Here’s a newsflash for you: People disagree about politics. Sometimes, when emotions are high enough–when there’s enough seemingly on the line–things can even get downright ugly. I’ve been called my share of unpleasant names in “conversations” about health care reform. But that’s okay. In fact, I pretty much expect it. That’s right. Go ahead. Disagree with me. I welcome you to. Here’s the catch: Bring your facts with you, because I absolutely hate opinionated ignorance.
Now, some of my more philosophical friends will be quick to ask “Well, what do you mean by facts?” and “How are we to define that?” and “Are all facts created equal?” and on and on and on. To them and you I say that there is some “wiggle room” in what we should be willing to admit as fact. Merely disagreeing with someone’s position does not in and of itself negate the value of their assertions. Likewise, just because someone shares your position does not in and of itself necessitate that whatever drivel may spew forth from their lips is, in fact, the Gospel.
For example, if a piece of legislation–a health care reform bill, say–contains the language “nothing herein shall be construed as extending the provisions of this legislation to persons who are not legal citizens of the United States of America”–it should be relatively straightforward for all persons, regardless of whether or not they support health reform, to agree that the legislation does not cover illegal immigrants or even resident aliens. Again, the lawyers among my friends will raise the meaning of each term in turn, asking what the law means by “construed” for instance. I’m not dealing with legalese here. My point is that everyone should be able to agree–when confronted with the specific text of the legislation–what is or isn’t being proposed. To say “The Congress wants to tax me more so they can pay for all the damned illegals to get health care!” is just point blank wrong.
The above scenario is not, in fact, the exact point of this post. Rather, I’m trying to appeal to people to dig past the deep piles of cow-processed grass to get to the facts. There are facts that opponents of health reform can cite without resorting to blatant and nearly nonsensical propaganda. If you oppose health reform, it would behoove you to arm yourself with such information. I wanted to demonstrate the differences between two conservative commentators for you in pictures. (Note: You’ll need to click on the images to see full-size versions.)
First, we have the following image of the top 100 words (ignoring commonly occurring English words such as “of” and “the”) that come from a transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. I got the transcript from his website, where the title read “Don’t Be Polite or Non-Ideological: Fight This Un-American Legislation!” Now, I can spend a good deal of time questioning how any legislation passed by the United States Congress could be “un-American” but that’s a topic for another day.
What do we see? Rush is talking a lot about “people, money, Democrats, Republicans, and the Senate.” There’s almost nothing, save “health” and “insurance,” that is actually connected to the substance of health reform. Instead, we see a lot of emotionally charged words like “outrage,” “anger,” and “upset.” In fact, the whole thing looks pretty alarmist at a glance. Limbaugh’s selling feelings not information, and he’s not even explaining the basis for the feelings he’s selling. They could be rooted in certain information, or they could just be politically motivated. But if you don’t have the information, and if he doesn’t supply it, it’s pretty easy to believe that you should be angry, upset, and outraged, though you haven’t the foggiest idea why.
Now, let’s take a look at the top 100 words in a blog post appearing on the website for Health Affairs. The post’s author is Stuart Butler, a health policy expert at the highly conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Butler’s words resembled Limbaugh’s. But take a look:
See anything different? Well, for starters, Butler talks about the Republicans quite a bit, but doesn’t say nearly as much about the Democrats. Maybe he’s learned the rule “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But wait a minute, he even uses the word “bipartisanship” and “compromise” a good deal. Isn’t that borderline party sacrilege?
All kidding aside, here’s the big difference I’m hoping you’ll see: Stuart Butler’s talking about the substance of the reforms rather than playing to the emotions of a largely ignorant populace. Go ahead and look for emotionally charged words like Rush used. You won’t find any. What you’ll see instead are things like “design,” “decisions,” and “provisions.” Whereas as Limbaugh deals in getting a knee-jerk reaction out of uninformed people, Butler deals in information. He doesn’t have to scare you or make you angry, because he trusts that once you are informed, you’ll make the right decision for yourself.
I’m hoping that seeing how two very conservative commentators can approach the same issue in quite different manners will convince you that ranting–epitomized by the Tea Party Patriots–is more often than not the response of someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about and who hopes to divert everyone’s attention from that fact. I’m hoping that you’ll begin to see that there are level-headed, rational thinkers of a high caliber who support conservative ideals. With a little work, you could become one of them. Then, even though we still won’t entirely agree on health care, I’ll certainly respect you more, and we just might find a workable way forward.