A New Standard in Calm

Shouty People

Comics aside, I can no longer pay attention to the health care “debate.” I’m too sad and too tired and it’s hard to pretend there’s an honest debate going on when one side comes to the table from a place of unhinged lunacy, total disconnection from the real world, or just plain depraved indifference.

I knew I’d had enough after a New York Times article about the “calmer, more reasoned voices” of Bob and Susan Collier. (Go. Read it. Then come back.) “The cameras may linger on those at the extremes,” pontificates the Times, “but it is the parade of respectful questioners, those expressing discomfiting fears and legitimate concerns, that may ultimately have more impact.”

Bob Collier drove an hour to tell his representative that a public health plan “may mean the end of our country as we know it.”

Let’s be generous. Let’s assume some of Collier’s fears are realistic. (Hell, there are other dysfunctional health care systems in the world.) Maybe health care reform could lead to rationing—although, come to think of it, the Colliers’ care is already rationed by their insurance company. It was their insurance company that decided it didn’t feel like paying $63,000 for Susan Collier’s radiation treatments after her cancer diagnosis. The Colliers are not bankrupt because the hospital wrote off the debt (and no doubt raised everybody else’s fees to recoup the loss). Maybe we’ll have waiting lists—but, then again, that’s something else we already have; we tend not to notice because, not being idiots, hospital and clinic staff move patients who might have time-sensitive problems to the front of the line. Maybe a “public option” will, through some unexplained process, morph into a nationalized insurance plan. Whatever.

But a national insurance system, “the end of our country as we know it?” Why? How? And has Collier really “never seen the government as intrusive as it is today?” And how could Collier possibly think Obama “wants to take over the banks” when he publicly recoiled from doing just that?

In response I can only quote Barney Frank, the one man to meet the “tea party” idiots with the response they deserve: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

And then there’s this:

“We’ve got to do something about those people who can’t get insurance,” he said. “There has to be a safety net there. But I don’t want that safety net to catch too many people.”

This is what the New York Times is calling a “legitimate concern:” the concern that not enough people will slip through the safety net to splatter on the pavement. That too few people will get their only medical treatment once a year in a hosed-down animal stall. That we might see terrible shortages of people walking around for months on end with painfully rotten teeth.

Unhinged lunacy. Depraved indifference. The New York Times sees nothing wrong here.

There’s this concept called the Overton Window. Look through the window, you’ll see the entire range of ideas acceptable in polite society. The Overton Window moves. If someone shouts loud and long enough they can pull it in their direction. New ideas join the ranks of normal.

No matter how the health care battle ends, the good guys have lost the war. While we fought the tea partiers pulled the Overton Window to a place where a serious, respectable paper like the New York Times can treat “I don’t want that safety net to catch too many people” as the words of a calm and reasonable citizen. And not a monster.

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