The Healthcare Conspiracy: Olympia Snowe, Max Baucus, and Selling Out The Public Option
At the “How To Take Back America” a panel on “How to understand Islam” offered this response to an audience member who asked if the panel would consider Presdient Obama a Christian or a Muslim: “Barack Obama should be called the first Muslim American President…. Islam permits you to lie to advance Islam, Saul Alinsky allows you to lie to advance your communist agenda, you can put them together.”
There is a radical fringe in the United States that will believe just about anything. 11% of Americans still think Barack Obama is a Muslim. Another 11% think Obama was not born in the United States, a number that rises to 42% if we only ask the question of Republicans.
The Republicans are not alone as the party of wingnuttery, however. 35% of Democrats think George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks (moreso than “Bin Laden determined to strike United States”)
To some degree these lunatic fringes can be excused. A good conspiracy theory appeals, paradoxically, to our sense of rationality in the world; it lets us rationalize our denial of disagreeable facts. For die-hard Republicans, the possibility that Obama is a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya softens the blow of the 2008 elections. By blaming an elaborate left-wing conspiracy, these fringe elements of the GOP can avoid facing the reality that they are now paying the price for policies drove this nation to the brink of economic oblivion.
This “bug” in human rationality is nothing terribly new. The lunatic fringe is a fixture in human thought and it remains an almost axiomatic truth that there exists no idea so stupid that no one will believe it. ESP (48% believe), aliens (34%), a faked moon landing (6%), orbital mind control lasers – almost everyone has a few cobwebs stuffed away in the corners of an otherwise rational mind. Aside from the sort of conversation that makes you edge away from people at dinner parties, such eccentricities are fairly harmless which is why society is so tolerant of them in the first place.
But they are not always so harmless, particularly when they cross into the realm of the political. A recent New York Times/CBS poll put the following question to Americans earlier this month:
Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private insurance plans?
65% of Americans responded in favor, 26% opposed, and 9% offered no position on the matter. The Times considered that 65% figure to be the meat of the story and ran the poll under the headline “The Public May Have More Appetite for a ‘Public Option’ Than Congress.” Media Matters, however, seized on the 26%: “More Americans believe in UFOs (34%) than oppose a public option (26%),” the media advocacy group trumpeted, “the debate is over.”
Except it’s not over.
It should be, but it’s not. Though opposition to a public option has been relegated to the same wing-nut fringe of American society that thinks aliens abducted Elvis and justified with arguments that would make even the most die-hard conspiracy theorists scoff, yesterday the Senate Finance Committee defeated two proposals to add a public option to the bill presently under consideration there. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) both played pivotal roles in the vote; Snowe voted with her party after weeks of fence sitting on the issue while Committee Chairman Baucus sided with conservative Democrats and likewise voted against it.
It is difficult to see such a measure so roundly defeated in committee when it enjoys such widespread support amongst the general public. Indeed both Snowe and Baucus hail from states where, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, the public option likely enjoys at least a plurality of support. About 280,000 of Snowe’s constituents – more than a quarter of Maine’s under-65-population – were uninsured between 2007 and 2008. Of those, approximately 77% were gainfully employed in the same period. The numbers from Max Baucus’s Montana are worse: 279,000 (or 34.3% of the under-65 population) uninsured with nearly 80% employed.
To borrow a phrase from the conspiracy theorists, “these numbers don’t add up,” but another set might.
Just within the 2010 campaign finance cycle, Snowe has taken $327,170 from insurance companies their employees and another $368,000 from the health industry. Her career total contributions from these two sectors comes to more than $1.1 Million. Next to Montana’s Max Baucus, however, Snows is a lightweight. For his 2008 reelection campaign, Baucus raised more than $2 Million from the health industry and more than $1 Million from insurance companies and employees.
These dots are not difficult to connect and while those who do so venture dangerously into the uncharted waters of conspiracy and conjecture, the implication of votes bought and paid for by campaign contributions is too difficult to ignore. Absent the improbable smoking gun, such allegations will remain unproven and indeed unprovable. The question of which caused the other – the contribution or the crucial vote – is wrapped up in a “chicken and egg” cycle which provides enough plausible deniability to shield both Senator and Sponsor from anything more than speculation.
Yet it is not in a court of law that Senators Baucus and Snowe will face their constituents. Reelection for both is a long way off but their votes have already drawn more than $200,000 into the coffers of liberal advocacy groups and if 2009 does not bring a successful resolution to the healthcare issue both Snowe and Baucus will have a lot to answer for in 2012 and 2014.