Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off.It seems to me one of the key components of debate in a civil society is a kind of openness, honesty, and tolerance, especially in discussing important issues.
So what to make of the rest of Pearlstein's raging Washington Post, in which he attacks Republicans as "political terrorists"?
The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.
There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.
Again, Barney Frank, Jan Schakowsky, and a host of others have said many times that a so-called "public option" would be a vehicle to get to single-payer health-care system. The president wants to work toward a single-payer system; many of the architects of the Democratic proposals on health-care want a single-payer system and support a public option. Are they lying in order to scare the public and stop political conversation?
Controlling all or nearly all of the health-care financing for the nation (as could be very likely under a single-payer system) would certainly give the government a huge amount of control over the US's health-care system. That's one of the premises of Orszagism: centralized bureaucrats could determine the most efficient modes of treatment, cutting costs and improving care.
To raise doubts about the means and ends of a given public policy, to urge citizens to get involved in the debate about policy---that is terrorism? Calling people "political terrorists" for advancing this argument (for daring to repeat the words of supporters of a public option) poisons the well of public debate. That kind of rhetorical venom eats away at the foundation necessary for the maintenance of a civil society.
Over on the left, Brendan Nyhan has sharp rebuke for Pearlstein:
These are ugly words. Pearlstein is right to decry the misinformation that has been directed at the President's health care plan, but the GOP's efforts to defeat the plan are in no way disloyal or equivalent to terrorism. Party competition -- which often produces various forms of ugly behavior -- is an intrinsic feature of democratic politics in a free society. Opposition parties are in no way obligated to help the country reach a consensus on health care or any other issue. If Pearlstein wishes to condemn the tactics used by Republicans, there are variety of more constructive ways to do so.