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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Refuting the Absurd

Ezra Klein at the Washington Post has nicely crystallized today the frustrations involved in trying to answer some of the crazier “questions” being raised by opponents of health care reform:

[T]he questions reformers have to answer is not “when did you stop beating your wife?” It’s “what will prevent you from beating your wife?” Given that there is no such thing as a “death panel,” nor any policy provision that would establish such a thing, it is hard to explain the institutional checks that would prevent a “death panel” from coming into being. When you have to explain why your bill won’t create death panels, and what will make sure that it doesn’t, you’ve pretty much lost the argument.
The fact that an idea as loony as death panels has found even the slightest purchase in the public consciousness shows how distant the minority feels from our democracy. Members of Congress are terrified of voter backlash and industry opposition. They are leaving virtually the entire health-care system untouched. They will scuttle the bill if a rural hospital in their district doesn’t receive sufficient reimbursement or if a local device manufacturer is harmed. Yet there is a certain portion of the country that believes that Max Baucus and Mike Ross are willing to vote for death panels and defend them before their constituents in the following election.

Aside from the “what will prevent you from beating your wife?” problem, Ezra is also on target in identifying the large disconnect between the realities of how this legislation is being developed and the apparent perceptions of health reform opponents. Many reform advocates are perpetually in a state of semi-depression about the compromises being made to bring the requisite number of House Blue Dogs, plus the “Gang of Six” in the Senate, on board for any bill. Yet protesters against the “Obama plan” are telling us it’s a replica of the worst features of the British Health Service, which it doesn’t even begin to resemble, and that centrist Democrats are secretly on board with a far-left scheme. This makes much of the health reform “debate” an exercise in shadow boxing.

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