Monday, September 14, 2009

Irrational America

Caption: A sign seen at the "Million50K Moron March" last weekend.

Image credit: Mule Breath

Just a couple of examples of how irrational political discourse is becoming in America.

The first is from David Sirota at Open Left:

Yes, last night I received a full-on death threat from a person promising to kill me if I dare discuss the racial undertones of the froth that Glenn Beck and other political terrorists are clearly encouraging. I went through the process of contacting the authorities, and the police responded very quickly, which was reassuring. The whole episode speaks to a post I did last week about the Nation of Assholes - and it is demoralizing.
Mind you, though, willful ignorance is not the exclusive purview of the right. Over the weekend, I received some very nasty email and Twitter messages from self-declared "progressives" insisting that the news of a UnitedHealth lobbyist holding a fundraiser with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is a conspiracy theory that I fabricated, not really connected to Pelosi or the Democratic Party, or some amalgamation of both. These people have no actual evidence to support their claims - their attacks on me come from a sick form of sycophancy that makes them absolutely unable to do anything other than deify Democratic poltiicians. Again, there are none so blind as those who cannot see.

On Racism, Death Threats, & The Blindness Of Those Who Will Not See

It's demoralizing alright, even more demoralizing than trying to post a comment at "Open" Left. I gave up after the tenth attempt. Their POS software is yet another reason they're not on the blogroll here. At least I can ignore them. Ignoring the loud-mouthed bigots who seem to be the ones monopolizing the debate on health care is another matter.

The national discourse really is coarsening. It's coarsening for any number of reasons, but I think one of the things you have to look at is what people are watching these days. Even news discussion shows tend to be shouting matches, and news shows themselves are remarkably uninformative. This is where most people get their information in America, and it's a lousy place to try to find any.

Our other example today comes courtesy of Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29). This is a letter he received recently from a constituent:

From: Dr. M. M., MD
Zip: 14618

President Obama is a liar. The face that Joe Wilson chose to state that fact during Obama's speech is irrelevant to me. It is a fact that illegal aliens receive free health care in emergency departments all across this country. There is a federal law mandating that anyone presenting to the emergency department MUST BE SEEN under penalty of law. No provision was made by the government to compensate Physicians or Hospitals for the care they are forced to provide. Forced labor without compensation is slavery and outlawed by the Constitution of the United States.

Before I quote Rep. Massa's reply, I'll just interject that if this is the definition of slavery, a lot of people in this country are in trouble. Lawyers are expected to do pro bono work. That means "free". In my profession, uncompensated overtime is a hazard just about anywhere. Even in medicine, there are times when a doctor will have to work for free. None of us likes to do this more than occasionally, but it's a fact of life for a professional.

Furthermore, if this doctor were on salary at a hospital, he'd probably be compensated for his time whether the patients could pay or not. Since he's apparently billing a hospital for his services, perhaps Dr. M.M. should consider that lawyer phrase "pro bono" and what it means to someone who is an independent contractor.

So, at a minimum, I'm thinking that all my past employers, most court systems, and a whole lot of professional organizations are in trouble if this guy's definition of slavery ever becomes law. And in case you're wondering, I don't want any of my former employers to go to jail.

Meanwhile, Rep. Massa responded with this:

From: Eric Massa

Dear Doctor,

It saddens me to hear educated people in this country, a country that I defended with my life for more than two decades, endorse and propagate emails like yours.

Let me be exceptionally clear, I disagree with you - and both you and Congressman Wilson are wrong.

The President, with whom I have many policy disagreements, did not lie. He stated that there was nothing in the current legislation that provided funding for health care for illegal residents of this country. He is right - there is not.

As you correctly stated, there is a long-standing law that requires that all persons receive some basic level of care at an emergency room. In many states that care is now a referral to an outpatient clinic or other less expensive facility. The fact that the emergency room is the only place for so many to go - legal residents and illegal residents - is one of the core problems that we have in this country today. Would you turn someone away following a broken arm suffered while working on a farm? Would you say "sorry" after an auto accident? Do you really think that those who toil in the shadows seek to appear in front of you to suffer your scorn and disdain? Since when did a physician become a social judge and jury in the emergency room?

Should we enforce our immigration laws so that millions are not here illegally - yes. Should we make the emergency room the point of enforcement - no. We clearly disagree on this and I doubt we will ever reconcile that difference.

I am frankly shocked that you, a medical doctor, would equate providing medical care to those who cannot afford it, to forced slavery. This is absolutely outrageous, and an insult to all who have suffered under the scourge of slavery.

I am proud to know dozens of doctors who have travel the United States and the World seeking out the destitute, the poor and yes, even those who are right here among us, harvesting our food in the shadows of our legal system in order to provide care for them. These doctors represent the best among us and are model to hold up to our youth.

You, based on the statements in your email, are not.

I took an oath to defend your right to make the statements you make, while you as a medical doctor took and oath "to do no harm". I uphold mine to the best of my ability, do you? Your comments only reinforce the debased and disgraced political forces that were so clearly illustrated by an indefensible outburst on the floor of the House by a Congressman who has already apologized.

I would offer the observation that one should be careful when calling another a liar ... especially when that accusation is not based on fact. Please know that if you are a constituent in the 29th Congressional District I hope you publicly campaign against me thus virtually guaranteeing my re-election.

Eric Massa

I love the closing. If we lived in a country of rational people, I suspect he'd be correct. Under the circumstances, though, I'm worried.

I'm sure we'll have more examples of irrational public discourse in the coming days. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Incidentally, Rep. Massa's correspondent is apparently a rare exception among doctors:

When polled, "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options," says Dr. Salomeh Keyhani. She and Dr. Alex Federman, both internists and researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, conducted a random survey, by mail and by phone, of 2,130 doctors. They surveyed them from June right up to early September.

Most doctors — 63 percent — say they favor giving patients a choice that would include both public and private insurance. That's the position of President Obama and of many congressional Democrats. In addition, another 10 percent of doctors say they favor a public option only; they'd like to see a single-payer health care system. Together, the two groups add up to 73 percent.

Poll Finds Most Doctors Support Public Option

What's not too shocking is that doctors prefer billing the government:

Keyhani says doctors already have experience with government-run health care, with Medicare. And she says the survey shows that, overall, they like it. "We've heard a lot about how the government is standing in between patients and their physician," Keyhani says. "And what we can see is that physicians support Medicare. So I think physicians have sort of signaled that a public option that's similar in design to Medicare would be a good way of ensuring patients get the care that they need."

Poll Finds Most Doctors Support Public Option

In other words, one of the more ridiculous of the many ridiculous charges from the anti-reform side of this debate is that a public option will put the government between us and our doctors. If anything, doctors agree there will be less interference than they get from private insurers.

(h/t Scarecrow at FireDogLake)

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