The Madman In The Auditorium

I like Barney Frank.  He says what he feels, usually in a way that makes his argument better.  But it’s almost a no-brainer to do a comeback on the idiocy with which he was faced in Dartmouth, Massachussetts this past week.  I mean, what do you say to someone who thinks it’s a valid statement to compare Obama to Hitler?

A woman carrying a poster with Obama’s image modified with a Hitlerian mustache stepped up to the microphone to ask why Frank supports a Nazi policy.

There are so many things wrong with this it boggles the mind where to begin.  Frank’s response was probably the most effective.

“On what planet do you spend most of your time?” he asked.  Then:  “Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table.”

He then commented that her freedom to carry that poster and make such lamebrained statements was a tribute to the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech.  I salute his restraint.

To  compare any president of the United States to Hitler is a stretch, even with the likes of Obama’s predecessor.  (I might consider it for Cheney, but even he does not match the level of malignancy achieved by Adolph, nor does our system allow for such people to act with unrestrained impunity, hard as that might be for some to accept.)  But to compare Barack Obama to the mad man of the 20th Century is such a profoundly ignorant mischaracterization that it is tempting to write off this whole experiment in potential civilization as a failure.

Where does this shit come from?

The Republican Party, what is left of it, is grasping at straws, sinking in the quicksand of its own inanity.  We must take care to not be pulled into the quagmire in some misguided attempt to rescue it through well-intentioned but doomed bipartisan sentiments.  The Republican Party has devolved into a nasty cadre of ideologues, a shrinking room of hydrophobic screechers who claw and scratch at anyone who tries to do this country a service by bringing it back to some semblance of decency.  They have fed on their own conspiracy-fevered viscera for so long that they cannot even hear the words much less the sentences of opposing viewpoints.  We should perhaps let them sink and drown.  It would be a kindness.

The fear-mongering is reminiscent of everything we’ve seen since 2000.  Rachel Maddow, who is one of the most able of contemporary analysts on television, shows the process and the connections here.

Shouting, screaming, inane blather—noise filling the spaces in which rational discourse might take place if only the decibel level could be reduced.  Platitudes, sloganeering, slander, and lies are flooding these so-called town hall meetings and shoving aside reason and discovery and thought.  These are not people who are interested in understanding anything, they are people bent on stopping something they’ve been told—been told—they should not allow.

Why?  because for the last almost three decades we have been regularly told that the government is bad.  That anything the government touches turns to dross.  Because when the government tells you it is there to help, you should run away.


Because corporate America is a competing government and will not surrender power.

There is a scene in Nathanael West’s Day of the Locusts where the head of the movie studio talks about the demands of the writer’s union.  They want control over their scripts, input int he process of filmmaking, a say in what gets cut, rewritten, changed.  The mogul tells his crony “Uh uh.  I’ll give them money, but I’ll never give them control.”

I’m paraphrasing, I don’t have the book in front of me.  What has this to do with the current debate?  (And I ask in all seriousness, What debate?)  It’s the same thing:  corporate America will give discounts, new services, it will spend money through lobbyists on politicians, it will spend money shipping professional protesters around the country, but it will never give up control.

Well, if only it worked that way.  If corporate America got together and and actually did something about the health care issue, then all this might be worth it.

There are simple facts that need to be addressed.  We all know what they are.

Health care is pricing itself out of the the reach of the lower middle class.  It has already done so with the working poor.  It’s becoming too expensive for the middle class.

Ah, the critic says, those people do have access!  Yes, emergency room care, which is not the best and not a fix.  It’s a maintenance system whereby band-aids get applied that keep people going but do not give them health.

Costs.  Technologically, we have the best medical system in the world.  The problem is, we can’t afford to use it on everyone.

Simple problem.  Where do you start to address it?

The publicly owned insurance companies posted profits of between three and five percent in the last few years.  On volumes in the tens to hundreds of billions, that can add up to a lot of money, but direct redistribution of those profits toward cutting costs will do very, very little.  We can assume the privately held companies are making about the same profit.  Sorry, but stripping away three percent profit margins isn’t going to lower overall premiums at all.

Hospitals scramble to make ends meet because the insurance companies can bargain down the prices hospitals charge.  I witnessed that personally a few years ago and was amazed at the size of the bill initially written and the amount the insurance company actually paid.  I was not billed the difference.  The shortfall had to be made up somewhere, you’d think, and it is—through Medicare.

The government already subsidizes the system.  And Medicare works pretty well, but in terms of lowering the overall cost of national health care, its hands are tied.

The fact remains, our tax dollars are already paying a good part of the freight.  How come no one is complaining about that?

Probably because most people don’t make the connection.  And because the government appears to have little say in how the system operates.  (This isn’t true, but no one has bothered to find out.)  What the government does not have any say in is how much all this actually costs.  Supposedly the market takes care of that and it is assumed—generally by people who have health insurance and good care—that the price paid is just what it costs.

It’s like a room into which all the stuff we’d rather not pay attention gets tossed.  Like Fibber McGee’s closet, we can’t afford to open it lest all that stuff explode all over us.

The system is headed for a breakdown, and I imagine that some in the industry are likely trying to figure out how to fix it before it does become like the automobile industry and collapses.

None of which has anything to do with those people comparing Barack Obama to Hitler.  They had internalized the faith that the government must be kept out at all costs, that the government will hurt us, that the government will destroy, that the government cannot do anything right.

They hold these views even while they depend on that same government for all the things they’re not complaining about.  This is very much a religious psychology, which holds two conflicting viewpoints in the mind simultaneously and sees no contradiction.  These folks are incapable of rational discourse because they’ve accepted a premise which is false from the start but which they cannot abandon because it is the foundation of their patriotism.

Yes, I said patriotism.  For they see themselves that way.  They are “saving America” from the Socialists, the Communists, the Liberals.  If universal health care comes to pass, they will have lost their country, because….

Why?  What is it they think will happen?

I do not know.  I can guess, but even that may be off-base.

But one thing I do know—if they win, they will have damaged the political process once again.  They will have made it impossible to hold a rational conversation on a national level.  They will have proved one more time that rather than argue, reasonable people will go home and say nothing.  Because reasonable people usually have difficulty acknowledging irrationality in individuals—functional insanity.  We have a hard time seeing someone as being utterly devoid of a single worthwhile thing to say on a given topic.  We are reasonable, we know they can be if only given a chance, and we have such faith in reason that we won’t accept its opposite in others.  We can’t understand why reason won’t win.

Barney Frank doesn’t seem to have much trouble with that, though.  He nailed it.  The woman with the poster, to him, had no more intelligence than the dining room table.  It would be a good thing right now if all the rational people would start getting a little more impatient, a little less tolerant of idiocy, and little louder.  We’re supposed to be smarter than them, but we are loathe to pick up a cudgel even when the madman is running around with scissors and hurting people.  Time maybe to get over that.

Published by Mark Tiedemann