Thursday, July 15, 2010

Politics of Fear (II)

Nat Hentoff, 85, is a strong civil libertarian who nevertheless holds idiosyncratic views. For one thing, he hates Obamacare. Hentoff’s all-out attack on Obama’s interim appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick (picture) to head the Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suggests to me that Dr. Berwick could be the poster boy for a GOP election-year assault on Obamacare—the latest election villain, like Willie Horton (used against Dukakis in 1988) or Mark Foley (used against Republicans in 2006).

Dr. Berwick’s appointment is particularly controversial because:

➢ as Hentoff notes, Dr. Berwick is getting America’s most powerful health-care position: "CMS covers over 100 million Americans, has an annual $800 billion budget that is larger than the Defense Department's and is the second-largest insurance company in the world."

➢ Obama put him in office while Congress was in recess, giving Republicans no opportunity to question the doctor about his controversial views, and leaving the upcoming election the only available outlet for voter hostility.

Hentoff reminds us Obama told the American Medical Association any charge his health care plan would ration medical services is only a "fear tactic," and said flat out: "I don't believe that government can or should run health care." Yet Dr. Berwick is enthusiastically, openly candid in his support of Britain's socialistic National Health Service, having said: "I am romantic about National Health Service. I love it (because it is) 'generous, hopeful, confident, joyous and just.’”

Hentoff adds that Dr. Berwick’s:
"just" National Health Care Service decides which care can be too costly for the government to pay. Its real-time decider of life-or-death outcomes is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), [which] acts as a comparative-effectiveness tool for the National Health Care Service, comparing various treatments and determining whether the benefits the patients receives - SUCH AS PROLONGED LIFE - are cost-efficient for the government.

In the British Health Service Dr. Berwick loves, 750,000 patients are awaiting admission to NHS hospitals. The latest estimates suggest that for most specialties, only 30% to 50% of patients are treated within 18 weeks. For trauma and orthopedic patients, the figure is only 20%. Every year, 50,000 surgeries are canceled because patients become too sick on the waiting list to proceed. [And] Berwick tells it like it frighteningly [will be here]: "It's not a question of whether we will ration health care. It is whether we will ration with our eyes open."

Dr. Berwick: Obamacare’s “Dr. Death.” Using Dr. Berwick in the upcoming election, Republicans can fight fear with fear.

But should they? Maybe not, says Peter Wehner, writing in the conservative magazine, Commentary:
Politics . . . should be about debating issues to discern truth and understand, as best we can, the reality of things. It . . . should not be primarily about taking and keeping power. Power for its own sake — power detached from truth and empirical evidence — leads us down a very dangerous path.

Most of us who are active in politics have a tendency to overlook the flaws of our allies and accentuate the flaws of our opponents. That is a common human tendency [which] becomes entangled with the issue of loyalty.

In addition, very few of us are completely detached in our analysis or are free of biases and prejudices. . . [O]ne problem with political discourse in our age is that in the heat of debate, we too easily suspend a disinterested search for the truth and advance a more narrow, partisan aim. That leads to hypocrisy and double standards. . . We view the world through a tinted lens [when] we ought to . . . aspire to intellectual integrity and uphold as models those who embody it.

Peter Wehner, amen. Whatever Democrats do this election round, Republicans should avoid the politics of fear, instead elevating us with the politics of hope.

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