Monday, August 24, 2009

still more on civility and the health care debate

I have a pretty small blog, so when I get seven comments in a few days, you know that I've touched a nerve. I was moved particularly by the comments from Dan Shaviro, who noted his efforts to engage conservative intellectual arguments on health care, and Frank Pasquale, who described the role of his Catholic faith in the formulation of his positions on health care and other social justice issues. It is possible that I was unduly harsh or dismissive of their positions.

The problem is that it is not only them. In Saturday's New York Times Charles Blow had a column "Masters and Slaves of Deception"--a title plainly chosen to inject racial tension into an essentially nonracial issue--in which he describes conservative opponents of health care reform as "crazies" and suggesting that there was no point negotiating with their "cabal." Joe Klein chimed in in Time magazine, calling Republican positions "obscene" and "heinous" and saying that it was difficult to maintain a two-party system when one of the two major parties "has been overrun by nihilists." This sort of stuff is being written by liberal academics, journalists, bloggers, and so on ever day.

I don't think health care is an easy issue, and I think it is likely that we will have some sort of national health care program sooner of later. Nor do I think liberals are the only, or even the primary, ones to debase the discussion. (A Google search for "right-wing crazies health care" generates 1 million hits, while "Obama extraterrestrial" generates three times than number, albeit some of them in parody mode.) But the people who think Obama is from outer space are not, by and large, law professors or respected journalists, while the people who call conservatives names frequently are. Aside from their rampant illogic--if we are dealing with a tiny cabal why is the bill so difficult to pass--this sort of talk it is wholly destructive of debate and discussion on any level, and not only with respect to health care. Its primary damage is not to the right, which largely ignores it, but to the left itself, which rather than fight for things it believes in (note the inexplicable cave on the "public option") appears to prefer blaming others for its failings. Here's hoping the debate will be more constructive in the fall.


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