Friday, February 12, 2010

Health Care Reform: Debate vs. Dialouge

The problem with the debate over health care reform is precisely that. It’s a debate instead of a dialogue. A debate is always a competitive event. One side is trying to persuade you of the veracity of their arguments over those being presented by their opponents.

When I first started writing editorial pieces my editor instructed me to state my opinions as if they were facts. Eliminate I statements. Don’t say I believe health care reform is an ethical issue. Instead say, health care reform is an ethical issue. The reframing of the statement makes it more powerful and it carries the weight of authority. It is psychologically more persuasive. It sounds factual, but it doesn’t have to be factual. The problem is that in a debate the sides are not always providing you with information. They are providing you with opinions based on ideology.

In a debate one side has to lose. As we said it’s a competitive event. A dialogue requires that both sides recognize the problem and agree to speak the same language. The parties come to the table armed with information, data and are ready to propose solutions, ask questions and demonstrate a willingness to make changes in their position or efforts based on new information. A dialogue allows for the possibility that those who do not agree with me may yet have something to teach me.

Compromise is hard won in politics and those in positions to influence policy are often reticent to make concessions to the other side. The more of an ideologue that person is the more difficult it is for them to reach compromise. Senator John McCain offers us a good example. He has been decried by his GOP colleagues often because of his willingness to cross the aisle, as it were, and work with Democrats. This is seen as a betrayal of conservative ideology. Senator McCain’s more conservative colleagues have even called into question his “credentials” as a conservative.

Former Democratic senator and now Independent Joe Lieberman has also enjoyed the same type of derision. To call such criticism of any attempt at bipartisan bridge building insanity is to grossly understate the problem. A solid democracy requires more than one party to keep the balance of power in check, but at some point ideological gamesmanship needs to be replaced by a willingness to resolve the problems. This is the sad state that we find ourselves into today. It is destroying our chances at creating lasting health care reform that is meaningful in that it addresses affordability, sustainability and the ethical challenges that allow for good people to die or go bankrupt.

The battle for health care reform and, yes, it is a battle is being slowly strangled by the loud opponents who are confusing the issue with nonsense arguments and the public is starting to lose interest. Everyone is ready to stop talking about it and be done with it once and for all. When I first started writing about reform people clamored to argue with me. Now hardly anyone takes notice. That is precisely what the GOP wants.

If this happens we might see a half assed bill like the one presently being pushed or even worse no attempt to address the issues at all, just as when Harry Truman and then Bill Clinton tried years later.

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