I have to shake my head sadly and agree with Frank Pasquale’s assessment:
Back in June and July, when I was posting on the policy options behind health care reform, I naively thought that we were headed for an illuminating public debate about the issue. In my most sanguine moments, I imagined a world where not just experts, but even some plurality of voters grasped concepts like DRG’s, risk-adjustment, and parallel public-private systems of health care provision.
August has ended those dreams. What we have instead is completely unhinged talk of “death panels,” euthanasia for the elderly, universal coverage as slavery-reparation, and wholesale government takeovers of the health care system.
Emotional appeals trump rational argument. In an interview on Chris Lydon’s show Open Source, Cass Sunstein, a rationalist, dismissed the emotional appeals suggested by George Lakoff because they expressed too dim a view of human nature.
On the Sunstein-Lakoff point; I don’t think the problem human nature at all, but rather the peculiarities of American political culture. There are societies in which public debates over polarizing policy issues are conducted with civility –ours just isn’t one of those societies. Not at this point in our political development anyway.
Pasquale agrees, and blames the the omnipresent bullshit cloud that is the only form of political socialization for way too many people in this country (think: Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, radio shock jocks, Fox News, sensationalist rags like the NY Post, and the Washington rumor mill).
It should now be clear that Lakoff likely overestimates the sense of responsibility in the mainstream media. Rather than engage in the hard work of educating viewers about what reform would actually do, it’s searching for the exciting, shocking footage of screaming and shouting. Given the death of appointment television, news producers know that they may well be competing for eyeballs against nasty spats on Real Housewives of New Jersey, or babbling beefcake on the Bachelorette. Dress up the same antics as being Something Important or Civic Protest, and you’ve got yourself a news story. It’s so much easier than, say, describing whom a public option would help, or how health insurance exchanges would operate.
Nothing new, but Pasquale captures the absurdity well.