The similarities between the campaign against mitigating the consequences of climate change and the campaign against health insurance reform go far beyond the use of distortion and fiction. The parallels are everywhere.
For example, those with vested (monied) interests in the status quo are turning to the same lobbying and public relations outfits to carry out the campaigns. The latest firm to be identified is Bonner & Associates, which, according to the Virginia Daily Progress,
was founded in 1984 by Jack Bonner and is considered a pioneer in the field of “strategic grassroots,” in which the firm manages grassroots campaigns on behalf of its clients, which have included Fortune 500 companies and national associations in all 50 states.
Bonner & Associates has been working against change for much of its history, apparently. It has been hired to fight workplace smoking bans and lower prescription drug plans. It has also be caught defrauding the U.S. government in contracts. None of that prevented the coal industry from using the firm to carry out the recent forged grassroots letter campaign against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (a.k.a. Waxman-Markey) now before the Senate.
The use of falsehoods in political battles is nothing new. But it’s hard, as a journalist trained to respect the need to ground all communications in facts, not to get frustrated with an entire industry that sees nothing wrong with lying.
The health insurance debate, for example, is hobbled by this kind of ad (the link is to an NPR story rather than the ad itself). The “Shona Holmes” ad directly challenges the fundamental operating principles of the Canadian health insurance system. It describes a place that’s completely foreign to someone like me, who spent almost all of the first 40 years of his life in Canada. It is, to quote a Canadian health economist, “absolute nonsense.”
I am reminded of the arguments of climate change deniers, who have invented an entirely fictional version of history to counter the mountains of scientific evidence that links fossil-fuel combustion to gobal warming trends. (No, the “hockey stick” wasn’t discredited; in fact, it’s been independently verified a dozen different times.)
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times the facts (e.g., the health care in Canada is private, only the insurance is provided by the government) are presented. Those opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or reducing health-care costs just keep on making the same false claims.
A recent Bloomberg News article addresses the problem:
That Shona Holmes’s claims are disputed by government officials and independent analysts as misleading is almost beside the point. What matters to outside interests spending millions of dollars on such ads is whether they will work in shaping or scuttling Obama’s push for a $1 trillion overhaul.
“There’s this irresistible impulse to go over the cliff and make claims that sound more dramatic but actually aren’t based in reality,” said Brooks Jackson, director of the Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center’s Political Fact Check.
So how do we reign in that irresistible impulse? Railing against it in the blogosphere doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. I suppose one could argue that the lies might be even more egregious if bloggers weren’t ready to pounce on each and every one, but I doubt it.
It occurs to me however, that there might be a bright spot in all this. If we can connect the dots between the climate change deniers and the health-insurance fraudsters, perhaps those citizens who understand the truth of one group might become more skeptical of the claims of the other.
Most Canadians recognize the fictitious nature of the attacks on their health insurance system. If it can be brought to their attention that the same people are behind some of the climate change denial campaigns, then might they start to see the light there, too?
And those Americans who already have a good grasp of the science behind global warming but are afraid of the prospect of “socialized” health care might be more willing to entertain the notion of a system delivered by private physicians, but paid through government coffers.
Or maybe I’m just trying not to get too depressed as I watch both the health insurance and climate change bills wallow in Congress as the summer slips by.