Sunday, February 12, 2012

Asking the Wrong Questions

One of the greatest quotes of all time was written by Thomas Pynchon in his book Gravity's Rainbow:
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."
The government and the media frame every issue by asking the wrong questions. They do this for two reasons: to try to make sure every viewpoint has a partisan association, and to make sure the right questions are never asked.

Examples of wrong questions abound, but a recent example concerns the Obama administration, insurance companies, religious institutions, and birth control (and presumably everyone who buys insurance). The New York Times describes it as "a new rule that requires (read: forces) religious schools and hospitals to provide employees with access to free birth control." But according to the NWLC, such a policy has already been law for over a decade. To me the specifics are vague (intentional?), but they're not as important as Your Favorite News Source would have you believe. All you need to know is this: the government is going to use its police to force some group of people to do what the group doesn't want to do, ostensibly for some common good.

The rhetoric is tired and predictable. People who support the mandate choose to see it as a preventative health issue (in this instance, making it easier to obtain birth control), which is all that's needed to justify the government doing whatever it wants at gunpoint. It's a question of women's health, you see. You're not against women's health, are you?

The most vocal opposition to the mandate comes from religious groups. They object to being forced to pay for things they find incompatible with their beliefs. If it is true that this mandate will force churches et al to directly or indirectly pay for what they find objectionable, then they do have a legitimate complaint. Therefore, the law should be on their side, and that's the angle they should be pushing. But this is almost totally ignored, and instead is portrayed as some sort of an assault on religion. Obama wants to destroy religion, you see. You're not about to let him take away your religious freedom, are you?

See how that goes? Nowhere in there is it asked whether any government (let alone the federal government) should use force (backed by men with guns) to make insurance companies do anything*. And why would they bother asking such a thing? Doing so is clearly not in the interest of the political class. Could you imagine any prominent politician or lapdog pundit on mainstream TV bringing up whether this is even an appropriate use of the awesome force of government? Of course not, because it would only raise more questions about the legitimacy of power, government's role, personal responsibility, individual rights vs. the will of the majority, and much more. But nobody wants to rock that boat.

The truth is that this is not a religious freedom issue or a women's health issue, though it may be paraded around as such. It's also not a preventative care issue, an economic issue, or an employee benefit issue. Like everything else in which the government has the last word, it is (or has now become) just another political issue- to be decided by whichever faction with more political pull at the time.

This is why the issue is framed the way it is. It's designed to get people on board with some political agenda they might not otherwise support. It's much easier to provide people with a false choice and just have them argue over that. That way, whichever position a person comes to adopt, there will always be some politician who will be there to take the credit. And so long as politicians keep getting the credit, they'll continue to be the ones who decide which questions get asked.

*except refrain from using force or fraud.