Imagine a old neighbor you know only from a few sidewalk conversations, a Mr. P., comes by and tells you that a new neighbor, a man that has just moved in a few doors down, seems suspicious, that he seems too friendly to the neighborhood kids. Suppose Mr. P. says:
"I don't know. It just makes me a little uncomfortable, you know. I think we need to watch, you know, and make sure we know what's going on."
Now, you might, depending on your worldview, be concerned.
Or you might, depending on your experience and way of seeing the world, avoid jumping to conclusions and simply continue to keep an eye on the kids, as you always have, without any prejudgments or expectations.
But suppose instead that your neighbor, Mr. P., said something like this:
"This guy is a fag. I just know it. I saw him saying hello to Johnny this afternoon. He was smiling at Johnny, you know. Would you go smiling at a kid you don't even know? It gave me the creeps. I couldn't find him on the sexual predators list, but I know one when I see 'em, and there are a lot of 'em around. We got us one right here, and we need to get together and do something about it."
Now, most of us at this point might guess that our old neighbor, Mr. P., could have some psychological problems. But...we'd not be 100% sure about our new neighbor also....
We'd wonder about the new man down the street. We'd be wary.
Most of us would be watchful, and might even wonder at a friendly smile, when we never would have otherwise.
Now...suppose that in fact the new man, the new neighbor, is the salt of the earth, a great guy, whose wife or partner had died in an auto accident, and who is looking to get a new start in a new place. Or suppose he's just a bachelor that's had trouble finding a relationship yet, and is in fact a friendly, open person that has moved into the area for a new job and is hoping to meet some neighbors soon and make some new friends.
You wouldn't know any of that.
You only know what Mr. P. has said, at this point.
That's the problem with gossip, or it's ugliest form -- bearing false witness.
There's a reason that one made it into the Ten Commandments.
The problem with health care reform is that it is truly complex (even for those that deal in complexity) and only a small portion of the electorate knows much about it, and most feel they don't know enough.
Instead, they know what Mr. P. has said.
Much discussion about our new health care reform centers on slanted political talking points, like the label "socialism," which takes the debate away from real issues that need examination.
"Socialism" has had a stable, clear definition for decades -- public ownership of industries.
Socialism is altogether different from the typical American practice of regulating industries. This health care reform does regulate the health insurance and health care industries. It does not nationalize (or "take over") health care.
When you walk into your local grocery store, you are entering a regulated marketplace, where the products on the shelves are controlled by public laws for the common good. For instance, you can find out what you are buying by looking on the package. The ingredients are listed by law. In the coming health insurance exchanges, the insurance policies will be required to meet standards that prevent tricky loopholes that fool policy holders. Instead of insurance with holes that fails to cover in time of serious need, the policies will be sound.
This is regulation.
The other new "socialism" is labeling any public benefit that isn't paid for fully by those receiving the service as socialism. By this standard though, free public libraries are socialism in action. Public parks would be...socialism. Payments to foster parents -- socialism. Public roads -- socialism. Public schools -- socialism. Since every nation has many such elements, everywhere on earth, at all times, this usage simply empties "socialism" of all meaning.
Any and all government would be "socialism" by this new standard.
What we have is an attempt is to smear reform and political opponents. While many people now newly parrot this use of the word "socialism" in simple ignorance of its meaning, some commentators and politicians must have known better.
Do they still?
To create an illusion that commonplace public benefits (public provisions for health care are common around the world) are real "socialism" like that in modern-day Venezuela under Chavez, with all the evils that implies -- this is a smear campaign.
It takes us away from genuine discussion and debate (about actual reality).
It isn't real debate or discussion if the topic is an illusion.
In similar fashion to the misuse of the word "socialism," we have made-up scare tactics like "death panels" and Medicare "rationing" (Medicare rationing is explicitly prohibited in the legislation.).
But...there is one significant, plausible concern about reform for many people which has been raised in the same forums.
It's the expectation/calculation that if the deficit isn't sufficiently closed in future years, and with some part of the ability to raise taxes used up on health reform, then other taxes will eventually be imposed on the middle class to help close the broader deficit.
(Update: Rasmussen polling (Republican), which does not always use neutrally-phrased questions, nevertheless blunders onto this central issue: "Voters strongly believe the health care reform plan will cost more than official estimates, and 78% expect an increase in taxes on the middle class to pay for it.... Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters believe America is already overtaxed." Rasmussen puts words in peoples' mouths, but if people had the choice they'd pinpoint the issue more clearly in polls -- we fear that *other* taxes will be needed to close the *broader federal deficit*, which has nothing to do with health care reform except for the simple connection that *some* of our ability to tax is being used up in health care reform.
This pragmatic worry about future taxes is a real issue, and I've addressed it more fully here (click here).
There are plenty of places to find out more about the real elements -- the actual reality -- of health care reform, from good table summaries to good overviews.
This blog will address the mythologies (belief systems) behind our broader public debate about government itself, in a coming post.