News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, November 9, 2009

When people go up in flames

The Democratic e-mail list serves in South Dakota were aflame over the weekend because of Rep. Herseth Sandlin's announced no-vote on the House health care bill. Many people are puzzled by her vote on that issue along with others in which she has sided with the opposition.  What transpires when the Senate takes its vote and health care bills go through the potential reconciliation process will determine the future of Democratic politics in the state.  

The House bill is a movement toward correcting injustices in the health care system.   It tries to relieve to some degree the harsh fact that if people aren't well off or otherwise advantaged, they can't afford health care and won't get it. The Democrats at least have acknowledged the problem as a moral issue.  The Republicans avoid it and dismiss it.  When they proffered their alternative,  the Congressional Budget Office pointed out that it would decrease the number of people who possessed affordable health care insurance rather than address the need. Rep. Grayson said that the Republican solution to health care for the needy was for them to "die quickly."

He reflected what has been said in Congressional debates, at the tea party protests, and on the blogs.  The rhetoric of the conservatives last week revealed a great malaise in the country.  But what is worse is that it misdirected attention away from the real problems, and presented another menacing problem.  That menacing problem is the deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation about what the health care bills contain.  While two Democratic governorships were lost last week, the most significant aspect of the week's proceedings was in the level of malevolence, scurrility, and dishonesty that has gained possession of the vocal chords of the Republican Party. The prospect of a resurgence of the GOP is like the prospect of an intensified H1N1 pandemic.  The country needs to innoculate itself against a serious threat to the national mental health.  The flaming on the South Dakota Democratic listserve shows how the internet is a disease vector more than it is an information source.

The exchanges over the weekend failed to focus on the real issues of health care.  That is because the media, old and new, are in the business of serving the baser appetites of an audience fed on conflict and sensation.  The media coverage and discussion has avoided the essential issue:  should people who are sick or injured expect treatment if they do not have the money or resources to pay for it?

And the ability to pay as a criterion for who receives health care puts medicine in the role of a capitalist enterprise, not a humane endeavor.  Congress has accepted that role.  Health care reform deals almost totally with the insurance business as it supports the profit making aspect of medicine.  While the bill passed by the House and the one formulated by the Senate ostensibly address the question of who should receive health care,  their focus has been on the money makers, not the patients. 

There will never be anything more than a slight and passing reform of health care as long as it operates as a corporate business. It is about making money, not treating the sick and injured.  They are considered only in so far as a profit can be made from them.

One of the arguments mounted by the Republicans is that health care reform is merely a scheme to grow big government.  They say reform violates the Constitution and will deprive them of their freedom.  They insist that government bureaucracies are not competent to administer health care, but corporations are.

After the corporate performance of Enron, Midcom, and all the Wall Street and mortgage entities and the American automobile companies, they can say that private enterprise is more able to deliver health care?  What they really are saying is that they want the freedom to be enslaved to corporate fleecing schemes and to be denied and limited in their health care by corporate bureaucracies rather than government ones.

It is realistic to be wary of government bureaucracies.  We should not be forgetful of what the IRS became by the mid-1990s while it performed as an agency of a police state.  The difference between corporate agencies of oppression and denial and those of the government is that we have the right to register our complaints and dissatisfaction with our representatives and have them do something about government bureaucracies when misperform and get out of hand.  Corporations, under our current system of regulation, have no responsibility to the  people they make their money from.  

A television ad being mounted by a conservative group is based upon the shortages in the delivery of swine flu vaccine.  It asks if the government can't administer the vaccination program, how can it be expected to competently deliver health care?  The ad, of course, misrepresents the fact that the problems with vaccine production lies with the pharmaceutical corporations that make it.  The government's role was in deciding how an inadequate supply should be distributed until production catches up with demand.  Again, the significance here is how a political faction uses the media to propagate an accusatory falsehood.  The news arms of the media did nothing to counter the lie.  The media has largely abandoned its fact-digging role in favor of fanning controversies in the belief that conflict is what builds their audiences.  

The public option in health care is an attempt to shift the emphasis in health care from how much money can be made to treating patients.  No one is saying that health care workers should not be rewarded for their work--and handsomely.  The reform deals with the insurance companies, the HMOs, and the corporate schemes devised to milk and fleece the public, not provide it medical services.

The prospects for turning medicine into a science-based humane service are still bleak.  As the Senate takes up health care reform, the same old falsehoods will be raised in the name of rhetoric, and the needs of patients will be diminished as an annoyance.  The best prospect for those who do not have health care insurance and cannot afford it is if you get sick or injured,  ;die quickly. That is how you can best serve the interests of corporate purpose.  Of course, you could also move to another country where you might be regarded as something other than a nuisance. 

There is a political faction that does not wish you well.  The media informs you of that with almost every word.  And as the flaming on the Democratic listserves indicate, people are more interested in participating in abuse than in feeding the hungry and healing the sick. 



caheidelberger said...

Hi, David! As a participant in some of that conversation, I beg to differ with your characterization of the Dems e-mail conversation as "flames." The only real flaming I saw was a side distraction of two conversants getting nasty with each other. The bulk of the commentary I saw was reasonable criticism of SHS for bailing on Dem principles on a pretty important piece of legislation. And I don't think folks have lost sight of the big problems in the insurance industry and elsewhere in health care; but SHS's hard-to-justify vote and unwillingness to make the Democratic Party's case are valid topics for conversation and criticism. She should be helping us push that conversation and shoot down the misinformation from the right-wing defenders of the profits-over-people status quo. Her vote demonstrates she is more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.

Is that a flame?

David Newquist said...


The first items circulated on the list serve were copies of letters being sent to Rep. Herseth Sandlin. They certainly deserve attention, hers and ours, and express what many of us are observing and thinking. However, the conversation changed from stating what the writers wanted to say and ask of SHS to statements addressed to each other, and they changed from shedding light to generating heat. The discussion degenerated steadily into the exchanges you refer to, which tainted the whole discussion for many.

For some reason that we still have not figured out, a good portion of the Brown County Democrats e-mail list was among the addressees, and the county officers received many, many requests from people who wanted their names removed from the list. They were not concerned about legitimate criticism and questioning of SHS, but were offended by the spectacle, as one person put it, of watching Democrats eat their own.

We had our annual turkey dinner Tuesday night and the subject came up frequently. There is a general perception that the discussion started out to be instructive but crashed in flames.

caheidelberger said...

[I regret the inclusion of folks who didn't want to be on the list. I've never been fond of e-mail lists as forums for conversation; on online forum or comments section is better, as you can login, subscribe or unsubscribe as you wish.]

"eat our own" -- yet there was a reasonable conversation about whether SHS is really one of our own. Maybe you're right, that if we had a primary, it would just get ugly. But the national party managed to turn a hard-fought primary into November victory last year; our state party could benefit from its own primary in 2010. There would be stiff disagreement, but we would come out the better for it.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States