Sunday, August 16, 2009

Aliens Are Not Running the NHS

(((Health care; UK's "orwellian" National Health Service, which is pretty good and which people generally like pretty well; Obama's plan not really comparable to the NHS, in the first place; the debate is not a rational one, anyway; the paranoid style in American politics.)))

Maybe this is why I've tuned out of politics for so long, now. Because it's just so inane. When Sarah Palin can get away with calling the NHS "evil," as if people in the UK wouldn't raise their hands and say, "hey, we can hear you over here." What was she thinking, that the oppressed sick of the UK would rise up and overthrow their Orwellian NHS overlords? "Mr. Brown, tear down these hospitals!" Now we know that everyone in the UK has been to Room 101, because it's clear that they have been brainwashed to think the NHS is good for them.

Unless they're actually right, of course.

But there is a nice collection of articles and op-eds in the Financial Times (that liberal rag) about the current debate in the US and in particular about the comparison of Obamacare (TM) to the NHS. In the latter, they note right off the bat that, on the one hand, Obama's plan is less "socialized" than the NHS (the government insurer won't run the hospitals), and on the other, that US health care is already more "socialized" than people seem to notice (Medicare and Medicaid). It's a very reasonable article.

Alas, as Edward Luce notes in his op-ed, "reasonable people might as well be living on Venus." Noting the conspiracy-prone nature of American politics, on vivid display at the town hall meetings and related protests, Luce concludes:

Their issues are diverse. But their sentiment is common: America’s constitution is being trashed by un-American values. Which brings us to another important strain in US politics that Mr Obama, along with other educated liberals, shares with the Clintons: the belief that the fight is won or lost over the quality of reason.

No amount of contrary evidence will puncture the view that Mr Obama plans to establish “death panels” that will decide which grannies get to live or die. Nor will reason counter the view that countries such as Canada and the UK push their weakest to the back of the queue. “Who will suffer the most when they ration care?” asked Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska on Thursday. “The sick, the elderly and the disabled, of course.”

Mr Obama’s proposals have many flaws. Reasonable people can disagree on whether the reforms would bring down the cost of healthcare, an overriding priority, or sufficiently expand coverage to include the uninsured, a twin, but not always compatible, goal. For all their impact, reasonable people may as well be living on Venus.

The multi-generation battle to reform healthcare will be won or lost over faith rather than reason. The more nuanced Mr Obama appears, the more frenzy it will provoke in his critics. The more he mentions his mother, denied healthcare by the insurance companies when she was dying of cancer, the more progress he will make. What happened to her was un-American, Mr Obama should say. Forget the details of healthcare reform. The side that identifies with American values will get the upper hand.

We can wish as much as we like that reason would win out in such things, but we ignore the fact that it won't at great peril. There is a price to pay for such naiveté, which is naive with respect to both the nature and the efficacy of rationality. Myself, I have not decided whether or not I am willing to pay it, or even whether it is my decision to make. But let's at least be honest about it (which may or may not be the "rational" thing to do).

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