Fear is a powerful propaganda weapon. But couple fear with the innocence of childhood and you have a hair-triggered nuclear bomb of persuasion. One need only spend fifteen minutes watching the finalists of President Obama’s health reform video contest to experience its influence.
The Health Reform Video Challenge, launched by Obama’s Organizing for America in September, is a contest “to make the best 30-second ad showing why the President’s plan for reform is so critical.” The winning video, selected by a list of Hollywood elites and Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, will be the basis for a new television ad that will air across the country delivering a clear message to viewers – children will die if health care reform is not passed. The secondary message is only one Defcon level lower on the fear-o-meter – the parents of sick or injured children will go bankrupt or lose their houses for even the simplest of injuries.
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Using children to pluck at the heartstrings of the electorate and further a political agenda is nothing new, but it shifts into the land of Disgustopia when our young are exploited to distort the truth or spread outright falsehoods. The winning video opens with a young boy stating, “A year from now I’ll break my leg and my parents will have to sell our house because we couldn’t afford health care.”
This statement is designed to instill broad fear and disseminate the idea that anyone, even a family faced with the common injury of a broken leg, is susceptible to being thrust from their homes as a consequence of being uninsured. The odds of needing to sell your home to pay for the cost of a broken leg are so remote that it borders on preposterous to use it as an example of why we need reform. House closing costs in almost every scenario would exceed the medical bill, yet this is the video that the President’s organization has selected to justify the need for reform. It’s much easier to sell health care reform if our system is so fractured that a broken leg can expel a family out from under the safety of their roof.
The power of fear to induce submission is one that few can avoid. In researching the twenty finalists for this piece I even found myself second-guessing my position on the health care reform debate. Such is the power of good propaganda.
We have an innate affinity towards altruism. It is a reality of the human condition that Big Government knows and exploits, without conscience, if the means justify its ends. Fear is Big Gov’s most useful tool for expansion. The mounting growth of entitlement programs provides clear evidence of our inability to tame this altruistic affinity.
The power of using children as propaganda tools can also be seen during the last “historic” health care reform debated in our country, a case study that also provides a clear example of the phenomenon of “mission creep” that the current reform bill will surely experience in the long run.
In the wake of their failed attempt to overhaul the health care system in 1993, the Clinton Administration looked for a smaller, targeted initiative that could get bipartisan support. After examining several options in separate efforts, both the First Lady Hillary Clinton and Senator Ted Kennedy came to the conclusion that expanding health care insurance to children of the “working poor” would be the most politically popular route. This insight gave rise to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, better known as SCHIP.
SCHIP was signed into law by President Clinton in August of 1997 with the goal of insuring up to 5 million kids whose parents made too much money for Medicaid but could still not afford health insurance. After the first year of the program nearly 1 million children were enrolled.
Flash forward to January of 2009. “Either you are for kids or not for kids,” was the rallying cry of Democratic Senator Max Baucus in the push to expand funding of SCHIP. Similar rhetoric brought 40 House and 9 Senate Republicans over to the majority, and the Democratic controlled Congress presented to President Obama a bill that increased SCHIP funding by over $30 billion – in essence doubling the budget of the program.
SCHIP, which was intended to provide health insurance to the 5 million children of the “working poor”, has the ring of a morally sound program. An argument using children as the beneficiaries is a powerful message that few politicians can counter. But here’s the kicker, the Obama Administration’s SCHIP funding expanded eligibility to children in families earning $84,800 – that’s almost 400% of the poverty income level for a family of four. In some states families with incomes over $100,000 become eligible due to “income disregards” that allow for deductions such as rent, mortgages, and heating bills among others.
The expansion also has the goal of insuring 11 million children by the year 2013. That is over double the goal of the initial bill. Its also been argued by Republican lawmakers that over half of the newly eligible children already have insurance, which means they will be driven away from private insurance into the government sponsored program, piling on more of a burden to our system. That is the textbook definition of mission creep, a program’s expanding well beyond its original intent.
Here’s the point that we must understand – we cannot let propaganda prey on man’s primitive altruistic instinct in such a way that we burden our system to the point of collapse. Our entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, already account for more than 40% of federal spending! If we keep on the path of endless entitlement expansion we will see a depression the likes of which we have never seen before. That is not a play on the emotion of fear – just an unavoidable law of nature.
Yes we need change to our health care system. The costs of private plans are growing and there are people falling through the cracks due to catastrophic ailments that are of no fault of their own. We need targeted reform that tackles these problems. But what we don’t need is President endorsed propaganda that exploits children and is designed to scare the electorate into submission with distorted information.