The debate over ObamaCare has degenerated into angry shouts, name-calling and thuggery, drowning out the very purpose of free speech: Persuasion.
We received a letter Friday from a person threatening to stop reading the paper if we continued "lending yourself in a campaign to attack the needed health reform. ... Too often your articles take side against such reform. If this trend continue I would stop reading your paper." Sounds like someone who has made up his mind and does not wish to be confronted with contrary facts.
Our own Sen. Harry Reid calls those questioning the health care legislation "evil-mongers" spreading "lies, innuendo and rumor."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grass-roots lobbying." An odd accusation considering MoveOn.org practically invented the technique of urging fellow travelers to flood newspapers with pre-packaged talking points. We got a dozen or so Thursday alone, all using the same numbers and similar phrases traceable to a MoveOn.org Web site that generates letters to newspapers in a person's ZIP code.
One congressman called anti-ObamaCare people Brown Shirts. Some letter writers are calling opponents racists. Both sides are calling each other liars.
The word "socialism" gets batted about and abused, with neither side stopping long enough to grasp the fact that insurance is a simple form of basic socialism -- a group sharing risks and responsibilities. Each pays an amount into the pool. The majority will take out less than they pay in. A few will take out much more than they pay in.
It is all based on actuarial tables that allow the insurer to make -- cover your eyes, liberals, I'm about to use a profanity -- a profit.
The chief objective of health care reform is touted as being a means to reduce costs. Efficiency can save a little money, as even Obama advisers admit, but the only real way to reduce cost is to pay doctors less and/or ration care.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was roundly criticized for raising the specter of "death panels." That's not in the bill, we're told huffily.
But past words surely give pause. Obama himself in an April interview in The New York Times' Sunday magazine was quoted as saying about his own grandmother:
"I don't know how much that hip replacement cost. I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement just because she's my grandmother. Whether, sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else's aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they're terminally ill is a sustainable model, is a very difficult question. ...
"So that's where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that's also a huge driver of cost, right?
"I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here."
One of Obama's top medical advisers is bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. This past June, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ezekiel Emanuel wrote that "the progression in end-of-life care mentality from 'do everything' to more palliative care shows that change in physician norms and practices is possible."
He sees a move toward "socially sustainable, cost-effective care."
Another bioethicist who has Obama's ear is Princeton's Peter Singer, who wrote an article titled "Why We Must Ration Health Care." In it, he says, "When public funds subsidize health care or provide it directly, it is crazy not to try to get value for money. The debate over health care reform in the United States should start from the premise that some form of health care rationing is both inescapable and desirable."
What would a state-run health care system do? That is the question.
In his book "Liberty and Tyranny," conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin offers a glimpse of a specific example from Oregon's state-run Oregon Health Plan. The doctors of lung cancer patient Barbara Wagner recommended a specific drug "to help prolong and improve the quality of her life."
The state plan refused to pay for it.
"But Oregon also has legalized assisted suicide," Levin writes, "and in an unsigned letter from the state, Barbara was informed that the health plan would pay to cover costs of a doctor to help her kill herself."
The debate is not academic, and name-calling is not how people in a democracy should be persuaded. Past words and deeds should not be ignored or drowned out by name-calling.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of a free press and free speech. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.