The gladiators have laid down their weapons over health care. One has prevailed…for the moment. Unlike the combatants of Rome, those of ideology do not fight to the death -- just the opposite -- they fight to perpetuity. And that fight is now about to take its most novel twist in decades.
Today's gladiators of the mind do resemble the ancient of the Coliseum in one regard. In Rome, there were two classic types, pitted one against the other. Each had specialized equipment they mastered.
Similarly, America's two ideological camps each have held their positions on health care for so long that they have become masters of their particular weapons and armor.
Conservatives fought to defend the status quo of the private sector health care system. In doing so, they also had to defend that system's eccentricities, its foibles, and its failures.
Their prime weapon was theory: that the private sector with competition was more efficient and productive than a public sector could be. They were also armed with facts and figures. Yet even when right, they could seem wrong. Their blows were always aimed at the head, but many a well-aimed fact merely glanced off. The skull can be very resilient to reason, to cold tools in what was often a hot debate.
Liberals on the other hand, fought to advance utopia. In their attack, every failure of the status quo -- was not laid at the feet of the perversity of America's bizarre health care system (the product of WWII's tax-favored, employer-provided peculiarity) -- became an opportunity.
Their weapons were promises -- that the public sector with mandates could perform far better in theory than it ever had in fact. They were armed too with the anecdote -- emotion-laden tales of suffering that seemed to indict the system allowing them. Even when wrong, they could seem right. Their blows were always aimed at the heart. And the heart can be a very accessible place to such weapons. Even a "fact" that defied logic could often penetrate.
Apparently, the role of the Left proved easier than the Right's. The former could strike anywhere; the latter had to defend everywhere. While the Left never struck a single fatal blow, the Right died the death of a thousand cuts. The prevailing logic was: If the private sector could be this bad, how could a government system not be better?
Now with Congress's passage and the President's signing of the health care bill, the long-established roles are reversed. Each combatant now will put on the other's armor and wield the other's weapons.
The public sector, not the private sector, is placed at the center of the new health care system. Where the Left once merely regulated the nation's health care system, now they "own it.” Every failure henceforth will be a government failure. Every anecdote, conservatives' to wield.
As experience has shown, the conservatives' new panoply comprises potent weapons indeed. The public sector has had limited experience in running things -- and even less success -- as Amtrak and USPS prove. It holds the whip-hand over one-sixth of America's economy. And with far more riding on it than ever rode a train or arrived in a letter.
The new plan also does not start on a strong foundation with the public. A recent Quinnipiac University poll (of 1,907 registered voters, margin of error +/-2.2%) showed only 36% approving the "proposed changes to the health care system under considerations in Congress," while 54% disapproved. And the results actually got worse from there.
Fifty-seven percent thought it would be "too expensive" versus 34% who thought "the cost is about right." Just 17% thought it would improve "the quality health care you receive," compared to 41% who thought the quality would be hurt. Fifty-five percent thought it would "increase your health care costs" and only 10% thought it would decrease them. Only 2% felt it would reduce their taxes -- 73% thought it would increase them. Just 10% felt it would reduce the federal budget deficit, compared to 72% who felt it would increase it. When asked "do you think that would be worth it?" 69% said no.
Health care cost increases will now show up in the federal budget -- a far more detailed measure than were the amorphous increases attributed to the old system and spread across society. Any and all faults with the new system -- denied coverage, delayed treatments, fraud, etc. -- will all flow back to the public sector. Bureaucrats will replace insurers as boogey-men, politicians will trade places with HMOs.
The private sector system ran for 65 years and provided the vast majority of Americans health care satisfactory enough to, well, last 65 years. Yet eventually it was worn down by the Left. The weapons of the heart proved the more effective in the last contest. Now the Right gets to wield them. How long will it take conservatives to master them? And more importantly, how long can the new public sector system withstand them?
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