Editors Note: This article deals with a typical tactic of the right-wing, which is now obsessed with making sure that Obama gets none of his programs passed, despite the mandate he received from the voters in 2008. On the one hand, the Republicans are attacking the president as a “big spender” on healthcare, then, simultaneously attacking him for wanting to control spending for healthcare, using the lexicon of “rationing,” “death panels” and “euthanasia” to frighten the old folks. And, of course, anytime I can work in anything from “South Park” into an op-ed, I just can’t pass up the chance.

Rationed Healthcare: Fertile Ground for Political Scare Tactics


Since the day President Obama gained his electoral mandate, Republicans have opposed nearly everything he’s proposed, or is rumored to have suggested, most notably in the healthcare arena. No aspect of GOP tactics has demonstrated more hypocrisy than their fear-mongering allegations that Obama will establish “death panels” to ration medical treatment for senior citizens and the terminally ill.

Sick people have more to fear from the insurance companies that are currently rationing their healthcare. These companies’ fiduciary obligation to their shareholders is to maximize profits by withholding as much treatment as they can get away with, and anyone who’s dealt with healthcare providers knows rationing is nothing new.

However, this isn’t the main reason conservatives raising the specter of rationing are so cynical. If they were even minimally interested in reforming — rather than merely conserving — our current system, they’d be encouraging rationing, because it’s financially necessary and should be supported, regardless of who’s in charge.

Look at it pragmatically: Would you spend $1.0 million to keep a 12-year-old alive for 40 years? Of course. But would you authorize spending $1.0 million to keep a 98-year-old Alzheimer’s patient alive for a week? If not, you favor at least some degree of sensible rationing.

The hypocrisy of conservatives worrying about deficits, after years of cheerleading uncontrolled spending by anyone named Bush or Reagan, is bad enough. But using the fear of rationing as a scare tactic, while simultaneously lamenting the cost of healthcare reform, is nonsensical. How dumb does Rush Limbaugh think we are?

The Republicans’ goals include protecting insurance company profits, denying Obama any successes and stirring up the sheep for the 2010 election, by convincing voters that any Democratic plan will be expensive, as well as offensive to their political and/or moral sensibilities. Many of the same right-wingers inciting the tea baggers about how costly healthcare reform will be are simultaneously talking out the other sides of their mouths about death panels and euthanasia.

Healthcare must be rationed to a rational degree, because it’s fiscally responsible. And, when they’re not busy scaring their constituents, including easily spooked senior citizens, with the bogeyman of rationing, even many conservatives would agree.

For example, rationing should include just saying “no” to expensive optional procedures. There’s nothing wrong with breast implants, nose jobs and liposuction — they just shouldn’t be part of taxpayer-supported healthcare. Meanwhile, the Fox News Channel, the Republicans’ propaganda ministry, has incensed the faithful about sex change operations, alleging “Obama care” will mandate it as an insured procedure. Despite its contradictory rabble rousing on rationing, GOP-TV is correct that such operations have no place in healthcare reform.

Not surprisingly, the Emmy-winning cartoon “South Park” has delivered the most-perceptive reductio ad absurdem on this subject. In a typically mean-spirited and politically incorrect episode, a lawyer — upset his short, Jewish son has scheduled a “negroplasty” because he feels tall and black inside (i.e., “transracial”) — confronts his own feelings about being a dolphin trapped in a man’s body. Empathizing with his plight, his doctor surgically attaches flippers and a fin. (Stereotypically, once he’s “trans-specied,” the lawyer threatens to sue over a lack of restroom facilities for dolphins.)

In a free country, we’re entitled to switch sexes if we want. The transgendered are harming no one, and they deserve our sympathy for lives that must be extremely difficult, but it’s optional surgery nonetheless. And most Americans would rightly object to footing the bill for it.

If I told my therapist I thought I was Napoleon, I’d receive a psychological diagnosis. He wouldn’t recommend expensive operations to make me shorter and French. And if I developed a phobia involving my instep, no therapist wouldn’t refer me to a surgeon to lop off my foot. We’d work on my mental and emotional health, not my appendages.

Outside South Park, it’s often considered politically incorrect to characterize transgender issues in terms of mental health. The psychiatric profession routinely recommends surgically altering those who feel they’re trapped in the wrong body, making their bodies compatible with their minds, rather than vice versa. It’s deemed nature’s mistake, and even suggesting psychological causes is likely to incite protests from a coalition of social activists.

Like homosexuality, gender identity disorders could be a mental or physical problems, nature or nurture, no one truly knows. And controversial procedures, such as sexual reassignment, or even abortion for that matter, will be hot topics for debate in the context of healthcare reform for years to come. The mechanics of rationing healthcare will be a battleground, which is as it should be.

However, the question will not be whether we ration healthcare or not. Rationing is already occurring, will continue to happen and needs to be done. And anyone who tries to frighten you with the prospect is just blowing smoke.

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