Matthew Holt

Dumb and Dumber

I can’t say that I’ve been fantastically impressed by the Democrats’ choice of this year to go after health reform, or their explanation of what it is. And I understand that the only interest of the Republicans is to destroy any political win in the hope that they get a repeat of 1994…although it is just possible that despite their confidence the voters also remember the 2000–2008 period which will also precede the 2010 election.

However, the amount of crap emanating from the right about what’s in the health bills and the evidence of that by what’s showing up in the “tea parties” now invading Democrat congressional members’ town halls is quite extraordinary and does require at least some notice.

Exhibit A: An Ann Coulter lookalike (and former Mike Huckabee press secretary) called Alice Stewart has been on Fox News and it’s web site complaining about Democrats pointing out the fairly well documented fact that several Washington PR and lobbying companies are behind the disruption of the recent town halls. But as she points out, real people do show up to do the disrupting:

In a video released by the Democratic National Committee, they attribute town hall turnouts to “desperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” who are out to “destroy President Obama.”

Well-funded allies?

This forum included a soccer mom who was concerned about health care for her four children if her husband lost his job, a small business owner who would be unable to compete with a taxpayer-funded public option, and a grandmother who questioned why she would have to change the coverage she needs to pay for coverage someone else doesn’t want.

Hmmm. Let’s examine her use cases here.

The soccer mom concerned about health care for kids if her husband loses his job? She’s damn right to be concerned now, even with ARRA (passed with all of 2 Republican votes) paying for 765% of COBRA, especially with several states including California cutting back on S-CHIP. But her family absolutely likely to be better off under even the weeniest of the proposed Democratic bills, as they’d all extend coverage to newly unemployed workers.

The small business owner unable to compete with a taxpayer-funded public option. At the least this is dreadful English, but let’s assume that the small business owner isn’t running an insurance company! What’s the concern? That he or she would have to pay either a payroll tax or more income tax? Well I get that they may not like it, but they’d only be “unable to compete” if they were unfairly singled out for the tax. I’m pretty sure that’s not how taxes work outside of 15th century France. In my cursory understanding any new taxes would be lobbied on all “small business owners”. How changing a rule that impacts everybody equally would leave that small business owner “unable to compete” is a mystery that even a Fox pundit should make a better crack at explaining.

And finally a grandmother who questioned why she would have to change the coverage she needs to pay for coverage someone else doesn’t want. And here’s the evidence that no matter how many times Obama says “if you like your coverage you can keep it” that message is clearly not getting through. Apparently grannies on Medicare are going to have their coverage changed and the uninsured, who’ve been flooding the Obama web site with stories about the misery of their financial experience under the current system and how they want secure access to insurance, have been lying too.

Given the extremely limited changes in any bill being proposed, this kind of rhetoric is so dumb that it defies logic. So instead let’s turn to Exhibit B.

Exhibit B is an email I got from one of those public affairs firms in DC that clearly have nothing to do with any kind of orchestrated protests or attempts to disrupt the health care reform bills on anything other than their merits and/or just represent the grass roots.  And yes I’m sorry, I replied.

Here’s the exchange, slightly edited for length but keeping in the essential parts.

The White House has decided there is too much “disinformation” about health care reform floating around the Internet, and that they need to stop the “viral whisper campaign” of dissent. From the White House web site: “If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to”What exactly is “fishy?” According to, “the term ‘disinformation’ is used by the White House as a catchall to describe any opposition to the President’s push for singlepayer, government-run health care.” That means the information you are putting out is “fishy” and should be reported to the federal government. Is anyone else troubled by this?-Lyndsi__________________________________Lyndsi Thomas / Account ExecutiveDavid All Group, LLC1212 New York Ave. NW, Suite 550Washington, DC 20005

Now whether or not you are troubled by Obama collecting opposition smears/developing a Nixon-style enemies list (select applicable version to suit your view), it’s worth looking at what Lyndsi thinks the bills are trying to do.  Apparently despite the complaints of every progressive in the Congress and all the single payer advocates shut out of the process this is a push for singlepayer, government-run health care. Here’s what I wrote back:

If you think even the House bill is single payer you are merely exposing your ignoranceMatthew Holt

This thought didn’t deter our brave young PR flack—She replied:

Hi Matthew,

I’m pretty sure I didn’t describe the House bill as single payer – I was referring to President Obama’s desire for a single payer system (which he said himself in 2003:

It’s interesting that you chose that to comment on, though.

And in my reply we get to the heart of the matter and the politics of it:

You called it the President’s push for single payer.There is no such push by him…you’re setting up a non-existent straw man.What the President wants and what’s in all the bills is a bigexpansion of private insurance.That may or not have its merits but try to be honest….

What Obama said while trying to get elected to the state senate (On YouTube he said health care was 14% of GDP which it hasn’t been since he’s been in the Senate) is irrelevant to any legislation that’s going to pass. This of course is why the private insurance industry is in general in favor of the current bills, as it will deliver them up to 50 million more customers. But that’s OK, why get all tangled up in reality when there’s an old YouTube clip about what Obama would like in his ideal world.

But don’t worry—Stalinism exists. It’s called the “public option”. By now Lyndsi has dropped the polite formalities and is on my style of brief emails:

How is the public option a “big expansion of private insurance”?

To which I replied the actual truth:

a) single payer is the abolition of private insurance. Would AHIP be signing on for that? No way–yet they’re in favorb) CBO says public option would include around 11 million Americans by 2019. There are 48 with no insurance–therefore universal care under this plan would add about another 30-35 million to private insurance rolls. Another reason why AHIP supports the plan in generalI’m not saying I like it; I’m saying that’s the political reality–not the fantasy of a Canadian style system with no private insurance that you claim is what reform means.

(And yes I await Lyndsi’s reply, not that I’m likely to get one). Either way, if you want to know where our current level of discourse on health care is, you need not look much further than these two examples.

CODA: By the way, if you care who the David All Group is, let me enlighten you. It’s “the nation’s first conservative Web 2.0 agency” and it’s customers include “Heritage Foundation, College Republican National Committee, & Senator Tom Coburn”. That’s about as grassroots as you can get, so long as you ignore the “diverse set of valued clients include blue chip companies, trade associations, nonprofits, political organizations and candidates.”