Thursday, February 23, 2012

why hyperbole is no more okay on the left than on the right

Lately, many of my Facebook friends have been posting a link to the provocatively titled essay in Jezebel, Why Rick Santorum Would Have Killed My Daughter.  It's a very interesting article, and I'd recommend reading it before you continue reading my response.

To boil it down, it is author Sarah Fister Gale's telling of how a pre-natal test saved her unborn daughter's life, and includes a picture of a very cute little girl.  Gale says  the test, called amniocentesis, saved her unborn daughter's life. She goes on to say, "If Rick Santorum had his way, I wouldn't have been able to get that test, and she most likely would have died."

As I read the article I kept expecting her to offer a quote from Santorum, or a link, or something, but that never happened.  It sounded like she was saying he wanted to outlaw amniocentesis, but Gale doesn't ever actually state what his position is.  This left me dissatisfied, so I looked at the comments to see what others had to say

One woman certainly had felt the same way.  I think her name was Barbara, although since I can't find any way to see any of the older comments I can't find what she said now.  But I remember she started by asking Gale to cite Santorum's statements, and then apparently just went off and googled his comments.

What Santorum had said was, without a doubt, moronic.  He feels, like a lot of idiot religious right wingers, that businesses affiliated with religious organizations should be allowed to customize the insurance they offer to deny approval for any procedures they might object to, such as contraception. One procedure he felt they should be able to disallow was amniocentesis, because he says it leads to abortion.  In other words, parents discover their child could be born disabled and have an abortion.

This is, of course, pretty stupid.  It's like saying we shouldn't test for cancer because it increases suicides.  The goal of medical tests is to give information, not to influence behavior.  And as another comment noted, if we allow all religions to determine what insurance can offer, Jehovah Witnesses could deny coverage for blood transfusions, which they don't believe in, and Christian Scientists could disallow everything.

So yes, Santorum is an evil idiot.  But would he have killed Gale's baby?

First off, Gale doesn't say if she got her insurance through a religious organization, so we don't know if Santorum's ideas would have affected her personally.  She does say she couldn't have afforded the test without insurance, so if her insurance had denied the test it's fair to say the child might have died.

But Santorum has not actually proposed to make amniocentesis illegal, although he may want to. And so for me, the whole "Santorum would have killed my daughter" thing doesn't totally fly.

Of course, you can make an argument that really, his policies would wind up killing some kids.  But the problem is, you can make an argument for all sorts of things.

For example, "death panels."  You may remember when idiot queen Sarah Palin said that Obamacare would lead to Death Panels that would decide who lives and who died.  It was a nonsensical thing to say, of course, since it implied that somehow we didn't already have insurance companies deciding whether to provide care to keep people alive or refuse that care.  She was describing something that happens all the time as though it was something that would be ushered in through health care reform.

But while it was misleading, it wasn't exactly untrue.  There would be people deciding whether or not to provide life-saving care.  The fact that it already is that way doesn't change the fact that it would still be that way under Obamacare and thus there would be, after a fashion, death panels.

In other words, it's not the facts so much as the implication that was untrue.

And that's how I feel about Gale's article.  You can make an argument that yes, Santorum would have killed her daughter, but it's a weak argument.  It's so weak that she didn't offer a single quote from Santorum, or link to anything he's said, because she knew the piece would be less powerful if she introduced the messiness of his actual positions over the clarity of his implied positions.

But why not call Santorum a killer?  Won't that work as propaganda, and save us from a Santorum presidency?  "Death panels" was, after all, a very effective way to undermine health care reform.

And yes, it will work, with some people.  Many  will unquestioningly accept that Santorum must want to outlaw medical procedures.  In fact, this approach is probably most effective with Santorum supporters, because they're all idiots to begin with (do I have any evidence to support that?  Just listen to five minutes of Santorum and decide if anyone who was not an idiot could possibly vote for the guy).

In other words, it will work on people who don't question, who don't ask for proof.  But for those who want more than blanket, unsupported statements, this sort of hyperbole simply makes us suspicious of everything someone says.  If you say 99 true things and tell one lie, many people will dismiss those 99 true things, because you are a liar.

Thus, beyond the morality of hurling charges of dubious merit at one's opponents, there is the risk that an important message can get lost because of a stupid, unnecessary exaggeration.  Santorum can be shown to be so horrible on so many levels, there is no need to accuse him of theoretical homicide just to make a point.