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LectureHop: The Health Care Debate

scrubsLast night’s Columbia Political Union Healthcare debate boasted no special format: the soothing power of the free market versus humanity and logical responsibility. Their respective groupies cheered, scoffed and even engaged in some raucous Joe Wilson-ery.  More valuable than watching the news, less valuable than personally investigating the issues, but more time-effective than either – it was as perfect as perfect can be in dialogue on a contentious issue. So is Bwog’s empty, conflicted soul a pre-existing condition?

The Republicans agreed that the healthcare system is broken, but because of overregulation. By their account, a freer market and a shift to individual healthcare policies (not employer-based policies) should remedy the problem. They also took a quick jab at the Democrats, claiming that they desire a single-payer system, want to use the public option to take over the health industry, and are essentially reckless social experimenters – not the most constructive use of a debate, but at least no one started a semantics catfight.

Logically, the Democrats took the opposing stance with equal certitude and equally misused facts.   The healthcare system is broken and it is because of profiteering insurance companies who care more about making a buck than saving a life. Thousands are dying, millions are uninsured. It’s all so preventable with early-stage medical care, itself helped along by a public option, which would be cheaper overall than private insurers and eventually nullify its own cost.  “These are facts. You can’t argue with them.”

Jargon and numbers flew about faster than the audience could catch or calculate. There was a basic assumption that the audience would understand the terminology of the debate and that they would also be willing to accept their supporting evidence without questioning its relationship to the argument.  And indeed both sides occasionally forced each other to admit that certain core equivocations to their arguments were false ones. One high point was when the audience and the Republicans engaged in a shouting match over the meaning of the contents of a Congressional Budget Office report published that day. As the argument reached fever-pitch, one of the Republicans shouted out, “Have any of us actually read the report?!” The ethos of the debaters was severely harmed.  It was just like Congress.

All was made more tolerable by a few moments of absurd drama and passion. The Democrats made some dubious equivalencies – a mandate is like a law enforcing seatbelts. The Republicans made some unclear logical statements – a public option would not pay doctors as much, decreasing incentive to become a doctor, but it would also increase lines for doctors, driving up costs and demands for doctors? And of course, eventually each side sputtered out a few golden nuggets. From the Democrats, “There’s more money in giving white, rich guys erections than in AIDS medicine” in our system. From the Republicans, after the Democrats attacked insurance profiteering, “I’m sorry; I didn’t know we were holding up the Soviet Union and Cuba as economic models here.” And both sides deigned to answer a can-o-worms question on abortion coverage in a public option.

The two sides did find some common ground, though. Both agreed that the current policies on fee for service systems, pre-existing condition qualifications, and tort reform need to be altered. Both agreed that the healthcare system is broken. They just had opposite and irreconcilable ideological views on how to reform it.

So did this debate accomplish anything? Both sides are excellent trumpeters and they play a good show, but the tunes are tired, the melodies cribbed from someone else’s playbook.  The engagement was highly shamanistic, summoning up the terms of political deities and magic numbers. It’s an action movie. Walk in, watch some rhetorical footwork, feel amused, walk out. Feel a deep emptiness in your soul realizing that the arguments did not sway you in the least and left you feeling more confused and helpless about the future than ever before.

– Mark Hay

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  • nice bwog says:

    @nice bwog couldn’t have said it better myself

  • Speaking of Semantics... says:

    @Speaking of Semantics... I think you meant that the debaters “did not deign” to answer the abortion question. “Deign” by itself means to grudgingly or condescendingly acquiesce to actually do the requested task.

  • and prey says:

    @and prey just what is wrong with a government takeover of the insurance industry?

    1. nooooo says:

      @nooooo that would make us just like the socialists, with their higher life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, and lower suicide rates.


  • College Republicans says:

    @College Republicans Not what it used to be.

  • ya know says:

    @ya know I love when people try to carve out a centrist position to seem holier than thou. Unfortunately, reality is not centrist in this instance. This piece is basically saying, “Well, this neo-Nazi and Martin Luther King aren’t going to agree, and they’re both equally annoying to me.” This is the only country that has for-profit health insurance. We’re already in the extremely right-wing position. There’s just no basis that making the market freer would help anything. The health insurance industry profits by covering those who don’t need care and dropping those who need it from their rolls. I should have stayed in public school. Then I’d at least see middle class people struggling with this issue on campus. Go study your econ and make billions; I’ll chill here and try to save the 45,000 people who die each year because they aren’t covered.

    1. Agreed says:

      @Agreed Shorter Hay: this is just so confusing and uncomfortable that I will cooly declare everyone involved to be equally wrong and wasting their time. God I’m depressed.

      Yes, the health care dialogue is repetitive, dull, and rancid, but (for once) it’s not all shouting into the void. Very real and momentous changes to this system are being weighed just down the road. I don’t think a debate about what shape that reorganization should take is an extravagance, even if the arguments presented therein sound trite to the average student of politics.

      Are the contours of health reform unilaterally determined by a bunch of aspiring politicos at an Ivy League university? Of course not, but the legislative process also doesn’t occur in a void. What is said and argued and accepted as fact out here influences—in small and halting but nevertheless real ways—what goes on in there.

      1. Even Shorter Hay... says:

        @Even Shorter Hay... Hay: Confused. Numbers. Owie… Both sides equal. But those numbers, that’s magic right there. Use word “shamanistic”. JOURNALISM!

    2. wow says:

      @wow So Republicans are equivalent to neo-Nazis and Democrats are Martin Luther Kings? Yea, because using hyperboles is such an effective means of debate. You’re now no better than the “neo-Nazis” who say that public health care will turn us into communist Russia. (And for the record, I’m not against a public option, but the proposed reforms are far from perfect as is.)

      The whole point of this event was that it was a debate. You can’t have a debate without 2 sides of the issue at hand being presented. So yes, it is the reporter’s job to try to represent the arguments made by both sides without bias. The snark you’re finding so annoying is just Bwog.

      1. number 7 says:

        @number 7 I didn’t mean to actually equate the College Republicans with neo-Nazis, although their party’s base is largely a white identity movement. I was referring to Bwog’s logic that two sides that can’t agree means they’re both wrong. Maybe I should have used a global warming skeptic and a climate scientist as the examples.

        1. hmmmm says:

          @hmmmm I don’t see that logic in there anywhere. It doesn’t say that either side is right and it’s a little glib about the debate in general, but that doesn’t mean it’s condemning either side.

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