Friday, April 8, 2011

Would you like a side dish with your death panel?

If only the left took rhetoric more seriously, we might not be in the mess we're in. The mess, let's remember, is even worse than it ought to be because sensible politicians like Obama or Brown have proved unable to defend sensible policies to sensible voters, who are instead taken in by crazed nonsense from the likes of the Republicans or, over here, Cameron and Osborne.

Let's illustrate with an example. 'Obamacare' was lambasted by Republicans as imposing death panels - faceless technocrats deciding what procedures would be available to people. A bit like NICE, which our strangely right-wing coalition government here immediately abolished in the midst of general indifference. Now you can have an argument about whether or not there should be more organized rationing of health care, but when you start talking about rationing as such, you've already lost the argument.

But Dean Baker, as ever, shows how it can be done. He neatly points out what the Republican reform presented this week by the apparently sensible but actually fanatical Paul Ryan really offers. The Republican claim is that

"The president’s health reform plan relies on a centralized board of technocrats to restrict choices. The Ryan plan relies on a premium support model that would allow individuals to exercise greater control over what sorts of procedures they would not be covered for."

Baker responds that

There is nothing, as in zero, in President Obama's health care plan that prevents any individual from getting any health care procedure that he or she wants to pay for. The "centralized board of technocrats" he mentions would determine the procedures that Medicare would pay for, not the procedures that individuals could receive. Obviously this will be a very serious restriction for people who cannot pay for expensive procedures on their own, but Ryan's plan does not change this situation one iota. It gives people a choice of insurance companies, each of which will rely on a board of technocrats to restrict choices.

Magnifique! So, the point is not death panels or no death panels, but a government death panel as against a choice of profit-seeking death panels. The whole question is immediately turned upside down.

What the hell are we paying our centre-left politicians for, if it is not to make appealing arguments for centre-left policies? Why can't our side wheel out the rhetoric too? After all, we have the advantage of mostly being right, or at least wrong for the right reasons - whereas conservatives are effectively campaigning ever more shamelessly to redistribute wealth from poor to rich. Can it really be so hard to find neat ways of pointing this out so that people understand what the different parties stand for?