Lies and loopy conspiracy theories don’t need a thread of logic, of course. They are fueled by emotion — anger, paranoia, anxiety. Still, certain arguments against health care reform — especially those coming from senior citizens — have taken on a cognitive dissonance that ought to cause older protestors’ heads to bust open. Is there a doctor in the house?
My favorite example is the ranting about “socialism” coming from the mouths of town hall protestors who look old enough to be Medicare recipients. I’m sure that not all of the gray-haired screamers are 65 yet, but plenty of them are. That means they are enjoying the very “socialism” which outrages them.
Medicare is a government-run, taxpayer-funded, single-payer health insurance program. (Please don’t respond that recipients paid into the program with their taxes; all government programs — from the U.S. Army to agricultural subsidies — are paid for with taxes.) It is generous to its recipients, probably more generous than it should be. And its recipients report high levels of satisfaction with the program, so they clearly believe that the government is running the program well.
Yet, they don’t want government intervention in health care. Huh?
None of the health care bills with a chance of passage would give government as great a role as Medicare does. (There is a single-payer proposal, but it’s not going anywhere.) So why are senior citizens outraged that the rest of us may receive at least a few of the health-care advantages they currently enjoy?
Perhaps some of them don’t even realize that Medicare is a government program. Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) told The Washington Post that, at a recent town-hall meeting, a man stood up and told him to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”
“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,’ ” Inglis told the Post. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”
At least Inglis was candid about the program. Some Republicans have helped to confuse their constituents with dissembling about Medicare. A more prominent South Carolina Republican, Sen. Lindsay Graham, told the Post that Medicare was intended as “a safety net for those seniors who couldn’t afford coverage.”
Not so. Medicare has never been a means-tested program. All you have to do to be eligible is to live long enough.
That brings me to my second favorite bit of cognitive dissonance — the idea that Democrats would approve “death panels,” as Sarah Palin put it, to decide whether the frail and the elderly should be euthanized. Hogwash. Conservatives who say so are simply lying outright.
It was liberals and moderates who cared enough about the elderly getting the medical care they needed to pass Medicare in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was president. Conservatives, from Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush, opposed the program vigorously.
Here’s another bit of dissonance: A Georgia Republican, Sen. Johnny Isakson, is among the leading advocates of the end-of-life planning that opponents have cast as “death panels.” He and others actually propose voluntarily counseling that would help the terminally ill elderly prepare for their last days.
“How someone could take an end-of- life directive or a living will as (euthanasia) is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up,” Isakson told the Post.
In an environment full of rage and anxiety, the facts probably don’t matter much. But, at the very least, someone should tell Grandma to stop yelling, “Socialist!” It makes her appear, well, confused. If she’s a Medicare beneficiary, she’s a “socialist” herself.