Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Confidence Men

"A proposed victim is known as a "sucker," to the confidence men."
-- H. L. Mencken

I came across that quote a couple weeks ago and I think about it every time I watch the current Administration try to slick that Health Care plan of theirs past us; that grandiose, ill-defined, 1,000+ pages of wonderfulness that just cries out to be called “too good to be true”. Only I don’t hear any one calling it “too good to be true”. Do you?

Take just a moment to stand back and watch them; the President, Congressional leaders, the majority of our elected representatives, news commentators, whomever… Do you get the idea that any of them are on the level as they try to push this thing through? Not quite as on the level as one of those nimble carnival sharpsters moving a pea around under the shells. The hand is always quicker than the eye.

Both the carnival operator and the big time con-man are generally charming, jovial fast-talkers. The suckers can sense they are dealing with a rogue, but he seems so likeable. They know he’s playing fast and loose, too. But, whether he is enticing suckers to put up dollar bills in hopes of finding the pea, or invest millions in the hope of getting rich, he makes them all feel that he’s their pal; that he’s only stealing from the other guy.

The bunch in Washington hasn’t quite pulled that off. The President and his staff are on television all the time. We see them; we size them up. There is something about them. Their charm is a little too surface, a little too phony. With all those tax-cheats in the Administration we know one thing for certain; they’re not just stealing from the other guy. By definition they’re stealing from the rest of us. Why would we think otherwise?

In fact, the Administration is starting to look grim and just a little bit angry at us for not buying the line they are selling. We keep asking too many questions. Before long, they are going to resort to low-end used car salesman tricks.

It is not that their Plan, so-called, just needs a little work here and there, but rather there are so many holes in it that need to be filled, so many internal contradictions that can’t be explained in plain English that the whole thing looks like a disaster ready to happen. Even the pie-in-the-sky promise of “look at all the money you’ll save” was swept away when the Congressional Budget Office published a report showing that instead of savings, we’ll end up with another Trillion dollars tacked onto the deficit in the next few years, maybe more. What the Administration is trying to sell is the is the medical version of the “free lunch”.

Worse, the plan fails to address the real problems. There’s no simplification, no tax relief for the self-insured, no market-oriented thinking at all: just the promise of cost cutting and Government efficiency, which means – let’s face it – “rationing”. In these economic times, if you work for a company that scrimps on pencils and booklets of Post-It notes, that defers fixing a toilet or changing light bulbs, you know what I mean.

As politicians and media acolytes yammer on about the plan’s promised benefits, more people see a health care-future of long lines in government-green waiting rooms with Federal Employees offering a choice between “the red pill and the blue pill”.

Doctors are already trying to get ahead of this thing by advising patients not to get sick.

About the only thing in the plan carved in stone is Government control. That part is for sure. Whatever shape your health care takes in the future, whatever the wording of the final bill the President signs – Washington will control it. Every thing else is up for grabs.

Well, not quite everything. Meaningful medical malpractice lawsuit reform is not on the table. Lawyers have an important lobby. But, the Public option? One day it’s in, the next it’s out, and then it’s back in again. Euthanasia, the so-called “Death Panels”? Absolutely not, except in special cases. Funding for abortion? Abortion was guaranteed by our Founding Fathers, sort of, so Federal Courts will no doubt insist. The same reasoning will require paying for the insurance of the 12-20 million Illegals already in the country. Once this plan is law these details will be out of our hands.

To fix the problems with health care, Congress needs to approach the problem like a Doctor. Faced with a problem here’s what a real Doctor would do, before even getting out his stethoscope: First, listen to the patient, then, Second, project confidence. The Administration has done neither. They have handled the health care debate like a third-rate confidence man trying to sell mining stock to a widow.

How badly have they handled things? For about a month, now, You Tube has been filled with clips from Town Hall meetings showing politicians being questioned about the Health Care bill by voters. At first some pols openly stated they hadn’t read the bill, had no idea what was in it but were prepared to vote in favor of it. The fewer questions the politicians could answer the angrier the voters got. Before long, things understandably turned confrontational. The video clips, while fine as entertainment, are actually pretty redundant. How many clueless politicians do we have to see? The public has already got the picture: Our elected officials are a bunch of quacks. And what is a quack? He is a confidence man who practices medicine without a license.

The politicians eventually realized they were not coming off well, so what did they do? First, they engaged in name-calling. They called citizens – their own voters – obstructionists, un-American, Nazis, stooges of Big Pharma. Next they tried bullying. They brought in members of public employee unions to “counter” the citizens, to shove them around a little.

When that didn’t work politicians went into hiding. They moved meetings to secret locations, inviting only favored constituents by special invitation. They held “electronic Town Halls” via video or by conference call. Or, they cancelled them altogether; anything to avoid contact with voters.

Recently they’ve begun “astro turfing”, bussing in crowds of the party faithful in order to show support for the plan. Hey, we don't want Republicans or independents to "win" on this issue, do we?

So, now that public support has fallen below 50% should we chalk up the score as American Citizens – 1, Government Bureaucrats – 0? Not on your life. Don’t open any champagne.

Government controlled health care has been a goal of Big Government types since the 1920s. There is a lot of money and a lot of power at stake and right now they believe it is all in the wrong hands. They will not give up just because of a few rowdy protests or bad polling results. They started this fight and they can’t just walk away. So, what will they do next?

Well, there’s another quote that we might want to keep in mind.

“Never give a sucker an even chance.” -- W. C. Fields

If those words are any indication, we can expect them to sharpen their game and come at us again. To them, we’re still “suckers,” and we still have money in our pockets.