Category Archives: Things that are false

What refutes what?

Phyllis Schlafly is right about one thing: the Fourth of July is a good time to read the Declaration of Independence.  But she's wrong about pretty much everything else.  First, her timing is a little off — her posting is dated July 9, but she's giving advice about what to do on the 4th.  Maybe her plan was for us to remember what to do next year.   Second, she claims that the Declaration is a 'religious document.'  This seems a little thin, as her evidence is that:

The Declaration of Independence is the official and unequivocal recognition by the American people of our belief and faith in God. It affirms God's existence as a "self-evident" truth that requires no further discussion, debate or litigation.. . . The Declaration of Independence contains five references to God: God as Creator of all men, God as supreme Lawmaker, God as the Source of all rights, God as the world's supreme Judge, and God as our Patron and Protector. The Declaration declares that each of us was created; so if we were created, we must have had a Creator and, as the modern discovery of DNA confirms, each of God's creatures is different from every other person who has ever lived or ever will live on this earth.

Just for the record, I took a quick look at the Declaration, and I counted only four overt references to God.  One in the first paragraph, to Nature's God.  One in the second paragraph, that "we are endowed by our Creator….", and two in the final paragraph, one an oath to the Supreme judge of the world, and another about trusting 'divine providence.'  Now, with each of these, I don't (especially given the widespread deism of the day) see these as strongly theistic as Schlafly sees them.  Regardless, whatever these references mean, they aren't there as core commitments of the Declaration — the Declaration is about human rights and about the role of government (and also to list all the colonial grievances against the crown).  To put it on record that they all love God doesn't seem to be the point, but more a rhetorical element of the presentation of more (ahem) humanistic concerns.  If you use reference to God in making a point, that doesn't by necessity make your speech religious, because I often punctuate my angriest moments with "Goddammit!", but that hardly makes my speech religious.

Schlafly's third error is most troubling.  She claims:

The message of the Declaration of Independence is under attack from the ACLU and atheists because it refuted the lie about a constitutional mandate for "separation of church and state."

Wait.  That gets it backwards, doesn't it?  The whole point of the Constitution was to provide a framework for government that wasn't there in the Declaration. And in putting those things together, wasn't the objective to either supplement or correct the Declaration?  What about the First Amendment, the one that prohibits laws "respecting an establishment of religion"?  If the Declaration had a line that said anything about acknowledging and establishing a religion of the one true God (which seems to be Schlafly's reading), it's the Constitution that would refute that establishment, not the Declaration that would refute the Constitution. 

Dialogue more valuable than ever

Here's another article about how liberals condescend to conservatives.  It begins:

It's an odd time for liberals to feel smug. But even with Democratic fortunes on the wane, leading liberals insist that they have almost nothing to learn from conservatives. Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation — as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a "Bolshevik plot" — and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments. "We were so busy just getting stuff done . . . that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview. The benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed (by conservatives).

This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government — and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.

Perhaps this guy is joking.  Or he is just very seriously misinformed, because it has been a mainstay of conservative opposition to any Obama initiative to call it "socialist" or worse (Liberal fascism anyone).  I'm not going to bother linking to anything because just googling the combination of "Obama" and "Socialist" nearly crashed the Google server. 

It's not, in other words, condescension.  It is a plain and to my mind surprisingly charitable interpretation of an opposition many of whose key members and leaders have excluded themselves from minimally reasonable discussion.  That's just true, whether or not many liberals are condescending a–wholes. 

As he wraps up this factless and meme-driven piece, the author goes for a little balance:

Of course, plenty of conservatives are hardly above feeling superior. But the closest they come to portraying liberals as systematically mistaken in their worldview is when they try to identify ideological dogmatism in a narrow slice of the left (say, among Ivy League faculty members), in a particular moment (during the health-care debate, for instance) or in specific individuals (such as Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom some conservatives accuse of being stealth ideologues). A few conservative voices may say that all liberals are always wrong, but these tend to be relatively marginal figures or media gadflies such as Glenn Beck.

Really.  Again, I'd say this is plainly false.  No bother.  This guy doesn't even try to produce evidence (here's an assignment, google "liberals" and see what comes up–it's entertaining.  Then google "liberals" and the name of any leading conservative, you won't find George Will making fine-grained distinctions).  Perhaps, however, as a conservative, he doesn't know that claims about reality stand or fall on the basis of the evidence offered.  "Just trust me phrases" in an advocacy piece don't count.

Too dumb to thrive

Charles Krauthammer complains that liberals think people are stupid and treat voters with disdain.  This is no doubt true of many of them.  Just as it true, on the other hand, of many conservatives, such as Krauthammer.  That liberals, and people in general, are stupid seems to be implicit in his opening howler:

"Iam not an ideologue," protested President Obama at a gathering with Republican House members last week. Perhaps, but he does have a tenacious commitment to a set of political convictions.

Compare his 2010 State of the Union to his first address to Congress a year earlier. The consistency is remarkable. In 2009, after passing a $787 billion (now $862 billion) stimulus package, the largest spending bill in galactic history, he unveiled a manifesto for fundamentally restructuring the commanding heights of American society — health care, education and energy.  

Because only an idiot would not see that Krauthammer has provided no context for understanding this outrageous claim.  You see, dumbass, it isn't the largest spending bill–at least if you measure by percentage of GDP:

The Obama stimulus package compares in size as a percentage of GDP to the First New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt but is significantly smaller as a reflection of the government budget at the time.

Roosevelt's First New Deal in 1933 created the Public Works Administration, at a cost of $3.3 billion. Jason Scott Smith, a professor of history at the University of New Mexico, estimates this was equivalent to 5.9 percent of U.S. GDP at the time.

But compared to the size of the federal budget in that year, it was 1.65 times the amount of federal revenues. That ratio is more than five times greater than the same measure for Obama's plan.

Roosevelt followed up with a Second New Deal in 1935 based on the Works Progress Administration, which built airports, bridges and public buildings across the nation. Smith said the initial $4.88 billion appropriation for this program equaled about 6.7 percent of GDP at the time.

The funny thing about this dismal piece, however, is not its dishonesty (that's not surprising for Krauthammer), it's its complete lack of self-awareness.  Krauthammer gripes about the unfair characterization of conservatives by liberals by doing the same (to liberals).  It's a kind of op-eddy "I-know-what-you-are. . ." 

A year later, after stunning Democratic setbacks in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Obama gave a stay-the-course State of the Union address (a) pledging not to walk away from health-care reform, (b) seeking to turn college education increasingly into a federal entitlement, and (c) asking again for cap-and-trade energy legislation. Plus, of course, another stimulus package, this time renamed a "jobs bill."

This being a democracy, don't the Democrats see that clinging to this agenda will march them over a cliff? Don't they understand Massachusetts?

Well, they understand it through a prism of two cherished axioms: (1) The people are stupid and (2) Republicans are bad. Result? The dim, led by the malicious, vote incorrectly.

Liberal expressions of disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the electorate have been, post-Massachusetts, remarkably unguarded. New York Times columnist Charles Blow chided Obama for not understanding the necessity of speaking "in the plain words of plain folks," because the people are "suspicious of complexity." Counseled Blow: "The next time he gives a speech, someone should tap him on the ankle and say, 'Mr. President, we're down here.' "

A Time magazine blogger was even more blunt about the ankle-dwelling mob, explaining that we are "a nation of dodos" that is "too dumb to thrive."

Really?  Again, no doubt many liberals think this is true (many conservatives think liberals have a mental disorder, or are stupid, or have funny ethnic properties, or lack manly attributes, or disregard moral virtues, or they have guilt complexes), but Krauthammer is engaging in the same kind of activity–only worse, because he (1) childishly rips quotes out of context, (2) he picks people who don't really represent "liberalism" (Joe Klein?) and (3) he ought to know better.  He ought to know better because, for instance, too much of the opposition to health reform ("death panels", "2,000 plus pages!", "socialism!", "government take over") of leading conservative figures  was premised on the gullibility of a significant part of the electorate.  In certain quarters, such claims get a lot of traction. 

What explains, one might wonder, some people's belief in evident falsities such as these?  Well, one might say they're dumb (some are extremely dumb).  One also might say they've been lied to systematically by people such as Krauthammer.  One might say, as some have, that there has been a failure to get the message to them.  That's what Obama did.  Following directly, here's Krauthammer on that notion:

Obama joined the parade in the State of the Union address when, with supercilious modesty, he chided himself "for not explaining it [health care] more clearly to the American people." The subject, he noted, was "complex." The subject, it might also be noted, was one to which the master of complexity had devoted 29 speeches. Perhaps he did not speak slowly enough.

This objection is a variation of the argumentum ad paginarum numerum (argument against the sheer number of pages).  But anyway, Obama's point is not that he didn't talk enough about it, it's that he didn't speak clearly enough.  Those are different.   Even Krauthammer should be able to get that. 

Political fights

I'm trying to find a charitable interpretation of this comment by George Will on This Week with David Brinkley (via Crooks and Liars):

MORAN: Let's — let's go across the street from the Congress for a moment. There was a historic decision this week out of the Supreme Court of the United States on the First Amendment, the court holding that the campaign finance reform prohibition on corporations and unions using the money from their general funds to support or oppose candidates, that's a violation of free speech. So is this a vindication of the First Amendment, or is this a surrender to the plutocracy?

WILL: Vindication, because the court recognized the obvious, which is that you cannot disseminate political speech without money. And, therefore, to restrict money is to restrict the dissemination of speech. To that end, they have freed up the amount of money that will be spent.

Now, some people are saying, oh, corporations, that means Microsoft will be buying ads. Microsoft's trying to sell software. They're not interested in getting into political fights.

What this really emancipates are nonprofit advocacy corporations such as the Sierra Club. I pick that not at random because the Sierra Club was fined $28,000 in Florida last year for falling afoul of the incomprehensible, that-thick set of regulations on our political speech.

I'd reject the first biconditional.  But I think there's something obviously wrong about the claim that "Microsoft is not interested in getting into political fights."  Well, ok, they're not interested in that as their primary mode of business.  But Microsoft, and oh, I don't know, the Banking Industry or the Oil Industry or the Defense industry are interested in conditions which are politically favorable to them.  That's their business.  Am I missing something?

The System Worked

Charles Krauthammer, the most dishonest pundit at the Post next to the rest of them, today goes on a rant about Obama's failure to talk tough in the war on terrorism–which, if we know anything from the Bush administration, didn't do much of anything.  Suicidal terrorists, one can imagine, love that kind of stuff.  Anyway, to start of the New Year, and perhaps to demonstrate why Krauthammer–like George Will–is too dishonest for honest criticism, let's take a quick look at today's column.

He writes:

Janet Napolitano — former Arizona governor, now overmatched secretary of homeland security — will forever be remembered for having said of the attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit: "The system worked." The attacker's concerned father had warned U.S. authorities about his son's jihadist tendencies. The would-be bomber paid cash and checked no luggage on a transoceanic flight. He was nonetheless allowed to fly, and would have killed 288 people in the air alone, save for a faulty detonator and quick actions by a few passengers.

That's a shame she'll be remembered that way, because that's not what she said.  Here is what she actually said:

Once this incident occurred, everything went according to clockwork, not only sharing throughout the air industry, but also sharing with state and local law enforcement. Products were going out on Christmas Day, they went out yesterday, and also to the [airline] industry to make sure that the traveling public remains safe. I would leave you with that message. The traveling public is safe. We have instituted some additional screening and security measures, in light of this incident, but, again, everyone reacted as they should. The system, once the incident occurred, the system worked.

It doesn't take a genius to see that those are completely different things.  Krauthammer has completely distorted her meaning–she wasn't talking about the events antecedent to the attack.  But Krauthammer isn't done.  He continues:

Heck of a job, Brownie.

The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration's response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. Napolitano renames terrorism "man-caused disasters." Obama goes abroad and pledges to cleanse America of its post-9/11 counterterrorist sins. Hence, Guantanamo will close, CIA interrogators will face a special prosecutor, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed will bask in a civilian trial in New York — a trifecta of political correctness and image management.

This time at least he provided a link.  Which if you click, you'll find the following single mention that phrase:

The overriding and urgent mission of the United States Department of Homeland Security is contained in the name of the agency itself. To secure the homeland means to protect our nation's borders by finding and killing the roots of terrorism and to stop those who intend to hurt us; to wisely enforce the rule of law at our borders; to protect our national cyber infrastructure; and to prepare for and respond to natural and man-caused disasters with speed, skill, compassion, and effectiveness.

Here again Krauthammer's rendering of her words is not even close.  She doesn't come close to renaming terrorism anything–she uses the phrase "man-caused disasters" to highlight the fact that homeland security will be involved in the emergency services response to a terrorist act (in addition to prevention–which is also its job as the quotation makes clear—using even the word "terrorism"). 

I think you get the idea, but here's one more context distortion.  This time it's Obama:

And produces linguistic — and logical — oddities that littered Obama's public pronouncements following the Christmas Day attack. In his first statement, Obama referred to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as "an isolated extremist." This is the same president who, after the Fort Hood, Tex., shooting, warned us "against jumping to conclusions" — code for daring to associate the mass murder there with Nidal Hasan's Islamist ideology. Yet, with Abdulmutallab, Obama jumped immediately to the conclusion, against all existing evidence, that the would-be bomber acted alone.

Of course Obama didn't say that.  This is what he said:

Finally, the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.  

He's clearly referring to his singularity on the plane and to the actions of the people who stopped him.  He wasn't of course making a judgement about whether there was a conspiracy. 

It's a new year, I know, but I am seriously thinking of putting Krauthammer and Will in the column of people whose work is so bad and so dishonest it doesn't merit criticism.  Who does that leave? 

Mysterious ways

As I head off to vacation, let us marvel at Newt Ginrich marvelling at God's mysterious ways (courtesy of Media Matters):

newtgingrich As callista and i watched what dc weather says will be 12 to 22 inches of snow i wondered if God was sending a message about copenhagen

newtgingrich After the expanding revelations of dishonesty in climategate having a massive snow storm as obama promises our money to the world is ironic

newtgingrich There is something jimmy carter like about weather service upgrading frrom winter storm to blizzard as global warming conference wants US $ 

But he was not alone.  There was disagreement about the meaning of the snow storm.  Here is Erick Erickson at the not-worth-evaluating Red State blog:

Over at Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler chronicles the follies of the Democrats and health care.

Joe Lieberman has gone back to Connecticut in advance of the blizzard. This leaves the Democrats needing Republican votes to get back to health care.

At the end of the article, Brian writes, “[D]on’t be surprised to hear a new Republican talking point: Even Mother Nature hates health care reform.”

I hate to correct him, but actually the talking point is that God hates the Democrats’ health care deform. With funding death panels and abortions, of course the Almighty would send a snow storm or, in Brian’s words, a snowpocalypse to shut down Washington.

Oh, and kudos to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council for organizing the “pray-in.” Looks to be working.

I am tempted to think the second of these is a joke, but the "death panels" remark seems to be serious. 

Western Way of Reason

Culture Warrior Ross Douthat, columnist at the New York Times, opines on the coming religious war:

But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

The riots reference is silly and self-congratulatory, but "the Western way of reason" as an exclusive European notion betrays and ignorance of both the notions of "western" and "reason." 

Douthat at least, as a graduate of college, ought to know there would be precious little Western way of reason worth giving a crap about without, for instance, Averroe–che il gran commento feo.

So it's compatible, to say the least–one wonders, however, about whether Douthat's militant Christianity is. 

Propter hack

Michael Gerson, who liked George W. Bush and his notion of preventative war, does not like Barack Obama.  That's fine.  I don't know why the Washington Post has hired him to say as much however.  Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter, is a party operative, not a disinterested observer.  So when he remarks on how disappointing Obama's Presidency has been, you know something has gone right for Obama.  I remark on this not because I have it in for conservatives.  On the contrary, I'm keenly interested in actual conservative argument.  It's a shame, I think, that the Post hires such hacks (the same would go for Democratic party hacks, if there were any). 

Today Gerson writes:

In 1950, Lionel Trilling could write, "In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition." In 1980, as the Reagan revolution was starting, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded, "Of a sudden, the GOP has become the party of ideas."

Where now is the intellectual center of gravity — the thrill of innovation, the ideological momentum — in American politics? Not in the party of Obama.

This failure of imagination was on full display during Barack Obama's address to Congress. In a moment that demanded new policy to cut an ideological knot, or at least new arguments to restart the public debate, Obama saw fit to provide neither. His health speech turned out to be an environmental speech, devoted mainly to recycling. On every important element of his health proposal, he chose to double down and attack the motives of opponents. (Obama was the other public official who talked of a "lie" that evening.) Concerns about controlling health costs, the indirect promotion of abortion and the effect of a new entitlement on future deficits were dismissed but not answered. On health care, Obama takes his progressivism pure and simplistic.

This, I think, is a specious allegation of fallacy–Obama did attack the motives of his opponents, after pointing out, in the cases mentioned above by Gerson, that they have lied relentlessly about the content of the bills working their way through the system.  When someone, such as Gerson and the people he sophistically defends, distorts the simple and obvious facts open to everyone's inspection, it is well justified to wonder about their motives.  I wonder, indeed, about Gerson's motives in writing such silliness.  He doesn't, you'll notice, even bother to justify either (1) the allegation that Obama was lying or (2) that he attacked anyone's motives–and not their facts.  This kind of sophistry, I think, is worse than lying.  Gerson, or at least the Post (I know, don't laugh) ought to know better. 

Truly hilarious, however, is the idea that Obama is some kind of wicked hardcore lefty, taking his "progressivism pure and simplistic" when in fact he (1) spent the entire summer (not on vacation) trying to negotiate with Republicans and (2) in the very speech in question brought together elements from John McCain and George W.Bush.  Gerson writes:

This is the most consistent disappointment of Obama's young term. Given a historic opportunity to occupy the political center, to blur ideological lines, to reset the partisan debate through unexpected innovation, Obama has taken the most tired, most predictable agenda in American politics — the agenda of congressional liberalism — and made it his own. Elected on the promise to transcend old arguments of left and right, Obama has systematically reinforced them on domestic issues. A pork-laden stimulus. A highly centralized health reform. Eight months into Obama's term, American politics is covered in the cobwebs of past controversies. Obama has supporters, but he has ceased trying for converts.

This should surprise no one. Obama did not rise on Bill Clinton's political path — the path of a New Democrat, forced to win and govern in a red state. Obama was a conventional, congressional liberal in every way — except in his extraordinary abilities. His great talent was talent itself, not ideological innovation. And given the general Republican collapse of 2006 to 2008 — rooted in the initial unraveling of Iraq, the corruption of the Republican congressional majority and the financial meltdown — Obama did not need innovation to win. Only ability and the proper tone.

Not even close.  Notice, however, how Gerson does not bother anywhere in the piece to justify his whacky assertions.  It's as if he did not even see the speech. 

Meretricious

Since George Will thought to write a eulogy for Kennedy which included the term "meretricious," we thought it might be entertaining to take a trip back in time.  Here, via Hullabaloo via Somerby, is an excerpt from a 1995 James Fallows' article about Bill Clinton's 1993 attempt at health care reform:

Much of the problem for the plan seemed, at least in Washington, to come not even from mandatory alliances but from an article by Elizabeth McCaughey, then of the Manhattan Institute, published in The New Republic last February. The article's working premise was that McCaughey, with no ax to grind and no preconceptions about health care, sat down for a careful reading of the whole Clinton bill. Appalled at the hidden provisions she found, she felt it her duty to warn people about what the bill might mean. The title of her article was "No Exit," and the message was that Bill and Hillary Clinton had proposed a system that would lock people in to government-run care. "The law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," McCaughey wrote in the first paragraph. "The doctor can be paid only by the plan, not by you."

George Will immediately picked up this warning, writing in Newsweek that "it would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem 'necessary.'" The "doctors in jail" concept soon turned up on talk shows and was echoed for the rest of the year.

These claims, McCaughey's and Will's, were simply false. McCaughey's pose of impartiality was undermined by her campaign as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New York soon after her article was published. I was less impressed with her scholarly precision after I compared her article with the text of the Clinton bill. Her shocked claim that coverage would be available only for "necessary" and "appropriate" treatment suggested that she had not looked at any of today's insurance policies. In claiming that the bill would make it impossible to go outside the health plan or pay doctors on one's own, she had apparently skipped past practically the first provision of the bill (Sec. 1003), which said,

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services."

It didn't matter. The White House issued a point-by-point rebuttal, which The New Republic did not run. Instead it published a long piece by McCaughey attacking the White House statement. The idea of health policemen stuck…

Through most of 1993 the Republicans believed that a health-reform bill was inevitable, and they wanted to be on the winning side. Bob Dole said he was eager to work with the Administration and appeared at events side by side with Hillary Clinton to endorse universal coverage. Twenty-three Republicans said that universal coverage was a given in a new bill.

In 1994 the Republicans became convinced that the President and his bill could be defeated. Their strategist, William Kristol, wrote a memo recommending a vote against any Administration health plan, "sight unseen." Three committees in the House and two in the Senate began considering the bill in earnest early in the year. Republicans on several committees had indicated that they would collaborate with Democrats on a bill; as the year wore on, Republicans dropped their support, one by one, for any health bill at all. Robert Packwood, who had supported employer mandates for twenty years, discovered that he opposed them in 1994. "[He] has assumed a prominent role in the campaign against a Democratic alternative that looks almost exactly like his own earlier policy prescriptions," the National Journal wrote. Early last summer conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans tried to put together a "mainstream coalition" supporting a plan without universal coverage, without employer mandates, and without other features that Republicans had opposed. In August, George Mitchell, the Democratic Party's Senate majority leader, announced a plan that was almost pure symbolism–no employer mandates, very little content except a long-term goal of universal coverage. Led by Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, Republicans by September were opposing any plan. "Every time we moved toward them, they would move away," Hillary Clinton says.

Another demonstration of "the merely contingent connection between truth and rhetorical potency."

Rationing

I think right now we have a system that rations health care.  It denies it to  the 47 or so million people who don't have insurance; it restricts health care to the people who don't have enough insurance; it denies it those people who get sick or have a preexisting condition; and it limits it those people who can't afford the limits and co-pays.  The real worry, however, for Michael Gerson, is whether (1) somehow people can afford abortions–a  procedure which is legal; (2) whether there will be rationing.  To be fair, he admits–sort of–that there is rationing.  Rationing done by insurance companies. 

The same is likely to be true of end-of-life issues. Talk of "death panels" is the parody of the debate — hyperbolic and self-defeating. But a discussion about the prospect of rationing in a public health system is not only permissible but unavoidable. Every nation that has promised comprehensive, low-cost health coverage for all citizens has faced a similar dilemma. Eventually it is not enough to increase public spending or to reduce waste. More direct forms of cost control become an overwhelming priority. And because health expenditures are weighted toward the end of life, the rationing of health care often concerns older people most directly.

Keith Hennessey, former director of the National Economic Council, puts the dilemma simply: "Resources are constrained, and so someone has to make the cost-benefit decision, either by creating a rule or making decisions on a case-by-case basis. Many of those decisions are now made by insurers and employers. The House and Senate bills would move some of those decisions into the government. Changing the locus of the decision does not relax the resource constraint. It just changes who has power and control."

So he admits it.  It would be nice at this point to talk about the effectiveness or the fairness of the current program of rationing.  But no.  

Because no one likes to ration directly, nations such as Britain and Germany employ "comparative effectiveness research" to lend an air of science to the process of cost constraint. Are "quality-adjusted life years" worth the public expense of a new drug or technology?

This type of question is unavoidable when resources are scarce and planners take charge. They seek to rationalize the inefficient medical decisions of families, doctors and insurance companies. But the very process of imposing a rational structure gives government extraordinary power. And the approach taken by planners is, by necessity, utilitarian — considering the greatest good for the greatest number. Decisions cannot be made on a human scale.

On the rough ethical edges of life and death, American health care has adopted messy, inefficient, decentralized compromises that a nationalized system is likely to overturn. Particularly if that system is imposed on a "go-it-alone" Democratic strategy, the divisiveness is only beginning.

The weird thing about this argument is that the insurance company is now the victim–not the perpetrator–of rationing.  On the current system, they're the ones who decide who gets covered and who doesn't.  The basis of their choice is a very simple and efficient one: (1) who is not sick; (2) who can pay.  The very idea of alternative system, one which bases decisions on care on some kind of principle (and no for Pete's sake it doesn't have to be by necessity "utilitarian") to Gerson raises the specter of Soylent Green.  It's people folks, it's PEOPLE.