Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Discourse to make you (sea-) sick

Public policy in America has become a tale of two ships.

The first, set on a deliberate ("bipartisan") course, has no idea where it's headed, and is determined to get there.

The other ship is steaming, literally. On board, various strains of airborne illness (talk radio) are shared between passengers, ping-ponged back and forth like viruses in a coed dorm.

Feverish passengers are raving and incoherent. Raving, like the sign in Colorado proclaiming "Government deathcare equals the end of grandparents." Incoherent, like the sign, "Government hands off my Medicare."

Even presumably credentialed folks steering this ship of fools have the very illnesses that should have caused them to wash their hands repeatedly or wear surgical masks. Generally reasonable Sen. Charles Grassley, for one, has echoed the Big Foot tale of "death panels" aimed at ushering Ma and Pa to early demises.

Then there's the onboard entertainment. Beauty queen Sarah Palin, winner of the 2009 Miss-Information Pageant, thrills green-gilled diners with all the hits and her strapless gown.

It's sick.

That's the state of policy making in 2009: two ships passing in the night, one as plodding as C-SPAN, one from the mind of Stephen King.

In their assault on "Obamacare," Republicans are borrowing from the incitement handbook that Bush and Rove used to incite war against Saddam Hussein — issuing not just one or two falsehoods, but a cornucopia of myth and mass-produced hysteria.

"Euthanasia counseling." "More handouts for illegals." Not just lies. Damned lies. The closest claim to truth-bearing kind is about "rationed health care" (any plan truly focused on cost makes decisions about coverage) but ignores the developed world's most grievous health-care rationing: that which exists now with 45 million Americans lacking health coverage.

But the health care debate isn't the only arena where foaming mouths have seized the microphone. An Obama appearance in Phoenix drew out a dozen protesters carrying rifles, including one AR-15. Yes. In the grand tradition of Lee Harvey Oswald.

No matter that Obama clearly has no appetite for "antigun" measures, and showed none in his campaign for president. The hollow-point right has reason to lock and load.

This condition is not new. The whole of reactionary rhetoric owes itself to presumed threats that aren't and issues that are crafted to appeal to those who really don't want to think them through.

Consider late-term abortions, something for which a valiant Wichita physician named George Tiller recently became a martyr. It sounds unconscionable and criminal, until one realizes that it's exactly where the rubber hits the road on the issue of medically directed abortions.

Most often it involves a fetus that will not survive outside of the womb or a pregnancy that could kill the mother or render her infertile. Anti-abortion forces say there's no such thing as a medically necessary late-term abortion. Based on the Supreme Court's reasoning in Roe vs. Wade, that's not their call.

It's a call made by physicians like Omaha's LeRoy Carhart, an abortion provider and abortion rights crusader who vows not to let Tiller's death deprive women of a legal option. In a Newsweek profile, he makes it clear that the late-term abortions he performs, as with Tiller, aren't matters of convenience. They're medical calls. Period. Understand what he does and know that rather than being the slam-dunk of the anti-abortion argument, the late-term abortion actually is the starting point for defending the right of all women to make their own choices, in consultation with a physician.

How is it that in an enlightened age, the information age, myths, hype and charlatans of ignorance can dominate the debate?

I'm thinking that we aren't so much interested in information. We are far more interested in cruise-line entertainment.

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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