“Fighting fire with fire”, now there's a brilliant cliché that illustrates the current spat going on between the two English-speaking sides of the great pond that is the Atlantic Ocean. In America, there is a battle raging about healthcare reform. Obama has proposed some sort of universal healthcare system and, like abortion, the death penalty, and gun control it has sparked a major debate.
There really ought not be so much surprise about the debate it has sparked. America is a nation, whose very foundation is individual liberty, and for so many, not just those on the Right it’s worth noting, the freedom to choose such things like healthcare is seen as a constitutional issue. The idea of a state imposed insurance system upon people through the tax system becomes a matter of political principle about the power of the Federal state.
Of course, if you believe some of the hype in the British press, the debate has actually been about angry (and usually labelled “ignorant”) right wing mobs taking over town hall meetings. Handily, since I've been off work recovering from an operation, I have had the joy of watching some of these debates on Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Consequently I’ve seen town halls packed by the electorate questioning senators and congressman. I’m yet to see anything like the horror stories being reported.
In fact, the opponents of the Obama plan I’ve seen have not been the stereotypical knuckle-dragging rednecks that the left-wing press and blogs have described over this side of the pond. They've been incredibly well informed, and have been asking in-depth questions of their elected representatives in a way that you'd rarely see in the UK.
I'm talking here about someone standing up and saying "Senator, I'm opposed to this plan in general but I want to know whether you are going to support section 4, sub-paragraph 6, clause 8 which has vague definitions which could imply xyz. What is your feeling on this?" I can't imagine you getting that sort of detail in a public meeting in the UK - hell I doubt you'd even get that many people to attend a public meeting in the UK let alone have them actually read the policy.
Whatever ones position is on the actual debate going on in the US - and it’s worth remembering that it has been caricatured to death here - at least their population is actually engaged with the political process. It’s richly ironic in my view to see how some of the British Left go apeshit about equality and anti-discrimination issues at home, but happily sneer with vague generalisations about stupid knuckle-dragging redneck yanks inter alia.
Of course, the sneering generalisations by Brits has been brilliantly illustrated by the alleged Twitter crashing #welovethenhs hashtag. I say alleged Twitter crashing, simply because I'm yet to see any evidence other than the British press simply saying it happened. Meanwhile Twitter's own status pages warn of system maintenance and service degradation during the time of the supposed “crash” inspired by an outpuring of love for the NHS.
I seriously doubt the hashtag crashed anything, rather the service was degraded anyway and a number of technically ill-informed people put two and two together and came up with 59. One should never let reality get in the way of correlation over causality, especially if it helps move a story during the slow news silly season that is August. Not to mention of course that the infamous hashtag which some think will actually lose the Tories votes, has been driven by silly black and white absurdity which I will come to in a moment.
Most people who have read about this story will be aware that it all really kicked off because some bad experiences of the NHS have been used by US commentators and campaigners to scare people into opposing Obama's plan. This then led to not only positive stories of people saying how the NHS saved their mum’s life etcetera, but also the usual claptrap along the lines that if you get hit by a car in America the ambulance won't pick you up and take you to ER until they see your insurance first.
This is one of the deepest and most delicious of ironies for me, because in response to what the Left over here has seen as terrible slurs and mistruths on the wonderful NHS, they have likewise cast equal bullshit right back across the pond. It’s been done with equal vigour and just a teensy ickle bit more snobbery. Basically, sanity has been lost in the mass hysteria of emotionally charged political discourse - uniquely fuelled on this side of course by typical knee-jerk anti-American tendencies – what I call the “bloody yanks!” reaction – and an irrational orthodoxy about the NHS.
Then, from a party political point of view, throw in the "issue" of Dan Hannan MEP it gets slightly more strange and amusing. Dan has upset the Left here because he's been going on the US networks expressing his view which they consider are "running down" the NHS. He's basically been telling them about the very real problems we have here which we read about everyday in the newspapers. Postcode lotteries; NICE not authorising certain treatments because of cost, that sort of thing.
More importantly for them it seems, he's committed what is considered heresy in the UK, and posed the question of whether, if we were starting from scratch, we'd take the same approach we did when we set up the NHS. By this I take it to mean, would we have a system that inherently tended toward producer-led interests? Would we have a system where the Government owned the buildings, the equipment, paid the staff directly and so on? Not unreasonable questions at all.
Personally, I think the answers are no-brainers, we probably wouldn’t have the structure if we built it today, and I say that not because I want to see a system like America currently has, but rather because I see systems in other European countries that are not structured like the NHS but have equal and better outcomes with lower central costs and less centralised bureaucracy. Interestingly, I rarely see anyone over here complaining about the harsh healthcare inequalities of Germany or France, but dare to say Britain might want to examine a route like that and you'll be hounded like a witch in Salem.
Sadly, unlike what’s going on in USA right now, the structure and delivery of healthcare services is not even a matter for discussion in the UK anymore. Instead, the snobbish and arrogant British superiority complex rears its head, and stupidly deems that the structure we have is the best possible. Bland, meaningless and nonsense statements about it being the "envy of the world" are rolled out, and the debate is simplified down to "spending more money is good, spending less is bad".
Essentially we have an infantile level of debate on the subject in the UK, and hilariously we have the balls to start trying to preach to a country on the other side of the Atlantic about how wonderful our system is and how terribly evil theirs’ is? Frankly, it's pathetic. On one side we have a system being caricatured and used as a political football, whilst on the other we have panty wetting screaming and shouting about how terribly unfair the caricature is, and equally silly caricatures thrown back. It makes everyone look like complete and total morons.
Some of the contradictions from this side do make me laugh though. Think of it like this, does anyone remember back in 2001 when George Bush rather stupidly said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists"? At the time it caused a rather eloquent criticism that Bush was not accepting that there might be shades of grey. For example, some countries might in fact wish to maintain their neutrality. Now look at the way this issue is being played out. The discussion has been reduced to the equally stupid black and white of "you either love the NHS or you're against it".
If you do not stand up and be counted as a “lover” of the NHS you must have some other feeling toward it that is negative? This was masterfully illustrated by the Lib Dem blogger James Graham who effectively said that if Tories didn’t say they loved the NHS that it was telling of their true feelings. Has rational and adult debate in the UK really been reduced to the same simpleton logic that existed in Bush’s 2001 speech? If it weren’t so sad it would be funny.
Worse than remaining silent though, if you make a criticism of the NHS or say you’re glad you have BUPA cover, and, horror of horrors you are visibly aligned to the Right, then you either instantly closed down by intellectually inept, but political savvy, dickheads like John Prescott, or others on the Right who fear that saying such things will lose the Tories votes. Then you see vacuous crap about how you’re intent on destroying universal healthcare. No discussion, just infantile screaming and shouting about evil Tories and their plans to destroy something that is considered some perfect utopian structure.
What a depressing state of affairs it is that (a) you now have to express your love for something lest be assumed to be intent on dismantling it, and (b) group think and orthodoxy dominates to the extent that no one can discuss the NHS without either falsely caricaturing it as perfect, or falsely caricaturing it as a third world system of Soviet proportions.
The people I real feel sorry for are the moderate types who are being squeezed out of the debate by the retards who dominate either with their scare stories of “death panels” or their infantile black and white hashtags and scare stories about the destruction of universal healthcare or the terrible dangers to the Tory vote of even mentioning anything that might suggest you don’t “love” the NHS.
It’s like watching the lunatics literally take over the asylum. It astounding what can actually pass for political discourse sometimes. The morons need to grow up.
Note: This is the only post I will be doing today. I know I said I was taking time off, it starts now.