Mud Slingers

Intense political contention obscures facts on new health care proposal…

Alyssa Howard | Editor-in-ChiefGlenn Beck has deemed it Obama’s “Marxist dream bill,” on his website. The New York Times’ Economic Columnist David Leonhardt saluted “the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality” in over 30 years.

The passage of a comprehensive health reform bill in the House of Representatives on March 21 has been accompanied by intensely partisan debate that has left many Mason High School students confused, according to senior Rohit Rao. Rao said that rumors and opinions from both sides of the political spectrum have fueled the turmoil that has ensued in the nation as well as his personal uncertainty about the bill.

“I read editorials in the newspaper, and [sometimes] it’s some liberal commentator who has a really good point,” Rao said. “They say, ‘We need health care. The system is ridiculous. We’ve got to fix it.’ I think that makes sense. And then there will be some conservative person who will comment, ‘There are some flaws here.’ And that makes sense, too.”

Junior Zach Zaerr, who generally identifies himself as a Republican, said that while he opposes the bill’s approach to health care reform, he has a positive view of some aspects of the legislation. Zaerr said, however, that he has felt cheated by the strictly party-line methodology that has defined the debate.

“I feel like [politicians] haven’t really paid so much attention to the bill itself, more just the idea of the bill,” Zaerr said. “The Democrats are all gung-ho about passing health care reform, even if it’s things that the constituents or they themselves don’t really believe in or agree with. And the Republicans are just like, ‘Oh, we can’t pass health care; it’s bad.’ Really, [legislators] just try to keep their jobs. They should be consulting with the constituents: that’s kind of their whole job.”

A self-described moderate, Rao said that he has also felt frustrated with the inability of some politicians and citizens to compromise. Beyond this, Rao said he has perceived a general misunderstanding of the ways that Congress often works behind closed doors.

“I think I’ve been [in support of] reform, mainly because it seems like something that needs to be done,” Rao said. “But, I do believe that there are people who have points that there are things that are wrong. People are wishing for perfection, and it’s kind of weird how naïve they are. When you hear these deals being struck in Congress, people are so shocked. It’s like, ‘You don’t know this happens all the time?’”

AP Government teacher Maria Mueller said she has also noticed politicians’ blatant avoidance of reaching an ideological middle ground.

“[The] very modern phenomenon [is] the whole perception that agreeing with any iota of anything that the other party says is a character flaw [or] a traitorous act,” Mueller said. “Talk about something that’s not good for democracy and not good for the American people. You never saw those points of agreement [or] really having a problem-solving process. Because that’s what [legislators] do; they solve problems. I should say that’s what they’re supposed to do.”

The mainstream media networks only add to the current climate of confusion, Zaerr said.

“Obviously, Republicans are trying to say that there are back-door deals, that [Democrats were] trying to sneak votes in,” Zaerr said. “I don’t know if I would go that far. It’s not something the public is really aware of. On major news networks, they talk about [the bill], but they only get their viewpoint across. MSNBC gets the left; Fox gets the right.”

Further, according to Mueller, the secretive nature of many vital discussions of legislators has been a barrier to the public’s understanding.

“It’s like dramatic theater anymore,” Mueller said. “Take, for example, C-SPAN. The whole point of C-SPAN was just so that the American people could be a little fly on the wall and watch the government. But, the unfortunate ripple effect of that is that now they take all their serious conversations to committee behind closed doors where C-SPAN doesn’t watch.”

For this reason, it has been vital for news consumers to utilize non-partisan sources that conduct fact-verifying, according to Rao. This leaves those who are not usually involved with politics to fend for themselves in sifting through headlines originating from both sides of the political spectrum.

“[There is] the tendency of both sides to pick facts that support their case[s] and exaggerate details beyond what they really are,” Rao said. “So, [if you don’t] go fact-check and find the real story, or if you’re not that into politics, you get confused. I mean, both sides seem to be throwing out big threats. According to Democrats, we’re going to be doomed if we don’t pass healthcare reform now. According to Republicans, we’re going to be doomed if we pass this bill right now. Your response depends on which way you lean.”

On top of the polarizing political atmosphere, economics teacher Steve Prescott said that the complexity of the health industry is another factor that confuses the American people. Since costs are distributed among multiple levels (from doctors up to post-operative facilities), people are unable to weigh price versus benefit of various health care procedures, according to Prescott.

“If a price [for a product] is high, and [consumers] don’t think they want it, then they won’t buy it,” Prescott said. “But, in health care, no one knows the price of anything. Nobody knows what the price of a shot or a test is. …So, people are so confused about what they’re buying. They can’t make choices as consumers. And it’s not like Consumer Reports writes about various operations and various hospitals on a regular basis.”

Prescott, who has been attentive to the health care debate since it was a pivotal issue in the Clinton Administration, said that unlike most of his political positions, his perspective on the policy has changed over time. While this is due in part to the fact that proposed solutions have varied, Prescott said that some of his uncertainty has also stemmed from the methods of dispute.

“My opinion has not stayed consistent on the debate; it’s varied wildly, which is not typically what my position has been on other issues,” Prescott said. “It verifies…that the debate is muddied by the antics in the debate itself as opposed to the content.”

And while this spectacle of the debate is largely attributed to personal motivations of politicians, Mueller said that she believes much of the burden of the current political condition also falls on citizens. Since representatives are elected by citizens, the American people empower elected officials to act in the manner that they personally find appropriate.

“I’m one who believes that the American people are just as responsible for the state of [the legislative process] as the actors in the theater are,” Mueller said. “The audience, in this case, is equally responsible for the quality of performance.”