Saturday, 27 February 2010

Taking Care

I still lack the heart to get into the nitty-gritty of the healthcare summit; other than to say it went pretty much exactly how I thought it would: the Republicans' last experience of live TV discussions with the President persuading them to come far better prepared this time.

However, since S. Spielbergo has spent some time discussing the overall situation over at his own blog, I thought I'd take a big risk and actually start tearing up online articles by people who are actually liable to respond.
For us Europeans the American system just boggles the mind – we just can’t begin to fathom why they don’t have a similar system to us. I mean as much as we complain about it, we basically love our NHS (well your NHS and my small island equivalent). We like that we never need to be concerned about having the right cover, or that our insurance premiums will go up, or getting a long term condition or any of that rubbish the Yanks have to deal with on our daily basis.

We’re basically used to what we have, and we like it so it’s hard to understand why those “evil” Republicans are so hell bent against the idea…

At this point it is worth pointing out that in my view the Democrats aren’t a lot better and most of their suggestions are just improvements on a broken system rather than the complete rebuild it actually needs.
Actually, it's not at all hard to understand why those evil Republicans don’t want the idea, any more than it’s hard to understand why they don’t want people’s inheritance taxed, corporate money into their coffers limited, illegal immigrants given medical care, and so on: it’s predominantly a combination of dogmatically insisting freedom is exclusively determined by what the law doesn’t prevent combined with a pathological fear of people getting money the GOP thinks they don’t deserve.

And make no mistake, my deletion of Spielbergo's scare quotes is deliberate. The Republicans as a party are evil, or at least their actions are evil, if you'd rather think of it that way. There is simply no other way to describe people who ask their countrymen to elect them so as to serve their interests and then turn round and argue that it isn't worth trying to save the lives of 18 000 to 45 000 citizens every year.

I have no doubt that if the Republicans had brought a bill to the summit on Thursday, I would have despised it. There would already be thousands of posts up across the blogosphere about how terrible it was, and one would probably be mine. But at least at that point the Republicans could argue they were aware of the problem, and had an idea how to solve it, even if I thought that idea was ridiculous.

Instead, they said they had no intention of even considering the problem, and just tried to dodge the issue each time it was raised.

You can't do that, and it not be evil. These people volunteered to take responsibility for the general public, and then flat out refuse to even admit the existence of the problems that are quite literally killing many of those same people. Not only that, but they've actively argued the methods for saving lives the other side have suggested will lead to the government killing people. It takes a certain sort of moral vacuum to try and protect a status quo that kills people by stating that the changes will kill people and knowing damn well that you're lying. It's attempting to justify your willingness to let people die by pretending you care too much about them for you to risk them dying.

This goes back to my long-term problem with many conservatives; it's impossible to conclude that these people have an ounce of empathy for those failed by the system when all they do is insist those people don't exist. It's one thing to listen to a story about a woman forced to wear her dead sister's dentures because she couldn't afford to visit a dentist and then argue that hard choices have to be made in a society and we can't protect everyone; it's quite another to start mocking the idea that this mightn't be something we should put up with in one of the most affluent nations in the world. For sure, many people who do that sort of thing aren't evil, just appallingly callous (and bollocks to their complaints that they were "only joking"; you only get to claim you were joking when the rest of your behaviour makes it clear you didn't believe what you're saying). It only becomes evil when one has the direct ability to do something about it, and instead mocks the very idea that one should feel obliged to try.

Anyway. With that point aside, think there’s some conflation going on here in Spielbergo's argument. I do, as Spielbergo says, love the NHS. Crucially, this is not because I am European, it is because I am British. I’m sure plenty of French people love the French system and plenty of Swiss people the Swiss system. This is an important point because all three systems are very different. It does no-one any good to compare America's system to "Europe's".

Spielbergo is entirely right that the Democratic proposals are too timid to fix the current system. This is not because the system is fundamentally flawed, however. It’s only fundamentally flawed if you assume the US needs a specifically NHS-style system; a system to which the States is indeed probably institutionally (to say nothing of ideologically) incapable of applying. Choose something like, say, the Swiss system instead, however, and the degree of large-scale changes needed becomes far, far less. Those who know far more about these things than I do have been suggesting the Swiss model be adopted precisely for that reason; it works far better than the US model and is sufficiently structurally similar to make implementing it theoretically feasible with a minimum of fuss. I’m not sure I'd even would recommend anyone else following the NHS model at all, actually, since as far as I can determine it's chiefly noteworthy for the fact it manages to operate pretty well despite us putting so little money into it.
Anyway when you stop and think about it from the Republicans perspective you can kind of (well kind of) get what their problem is with the idea. They have a system already in place that the majority of Americans are happy with – yes there are some holes (and some pretty big ones at that), but the system by and large seems fairly popular. First point for a conservative is therefore why rock the boat? If it isn’t broke don’t fix it and all that jazz.
There are three problems with arguing that the system is fairly popular. The first is the most obvious: the fact that people are happy now does not mean they'll be happy in a few years following the massive increases in insurance premiums heading down the pipe (and which have already been announced in some states, like Maine and California). Arguing that a system isn't broken yet is embarrassingly short-sighted, and doesn't deserve to be considered as a sensible objection unless those people arguing it can suggest how to fix it at a later date. Certainly, anyone who argues we need to do something about global warming must immediately recognise the foolishness of this argument, since right now, the planet isn't exactly in dire straits. So why worry, huh?

The second problem is that this argument only tracks following the most superficial consideration of the statistics. Yes, the vast majority of Americans list themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with their healthcare. Of course, it would be tempting here to argue that there was probably a time when the vast majority of Americans were OK with slavery too. I'm not going to, because the comparison would be unfair, but it does highlight the important truth that it is meaningless to cite the percentage of people happy with a situation without considering the damage being done to those not happy.

In any case, a closer look at the data suggests a different story. Fully two thirds of those who have had recourse to their insurance claims describe their bills as having a major adverse effect on their lives. Almost a quarter state they put off seeking medical help for lack of funds. More than half are concerned that losing their job will cost them their insurance (which raises another important point: being happy with what an system has allowed you is not the same as being happy with the system itself ). A fifth state they have had difficulty persuading their insurers to pay up.

Given this, the question is not "Why change a system so many people are happy with" so much as "How can a system with such drawbacks still lead to people being satisfied". My own personal take on this would be Occam's Razor; these people are satisfied because have no experience of alternative medical systems under which they'd be better, and because the nature of the current system is such that you can be rejected or bankrupted by insurers at the drop of a hat, which means many people are probably satisfied at least in part because they've escaped the worst case scenario.

Regardless of how close to the mark that speculation is, I'd argue it would be far more sensible to look at the stats regarding how insurance claims have affected people, rather than how much those people feel they're hard done by in comparison to others.

Lastly, and related to the above, the problem with this kind of appeal to the will of the masses is that never actually seems to account for that will properly. Sure, majority of American’s prefer their own healthcare, but a majority of them also believe the system should be changed. A wide margin more people (9%) support rather than oppose the Democratic HCR proposal once they know what is in it. This after over a year of being told the bill would explode the deficit and kill your Grandmother.

So it seems strange to argue that if most people like their current insurance it shouldn’t be changed, even if most people think it should. I know cherry picking polls and stats is hardly a practice limited to Republicans, but it doesn't make them right to do it.
The second issue is they are quite firmly behind the idea of small government – Now the NHS in the UK comprises £119bn in costs – which means to add it on (if we didn’t already have it) would increase spending by about 30%. You ask any proponent of smaller government if they want to take a system out of the private sector and increase government spending by 30%, I’m pretty sure they are going to turn around with a very large NO!
The problem with this argument is that the current cost of American healthcare to the taxpayer is already higher than ours. Nor is anyone suggesting taking a system out of the private sector, this is about regulating that part of the private sector more stringently. Now, a "small government" conservative can certainly still object to the increased regulation, but make no mistake; said conservative would be making that argument despite a reduction in the tax burden, not in addition to it. Moreover, as I've said, comparing the proposed changes in the US system to the NHS is pointless, because no-one has proposed aping the NHS in any case.

Of course, the Republicans have spent a good deal of the last year pretending that is what’s been proposed, which should be the latest in a long line of clues that trying to fairly determine where they stand on this issue is liable to be a waste of one's time.
And yes Squid I know all those 50 million uninsured and 18,000 dying each year should be a good argument – But well it hasn’t worked so clearly it isn’t.
This is, needless to say, entirely backwards, if not out-and-out insane. First of all, this implies that an argument is only good if it works, and that it works only if the other side immediately capitulates based on its quality, which is so far away from the way politics works I’m amazed anyone could possibly suggest it. Whether or not an argument works depends not on the opposition agreeing with it (and just how often do you see that happen?), but on how well it drives public opinion, shoring up the poll numbers that might just persuade someone (in this case the Democrats) to stop cowering and get something done. Getting the Republicans to admit they're wrong has never been the objective. Persuading the public the Republicans are wrong is the name of the game.

Second, when this particular argument fails, it isn’t proof the argument itself is bad, it’s proof that the Republicans are so far away from any position that can be squared with concern for their constituents, interest in carrying out their responsibilities, or a desire to negotiate in good faith, that every single word put down in a paragraph that starts with “Looking at it from their perspective...” is tragic waste of vowels and consonants that might otherwise have been used to describe a good movie or craft a dick joke.

What Spielbergo means, as far as I can discern, is that the only way a political argument can be good is if the other side is either forced to agree with it in public, or pretends not to agree with it but changes their stance anyway. As a general rule, I would agree that those are the arguments that could certainly be considered the most successful within political circles (outside of the court of public opinion, though of course that's still relevant because it's only when they're paying attention that it matters that a party has been forced into admitting the other side have a point). In this case, though, it doesn’t matter, because Obama is coming at the Republicans with their own arguments, and they’re still pretending they don’t agree. There are any number of provisions within this bill that Republicans still in Congress are on the record for having supported. Last year, the general feeling amongst the GOP was that 80% of the HCR bill was in line with their philosophy, it was just that that wasn’t enough. Fast forward to now, though, and all of those Republican ideas included in the hopes of getting them to sign on are now repeatedly decried as offences against democracy.

So even if we did make the mistake of believing an argument is only good if the other side will confess to agreeing with it, there quite simply isn’t such a creature left in the rhetorical world. Because using the HCR bill (or anything else) to sink Obama’s presidency is the only thing, literally the only thing, the GOP cares about right now.

Now, you can argue that such is their role as the opposition. I would disagree, I think the role of opposition is to keep the party in power honest rather than to thwart its ability to govern – the will of the people, and so forth - but you could make the case, though you'd have to explain to me how it's OK to, say, block appointees to high-level military positions in the middle of two wars whilst confessing no having no idea whether or not they're qualified.

Regardless of your position on what the minority party should consider itself entitled to do, what the current behaviour of the Republicans clearly demonstrates is that Spielbergo is looking for a method of persuasion that quite simply does not exist. The thought process by which one assumes that method must exist - and I see no other way to read Spielbergo's argument other than that he believes this, unless he's prepared to argue there exist literally no "good" arguments for reform - and so any that fail must have been flawed in some way, is the same one that leads to people like David Broder arguing that any time the Republicans filibuster a bill it must be the Democrat’s fault for not giving them enough of the things they want, and that the only way “bipartisanship” can fail is if the side more willing to compromise isn’t prepared to compromise enough.

Not that I think Spielbergo is the next David Broder, of course. I mean, I may be telling everyone I think his arguments are wrong, but I don’t want to insult the guy.
Now onto the main point I wanted to make – and the one that surprises me the Republicans don’t seem to have cottoned onto – We Europeans get to buy all these drugs and things, but we don’t spend anywhere near the amount the Americans spend.
US dollars subsidise our Healthcare.

And more specifically every American Citizen paying for health insurance is helping us over in Europe and Canada get better drugs cheaper than we should otherwise have it.
This, at least, I agree with entirely, in so much as I’m sure the Republicans probably do hate this (Democrats, too), though I suspect many of them can console themselves with endless whiskey sours at the next banquet a drugs company throws for it’s – ahem - “friends” in Congress. Having said that, though, it’s far from clear to me how reforming the US health care system would in any way help, at least in the way it's currently considered. Firstly, the drugs price issue is currently essentially separate to that of HCR. I get why it shouldn't be: if drugs were cheaper so would insurance tariffs, but at present the Democrats have shied away from confronting the pharmaceutical industry as much as possible. Crucially, though, whilst you can lower drug prices and thus improve the insurance issue, I don't see how reforming insurance will make one iota of difference to the cost of drugs, which makes it hard to see how Spielbergo expects there to be a reduction in costs.

None of this matters, though, since it's not remotely the case that the Republicans would want it at all. What exactly is being proposed here? Forcing the drugs companies to reduce their prices? How will that help? Research costs what it costs. Reducing what the Americans pay to what we pay isn't going to do any good for those who make the pills, and I simply don't see anything the Americans can do to force us to pay more. Certainly I don't see any way they can do that by enacting entirely internal changes.

So what would the Republicans suggest? Replacing the money individuals pay for the drugs with government money for research? The GOP is already screaming (incorrectly) about the bill costing too much. Forcing a cap on the amount a pill can cost? That's fundamentally at odds with the way Republicans do things that it could never happen even if so many of them weren't receiving healthy amounts of cash from those same companies.

Certainly it seems clear to me that the search for this entirely mythological “good argument” is going to have to go a good deal further than “If you let us reduce costs in every other way, we’ll allow you to reduce the amount of subsidisation powerful pharmaceutical businesses will receive.” In truth, that might actually theoretically work if the Republicans were suggesting that to the Democrats (though realistically I very, very much doubt it would), but the suggestion that the best way to get the GOP to sign on with the Democrat’s agenda is to include provisions that will hobble major donors to Republican campaigns strikes me as pretty unpersuasive, however much the Republicans might agree that letting the rest of the world pay less for US drugs is a bad idea.

In fact, Spielbergo may not have seen this particular topic come up during the HCR discussion, but I have, or at least a couple of things that were very close. There were several abortive discussions generated on whether to introduce amendments to the bill that would allow the US government to either directly force pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices for American consumers, or start buying American drugs back off the Canadians, since that would still be cheaper than buying them first hand.

Anyone want to guess which party was interested in reducing American drugs costs? And which party immediately labelled the idea as socialism in action?


Senior Spielbergo said...

Yey! Squid sufficiently pocked!

Not got much to say at this time except my usual line:

"The definition of evil is not simply someone who disagrees with you."

We both think broadly the same thing, in that we both think the US needs to pass Healthcare Reform and that while the Democrat plan(s) are fairly rubbish, they are better than the alternative of doing nothing (or next to nothing).

I just never like the idea that you should label people as evil just because they have a different view to you. I seek to try and understand their position and see where they are coming from and then form a view based on the merits of both sides. Simply taking your own view and blinding yourself to the counter perspective doesn't help matters - You'll just wind up with two sides who think the other is evil and the two parties become totally entrenched.

It's basic human nature - if you believe in something and someone on the other side is accusing your ideas of being evil, you clearly don't believe that, so the natural reaction is that clearly their view must be the one that is evil. People are far more entrenched at standing up against a perceived evil than they would be discussing two competing philosophies / ideas.

The whole, slag off the other guy approach might help win a debate in the eyes of an external viewer but it has the exact opposite effect in terms of changing the minds of those actually involved in the debate.

Spielbergo *Still firmly against negative campaigning

Gooder said...

Could't agree more with the aboe comment.

It is indeed right that putting heads together and working out the way forward is the better alternative then constantly declaring the other side to be evil and never stopping to listen properly to what they say.

I have no doubt the issue is very complex in to deal with in terms of how to change and progress. IN fact I'm pretty sure all issue of governance aren't simple.

From what I've seen this Health Care issue is being hobnailed but that very attitude and from both sides.

SpaceSquid said...

I'm not sure I've ever been pocked before. It's a strange sensation, but I'm glad it was with a friend.

Both of you are doing exactly what I warned you against.

I am not labelling the Republicans as evil because I disagree with them. I disagree with you, and I don't have any feeling that you are evil. I disagree with the Tories, and I wouldn't label them evil either.

I am labelling the Republicans as evil for the extensive reasons I laid out in the post, none of which either of you have chosen to address. To restate: if you ask for the responsibility to represent your people at the level of national government, lying as a method to justify allowing those people to die is evil. Allowing suffering you have the capacity to change to continue, and doing it by pretending it doesn't exist or the alternatives are more evil (neither of which is true) is evil, in the sense that it causes harm to others you could prevent, and asked (in general terms) to be given the chance to prevent, only to not only do nothing, but pretend that suffering doesn't exist, and that anyone who thinks it does is pushing "sob stories".

Like I said, tell me why that isn't evil. Because that would be an actual, y'know, argument. Instead you've both fallewn back on the meaningless bromides Broder and co toss around all day. "We should be working together!". Yes, except the Republican's don't want to, for reasons, again, explained in great length, though the nickel tour is as follows: the GOP want to maintain the status quo, and they can do that by refusing to cooperate on anything. You're free to disagree with my take on it, you might even want to offer something as useful as counter-evidence, but right now all you've got is "We should be sharing our unicorns and rainbows."

There's also a big difference between me calling the Republicans evil, and the Democrats calling them evil, which makes conflating the two to make it sound as though I'm hurting the debate deeply unfair. Congressional Republicans already are deeply entrenched (along with many of their Democratic colleagues), and the idea that that will end if I stop calling them evil, or that by continuing to do it I'm worsening the problem, is ridiculous. If Obama were to call them evil, I would think he was right but astonishingly stupid. Frankly, if someone asked me to write a piece trying to persuade people to vote for HCR (or support it), I'd leave the word out as well.

I haven't, so I wasn't. I was responding to Spielbergo's ironic use of scare quotes, and arguing why they were entirely unecessary. Because there really are evil people in the world, and suggesting that we don't recognise that in case it makes other people less convinced by what we're saying is a problem for politicians, not bloggers (certainly not bloggers who get less hits in a year than those he reads get in a day). Certainly it makes no sense to identify a serious, life-taking problem, decide someone is evil because they flat out refuse to help solve it, and then argue we can't call those people evil because then they might not help. It's the fact they refuse to lift a finger to help that makes them evil in the first place.

So, like I said, explain to me why their actions aren't evil and we can have a discussion. Argue that "You shouldn't label people as evil because you disagree", and you're insulting my intelligence.

I'm trying hard not to Godwinise this post here, but it should be immediately clear that there can be governments (or minorities liable to become governments) whose actions regarding their own people I think either one of you would be happy to call evil. Which means that you can argue with me over whether the Republicans qualify. What you can't do is argue that political philosophies and the actions that result are always merely different.

SpaceSquid said...


"declaring the other side to be evil and never stopping to listen properly to what they say"

I would humbly submit that you have no idea whatsoever what I have and haven't listened to, and are simply assuming I haven't listened to the Republican side because it makes your self-confessed difficulty in offering actual details easier to justify. It doesn't seem like anything more than arguing "I have no idea what's happening so I'll assume you don't either".

You're also quite wrong. There are plenty of Republicans specifically and American conservatives more generally whose view on this issue I've listened to. The latter tend to be of the belief that something needs to be done, but not this bill. That second view I actually have some sympathy for. It's not a particularly good bill; it's just by far the best one that can be expected in the current climate (which in itself is the best climate that can be expected in the forseeable future). So my label of evil is reserved not for those attempting to sink the bill - they're just holding out for a much better bill that won't actually ever arrive - but for those attempting to sink the bill and anything like it on the grounds that there is no reason to actually reform healthcare at all, because tens of thousands of deaths a year is only something you care about if it's at the shitty end of a Muslim suicide bomber.

So, at the risk of repeating myself, explain how that kind of refusal to even consider aiding the citizens you were elected to represent isn't evil. Don't tell me that there are faults on both sides. Don't tell me both sides routinely call the other one evil in any event. Don't tell me that I need to be careful because some people out on the internets might be too dumb to realise that you can have a list of reasons someone is wrong, and a list of why they're evil, and the two can be evaluated separately.

Tell me why these people aren't evil.

SpaceSquid said...

Having thought on the issue more, I am prepared to grant that whilst the Republican leadership are evil, there may be other Congressional Republicans (Olympia Snowe, for example) who are simply doing what they are told. Whether or not following the orders of evil people for fear of damaging one's career is in itself some kind of evil is another topic.

Gooder said...

Whoa, chill out there. I'm speaking in general terms about people with entrenched positions, not trying to have a go at you. Sorry you appear to have taken as a personal attack for some reason. (And endorsing that negitive campainging is very tiresome)

Tho' I still disagree to some extent on calling the Republicans evil. If you want to say starting an unjustified war and failing an entire nations populance in the aftermath is evil I'd be closer to going with you but would still be uncomfortable with saying it was evil.

Misguided, stupid and incompetent is more likely what I would go for.

Sadly a capatalist system means that you will always end up with people at the bottom and in bad situation on many fronts. But I wouldn't call having different opinions on how to deal with that as being evil.

Evil to me is something else. Evil is the likes of Mara Hindley rather than politicians I disagree with.

Senior Spielbergo said...


Basically I think the main thing I'm pointing out is that for the most part I tend to agree with you on Healthcare, however your method of delivery is what I disagree with. If you laid out what you think should be done, explained the positives and any potential negatives then chances are I would read it as a good post and probably largely agree with you. Instead when you spend your time basically attacking someone elses view point you don't agree with, then while I may agree with your position I'm going to have to step in at least mention the other side of the argument. Otherwise it's just a one sided attack.

Essentially your generating an opponent by your methodology - and at the same time causing the actual real debate to be shifted aside.

Positive campaigning - this is MY view and these are the reasons why it is good.
Negative campaigning - this is THEiR view and these are why I think they are Evil / stupid.

I am generally of the view that there are very few, if any, actual evil people in the world. There are plenty of stupid people, misguided people, people who's view point is very different to my own, and many of which can cause evil to happen. But as a rule people do things because they believe it ultimately to be right - maybe not right now, maybe they are looking at some long term view, but overall they still believe that it is the right thing to do. So like Gooder would be far more happy if you said they were misguided because...

Feel free to discuss your own view point or even to poke holes in others while explaining why yours is better, but as soon as you stoop to calling people Evil, especially any large group, then it instantly created the impression that your failing to even look at things from their perspective. I don't doubt for a moment that you in fact have done so and researched your view as carefully as possible - but that is not the impression you give when you start calling someone with a legitamte but opposing view Evil. 

SpaceSquid said...

@ Gooder "Whoa, chill out there. I'm speaking in general terms about people with entrenched positions, not trying to have a go at you. Sorry you appear to have taken as a personal attack for some reason."

It's don't think it's particularly surprising that in a blog I write, in the comments to a post I wrote, whilst agreeing with a comment directed at me, that I might just perhaps assume that you were referring to my own argument rather than discussing others who are clearly not involved. I accept you weren't aiming anything at me, and I'm certainly aware that my response came across as vitriolic (though exasperation was more what I was attempting to convey), but I'd suggest it wouldn't be an unreasonable policy to make explicitly clear when responding to a specific argument in a specific post that you're not actually discussing those specifics at all. It was just a week or two ago that I was talking about the dangers inherent in entering a conversation on which someone has taken a side, and then rubbishing that side in general terms and acting surprised when anyone is offended.

"Misguided, stupid and incompetent is more likely what I would go for."

I'd be happy to accept all those adjectives, and in other situations agree that more serious ones like "evil" would be misplaced. But, to consider the invasion/war argument for a moment longer, there must be some distinction between the guy who invaded because he was dumb enough to believe BS intelligence and the guy who invaded knowing the intelligence was BS, surely? The former is incompetent and stupid, the second is something else.

"Sadly a capatalist system means that you will always end up with people at the bottom and in bad situation on many fronts. But I wouldn't call having different opinions on how to deal with that as being evil."

You're still viewing this in terms of the wrong distinctions, I think. My point isn't that I can't accept multiple ideas on how to deal with the situation, it's refusing to deal with it at all, pretending it doesn't exist, and pushing legislation that would exacerbate it - all whilst mocking those unfortunate enough to be at the bottom of the pile - that I find sufficiently harmful and morally outrageous to brand as evil.

I'd also note that my problem here isn't that people are at the bottom; it's that the people who are at the bottom are dying by the thousands.

"Evil to me is something else. Evil is the likes of Mara Hindley rather than politicians I disagree with."

Well, it's possibly dangerous to extrapolate from a single example, but from your mentioning of Hindley and from conversations off-blog I've had about this subject, I wonder if you're working from the principle of evil having to be intentional. I've seen similar arguments over whether or not the Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) can be called murderers when they're not actually trying to kill people, so much as allowing deaths they could prevent from occurring, for the most banal and venal of reasons.

All I can tell you is that I disagree (about your labels for politicians, not about Hindley, obviously). It's not just that these people are letting their countrymen die, having sworn to protect them, it's that they're blocking the route for their fellows to try to help instead. This isn't me letting someone die of heart attack in their house. It's me driving my car up against their front door so that the paramedics can't get in to help either. And even that doesn't go far enough, because to match up the example of the Republicans, I'd have to be this poor sod's GP, too. And have told him the paramedics would try to break his neck.

SpaceSquid said...

@ Spielbergo "your method of delivery is what I disagree with... when you spend your time basically attacking someone elses view point you don't agree with, then while I may agree with your position I'm going to have to step in at least mention the other side of the argument. Otherwise it's just a one sided attack."

You're more than welcome to insert the other side, if you wish. I appreciate it when you do. I just don't have to agree with it, or even give it the time of day if I don't think it's worth it. The problem here has never been that I've ignored the other side, it's that I don't believe I have to consider it credible just because you do. I don't have to respect an opinion just because it exists, especially since so often all the available evidence suggests those opinions are not honestly held or fairly applied. It also sounds like you seem to want me to start every post on the subject with a "Here are the two sides" approach, which is something that would rapidly get tiresome, both to write and to read. The point of these posts is that they're supposed to fill out a picture, both across time on this blog, and also potentially across various other sources. It doesn't make sense to complain every time an individual post doesn't meet your own arbitrary standards of fairness.

Furthermore, I don't believe that it's fair to suggest that I don't lay out my own viewpoint, either. It's especially silly in the light of this conversation; since it's not remotely unclear that what I want is for the government to intervene to save the lives of tens of thousands of people. My posts tend towards rubbishing Republican viewpoints often because I'm much better at dissecting a bad argument than I am at deciding the best political course of action to take, and the Republicans are masters of twisting logic to suit themselves. If that's not the sort of thing you want to read, then that is of course your choice. It is however most certainly not the case that the only way the demonstration of how argument A is bad can be held as valid is if argument B is offered instead. My side, much of the time, is nothing more than "this statement is devoid of logic/a lie", that's not really something that lends itself to being positive, or considering the other side.

I'd also note that the healthcare debate has lasted over a year, and the actual language of the bill under discussion has been locked for well over a month. Given that, your suggestion seems to boil down to just endlessly repeating my support for the bill.

Having said all that, I write like a bitter and vitriolic man (a great deal of that is style rather than heart), and I know that. I'm not ignoring the criticism, simply disagreeing that your suggestions would actually improve matters.

"Essentially your generating an opponent by your methodology - and at the same time causing the actual real debate to be shifted aside."

Not at all. You're causing the debate to be shifted aside, by ignoring the substantive points I've raised and focussing on this (in fact, a common theme throughout this thread has been the conflation of not providing coherent commentary and providing coherent commentary but adding invective). And even that wouldn't have been a problem if you'd explained why you think the "evil" label was incorrectly applied (which admittedly you now have), rather than just posting up the standard centrist position that because two sides exist, they must both have valid points, and so I must be being unfair if I don't list them.

That's your choice, and arguing I am responsible for it because if I hadn't provided you with a convenient distraction you couldn't have done it is pretty much you blaming me for your own choice of debating strategy. There was nothing to stop you engaging me over the evil issue and discussing other points.

SpaceSquid said...

@ Spielbergo "Positive campaigning - this is MY view and these are the reasons why it is good.
Negative campaigning - this is THEiR view and these are why I think they are Evil / stupid."

Aside from the above issue that if someone is lying about a position you've already stated as supporting it's hardly effective to simply restate your support, I think you've taken a good idea (campaign positively) and taken it to a frankly ludicrous extreme. Quite aside from the fact that in the very last post you wrote on the subject all that you could muster up positivity-wise was "The Republicans got nothing, but the Democrat proposals aren't much better", which doesn't make you Sunshine Bear, or anything, the issue here is the sheer difficulty in composing a post that runs along the lines of "Yay! The Democrats want to stop the practice of allowing massive unecessary yearly death-tolls amongst their own population!".

There is a time for positive commentary, and a time and when you really do have to call something what it is. Telling everyone how awesome it would be if things were different might make people feel better, but sometimes you've just got to remind everyone how fucking horrible this world is for some people, and how morally outrageous such suffering is. The alternative is an attempt to rob people of their righteous anger at injustice, and misery, and pain. It is to see such things, the vast spectrum of human suffering in the States and elsewhere, and conclude that the real issue here is people are being uncivil to each other. I would never in a million years accuse you of being like the people below, but part of why I disagree so strongly with your position is because if it's taken to the extreme you get to those white people during the 60's who kept saying they could understand why black people would be unhappy with the way things were, but they really needed to stop being so angry about it.

"I am generally of the view that there are very few, if any, actual evil people in the world."

Fine. That's a perfectly valid view to hold, just not one I share. Just as I don't believe evil has to require one actively going out and causing pain with one's own hands, I don't believe that someone can only be judged evil if they themselves confess that they know what they're doing is wrong.

Mainly, I don't think people can be excused of grotesquely immoral and harmful acts by telling the world that they'd found a way to persuade themselves what they were doing was right.

In fact, if you want, you can go back and read this post and replace "evil" for "grotesquely immoral and harmful".

I'm also wondering if this is partially a religious thing. Again, this is extrapolation, but I wonder if the belief in an external manifestation of evil makes it harder to accept that evil exists within people?

SpaceSquid said...

@ Spielbergo (I promise this is the last one):

"Feel free to discuss your own view point or even to poke holes in others while explaining why yours is better, but as soon as you stoop to calling people Evil, especially any large group, then it instantly created the impression that your failing to even look at things from their perspective."

I can at least agree that "Republican politicians = evil" is too general a phrase. I've noted the effects their policies are having on the country, and argued that any Republican willing to do that is evil. As I noted in a follow up, however, it's a mistake to assume each of them are, so much as too worried about their jobs to do the right thing. Those choosing this rather than feeling compelled by their superiors are those to be labelled evil/guilty of causing morally inexcusable suffering/whatever.

"I don't doubt for a moment that you in fact have done so and researched your view as carefully as possible - but that is not the impression you give when you start calling someone with a legitamte but opposing view Evil. "

Two things, here. Firstly, your opinion that the Republican viewpoint is "legitimate" is entirely that: your opinion. As I've said, I do not have to label it as legitimate simply because it exists, nor must I pretend it is a viewpoint honestly held. Not all viewpoints are equally valid, and I don't have to treat the Republicans "self-sufficiency is all, the government would make things worse!" line with any less contempt than Animal Farm's "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." It's not that I disagree, it's that I can explain why it's wrong and cruelly harmful and I've never seen any halfway decent explanation as to why it isn't.

Secondly, and more importantly, I laid out my reasons for describing those I was describing as evil. Again, you didn't bother to try and disagree with any of those points, you just came out with "calling people 'evil' is wrong". That is not because I gave the impression that I hadn't considered the matter, it's because you don't believe the matter requires consideration at all. It's essentially black and white to you: people are never or almost never evil. You are perfectly welcome to that belief, but you do me a disservice by arguing that the impressions you have taken are the ones that I have given (this goes way back to our discussion some time ago as to whether a writer is invariably to blame for the impression his or her readers have concluded they gave). You are holding me responsible for the way your own internal process interprets my words.

Gooder said...

Fair enough, I shall try and be more careful in the future but generally if I am directly addressing someone I will so say and if I'm non specific I'm thinking in general terms.

But on the war front I agree you'd need to make the distinction, however this stage having read and heard quite a lot of the reports, articles and enquires (plus having at least some stuff on the insides track) I'm pretty convinced that basically everyone in place to make the decision knew the intelligence was bullshit. But that's a whole new depressing topic!

SpaceSquid said...

Indeed it is. In fact, it would be an interesting comparative example. What's worse: allowing tens of thousands of countrymen to die despite it being your clear duty to try and keep them alive, or actively causing the deaths of others that you never claimed to represent.

Obviously the issue is complicated by the fact thousands of Americans have died in the war as well, but it's still interesting (though as you say, depressing) to compare the two.

Tomsk said...

I think "evil" is too charged a word for what the Republicans are doing. "Despicable" is the one I'd go for. I don't buy into the argument that everyone must vote for a bill because thousands of people are dying at the moment - it is possible to be against people dying but not in favour of the particular solution. And the opposition's job is (or should be) to oppose. But this should be done in a constructive way. The bill, as I think everyone here agrees, is not great, but that is primarily because it has bent over backwards to accommodate "centrist" concerns: after all it is almost identical to the healthcare system that Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts. The Republicans should acknowledge this and meet the Democrats half way. But this they have completely failed to do, and have been actively mendacious in all the ways Squid has chronicled.

SpaceSquid said...

@ Tomsk: I can see an argument for replacing "evil" with "despicable and actively mendacious". It's the knowledge that a Republican success could quite possibly cost a minimum of one third of a million American lives - that's assuming 25,000 a year and a second term for Obama followed by a two-term Republican, all of which I'd describe as close to the modal outcomes - before this gets tried again (a situation that the Republicans will not only create, but are actively hoping for) that pushes it over the line for me.

If, as you say, there was disagreement over how to solve the problem, rather than whether it existed at all, then things would be different. All the available evidence suggests that if the current HCR bill fails, then Obama won't be able to pass anything on the subject even if he does get a second term, and that his Republican replacement (and I'm with Kevin Drum, I reckon the chances of the Democrats winning a third consecutive term are slight, though there's plenty of time for the board to change) will ignore the situation entirely.

Plus, of course, the entire reason why the bill was watered down was first to try and persuade Republicans to sign on, and then as a sop to the extreme right of the Democratic party when it became clear the GOP were just going to sit in the corner and whine. So for anyone wondering: Republican intransigence is not justified by the bad bill; the exact opposite is the case.