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Fisking Camille Paglia

[digg-reddit-me]Camille Paglia’s Salon weekly Salon column seems a product of a different time. One of the consequences of this is that she neglects to provide links sourcing some of the more bizarre claims she makes. At the same time, Paglia’s ideologically-applied contrarianism leads her to make quite a few of these bizarre statements. Her columns read like a caricature of media attempts to be “objective” and “independent” dreamed up by Glenn Greenwald rather than a sentient mind. Paglia seems determined to make sure neither Democrats nor Republicans, neither conservatives nor liberals feel comfortable with what she was to say. Thus, she endorses every criticism made by one side of the other, and credits no one with solutions. The defining element of her style is to take seriously the hypothetical or actual criticisms of various groups whom she then stereotypes in the crudest manner possible:

Steel yourself for the deafening screams from the careerist professional class of limousine liberals when they get stranded for hours in the jammed, jostling anterooms of doctors’ offices. They’ll probably try to hire Caribbean nannies as ringers to do the waiting for them.

Paglia uses these stereotypes to demonstrate her disdain for and independence from those whose criticisms she is adopting. Her vaunted independence then serves only to mask an inability or unwillingness to differentiate between true claims and false ones as she navigates through policy issues without endorsing any coherent approach.

And today, she applies her mind to the health care debate. The result is predictable.

Paglia rather quickly demonstrates her complete ignorance of the basics of health care policy arguments by endorsing “portability of health insurance across state lines” as “the most common-sense clause to increase competition and drive down prices.” Paglia doesn’t see any reasons why Democrats might oppose this “common-sense” reform – so she presumes there must be some “covert business interests,” that Democrats are protecting. A simpler explanation might be that allowing the portability of health insurance across state lines would effectively deregulate the entire health insurance industry. Or at least, it would create a race to the bottom as health insurance companies would relocate to the state with the least regulation, after which states would compete to deregulate to attract this industry. Or maybe the Democrats are really in the pocket of some secret business that Paglia imagines.

Paglia goes on to ask “why are we even considering so gargantuan a social experiment when the nation is struggling to emerge from a severe recession?” She answers her own question without pausing: “liberals are starry-eyed dreamers lacking the elementary ability to project or predict the chaotic and destabilizing practical consequences of their utopian fantasies.” The idea that this moderate bill – which resembles nothing so much as the Republican’s counter-offer to Bill Clinton in 1993 – is actually a liberal “utopian fantasy” is an easy straw man. Instead, this bill explicitly seeks to stabilize our status quo.

As to the question of, “Why now?” – Paglia might have taken the basic step of listening to any presidential address on this or read almost any liberal op-ed from before August. The presented explanation was that health care reform has to be the first step in entitlement reform. And entitlement reform is the first step towards fiscal solvency. And with the bond market and the Chinese government getting nervous about America’s solvency in the long-term, steps to bring the long-term deficit (which is almost entirely driven by the rising health care costs) into line were necessary. You couldn’t read a liberal op-ed on health care without seeing the Peter Orszag phrase “bend the curve” until this August when concerns about “death panels” and “killing Grandma” became paramount.

Speaking of which, Paglia makes sure to trot out these charges yet again – warning of imminent rationing and the “gutting” of Medicare:

How dare anyone claim humane aims for this bill anyhow when its funding is based on a slashing of Medicare by over $400 billion? The brutal abandonment of the elderly here is unconscionable.

Truly, to brutally abandon individuals to live without health insurance is unconscionable. To forcibly ration by government fiat is certainly not anything most Americans would support. Perhaps because of this, neither of these is anywhere in any proposed health care legislation. The “slashing of Medicare by over $400 billion” was described slightly differently by Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid yesterday. He called it, a typical Washington spending “cut” – in that Medicare costs were budgeted to rise by $800 billion in the next 10 years, but now would be restrained to rise by half that. Medicare spending would still rise significantly. Washington is one of the few places where you can spend far more and still call something a “cut.” This reduction in the rate of spending would come from various places – one of which would be the Medicare Advantage program which would be subject to “a competitive bidding process that is designed to lower spending on the program.” What Paglia – along with most right wing critics – fail to understand is that health care reform is not about reducing spending, but about reducing the rate of growth of spending. If Paglia calls this “brutal abandonment,” one wonders how she might describe the state of the uninsured if she felt compelled to look to them!

Paglia’s other claims are similarly shallow – equal parts histronics and ignorance. The modest bill proposed does not “co-opt[…] and destroy[…] the entire U.S. medical infrastructure” nor create a “huge, inefficient federal bureaucracy.” In fact, because the bill makes great efforts not to co-opt or destroy the hybrid health insurance system we have that it creates a maze of small bureaucratic institutions to manage the maze of hybrid models that make up our system. They key innovation of the current bill is not any set of bureaucratic institutions but the creation of a managed marketplace, the health insurance exchange.

Paglia’s take on health care demonstrates a complete failure to differentiate between true claims and false ones, as she demonstrates independence not only from partisan forces but from any objective reality.

[Image by Ann Althouse licensed under Creative Commons.]

One reply on “Fisking Camille Paglia”

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