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Keep the health care debate in the realm of the reasonable

‘Americans don’t want your socialized medicine.’

It’s a statement so riddled with falsity that the only reaction a sane person can have to it is confused stammering. I heard it Monday outside the Union.

Health care has become the primary concern of many Americans, and rightly so – it’s in shambles. But the debate has taken on interesting tones recently, exemplified by the town hall meetings we surely have all seen reported on cable news.

Take another look at the statement: ‘Americans don’t want your socialized medicine.’ It makes several bold assumptions with regard to public opinion, the president’s actual plan and the term ‘socialism’ itself.

The first problem is the most pressing. Conservative talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have touted the statistic that more Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of health care than approve.

Were I asked the question, I would certainly agree with the majority. This doesn’t put me on the side of Beck and Hannity; rather, it puts me in league with the vast majority of Americans who do want reform – and probably, more reform than Obama is offering. (39 percent call for major reform and 21 percent call for a complete overhaul, according to a recent NBC News poll.)

Even in Massachusetts, so routinely cited as an example of a public health system in collapse, the majority favor Obama’s plan, according to a Rasmussen poll published Monday.

Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist specializing in areas of public opinion, advised Republicans several months ago against rallying against health care reform, warning that it was too popular to simply stand in opposition.

Politico.com reports that Luntz advised Republicans to warn of a ‘Washington takeover’ of health care. He suggested they warn people they’d have to stand in line with bureaucrats running health care.

Like Karl Rove before him, Luntz is offering Republicans the most viable way to communicate their ideas to the general population. And it is far too frequent that this general population regurgitates those talking points, sometimes verbatim.

This could account for the startling objections to the president’s plan, and the downright silly claims of ‘death panels’ and ‘rationing of health care.’ The latter point is more interesting than the former, partly because the former is so easily dismissible but partly because ‘rationing of health care’ is a real danger.

Republicans argue that under a government plan, only those individuals deemed most valuable to society would receive health care. Even if there were merit to this claim, it’s hardly any different from the current system of rationing. Only those with the necessary capital or position receive proper benefits, and even many who are covered find themselves scrambling to cover what the insurance companies will not.

Words are chosen very deliberately. The idea of the ‘death panel’ is surely meant to evoke some kind of Nazi connotation, and comparing one’s political opposition to Hitler is hardly a new phenomenon.

Whether Republicans want to admit it or not, the town hall protesters are largely artificial. Documents have emerged urging people to take precisely some of the steps we have seen in town halls, and on FOX News, sometimes mere moments after saying ‘it’s a completely grassroots effort,’ a host or a guest will say, ‘Yes, and we urge them to keep it up.’

Still, it would be inappropriate to charge everybody who opposes reform as being manipulated by somebody else. I doubt the gentleman who spoke ill of the plan outside the Union was being ordered to do so – he genuinely believed what he said and probably has very real fears about health care. Unfortunately, such fears are fostered largely by disinformation and propaganda.

Now, this brings up the question of ‘socialized medicine.’ Socialism now is about as useless a term as ‘Nazi’ or ‘fascist.’ There are real definitions associated with each of these, but they are used now largely to just cast derision.

My biggest qualm with Obama’s plan is that it is not socialized medicine at all. In fact, it’s about as limp an improvement as one might imagine and he may have to compromise it even further.

Americans have an unrealistic fear of the term ‘socialism.’ I’d suggest to anybody who fears Obama’s plan as overly socialistic to look around their world at the boarded-up businesses, foreclosed homes, throngs of sick and lengthy unemployment lines and ask themselves how well capitalism has been working.

Something has got to be done about health care. Don’t allow irrational fears to shade the truth, and always check the information you hear, especially on cable news. The issue is one of vast importance, and is literally a matter of life and death for many.

Respond to Kyle at [email protected]

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