There’s plenty of room for legitimate disagreement over health care policy. There’s really no single, objective right answer, and whenever that is the case (which it is on most policy questions), it’s predictable that people will disagree. It’s even healthy for people to disagree and argue for their positions. Those arguments may result in better policy.
But in recent weeks, the public discourse on health care has taken a disturbing turn. Opponents of the President’s plan have taken to shouting down proponents in public meetings across the land. Opposition leaders, instead of addressing the merits, have propounded preposterous lies. Among other thing, opponents falsely accuse the plan of including provisions on euthanasia and involving a government takeover of all health care. The leaders (Palin, Limbaugh, Gingrich, etc.) surely know this is nonsense, but their repetition of big lies is fanning anger on the street to the point of danger. It is ironic that these folks are dropping the rhetorical H-bomb of Nazism on the proponents of health care change. The angry shouting at the town hall meetings looks uncomfortably close to the populist politics of Germany in the early thirties.
Is there any hope of a civil, rational discourse with the passionate believers? I hate to say it, but I see little. It appears that these folks will discard any evidence, no matter how clear and settled, that does not fit with their beliefs. For example, the opponents of the President include a remarkable number of so-called “birthers” — citizens who have decided to believe that the President is not a natural born American. The evidence disproving this notion is overwhelming, but the number of birthers remains amazingly high.
How can such crazy thinking propagate beyond a few obvious lunatics and become a movement? Is there any cure for this form of mass derangement? Again, I doubt that rational argument will help, because these people have no apparent interest in rationality. For the moment, they are clearly a minority, but they have an influence disproportionate to their numbers, and those numbers could increase. There’s just no way for sensible, thoughtful people to match the believers’ level of passionate intensity. Thoughtful people realize there’s never complete information, always another point of view, and always a possibility their understanding might be wrong. These people, at least while in the grip of their viral lunacy, have no such constraints. I hope the fever breaks soon.