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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

August 25, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Health-care reform: Is personal responsibility argument just another scare tactic?

Herbold’s and Powell’s economics don’t make sense

The guest column in The Times from Robert J. Herbold and Scott S. Powell [“Government-dominated reform will not improve health care,” Opinion, Aug. 23] only left me confused. But when I saw that both individuals were associated with the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, I realized sewing confusion was the purpose.

They vaguely state that collectivism fails dismally in economics. First, every other industrial nation has more government involvement in health care with better results and on average half the costs.

Could that be considered economics? Second, individuals will often exercise independent initiative and decide it is more efficient to make certain decisions collectively. This is reflected in our fire departments, police departments, parks, schools, military, roads, patent offices and more.

Herbold and Powell fail to admit that having government involvement in health care is not the same as having the government making computers or socks. But they need to take that disingenuous leap in order to make their straw-man argument that government involved in health care equals Chinese-style communism from the 1950s, among other unsubstantiated conservative talking points.

Health-care and insurance executives can make $100,000 an hour. Yet 18,000 people a year die from lack of health care. I guess that’s the good economics Herbold and Powell subscribe to.

— Mike Thies, Seattle

Code words and scare tactics, but no solutions

Gun-toting hecklers don’t attend town-hall meetings because they’re interested in quality health care for Americans. They are motivated by ideology, and their aim is not to participate in the national conversation, but to stifle it.

Robert J. Herbold’s and Scott S. Powell’s screed is merely another form of heckling. Their column is long on code words and scare tactics but short on analysis and ideas. With their rhetorical guns blazing, they contribute nothing to the national conversation about affordable, quality health care.

Herbold and Powell write that health-care reform represents “an irretrievable loss of freedom” that undermines individual responsibility and free choice. Fourteen times they use the term collectivist or collectivism, and they throw in references to socialism and narcissism for good measure.

But they never mention the tens of millions of American children and adults who lack health insurance. And they fail to address the imbalance between the cost of American health care — the most expensive in the world — and its relatively poor health outcomes.

Those shaping the health-care-reform effort have tried too hard to accommodate the Herbolds and Powells.

Responsible lawmakers should stop attempting to appease the unappeasable, and consign them to the margins by calling them what they are: ideologically motivated hecklers.

— Matt King, Seattle

Too much Ayn Rand from elite Americans

Robert J. Herbold´s and Scott S. Powell’s commentary in The Seattle Times sounds like it was written by a couple of guys who read Ayn Rand and suffered a — dare I say it — collective attack of foolishness. They purvey myth after myth about government and the citizenry´s relation to it in a democracy as well as the ultimate fantasy — that the unfettered will of capital defines freedom.

Let us begin with what the authors mistakenly call the visceral reaction that members of Congress encountered this summer. Here they unfurl the banner of spontaneity, the idea that voters on their own have risen up in anger — collectively? — against an elite that wishes to impose a government program upon an unwilling people.

Let us leave aside the fact that if in America there is an elite, then plainly the authors are card-carrying members. It is more interesting to address the supposed viscerality of the voters’ responses. In actuality there was next to nothing spontaneous about it. On the contrary, it was cranked up by demagogues in the media who equate the action of government with encroachment of personal freedom.

Yet the authors’ argument that the president’s reforms will fetter our freedom has an unstated corollary — that in the context of health care the insurance companies are the embodiment of liberty. Anyone who has lost or been refused insurance, who has been dropped from their rolls or who has duked it out with them over coverage knows that to be a delirious proposition.

Finally the authors retail the myth, a Rand favorite, of government action as collectivism. In this myth, all government action is created equal. The Soviet Union and China are no different from Great Britain, France and Germany, or indeed from an America that finally seems willing to extend health-care coverage to all its citizens.

The authors, pillars of one branch of America’s elite, have turned a tired crank. If that is the best they can do, then reasoned political discussion of life-and-death issues is in very deep trouble in America.

— Edward Baker, Seattle

Guest columnists don’t understand Kennedy’s call

Robert J. Herbold and Scott S. Powell show us clearly that the right’s chorus of personal responsibility as the solution to our health-care problems is an evidence-free mythology. In fact, they base their entire piece on President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country.”

Herbold and Powell, he didn’t say “but rather ask what you can do for yourself.” Kennedy’s statement was a call for each of us to contribute to the collective good, not to descend into the selfish individualism you advocate.

— Aaron Katz, Seattle

Comments | More in Economy, Health care, Politics, Reform, Republicans

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