Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-19-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 19 July 2012 16:06

Fear and Politics


By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s leader in the 19th century, was the first statesman to bring socialized medicine to Europe. In the 20th Century, American presidents – Theodore  Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and now Barack Obama – have more or less subscribed to the principle that the health of the people is the country’s most valuable resource. But here we are in the early years of the 21st Century and universal coverage is still beyond our reach.

What is within reach – unless Mitt Romney is elected president – is the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – which, as Bill Keller pointed out in Monday’s New York Times, delivers 30 million new customers to insurance companies. This part of the law doesn’t  go down well with liberals who wanted a strong public option or an expansion of Medicare. But, that said, it is a better deal than what millions of Americans have to contend with today.

In his article, Keller, who was executive editor of the Times for many years, takes apart the “myths” that Republican propaganda and right-wing punditry” have spread about the Affordable Care Act  or Obamacare – the name “critics have made into a slur.”

Perhaps the most frightening “myth” is  that “Obamacare is a job killer.” In taking note that the Republican House “staged” yet another “theatrical vote” to bury the Affordable Care Act, Keller points out that some of the “job-killer stories” were based “on a deliberate misreading of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the law would ‘reduce the amount of labor used in the economy’ by about 800,000 jobs.”

Keller, who read what the budget office actually wrote, reports that “while some low-wage jobs might be lost, the C.B.O. numbers mainly refers to workers who – being no longer so dependent on employers for their health-care safety net – may choose to retire earlier or work part time.” Those jobs, he adds, would be open to others in need of work.

What’s more, the experience under “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, the blue print for Obamacare, refutes the “jobs-killer” argument. Nonetheless, “after years of... alarmist falsehoods,” says Keller,  the president’s enemies have found a myth that seems to be playing well “with the fears of voters.”

Which reminds me that when I was a graduate student at Columbia’s school of journalism I interviewed James Farley for a school paper. It was in the early 1960s, the heyday of  television. Farley was one of the masterminds behind Franklin Roosevelt’s historic landslides in 1932 and 1936. I asked Farley whether television, had changed the message since the time of print and radio. Shaking his head, he said people voted their fears. The message remained the same.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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