Monday, September 07, 2009

From the Files of Things That Make Me Grit My Teeth: Implied Lies

...such as in this claim from Ross Douthat's latest column:
Our move toward physician-assisted suicide springs from the same quest for mastery over mortality that leads us to spend nearly twice as much on health care as any other developed nation.
His column isn't about health care primarily, it's about physician assisted suicide, but the staggering dishonesty in this sentence is hard to get passed. (And in truth, I suspect people are more swayed by casual and implied deceits than by direct ones -- far more effective to lie as Douthat does here, in passing, and by assuming the falsehood you wish your readers to swallow.)

The notion that we "spend nearly twice as much on health care as any other developed nation" out of a "quest for mastery over mortality" is so ludicrous, so dishonest that it's hard to know where to start. Maybe with this: it's flat-out false. We don't spend that much for that reason, since we actually achieve less "mastery over mortality" -- that is, we live worse and die younger -- than in countries with better health care systems. Or, at the very least, if you want to claim that we're doing it for that reason, you have to recognize that we're achieving the opposite of what we're aiming for. But we spend twice as much... and get worse results, because health care works better with one of the universal systems that all other industrial countries have.

Douthat implies that we spend twice as much to get better results -- but that's not true, and he has to know it: we spend twice as much to get worse results. We won't change because of vested interests in the status quo, that are willing to let vast numbers of citizens go uninsured (how much mastery over mortality do they have?) and the rest get bad quality insurance, rather than give up some profits. But his claim makes no sense without the implication -- again, the false implication that he must know to be false -- that we spend twice as much and that's a good thing, we get better results. If he acknowledged that we spend twice as much for a crappy health care system -- certainly compared to countries with good ones like France and Germany, although apparently we even get worse results (by which I mean: less mastery over mortality, i.e. people die younger) than countries with weaker ones like Canada and England -- then his sentence would make no sense.

So he's just lying.

Douthat's claim is not only mendacious but pernicious, spreading lies about why we have a bad system which are themselves part of why we have a bad system. We don't spend too much out of some supposed "quest for mastery over mortality" (a bit of Douthat's cultural conservatism that, rather than any respect for truth, caused him to write such nonsense), but because conservatives have been demagoging health care systems that are not only cheaper but also better than the U.S. system for decades (e.g. single payer). We spend twice as much because conservatives have, since Harry Truman's day, spread lies and deceit about the nature of government-paid-for health care. Lies and deceit such as they spread when they opposed Medicare -- pretty much the precise same lies and deceit that they are using now to attempt to derail Obama's (pretty half-assed at best from a liberal point of view, but better than nothing) health care initiative.

Lies and deceit like those Douthat is now spreading in the New York Times.

He probably phrased this lie in such a way as to make it fly under the radar of a factual correction -- he can always claim that it's a matter of opinion (itself false) -- but he is spreading lies here. His own deceit, and those of his ideological fellow-travelers, are in fact the factual situation which he claims to explain -- why we spend twice as much.


phosphorious said...

I think you mis-identify the dishonesty here. He's lying. . . as all republicans do all the time. . . but not in the way (or not only in the way) you suggest.

Doctor assisted suicide is a sin for him, and it is a sign of human pride and vanity that we play god with our own lives rather than resigning ourselves to our fate. And he seems to think that our spending so much on medical care comes from the same sinful (in his eyes) impulse. American health care consumers, the implied argument goes, should grow up and stop acting like spoiled children. That's right, a conservative is arguing that consumerism is the enemy!

Compare this to Bush's response to the suggestion that Americans should try to conserve oil. He said, as I recall, that Americans should consume as much as they want, and it's the governments job to meet their demand.

When there's a democratic in office, conservative suddenly "remember" that free markets work best to distribute scarce goods.

When a republican was there, it somehow slipped their minds.

Anonymous said...

Reading this post and phosphorious' comment reminds me why I am a conservative Republican. Thank you.