Politifact, the estimable St. Pete Times-based checker or political facts, has decided that the Republican labeling of the Obama health care bill as a “government takeover” of the U.S. health care system is the “Lie of the Year.”
It was uttered by nearly every Republican in the land and, as Politifact reminds us, it originated in a memo from Frank Luntz, who has grown rich telling conservatives what words to use. Suffice to say, Luntz is not burdened by an overstrong devotion to accuracy. His words-to-use advice is about seeking political advantage. It’s a little late for us to act shocked that words are used this way, or that it works.
Of local note, Michele Bachmann’s recent claim that Pres. Obama was going to spend $200 million a day on a trip to India, “a lie that still sprouts,” was chosen by Politifact’s editors as the runner-up for LOTY (Lie of the Year).
The choice of “government takeover of health care,” hereafter GTOHC, is based partly on the enormous political impact Luntz’ talking point seems to have had. But, as a fading connoisseur of truth, falsity, facts and factiness, I think we need some category for it other than “lie.”
Politifact relies on this:
“The phrase is simply not true.
Said Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: ‘The label ‘government takeover’ has no basis in reality, but instead reflects a political dynamic where conservatives label any increase in government authority in health care as a ‘takeover.’ ‘
An inaccurate claim
‘Government takeover’ conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market.”
I don’t really buy that. The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (nothing but straight, blunt talk in that official title, eh?) didn’t turn U.S. health care into a single-payer system, nor come anywhere near crossing the line into “socialized medicine, but it certainly does increase the role of government in the health care system, and not by a little. I don’t know why I’m bending over backwards here, but I don’t think supporters of the bill are in charge of deciding where on the spectrum from a total free market in health care to a government-owned-and-operated health care system the line is crossed that could be called a “government takeover” of the health care system.
Politifact includes the fact that the “public option” was taken out of the bill as evidence that the bill did not constitute a “government takeover.” But was the bill as originally written (with the “public option” still in it) a “government takeover?” Politifact doesn’t say.
The trouble is we’re on a spectrum from less to more government involvement in the health care system and it isn’t really a question of “fact” where on that spectrum the line is located at which GTOHC would be an accurate statement.
The real juice behind the GTOHC half-truth or quarter-truth is not its falsity but that it’s so damned effective at scaring the public, connecting with pre-existing suspicions/beliefs that Democrats don’t respect the sanctity of the private sector and with the apparently beloved conviction that the best thing about America is that it isn’t Canada (that hellhole) or Sweden (likewise).
I fear we’re out of the jurisdiction of Politifact here, and deep into the Lakoff analysis that I linked to the other day. The real problem with GTOHC is that it succeeded (not, one must note, in stopping the bill, but in winning the political battle).
Lakoff says it’s a mistake to repeat the words of your opponents, even to point out that they’re false. Politifact, of course, is not, at least officially, on the Lakoff team. Pointing out what’s false is what they do. But the trouble with factiness is that statements that purport to be factual cover a wide range of levels of abstraction.
I’ll close by lifting a smart comment, by my libertarian friend Craig Westover, that appeared in the thread under the Lakoff post:
“There are three ways to communicate: deception, perception and conception. Deception is easy. It is lying — knowing the truth but intentionally communicating something different. This article is about changing perceptions — not changing the facts, but communicating to change perception irrespective of the facts. The difference between communicating to change perceptions and lying is in order to lie one must know the truth; communicating to change perceptions, the truth doesn’t matter. The end justifies the means.”