May 5, 2008

For the past several weeks, John McCain and his campaign have been enraged by the emphasis on his willingness to leave U.S. troops in Iraq for up to 100 years, and the audacity of Democrats to tell voters about his views on the issue. To hear them tell it, misrepresenting a rival’s stated policy position — which Dems really aren’t doing — is completely beyond the pale.

Which is odd, given McCain’s habit of wildly misrepresenting the Dems on healthcare policy.

Senator John McCain has been repeatedly suggesting that his Democratic rivals are proposing a single-payer, or even a nationalized health care system along the lines of those in countries like Canada and Britain.

The suggestion is incorrect. While both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are calling for universal health care and an expanded role for government, they stop well short of calling for a single-payer plan.

Mr. McCain has made the assertion several times in recent days, even as he and the Republicans have made repeated calls for accuracy on the campaign trail…. Yet on repeated occasions, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, has inaccurately described the Democrats’ health care proposals, using language that evokes the specter of socialized medicine.

On a campaign stop on Thursday, for example, McCain said Clinton and Obama “want a massive government takeover of the health care system in America.” A few months ago, McCain said the Dems offer a “single-payer big government solution.” A few months before that, he insisted that the Dems are offering a “government-run, single-payer system like they have in Canada and like they have in England.”

Now, it’s worth noting that John McCain doesn’t know the first thing about healthcare, other than the fact that he’s enjoyed generous, quality, taxpayer-financed medical care for his entire life. Given his almost humiliating confusion on most policy details, McCain might actually believe his own bogus talking points. He’s not necessarily lying; it’s just as likely that he’s clueless.

Whether his deception is intentional or not is, however, beside the point. After decrying misrepresentations, McCain can’t bring himself to tell the truth about one of the most important domestic policy issues on the mind of Americans.

The McCain campaign’s defense is rather amusing.

Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, noted that Mr. Obama had called himself “a proponent of a single-payer health care program” in 2003. And he noted that just this week, Mr. Obama had spoken favorably of systems in Canada and Europe and said, “If I were designing a system from scratch, if I were just starting from zero , I would probably set up a similar system, just a Medicare-for-all plan.”

But Mr. Obama has even stopped short of mandating health insurance for everyone.

Mr. Bounds said that Mr. McCain’s characterization of the Democrats’ plans was completely reasonable. “While their proposals may not outline one to the finite extent, they clearly suggest that the movement toward a single-payer system is in their overall interests,” he said.

I see. The “finite extent” is a terrific euphemism, isn’t it? Perhaps I can translate Bounds’ conclusion from spin to English: “If we consider what the Dems have actually said, McCain is lying. But those are just details. Since we think the Dems’ plans might someday kinda sorta lead to something like single-payer, we feel comfortable lying some more.”

My very favorite quote, though, came when McCain said people in a single-payer system “end up in a two-tiered system where the wealthiest can afford to pay for their own health care and those with low income sometimes wait six or eight months for a routine kind of treatment. And that’s what I’m not going to let happen to the United States of America.”

Right. Of course. We can’t possibly tolerate a “two-tiered system” in which those with more money get more care, and lower-income families get screwed.

No, that would be awful. We can’t let that happen in the United States of America.

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