Monday, August 10, 2009

Being wrong does not disqualify one from democratic rights

I'm listening to WNYC, and Ezra Klein and Luke Mitchell are on the Leonard Lopate show talking about healthcare reform. One big point of disagreement between the two guests is that Klein refuses to blame industry lobbyists or Republican partisans for trying to kill the bill currently up for debate. Mitchell takes the opposite view on that narrow topic. Though both support liberal reform, and so do I, it's that narrow topic that I find really fascinating. (In part, I think it parallels the debate over the "Israel Lobby," where some people argue the people are being misled by powerful Jews.) I think Klein is spot on and there's something fishy about Mitchell.

Klein argues from the recognition that there are, indeed, Americans who are deeply distrustful of the American government. And there are Americans who have all kinds of wrong views about healthcare, as well as all sorts of moral views about issues related to healthcare like abortion and euthanasia. He views these people as wrong on the issue, but he is respectful of their democratic rights. Perhaps he is soft on Republican partisans who put partisanship above good governance. On the other hand, Mitchell, it seems to me, is strangely distrustful of a democracy that allows people with wrong views to participate. So he blames the "powerful" as a way of not listening to the people.

Of course, the insurance industry is an incredibly wealthy sector, and that does give them meaningful power that should be critiqued. And it seems likely they're leveraging that power to try to make some spurious arguments. But those arguments work because there are people who already believe them. And those arguments are ultimately important because power in the US flows through "the people." Otherwise there would be little need for such arguments. This creates a problem for left-wing pro-democracy folks.

Those Americans in the insurance industry are still Americans. They are not any less American for arguing from their perspective in insurance. Even if they are terribly cynical and dishonest about it, their failing doesn't become that they aren't Americans. There are all kinds of ways people can be wrong or even awful without becoming not American, without disqualifying them from the right to participate in American democracy. More importantly, those people convinced by the insurance sectors specious arguments are still Americans, and their democratic rights are still meaningful and important. I'm impressed by Klein's handling of this dilemma here.

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