Friday, March 26, 2010

Charity on Display

The poster shown above (courtesy of The Smithsonian) was used by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to promote its charity a half-century ago. It is meant to tug at your heartstrings; to encourage you to contribute money for a cause.

This past week, our Congress used a similar technique to encourage the passage of healthcare legislation. It used an appeal to charity to get Congressional Representatives to vote for the bill.

It might seem strange, but our anti-Republican culture grants moral authority to the Democratic Party to stand in judgment on issues of charity. The Democratic Party deems who is deserving of charity and who is not.

It’s not that the Democratic Party actually dispenses charity. That function is still reserved for the various religious and non-profit organizations that perform acts of charity with altruism and with no expectation of reward. The Democratic Party uses the display of charity as a political tool.

Examples of the technique were abundant during the floor debate on healthcare last week (3/21/2010). To recap, here is the way the debate played out:

Republican Representatives (working the theme of “bad legislation”):

--This legislation is bad.

--This is a flawed healthcare bill!

Democratic Party Representatives (working the theme of “bad Republicans”):

--Republicans support a healthcare system that harms people such as “my childhood friend who lost his insurance when he got prostate cancer and later died too young.” Similarly, Republicans endorse insurance provisions that “exclude children like my own young daughter Francesca who have chronic conditions.” (Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, at 45:05 in the C-SPAN video.)

--Republican actions resulted in the death of Bill Kohler, “a loving and generous man to his friends, family, and those in need. When he lost his job, he lost his coverage. His new job as a pizza delivery driver earned too much to qualify for Medicaid, and private insurance wasn’t going to cover his pre-existing heart condition. He died last year from a heart attack while driving home.” (Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania at 51:11 in the C-SPAN video.)


This emotional argument is effective, as it links Republicans to killing. However, it only works so long as our culture grants moral authority to the Democratic Party to use it. Without that implicit cultural agreement, this style of argument would be mocked.

Watch for the technique when it is used in “human interest” stories in our major newspapers. These stories are typically written about a person or group that is deserving of charity. In most cases (with very few exceptions) the individual writing the article will be a person associated with the Democratic Party.

What’s the point?

It’s that entwining a political party and its associated ideology with the delivery of healthcare services has a dark side to it. When a political party is arguing for who is deserving of healthcare and who is not, you should start to see “red flags” being unfurled.

Did you notice anything about the individuals listed above as “deserving of charity?”

Not one of them is a Republican.

In fact, Republicans are portrayed as those who are denying these deserving individuals their charity. Republicans are the problem!

Think back to the Keith Olbermann piece arguing for charity for his father. Republicans are the problem, and they are characterized as being “ghouls” and “sub-human.” Do you think Keith Olbermann believes Republicans are deserving of healthcare charity?

Granted, that’s a rhetorical question, but keep in mind I had prostate surgery earlier this month. The healthcare system is on my mind. What if in preparation for surgery I looked up and saw that my anesthesiologist was Dr. Howard “I hate Republicans!” Dean? Would I be concerned? (For the record, I would rip out my PICC line and run barefoot and screaming out of the hospital!)

What if I happen to be gay and Jewish and my only chance of obtaining prostate surgery is at a hospital in Iran? Do you think I would be interested in having surgery at a location where the culture has granted the moral authority to its political class to hang me based on my sexual identity and to casually pursue the goal of wiping Israel off the face of the earth?

No, I would be choosing the “watchful waiting” treatment rather than surgery.

OK, enough of the rhetorical questions and histrionics.

This is what I know:

Throughout history, political movements reach a demarcation point. As they become more and more powerful, they cross the line from being just “fascinating” to becoming threatening.

In the twentieth century, we have the examples of Bolshevism and National Socialism. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban. These are political movements, and the Democratic Party has moved from being simply a political party to being a political movement.

Can you hear the Klaxons sounding?

In March of 2010, the American Democratic Party crossed the line.

UPDATE 3/27/2010:
Linked by Tim and the "band of bloggers" at Left Coast Rebel!  Also check out this post by Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection.  It seems that when you  label political dissenters as "killers", it makes people angry.

UPDATE 8/13/2012:
The characterization of Republicans as killers has become a rallying cry for the Democratic Party subsequent to Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan for VP.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Want to Choose!

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times (March 9, 2010) caught my attention. It was written by Richard J. Ablin, Ph.D.

In 1970, Dr. Ablin discovered prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme produced by the prostate. The PSA test is now the tool most commonly used to detect prostate cancer in men.

Dr. Ablin uses his Op-Ed to tell us that his efforts have not worked out for the best. He now sees that he has created a medical “disaster.”

In the second paragraph he laments that the popularity of the PSA test has led to “a hugely expensive public health disaster.” In the final paragraph he says he never dreamed that his “discovery four decades ago would lead to such a profit-driven public health disaster.”

Dr. Ablin has come to the realization that prostate cancer is an over-treated disease. He feels that too many men waste the time of doctors in getting screened, and too many men waste money on treatment. He implores the medical community to stop the “inappropriate use of P.S.A. screening.”

Why did all of this catch my attention?

I'm afraid it’s personal. A month ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

A diagnosis like that will focus your attention. It has also made me aware that I have a stake in our current healthcare debate.

If you are a policy-maker, you look at the healthcare data and try to make an informed decision. If you are an individual unwillingly thrust into the healthcare world, you look at it with a “What’s best for me?” point of view.

In my case, I am assured that I am “typical.” I’m 63 years of age, and that is close to the median age for diagnosis of prostate cancer. From a data standpoint, I get to join the “fraternity” at a time when half the people diagnosed are older than me, and half are younger.

I bring this up to point out that, from the patient perspective, I’m not particularly interested in the statistics. They don’t give me comfort. I am symptom free, but a blood test from my annual physical found that my PSA went from 2.8 to 4.0 in a year. That increase was a “red flag” to my physician, and she sent me to a specialist to have a prostate biopsy performed.

The biopsy came back positive for adenocarcinoma of the prostate.

When you get that kind of news, it sets you back. You realize that your life has a looming endpoint, and you become distracted with thoughts of your own mortality. It requires an adjustment in your thinking.

I am now working through the options for treatment, and am amazed to see that politics is at work in the medical profession. I like the option of surgery, because you get the cancer (hopefully) removed from your body. I can get my prostate surgically removed, placed on a petri dish, and checked to see if the margins are clean. I get first-hand evidence of what is going on in my body.

Radiologists feel that zapping the prostate with electromagnetic energy is the better approach, having a smaller probability of negative outcomes such as impotence and incontinence. However, they have to use secondary evidence (PSA levels) to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

In my case, I am thankful that I have options. I like that the American healthcare system allows me to choose between treatments.

And that brings me to the subject of this post. It is now clear to me what our healthcare debate is all about. It’s a question of having options.

There is no doubt that if you select a prostate treatment “winner” (Surgery is no longer deemed effective! Radiation is the only approved treatment for prostate cancer!) you will have a more efficient (less costly) healthcare system.

But guess what? When you are the person caught up in that system, you don’t want to be driven to a treatment option by politics. You want to evaluate what’s available and make a personal choice based on what is best for you.

That’s why people come to the United States for medical treatment. We still have treatment options.

Now that this whole issue is a bit more personal, I have to say I come down on the side of choice. Here is what I would tell those political leaders who are working to dictate what healthcare system is best for me:


It’s as simple as that.

UPDATE 3/16/2010:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Your kind thoughts are appreciated, Tim.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Above the Fray

Last year, in my first post on this site, I said I would ignore Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow when documenting instances of our anti-Republican culture. My reasoning was that these individuals actively teach Americans to hate Republicans. Documenting their behavior would monopolize the site.

I’ve stayed true to that promise … up until now.

The Huffington Post has a segment from Countdown with Keith Olbermann that is relevant to an earlier post (The Family Guy). The segment is almost 14 minutes in length, with the interesting part starting at about the half-way point. It was broadcast on February 24, 2010, the day before the Blair House Healthcare Summit with President Obama.

Here is the segment. Please watch it. You need to see this first-hand:

The characterizations in the piece are what our culture accepts as appropriate political discourse. Mr. Olbermann is not actually debating a policy issue. He is promoting the theme that “Republicans are bad people.” It is not just Republican ideas that are wrong. Republicans themselves are “ghouls” and “sub-human.”

For those of you into horror films, you know what to do with ghouls and sub-humans. You don’t sit down at a table and negotiate with them; you kill them.

Granted, those anti-Republican words are not expressly stated. Mr. Olbermann is much too polished for that. He phrases the emotion by talking directly to Republicans in this fashion: “My request to you then is that you not come back out of that meeting...go into that room and stay there.”

And how can we be certain that it is Republicans whose presence is no longer requested? Here Mr. Olbermann provides us with an emotional hint. His specific quote is, “That is the God damned death panel, Sarah Palin!”

The presentation draws me to the definition of the word “demagogue.” Mr. Olbermann packages his words to appeal to the prejudices and passions of his viewers. It is a technique that was beautifully on display this past weekend (Sunday, 2/28/10). Louis Farrakhan spoke in Chicago to 20,000 followers and used the occasion to incite hatred against the “white right.”

You might say, “That’s ok, I’m not a part of the “white right.” Unfortunately, if you are a Republican, you are precisely the target of those words. It’s even more difficult if you are a Republican with dark skin tone. Now you are not only a target, you must be certifiably nuts for associating with Republicans.

Why am I so wrapped around the axle over this? If I just happened across the Olbermann piece by watching Countdown, can’t I change my viewing habits?

That’s not the issue.

My agitation comes from Keith Olbermann’s piece being circulated on the corporate e-mail system of a large healthcare organization in Colorado. The 14-minute presentation is being passed around to employees as a legitimate contribution to our healthcare debate.

And that’s the point. A demagogic appeal to hatred is being circulated within a company employing thousands of people as a “right and natural” thing to do.

Contrast Mr. Olbermann’s invective with the criticism leveled at Sarah Palin for calling attention to The Family Guy episode. The Anchoress (Elizabeth Scalia) accuses Governor Palin of being undignified; of not “making the best of a dubious dig.” In defending herself and her family, Governor Palin is attacked for being “outside the box;” for being inappropriate; for lacking dignity.

Does this give you a sense of the asymmetry in our American political culture?

Emotional demagoguery of Republicans is unquestioned; a Republican reaction to an attack is the real problem. Stigmatizing Republicans is legitimate; a Republican rebuttal is undignified.

Here’s a thought for those Republicans who find themselves in the political spotlight:

Maybe it’s time to lose that “dignity” thing.

UPDATE 3/3/2010:
I think I've got to link viewers to the definition of "irony."  The first two comments make me wonder if I'm being too subtle.

In this post, I'm documenting two recent instances of cultural anti-Republican demagoguery, and suggesting that Republicans avoid being "too dignified" to respond.

In response, the first comment tells me that the reader finds any attention being paid to the issue beneath his dignity, and the second comment says that the important issue is really the interpretation of a blog post!


Maybe I should modify the final line into a Republican "call to arms."  How about,  "It's time to lose this 'dignity' thing and focus on the threat!"

UPDATE 3/7/2010
The Left Coast Rebel gets it!  Thanks for the link, Tim.