Friday, 26 June 2009

In Which Ed Morrissey Embarrasses Himself To An Epic Extent

I know I get into trouble for coming on too strongly about this sort of thing, but Ed Morrissey is a fucking tool who should never be allowed near a keyboard again. This is all about President Obama having the gall to confess that the public health option currently being discussed is not as good as the private option, which means he would probably not recommend it for his own family. Morrissey writes:
Oopsie! So ObamaCare for thee, but not for me? Hope and change, baby!

In 1988, Michael Dukakis blew a question about the death penalty when asked about whether he’d want it if his wife Kitty had been raped and murdered. Dukakis said no, but addressed it clinical legalese rather than absorbing the opportunity to address the emotional impact of violent crime, and his candidacy cratered. In this case, Obama did a reverse Dukakis. He went with the emotional argument, and effectively rebutted his own proposal and its egalitarian purpose. It’s a moment of sheer hypocrisy, caught in the modern amber of video.

If ObamaCare isn’t good enough for Sasha, Malia, or Michelle, then it’s not good enough for America. Instead of fighting that impulse, Obama should be working to boost the private sector to encourage more care providers, less red tape and expense, and better care for everyone.
It's almost impossible to describe how imbecilic this argument is. We'll start with the most obvious point first; it would make far, far more sense to knock Obama had he answered the question in the only other way possible, and he had claimed that he would insist his own family take the public option. It's been clear from the get-go that the public option is inferior to the private one (although apparently Morrissey only realised this yesterday, the loathsome turd), and hearing a father insist his children receive inferior medical treatment on the grounds of principle isn't really a particularly attractive thing. I can't stand people who attack an action whilst knowing full well all the alternatives would have been worse (this is also why the comparison with Dukakis is so objectionable, the only way for Obama to avoid a reverse Dukakis would have been to do an actual Dukakis).

If Morrissey could sensibly express what principles Obama should have stuck too, perhaps it might not be so bad (though that would likely mean only that Obama had violated Morrissey's principles, not his own). Clearly though he either doesn't understand or feel any need to explain exactly what the principle is here. Apparently it's that if the president proposes a solution to a problem, he is morally bound to make use of that solution himself, even if he doesn't actually suffer from the problem to begin with. Morrissey is quite aware of this, assuming he hasn't been living on Mars his entire life and just made Earthfall this week. The problem the US faces is that people with no money can't get access to medical treatment. Obama doesn't have that problem because he has money, but to Morrissey it is "sheer hypocrisy" to address this in any way that doesn't involve moving the poor from "no healthcare" straight to "health care equivalent to that enjoyed by the president".

This, quite obviously, is insane on toast. Obama would be hypocritical if he had come out and said "There should be no private option in this country". He hasn't said any such thing, of course, but Morrissey doesn't care. To him, if you want to make the lives of poor people better, you have to pretend that your solution is something that will appeal to the rich as well, or else you're a hypocrite (possibly Morrissey simply doesn't understand the word; he certainly doesn't know what "egalitarian" means).

This is a particularly stupid argument to make when it comes to health care in America. Making any positive change to the current system is appallingly difficult because of the number of "centrist" Democrats who are under the influence of medical insurance lobbyists, and the number of Republicans who are, quite simply, fucksticks. The argument these naysayers constantly make is that the "free market" needs to be preserved, and that the government is always rubbish, and that people should be able to choose to go private, and that the insurers will go out of business if the public option is too good (Obama himself did a great job of knocking this argument out of the water by asking how a public option could simultaneously be so shit it's a waste of taxpayers money and so good it drives insurance companies out of business, but that's another issue). The only way there's any chance to get health care change is to admit that the public option can't match the private one for quality of care. This isn't really much of an issue, since it's self-evidently true in any event, but for Martian Morrissey, a solution must either be perfect, or it must be abandoned, a position that quite obviously means the latter will occur, and a whole mess of people will end up seriously ill or dead.

This sort of idiotic drivel, attempting to label rich people hypocrites for not offering the poor everything they have (a particularly strange position in a country with such a knee-jerk dislike of socialism), or suggesting the rich a priori couldn't give a damn about the poor, reminds me of the Democratic primaries back in '08, when you couldn't get through a day without some reporter somewhere arguing that John Edwards couldn't possibly care about poor people because he had a big house and expensive haircuts [1]. No evidence of this was ever given, naturally, it was simply assumed obvious that it is impossible to care about anyone less fortunate than yourself. Of course the people making the argument were invariably comfortably well-off. They already had houses, and health care, and never needed to consider what would happen were they forced to choose between the two. I'll bet all the money in my pockets you won't find anyone trying to scrape the dollars together to obtain medical treatment who gives two shits about what coverage Obama's family gets, so long as he follows through on his promise to get them something.

People are dying for lack of health care. The United States is 37th on the list of the world's best health care providers. This should be seen as an embarrassment by the political elite, but instead the fact is simply ignored or, worse, flatly lied about (this is known as the Rudy Guliani method). The insurance companies constantly screw over their customers in order to save money. Which is pretty much what you'd expect from a business, admittedly, but it demonstrates very clearly why there needs to be a public option.

For Morrissey, though, the fact that the public option can't equal the very best private insurers can provide means the idea shouldn't even be tried, and suggests instead persuading insurance companies to lower their rates [2]. The obvious question here is this: if an insurance company lowered their rates enough for anyone to be able to afford it, would Obama be expected to automatically sign on with that insurer? What if he went for a better insurance company, one with higher rates and thus (for the purposes of argument) better coverage? Would that be hypocrisy? If Morrissey would say "no" to that argument, then it is he who who sets sail for the land of hypocrisy, since he will condemn the president for one action and not another, despite there being no difference in the effect either for those without health insurance or for the president himself. If, however, the answer is "yes", Morrissey comes out even worse, because at that point he is arguing that an attempt by the president to improve (and save) lives must come coupled with a promise to make the lives of his own family worse. The only way to avoid hypocrisy is to use your money to help your family whilst explicitly refusing to use your political power to help others.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy makes the point that Morrissey's argument is exactly as facile as saying Obama would be a hypocrite for buying a Jaguar, because even though Hilzoy might want one she can't afford it. It's not a bad analogy (though it would work better if Obama offered to buy everyone a new Prius, and then went out and got himself a Jag; what a dick that would make him), but it isn't the one I'd use. I'd point out that there are plenty of other services the US government offers that can be better provided by private companies. Security is the obvious one. I don't want to have a go at the various police forces operating in America, but given their operational budgets and the many, many drains on their time and attention, it isn't hard to believe that relying on them to keep you safe is less satisfactory than hiring a personal security detail. Morrissey's argument is that attempting to improve the police force is hypocritical for any politician who chooses to live in a gated community, or in a building with paid security guards. It just doesn't stand up to the briefest scrutiny.

This is exactly the sort of unthinking crap that's going to kill the public option (which is why I'm so pissed off about it), attempts to move the debate away from how many people are going to die each year without it, and focusing on the motivations behind those politicians who want to stop that, and attempting to discredit them. As always, it's easy to tell who's right and who's wrong in this argument, because those who oppose the public option constantly and maliciously attempt to make people forget the human cost their desired result will result in. No-one in America should be allowed to argue against the public option without at least once starting their case with "I realise my position will cost an awful lot of peoples their lives, but I still believe it's for the best in the long-term because...". I realise that sometimes very hard choices have to be made, and that sometimes we can't save everybody. Just for once, though, I want to see that being acknowledged, rather than brushed aside in favour of cheap character assassinations and denial of the facts.

[1] It is interesting to note that this was an argument never applied to John McCain, a man who had to check with his wife over how many houses he owned, which I mention as yet another attempt to get people who whine about the "liberal media" to stop embarrassing themselves.

[2] Note the tawdry sleight of hand here, if the public option isn't equal to the best insurance, it's not worthy of America. The corollary that the cheaper and less comprehensive insurers aren't equal to the best insurance, and thus aren't worthy of America, is never mentioned. Presumably in Morrissey's putrid, rotting excuse for a mindscape, there exists some method by which the very best health care provider in America can be persuaded to start handing out heart transplants with complementary caviar crackers to the destitute, but if he's figured out a way to do that, he should really fucking mention it to someone instead of just being a cock about the way the world works.

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