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The Swiftboat Metaphor


Jonathan Cohn complains that “health-care reform” is being “swiftboated.” I think the parallel holds up. A mixture of true, false, and partly-true-but-hyperbolic claims are being made against a liberal cause, and liberals are for the most part using the false criticisms to avoid dealing with the valid ones. They’re also ignoring the falsehoods and bullying on their own side. From what I can tell, Betsy McCaughey has done Ezekiel Emanuel an injustice, as Cohn says, and what she says about health care should be taken with several grains of salt. But it seems to me to be worse when the president of the United States claims, falsely, that doctors frequently do unnecessary tonsillectomies for profit. Similarly, opponents of health-care reform should not be drowning people out at town halls. But it seems to me much worse for a president to tell his opponents in a debate to shut up.

Update: I’ve been persuaded that the tonsillectomy example is a bad one, and that Obama’s comments shouldn’t be construed so uncharitably. But the general point still stands, as I could have used examples such as the president’s insistence that his plans won’t cause anyone to lose coverage they like or that Medicare won’t be cut. I’ll end the update on another note of moral equivalence: Both sides in this debate are convinced that it’s only the other side that is trafficking in falsehoods, and both sides are wrong.