Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight for Health Care Reform

I sometimes wonder if John Nichols is the only one out there consistently reporting (primarily through The Beat, his blog for The Nation) on health care reform in terms of whether or not any real reform is likely to happen. He may have missed this week's Associated Press story about Senator Roland Burris, which provided enough evidence for me to grant Burris the Chutzpah of the Week award on a Monday; but, while the Burris story was one about putting one's constituents above politics, Nichols has also turned his attention to those trying to strike back against the fear-inducing lies being spread about proposals for reform, particularly surrounding concepts such as single-payer and public option. While these tactics may be deployed with chutzpah, they are basically grounded in the recognition that politics is a hardball game. For all of his elevated rationality, even Barack Obama is beginning to recognized that lies can only be called out as such with as much passion as the lies themselves were first stated.

Through Nichols' latest post, we see that, in the House of Representatives, that level of passion may best be embodied in the tactics deployed by Alan Grayson. Grayson seems to have decided that, if the Republicans want to play the fear card by talking about "death panels," he can trump them with claims of his own. Here is how Nichols represents his case:

The Florida Democrat who drew national attention last month when he declared on the House floor that the Republican plan for uninsured Americans was "don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly," was back on the House floor this week to announce the creation of a website to honor the victims of the current system.

Grayson, who has taken the lead in highlighting a Harvard study that shows 44,000 Americans die annually because they have no health insurance, told the House and the nation: "I think it dishonors all those Americans who have lost their lives because they had no health coverage, by ignoring them, by not paying attention to them, and by doing nothing to change the situation that led them to lose their live."

With that in mind, he announced the launch of a Names of the Dead website.

Grayson's welcoming message at the site declares:

Every year, more than 44,000 Americans die simply because have no health insurance.

I have created this project in their memory. I hope that honoring them will help us end this senseless loss of American lives. If you have lost a loved one, please share the story of that loved one with us. Help us ensure that their legacy is a more just America, where every life that can be saved will be saved.

Visitors to the site are invited to add the names and stories of people who have died. They're also asked where they stand with regard to the health-care reform debate. There are links to the Harvard study, Grayson's speeches and his congressional and campaign websites.

This may be a rather macabre approach to bringing participatory democracy to the health care debate; but it seems at least to have achieved the effect of whacking the Republican elephant on the back of its head with a two-by-four to get its attention. Here is a reaction from Andy Sere speaking for the National Republican Congressional Committee:

What is wrong with this man? Alan Grayson's morbid exploitation of "the dead" for personal political gain may be the most shameless stunt he's pulled yet.

Did anyone call out Sara Palin's first "death panel" speech as a "shameless stunt?" While a simple refutation may defeat a lie on the field of logic, a truly egregious lie embedded in the embellishments of rhetoric needs to be defeated rhetorically as well as logically. Grayson's "morbid exploitation" is nothing more than the judo trick of turning the opponent's rhetoric to his own advantage. Ironically, as Nichols reported, the Republicans have now tried a judo maneuver of their own:

Opponents of health care reform are so desperately frightened by Grayson's tactics that they immediately attacked the "Names of the Dead" site and posted false names -- "Wile E. Coyote" and "Hugh G. Reckshinn" -- to mock the reality that Americans die because our insurance industry.

When your critics are reduced to making light of the innocent dead, you have won the debate.

I am not sure I want to jump to Nichols' conclusion quite so quickly, but I hope that Democrats in both houses of Congress take the trouble to monitor activity on this Web site. It should not take long to get a sense of how many folks out there want to take it seriously, in which case that Web site may ultimately tell us more expressively what all those polls that have already told us about how seriously the American public feels about the need for reform.

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