There probably are valid arguments to be made against the Affordable Care Act. The problem is that Tea Partiers aren’t making any arguments at all.
They really do hate it, don’t they? ForAmerica, a Tea Party group, calls the Republicans who shut down the government “chickens” for failing to be aggressive enough in stopping Obamacare, a law they term “horrible” and a “monstrosity,” predicting it will “destroy our healthcare system and our economy.”
At TeaPartyPatriots the comments are full of warnings about socialism, communism and tyranny. We don’t want “Hitler camel insurance,” someone writes. Others talk of losing the country God gave us. In the official documents from the organization are found a string of accusations about Obama granting illegal exceptions, millions losing jobs, adding “trillions” to the debt and calling the law a “train wreck.” It warns that the sinister IRS is expanding to enforce this on us.
At Americans For Prosperity, the Koch-brothers-backed group, they warn that you’re at risk of losing your health insurance and your doctor will not be able to provide the same level of care. They also warn of the IRS, describing it as “disgraced organization that has admitted to abusing its power and processing applications in a biased, political manner,” set to poke into your “private” heath care decisions and enforce 21 new taxes.
The well-funded Club for Growth threatened Republican senators with primary fights if they crack in their anti-Obamacare stance.
The leader of the anti-Obamacare forces is usually acknowledged to be Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Why does he hate it so much? He recently wrote to urge that the Senate “defund this bill that isn’t working, that’s hurting the American people, that’s killing jobs, that’s forcing people into part-time work, that’s driving up health insurance premiums and that’s causing millions to lose or fear that they will lose their health insurance.” On Facebook he wrote that “Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country and millions of Americans are hurting because of it.”
Cruz’s Facebook page repeatedly blasts Democrats for not negotiating and for causing the government shutdown. He suggests a solution: “Four times, the House has offered to compromise and fund the government while saving Americans from the Obamacare train wreck.” That’s an interesting proposed “compromise,” which amounts to “If you agree to do what I want, then I will agree to do something else that I want.”
You need reasons
Let’s pull apart these comments and look at some patterns in the attacks.
Much of the comments and statements against Obamacare are simply insults and name-calling: “horrible,” “train-wreck,” “monstrous.”
When people express strong emotions without explaining why, one can assume that this is not a reaction to specific details. Rather it seems more likely that the bill has acquired some symbolic status. It becomes a metaphor for a loss of control, general frustration with a loss of status or some other reason. Absent some careful sociological inquiry, we don’t know what it actually means to those driven to apoplexy at the thought of it.
It is tempting for liberals to speculate. If someone just insists that they hate Obamacare but can never say why, it become easy to attribute motives to them and say it’s racism, hatred of a Black president, hatred of those poorer than themselves or just stupidity. But it might be worth reminding ourselves that these are also mere assumptions about people, and could be wrong.
You need to support your reasons
It’s the basic reality of reasoned discourse that you support your position with reasons.
There are a string of specific accusations against the bill, and the common language suggests that groups are copying from each other. “Job-killer” is used repeatedly as is the claim that “millions” will lose their jobs, have their hours cut or lose insurance. “Adding trillions to the debt” is another frequent argument.
In almost all of the cases where these reasons are offered, there is no support or explanation given. They have reasons, but they don’t support them.
Another class of reasons offered by many of the organizations and people referenced at the beginning of this article falls under the category of resentment: resentment that Obama has given “more than 1000 exceptions” to all “his friends.” Resentment that Congress has exempted itself, resentment that hospitals, unions and a large number of other groups are getting something that “ordinary people” aren’t.
Again, they seldom produce any evidence for any of this.
To be sure, it is fairly common in public debate these days to just toss out claims and “reasons” without supporting them.
So what is really happening?
Politicians and other advocates are not likely to produce careful analyses of claims and counter-claims, but we might hope our media would do better, despite repeated evidence that they will not. The media is too often locked into the false equivalency fallacy where every statement about one party must immediately be followed by something roughly equal about the other party.
Let’s take the “add trillions to the debt” argument. Give Rep. Ted Rokita (R-Ind.) some credit. His “Top 10 Reasons Obamacare Must Be Repealed” actually does try to develop an argument. He claims $4 trillion in new taxes over the next 20 years. He actually cites a source, the “Joint Economic Committee (based on CBO data).” This puts him ahead of almost every other Obamacare attack site on surveyed.
Unfortunately for him, the CBO doesn’t agree with this. Back in May, the CBO wrote to Paul Ryan in reply to his question about repeal of the Affordable Care Act (the real name of the law) and said “the net savings from eliminating the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA would be more than offset by the combination of other spending increases and revenue reductions that repeal of the ACA would entail. On balance, CBO and JCT estimated, repealing the ACA would affect direct spending and revenues in ways resulting in a net increase in budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013–2022 period.”
The letter explains that while costs over that 10 year period of the ACA were $1.2 trillion, the benefits would be $1.3 trillion.
In other words, those predicting “$4 trillion” in added debt over 20 years are forgetting to include the cost reductions that will more or less offset the $4 trillion.
What’s the real reason?
Is it really plausible that the representative actually doesn’t know about this offsetting benefit? He might be pandering to his uninformed constituents, he might be badly served by his staff, or he just might be clueless or dishonest. Of course, there is no way to prove that one way or the other, and it’s probably irresponsible to speculate or to accuse someone of bad motives without evidence.
When people seem to be stretching the facts to say anything against something they dislike, we are again led to suspect that actual reason is something not being said.
The absence of reasons is the reason
The curious vagueness of Tea Party rhetoric is long-standing. Go read comments that get posted on any online discussion. They want to “take back” America (from whom?), they “are done being pushed around” (by what?), they are going to “fight back” (by doing what?).
And while those on the left often say this is all coded reaction to their horror over a Black president — and there is evidence for that, as we discussed last week, this type of complaint by the extreme right has a long history. After all, Ronald Reagan predicted in 1961 that Medicare would destroy our nation.
Thumb through Sen. Cruz’ Facebook comments. There is cheerleading, accusations, vague threats of (non-violent) retaliation and the like, but there isn’t much that looks like arguing.
Could we actually have a debate?
While Rep. Rokita’s argument is unpersuasive, he has at least done what responsible adults are supposed to do: he has provided reasons and data that enable a real back-and-forth that should lead to greater understanding.
It has been five years that reform of health care has been in the national eye. The conduct of this debate in Congress and the media has suffered from a near complete lack of data and analysis. The result is people taking past each other and all sorts of irresponsible rhetoric that should have been ruled out from the beginning.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News’ editorial policy.