Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What You Want Said, It Ain't Clear

In which I offer an extremely tepid defense of Virginia Foxx.

Foxx is the representative from North Carolina's 5th District, a rather heavily Republican part of the state that includes the suburbs of Winston-Salem and some of the hinterlands in the state's northwest corner. She has a tendency to say some, well, nutty things, like when she called the Matthew Shepard murder a "hoax." She's a few donuts short of a dozen, to be sure. But the latest Foxxism to draw left-wing ire isn't really all that nutty, considering:
And I believe the greatest fear that we all should have to our freedom comes from this room — this very room — and what may happen later this week in terms of a tax increase bill masquerading as a health care bill. I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.
OK, let's get the crappy stuff out of the way. Needless fearmongering? Check. Exaggeration of a threat? Check. Gratuitous invocation of terrorism? Check.

But let's parse a little further and see if she isn't on to something here. The conservative view of the health-care reform package is that it'll create a massive entitlement program that will end up destroying us budget-wise. That'll force us to either raise taxes or go even further in hock to China. Also, conservatives believe that higher taxes will seriously injure our already fragile economy. Put it all together, and conservatives view this health-care reform bill as a serious threat to our country's economic well-being. We can argue about whether or not conservatives are right to fear reform, but for now let's accept that fear for what it is.

(As an aside, my opinion is that the budget concerns are legitimate, but the taxation concerns are not, so if the cost of health care reform rises too much we can raise taxes without really hurting the economy. But that's off topic, and I can post on that later if anyone's interested.)

But note Foxx's comparison to terrorism. She says that the consequences of health care reform - prolonged economic sluggishness and higher taxes - are worse than terrorism. In saying this, she's doing something quite welcome - she's tacitly admitting that terrorism isn't really an existential or serious threat to Americans' well-being. And in that sense, she's right. Botched health-care reform that seriously injures our economy is more worth fearing than terrorism, because terrorism isn't really worth fearing that much anyway.

(Another aside: Foxx's ideological opponents could also point out that abdicating health care reform is a worse mistake than giving up the fight against terrorism, for much the same reason.)

So let's look past the bombast of Ms. Foxx's statement and recognize that the main thrust of the statement is correct. The debate over health care reform is a far more consequential struggle than our "war on terror" against al-Qaeda; it will certainly have a greater overall impact on our lives than any terrorist could possibly have. Now that's not to say this is what Foxx meant when she was saying what she said - it's more likely that she was just trying to score cheap rhetorical points by invoking everyone's favorite bogeyman than it is that she actually views the terrorism threat soberly and rationally. But even the blind mouse finds the cheese sometimes.

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