Political Opinion?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some time this weekend, an Instapundit link to a Hot Air story about a leftist "fact" site caught my attention. It looked promising, but was very long, so it remained unread in a browser tab until this morning, when I decided to read it. Unfortunately, and like many conservative pieces of its kind, it led off with quite a few useful facts, but then completely blew it in terms of analysis.

Here is a sample of the good stuff that hooked me into reading the whole article, which describes a dishonest attempt to promote ObamaCare:

Let's start with the straw man that "a 'government takeover' conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees." By this measure, there has been no government takeover of healthcare in countries like France or Switzerland. Even in England, most doctors, dentists, optometrists and other providers of local healthcare are self-employed, and contract their services back to the NHS. If PolitiFact wants to invoke the "European approach" to healthcare, it might help if they could accurately describe it.
I am sure that many opponents of ObamaCare were unaware of this "debunking" of the (correct) assessment of ObamaCare as a government takeover of the medical sector. Upon reading the above, I recalled one of Ayn Rand's discussions (third excerpt) of the "differences" between fascism and socialism:
Under fascism, citizens retain the responsibilities of owning property, without freedom to act and without any of the advantages of ownership. Under socialism, government officials acquire all the advantages of ownership, without any of the responsibilities, since they do not hold title to the property, but merely the right to use it -- at least until the next purge. In either case, the government officials hold the economic, political and legal power of life or death over the citizens ...
Given the recent increase in interest in Ayn Rand, I became curious (and half-hopeful) as to whether something like this kind of analysis was about to be brought in to complement the above disingenuous characterization of European health care arrangements.

Not only was such an opportunity wasted, the blog posting embraced a particularly dangerous fallacy used daily by the left!
The point here is not that PolitiFact's claim is a lie, or that PolitiFact is biased (although the latter is fairly obvious). Rather, the point is that the question of whether ObamaCare is a government takeover of the healthcare system is one of political opinion, not a simple question of fact. Indeed, the difference in opinion between those whom PolitiFact labels as liars and the CBO is a percentage point or so.

Accordingly, PolitiFact's Biggest Lie is the one left unstated -- that a political judgment call can be easily labeled as a "lie" in the first instance. However, for practical reasons, I do not condemn that lie. After all, the establishment media -- of which PolitiFact is a part -- is still in the business of trying to manufacture consent to a center-left political narrative. PolitiFact exists largely as an attempt to deligitimize [sic] certain political opinions. We now know which political opinion most bothered the establishment in 2010. That is a valuable service to everyone. [link dropped, bold added]
Any argument about whether a given government measure protects individual rights or not will rely on the normative abstractions of political philosophy; and it may indeed be complicated to argue on such a basis that certain aspects of ObamaCare are illegitimate intrusions of the government into the economy. But neither complexity nor reliance on abstractions will necessarily sever such a judgment from reality as the above passage implies.

Or: ObamaCare is a government takeover of medical care because (and to the extent that) it replaces individual decisions in the medical marketplace with government orders. But you can make such a clear statement only if you have some confidence that your abstractions (aka "opinions") actually have a basis in fact.

Often, such conservative exposes present an array of facts that damn a leftist position, only to follow up with a flimsy argument that isn't really built up from those (or other) facts. Here, it's much worse: The damning facts are followed by a dismissal of applying abstract principles as such, which is to say, an adoption of the very premise the piece should be vehemently attacking. The end result is that facts end up getting tossed out altogether!

The real pity is that facts (and objective arguments, not just "opinion") are on the side of freedom in medicine. This is because the ideal of political freedom has an objective basis in man's nature as a rational animal, and particularly in terms of how he can best obtain what he needs for survival.

Any opponent can look at the squalor or waiting lines in a socialist or fascist health care arrangement and ask whether we want the same over here. But only abstract principles can explain why such systems yield such results or help us discern whether some "repeal and replace" scheme is really just more of the same. To dismiss abstractions (and the difficult work of formulating them objectively) as mere indulgence in whim is to forfeit a life-and-death battle.

-- CAV

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