Alexandra Petri, grammarian of the WaPo (her tag line is: “Alexandra Petri puts the ‘pun’ in punditry”), comments on Bachmann’s recent denunciation of Obamacare.

It’s a funny article and a serious article all wrapped into one. It’s a good read.

But it is a serious article, all grammatical nitpicking (or not so nitpicking, depending upon how you feel about the abuse of language and whether you feel as if Bachmann has in fact committed some abuse) aside, and it is for its seriousness that Petri actually does the debate over health care a great disservice.


Because the entire point of her article is that what Bachmann says:

“That’s why we’re here: Because we’re saying, Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens,” Bachmann said. “Let’s not do that. Let’s love people. Let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”

must be an absurd hyperbole, and what she – Petri – says:

Few things are more lethal than expanded access to health care.

is not.

But this is exactly the point of the debate. That if you’re forced to use a certain system of health care insurance and delivery – forced because you’re paying into the system and that because you’re paying into the system you might not be able to afford some other system or because other systems (private insuracne, for example) will be crowded out – you might be receiving worse care than you otherwise might or you might be receiving different care than you might prefer. It is the lack of choice, the crowding out of alternatives in the marketplace, and the forced use of one product versus seen and unseen (unavailable) alternatives that the debate is about. And it is in this respect that Bachmann is exactly right and Petri is exactly wrong (if she actually believes what she wrote and wasn’t simply using it as an illustration).

Two examples illustrate my point.

#1 – from my novel Evolve.

A national health care system is put into place and participation is mandatory. Part of that health care system is the use of drugs that supposedly cure cancer. Except that the drugs don’t actually work, they are broken and mostly what they do is kill people. While the example is fiction, it’s not at all hard to imagine it happening in reality. After all, how many drugs are approved by the FDA that are later found out to be harmful? Many. And many of those drugs might well be mandatory in the treatment of certain conditions (think about high blood pressure medication, for example. It would make sense to control blood pressure rather than let the patient suffer from the consequences, one of which is a heart attack. So the patient would be prescribed the drug – a drug that might be harmful – and they would be essentially forced to take it with the belief that it was helping them to avoid a heart attack and saving the system money.)

#2 – a hypothetical involving personal choice

A national health care system – Obamacare, say – which, say, if you’re diagnosed with obesity, mandates that you eat a certain diet and does a reasonable job of monitoring and enforcing that mandate. While you may be healthier (note that you also may not get healthier), you may find that your lifestyle and satisfaction with life are much worse. You would prefer to continue to “kill yourself with chocolate” but the government simply won’t let you. And it’s not just that you can leave the system – if you chose not to adhere to the diet, then you lose ALL access to health care. It is in this respect that the notion of death panels is very real: you either do what a panel of “experts” tells you to do or you are penalized. Note that for the system to be at all effective the penalties must be severe.

And thus the debate. And the sense that Petri is completely wrong in chastizing Bachmann.

-JD Cross