Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 9, 2009

The Death of Argument

Cartoon by Steve Sack - Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Cartoon by Steve Sack - Minneapolis Star-Tribune

I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing issues with birthers or the angry town hall screamers – I’ve been there.  Time to move on.

And while not all of the town hall folks are birthers, they share an attribute that I find most troubling: Evidence doesn’t matter.

Any sane person with a brain and a pint of fairness would have to conclude that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.  There’s really no other option.  And yet birthers cling to their pathetic conspiracy, no matter what contrary evidence is placed in front of them.  [Richard Hofstadter has the definitive take on this, from over 40 years ago, in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.]

Similarly, while there are absolutely valid arguments to be made against the health care reform proposals making their way through Congress, yelling “Socialism” and “Death Panels” aren’t among them.

Last night, I was going back and forth with someone who opposes reform, and she questioned my statement that “tens of millions” of Americans are uninsured. And then someone a bit more strident piped in with this tweet: “10s of mils? Drank KOOL AID #nuts.”

I didn’t think it was that controversial a statement, so I did some quick checking, and found this link, which pegs the number of U.S. uninsured at 47 million. It’s from the National Coalition on Health Care, which does, in fact, support Health Care Reform.

Now, one an argue about the motives of the uninsured (how many are unable to afford insurance, vs. how many young, healthy folks choose to be uninsured). That’s a discussion worth having, as it has policy implications and helpfully divides up the problem.  And yet, here are two twitter reactions:

  • aagghh, you gave me some lefty propaganda memo on hcr.
  • UR #’s come from The National Coalition on Health Care = AARP – AFL/CIO – Ass’d academia libs #NOT IMPRESSED

Neither of those two individuals chose, even after an invitation, to share anything that would refute what I had sent.

In short, everyone is entitled to their own facts, and these days, some folks feel no compunction to back them up. Furthermore, the source of one’s data is enough to dismiss it out of hand.

One of my great frustrations – and, I imagine, many Democrats’ – is that the debate over health care reform is no longer about facts and ideas, but about fear-mongering and sneering dismissiveness.

The virulent – and often fanciful – opposition to the various Democratic health care reform plans has been the equivalent of a physical assault in response to a disagreement, and it brings to mind a Chinese proverb: He who strikes the first blow admits he’s lost the argument.

I don’t know if Republicans and the Right Wing media feel they’ve lost the argument, but they’re acting like they have, and have decided, instead, to win the fight.

Whether you believe that’s a good thing – that killing reform is good for America – the death of argument is, without qualification, a bad thing.  But that seems to be the goal of too many in this battle.



  1. I think both sides have taken essentially the same tactics. Labeling each other with invectives, giving their supporters a ‘playbook’, and attempting to use the media to their advantage. All of this is okay. It is okay because in America we have the right to freedom of speech, assembly and freedom of the press. These are rights that thousands have given their lives to protect.

    The debate on health care which consumes nearly a fifth of the national economy and involves everyone is something that we should openly debate and understand the intended and unintended consequences of before we change an entire system.

    It is important to provide better access, bend the cost curve so that health care is affordable (and not just through shifting costs by taxing), and improving the quality of the care delivered.

    We are a country that leads the world in health care innovation. We have to zealously protect that aspect. No other country in the world is positioned to take our place if we take our eye off this important work.

    Follow many aspects of the health care debate and information about health care delivery at

  2. I don’t quibble with the rights folks are exercising. Well, when people are essentially shutting down public meetings, I quibble with that. I just think the best outcomes come from honest debate, and not fear-mongering.

    The tactics I deplore attempt to short-circuit open-debate and force one side to wash off mud rather than debate ideas. I’m not naive – I know politics is a rough sport – but I also think we’ve suffered from this kind of demagoguery over the past 8 years, and it’s given is a war in Iraq and the PATRIOT Act. It’s time for people to be grown-ups.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: