"This Time, We Won't Scare" boasts New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, strapping on his armor for the coming joust. The health care debate will be cheapened, he warns us, by scaremongers, just like those who "spread rumors" during the campaign that Barack Obama was a "secret Muslim conspiring to impose Sharia law on us." It will be subsidized, he says, by "the same firm that orchestrated the 'Swift boat campaign' against Senator John Kerry in 2004."
It's difficult to have an honest debate if your first move is to attempt to delegitimize the other side. Many liberals seem to believe that they never lose debates over policy; they are instead undone by conspiracies, lies, and manipulation by dark forces (usually corporate) on the right. To use the word "firm" regarding the Swift boat veterans is a case in point. There was nothing corporate about the way the Swiftees got together. It was the work of John O'Neill, who had debated John Kerry more than 30 years before, and hadn't forgotten a thing. As for the suggestion that opponents of nationalized health care are equivalent to those who whispered about Obama's Muslim links during the campaign -- that is, or ought to be, beneath the New York Times.
Kristof also raises, as other liberal outlets like Newsweek have done as well, the old saw about infant mortality rates. We spend nearly twice as much per person on health care as Canada, Kristof writes, "yet our infant mortality rate is 40 percent higher." Advocates of single-payer commonly cite infant mortality rates because the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations on this measure. But, as many studies have revealed, these numbers are not reliable. In the first place, nations have different standards about how to measure infant mortality. In some countries, a severely premature infant is labeled a fetal death instead of an infant death. Not in the U.S. In many nations, if a child dies within 24 hours of birth, it is labeled a stillbirth. Not here. Social and cultural factors -- including maternal drinking, drug use, and age -- are key to infant mortality and have little to do with access to or quality of health care. In America, infant mortality rates are sky high (five times the national average) on Indian reservations (which have publicly financed health care by the way through the Indian Health Service) and quite low in places like Utah and Washington.
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