Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory

If you’re interested enough in politics to read this blog, you’ve probably encountered this moral dilemma: talking about politics with a group of friends, one appears to be moving your way, and advocating for your position — but for the precisely wrong reasons (e.g., “My family’s always voted for the Democrats, since 1948!”). Do you correct them, adding nuance that may go unappreciated, and risk losing their vote?

Whatever your answer when among friends, the answer when addressing the public, in any serious respect, should be “yes.” That’s why, if I misrepresent an issue on this blog, you can trust that I’m wrong myself. Error maybe, but shared error, and therefore honest.

The same instinct does not seem to animate the honorable members opposite. The Republicans’ decision to push the “death panel” canard represented a gross betrayal of the public trust, and a sure sign that they view honesty as a value to be mortgaged, not honored. Now they’re set to do it again: last week, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent agency dating to the Reagan era, updated its recommendations on breast cancer screening, pushing the recommended age to begin routine mammograms to 50, instead of 40. The immediate Republican response was to point to the study as the smoking gun for health care “rationing” — a sure sign that a government-run healthcare program would put fiscal solvency over patients’ health.

The merits of this argument aren’t worth debating. What’s interesting is the parallel structure animating both this new lie, and the old one. Both assume a perfect status quo (private insurance companies would never be motivated to discourage care, and would never push patients to an early grave), and both deploy distrust to build the mundane (palliative care, preventive care policy) into the terrifying (murder). This, of course, is the greatest weapon in the demagogue’s arsenal (cf. Homer Simpson: “Animals are crapping in our houses! Did we lose a war?!?”), and it hints at the stories we should be telling, as the long healthcare battle moves into its final days.

Simply put, we need a better crisis narrative. If government bureaucrats, the type who’ve managed Medicare for decades, are more scary to the public than the same insurance adjusters who regularly deny coverage to even the most necessary and menial of procedures, on a daily basis, we’re doing something wrong. Maybe most Americans are healthy, and thus blissfully removed from a world where irresponsible, profit-motivated decisionmaking can ruin lives, but if that’s the case, those stories need to be told, with an emphasis on the real villains. Maybe it’s time to bring Heather Graham back:





  1. Maybe it’s time to bring Heather Graham back

    I for one fully agree with any analysis leading to that conclusion. :nods:

    Oh wait, that’s one of the wrong reasons, isn’t it?

  2. I can’t blame ya though :)

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