPoint presentation from Families USA, advising Democrats against “claiming ‘the law will reduce costs and deficit.’”

Then there are the people who believe that insurers are absurdly profitable (their 3-6% profit margins rank them among the worst American industries); those who believe that taxpayer-funded health care is “free”; etc. etc.

One has to take all of these polls with a grain of salt.  After all, 34 percent of Americans believe in UFOs. Another poll once showed that 29 percent of black New Yorkers believed that AIDS was “deliberately created in a laboratory in order to infect black people.”

Liberals do themselves a disservice by promulgating these comforting delusions about the stupidity of conservatives. Politically, it prevents them from recognizing the unpopularity of Obamacare. Most importantly, it prevents them from recognizing well-founded criticisms that could have led to better policy.


  1. Wow, you showed a Teaparty-er who can spell. You'd have had more fun if you showed the whole teabonics slide show

    Meanwhile, Julie Rovner's "myths" are sourced. one was so ridiculous I chased her down--it was true & she had the proof. Your "floods of callers", well lets hear a source of these "floods of calls" beyond one company (ehealthnsurance) that is forever desperate to get in the news....

    As for your other myths?

    1) 46 percent of Americans believe that the law will be “very or somewhat successful” in “reducing the total amount the country spends on health care,”

    What's so crazy about that. The CBO has said it will increase total spending a little; there's plenty of ways to contain spending in the bill, and the CBO's forecast for the last 2 major health legislation (Part D and the BBA) overstated their impact on spending.

    2) 51 percent believe that it will “reduce the amount the average American has to pay for health care and health insurance”?

    So OK, average costs might go up, but for many Americans either they'll get coverage for the first time largely or entirely paid for by the government OR they'll get a big subsidy to join a pool, or their employer will be mandated to pay for their care. Why is is so stupid to believe that what the individual pays might go down in many cases. It may not be true, but i bet you couldn't tell me what happens to the out of pocket costs of people in those different scenarios. I couldn't--so why should the public be able to do it?

    3) Or, how about all of the commentators and reporters who believe (or claim to believe) that PPACA will reduce the budget deficit?

    Err....because the CBO, yes the one that overstates the cost impact of reform and ignored the potential for cost savings, like, said so.

    Now very few of us liberals believe the law is perfect but it's a shit load better than the alternative of doing nothing. Which by the way is what we've only ever gotten on health care for Republicans

  2. Perhaps those crazy liberals are finally using polls to counteract the (unsupported) claim by almost every conservative in Congress i.e. "... the American people are overwhelmingly against."(over and over and over)"
    No basis in fact, just another sound bite - we all know polls can be and are manipulated to the presenter's advantage and if repeated endlessly it becomes a subliminal message that suddenly seems true. Let's all think for ourselves, form our own opinion based on fact gathering and stop pointing fingers. We have a right to our beliefs but not to tell others what they should believe. How 'bout we get to work doing rather than blaming ?

  3. Hey Matthew: I definitely got a few smiles out of the Teabonics Flickr page. I hope you would agree with my postulate that pro-Obamacare protesters are equally as likely or unlikely to have been spelling bee champions.

    The Kaiser poll asked about "reducing the total amount the country spends on health care." Not reducing the growth of health care spending: reducing the absolute level of spending. And, Matthew, you're a smart guy -- do you really hang your hat on the (highly gamed) CBO numbers?

    The people who will qualify for substantial Obamacare subsidies are not "average Americans": they are low-income Americans. Remember also that average Americans pay taxes, and therefore any spending that is incurred in their name is taken out of their pockets. As you know, employers are already shifting more costs to employees to compensate for increased rates.

    The point is, Matthew, the views I'm articulating are the actual views of the Tea Party types, even the grammatically challenged ones. As a group, they aren't worried about microchips, or private armies, or whatever. They're worried about the fiscal health of the country, and about losing the American tradition of limited government. You can agree or disagree with their aims and goals, but they aren't crazy, and to dismiss them as such (as I argued in the piece) is a misguided approach.

    BTW, I am just as disappointed (if not more so) than you are that Republicans didn't address these issues when they were in power.

    Anonymous: I think November will tell us a little bit about what the voters think, and then we don't have to worry about polls. I agree with you about the working rather than blaming bit -- I like to think I do my share of the former -- but we all have to vent occasionally!

  4. Geez, Matthew, are you honestly going to make the "well the CBO said..." argument about the cost of PPACA?

    The entirety of the "savings" in the CBO score comes from two things: revenues from the CLASS Act and additional Social Security taxes received when employers replace insurance costs with salary. Neither of those things can actually be used to pay for health reform without creating an equally sized unfunded liability, but due to the alchemy of unified budget accounting, where they count cash in and cash out over a fixed time period without recognizing any new liabilities created they call this "deficit reduction". Argue all you want about the relative merits of PPACA and the failure of congressional Republicans to offer much more than empty rhetoric (and you'd gey my full agreement on that latter issue), but you can't expect an argument citing the CBO score to be taken seriously.