You're driving down a lonely, poorly lit, country road on a rainy, moonless night. It's late and you're tired. Suddenly the figure of a man appears, illuminated by your headlights, wearing a yellow slicker. He's running toward you, waving an ax back and forth in a manner that could be described as "menacing." Is he trying to scare you? Or could he have another purpose in mind—like trying to warn you that the bridge that is just a hundred years down the road around a blind curve collapsed 20 minutes ago? And that you need to stop because you could be hurt, or worse, killed.
Well, in the context of the ongoing debate over the U.S. healthcare system, we know what answer President Barack Obama would give. On Tuesday, as reported by the Financial Times, the president accused those who oppose his efforts to change the healthcare system of trying to scare the public.
"With his own Democrats divided and Republicans determined to kill off legislation before the congressional recess next month," the paper said, "Obama said the country could not afford to continue with a healthcare system that everyone agreed was not working. 'But I also think that it's very easy to scare people that it's going to get even worse,' he told NBC's Today show."
First of all, not everyone agrees that the system is not working. Everyone admits it has problems that need to be fixed, but not necessarily by scrapping the whole thing. The opponents of Obamacare are trying to lay all the facts before the people in the hopes that they will make an intelligent and fully informed decision concerning the future of healthcare in America—and that they will communicate their desires to their elected representatives in Washington. It is the president, and his allies among the Democratic leadership in Congress, who are trying to rush things through, to strike while the iron is hot and pass healthcare reform now, defining the Obama approach as the only way to address the problems with the current system.
To the president, pointing out that what he wants to do to healthcare in America could, and probably would, lead to rationing, longer waiting times to see a doctor, higher taxes, people forced out of private insurance onto public plans, permanently busting the federal budget while Washington politicians make decisions about what care will and won't be provided amounts to nothing more than scare tactics and fear mongering.
In fact, it's the president who is the one who is scaring people.
He is the one who is holding up the image of people losing access to healthcare unless his plan is passed. He is the one who is talking about families being bankrupted unless something is done to reform the system. He's the one who is defining the existing healthcare system in terms of its obvious problems rather than by its numerous successes, trying to lead people to conclude that the only answer is for the government to step in and rescue everyone. "Doing nothing means that you're going to lose what you have," Obama said on Today, "Because on the current trajectory, your premiums are going to double again over the next five to 10 years."
The next time the president wants to address the source of the "fear mongering" in the healthcare debate, he should look in the mirror.