The first fight in any political debate is over semantics. Who could be against the "Clean Air Act"? Who could oppose controlling "assault weapons"? The "right to choose"? The 800-pound gorilla in the semantics debate is, of course, the "objective" press. The media have the power to make or break the slogans partisans use.
It is common practice for the liberal press to attach the word "so-called" to GOP initiatives. When the Contract with America became the "so-called Contract with America" in news reports, its proponents were placed squarely on the defensive. So prevalent is the "so-called" curse that the media now attach it to organizations themselves, thus bringing doubt to bear not on the issues, but on the participants. When Dan Rather files a story about the "so-called Christian Coalition," it's a clear message to the viewer not to believe the group, period.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have no such problem. Whatever they say, and however they put it, is accepted immediately. The latest semantic manipulation in the Democrats' favor is the "patients' bill of rights." The vast majority of press reports from the Senate debate on regulating health maintenance organizations refer without quotes to a "bill of rights," which offers "protections" for patients and doctors against mean, cost-cutting HMO bureaucrats. The Democrats are the champions of this wonderful-sounding idea and the Republicans who oppose it, are well, monsters. So the Republicans have (again) knuckled under with a watered-down version, since who would want to be against "rights" or "protections"? In USA Today, reporter William Welch began: "Senate Republicans, ending a week of bitter partisan debate late Thursday, approved a limited set of federal rights for patients in managed care health plans."
Reporters ought to be dropping "so-called" into sentences like this. First, what are patients' rights? To hear the typical Democrat talk, a patient has the right to walk into a hospital and order whatever procedure he wants, and cost is no object.
The "patients' bill of rights" is a completely perverse abuse of terminology, a direct opposite to our classic understanding of individual rights, specifically the right to property. What the Democrats are supporting here is their classic understanding of an "entitlement," something that everybody should have no matter how much everybody "else" pays. If Republicans weren't duck-and-cover types, they'd call this the "patients' bill of entitlements." And if the media weren't so blinded by their support of the Democrats, it might occur to them, too.
The media also tell us that this "bill of rights" is being advocated by "consumer groups," while those who oppose it are simply bought and paid for by the insurance industry. Now consider these "consumer groups." Many of these groups, like Families USA, are strident left-wing advocacy groups who would love to see Canadian-style single-payer health care installed in the United States. Do they favor "consumers" or some hidden agenda?
Question: If insurance groups are protecting their profits and "buying" politicians, then who's "buying" the Democrats? You'll never see the press investigate that one. Reporters are not explaining how the Democrats' push for a right to sue HMOs is a favor to one of their biggest donor groups, the trial lawyers. Somehow, the trial lawyers' push for expensive litigation puts them among the "consumer groups," too.
By contrast, note how quickly CBS reporter Bob Schieffer puts the Republicans in someone's pocket: "Pushed by the big insurance companies, the Republican majority stuck together as expected and killed the Democrats' HMO reform plan, plank by plank. On near party line votes, Republicans killed the Democratic proposal to give doctors, not insurance companies, the final say on treatment." Schieffer also brought on the new president of the American Medical Association to express his outrage.
But do you remember five years ago, when the AMA and those people complaining about choice for doctors were the cavemen who opposed the Clinton health plan? If the Clintons had their way then, those same doctors would be asking the government how high to jump now.
Over at NBC, Tom Brokaw bluntly pitted the Republicans against the little guy. "You and your HMO. What happens if something goes terribly wrong? Can you sue? Not if the HMO is regulated by the federal government. The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate made sure that remains the case in a heated debate and a vote that tonight has the Democrats in full cry."
Of course, NBC loved HMOs when they were the Clintons' solution for keeping health costs down. The morning the Clinton plan came out, reporter Jim Maceda waxed: "Managed care already works in ten states, and, the reformers insist, is saving money."
As usual, whether it's mangled semantics or political theatrics, the network outrage manufacturers aren't interested in patients or doctors, but in helping Democrats and hurting Republicans.