Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Demagoguing" the Johnathan Chait Way

Pop Fiction: How to demagogue health care and feel good in the morning.
by Jonathan Chait

Jonathan Chait knows a thing or two about demagoguery, and he proves it in this article with statements like these:

One could muster ideological extremism to make the case that the government has no business subsidizing health insurance for people who can't get it.

Why is that ideological extremism? One could also muster "ideological extremism" to make the case that it is the government's business to subsidize health insurance for people who "can't" get it. I think the current plans being discussed, for one thing, go far beyond subsidizing health insurance for the uninsurable. When adherence to our Constitution is considered "extremist"... I'm out.

Alternatively, one could make the equally nutty case that Medicare should not lose a single dollar from its budget, however wasteful and inefficient it may be.
One could, but one would be hard pressed to actually find a person making that argument. This is what we call a "straw man" argument -- laced with demagoguery by calling it "nutty" so you transfer this label to anyone who opposes the bill even partially on the grounds that it might affect Medicare. And we won't even delve into the realm of providing a platform for government health care waste on a far grander scale.

Its total lack of intellectual merit aside, this odd philosophical hybrid offers the GOP maximum demagogic potential. Republicans first began to gain traction on health care during the August recess, when a series of wild rumors (death panels, for one) devoured the agenda.
Total lack of intellectual merit? I suppose he's talking about the hybrid of the valid argument that the government has no buisiness subsidizing health care and the fake argument that anyone thinks that you can't reduce waste in Medicare. So, straw man once again. He's arguing against an argument he made up and that nobody is arguing. Besides, if we can cut waste in Medicare, why do we need to completely revamp the entire system in one fell swoop to do it? Can't we just pass a "Cut Medicare Waste" bill? Sounds like low-hanging fruit to me.

Again with the "Death Panels". Nope, there's nothing in the bill setting up any such panel. But Palin is right on in pointing out that that's exactly where government health care leads whether it is explicitly called for in the bill or not. Palin-bashing. No demagoguery there.

Of course, there's not much fun in conceding that your side is winning over public opinion by exploiting ignorance and fear. It's far more pleasant to imagine that the people have risen up in principled revulsion against statism.
Hmmm. Well that's why I've risen up. And it's why my friends have risen up. And it's why everybody I know who's risen up has risen up. I do realize there are people who have risen up because they're afraid it will affect Medicare. But even that doesn't preclude other reasons for rising up -- for instance, the same reason I have. Believe it or not, there can be multiple reasons for opposing or supporting something.

The vanguard of this fantasy movement rests at The Weekly Standard. One issue from a few weeks ago featured a cover image glorifying the town-hall protestors. Modeled after Norman Rockwell's famous Freedom of Speech painting, it depicted a heroic conservative with a copy of the Standard in his pocket. Unlike Rockwell's image, which portrayed the onlookers as fellow citizens holding their tongues in respectful disagreement, the Standard cover depicted them as hideous goons armed with brass knuckles. The corresponding editorial, unironically entitled "People Power," explained that the public had righteously stood up against elites in the name of "freedom and responsibility." The editors of Pravda would have called this package over-the-top.
Um ... no. There is one person speaking, others are anxiously looking on, presumably sharing his concerns. There is exactly one person with brass knuckles, glaring at the speaker -- representing the ACORN & SEIU goons that were bussed in to these town halls after it became apparent that normal citizens were actually showing up at these things in droves -- rather than the pre-selected activists more typical of these types of meetings. People speaking out against this kind of health care reform were passionate and their anger showed in their voices, but the only violence at any of them was instigated and carried out by "Community Activist" goons. The cover is spot on, and it is Chait who is clueless about the meaning -- yet spouting off anyway. Oh, and "Pravda" ... remember we're reading a lecture on demagoguery, and Chait dutifully provides us with yet another example of his own. Well, write what you know, eh? I also find it amusing that The New Republic would make a Pravda reference apparently to be taken as a negative by it's readers.

There is also the related inconvenience that opposition to health care reform
appears to be closely linked to misunderstandings of health care reform. Support
for reform rises when poll respondents are read details of Obama's actual plan.
Pardon me, but which bill being discussed actually embodies Obama's plan?

Seems to me Obama's plan is to get a foot in the door to go down the road to one single-payer, government run health care system. You know, the one he "never said" he was for.

This is not some irrational fear we're responding to. We're reacting to what we see, what we've seen, from those who are in power right now.

Joe Wilson was out of line shouting out in the Joint Session address. But he wasn't wrong, and he spoke for many.

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