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Town Hall Lunacy Includes Outraged Calls to 'Keep Government Out of Medicare,' When Medicare Is Government

Some can't reconcile what they believe about the propaganda that is fed to them with their own positive experiences with public programs like Medicare.

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They are likely to believe those they perceive as authorities on an issue without question, even when, as in the health reform debate, those leaders come out with fantastic lies about what the measure would look like, complete with ashen bureaucrats deciding how much health care you deserve based on your lifestyle and elderly people being forced to argue their worth in front of Sarah Palin's now-infamous "death panels."

But one aspect of the right-wing authoritarian personality is especially relevant to the question of how someone might demand that government's hands be kept off of Medicare.

Altemeyer found in the personality a tendency to avoid cognitive dissonance -- the discomfort caused by holding two contradictory ideas -- at all costs and to lash out when confronted with it.

In this case, the conservative mind simply overrides the inherently contradictory ideas, "Medicare is good" and "government health care is bad" by imagining the former as something other than the popular publicly administered program that it is.

Those yelling at town hall meetings across the country are deeply indoctrinated with all of the major tenets of right-wing anti-governmentalism. They believe there's "rot at the top," that government intervention in the "free market" is "socialism" -- and not in the Swedish style, but as a brutal and totalitarian system epitomized by the former Soviet Union or today's North Korea.

"Government," in their view, is not represented by a heroic firefighter or an organization that is incredibly effective at its task like the United States military. It's a long line at the DMV.

So they believe, as Ronald Reagan said, that government cannot be a solution to their problems, only a cause. And yet … they have Medicare.

Not only does the program have lower administrative costs than private health insurance, but people who take part in it express a great deal of satisfaction with their coverage. In fact, study after study after study show that people on Medicare are more satisfied with their access to care and the quality of that care than the rest of the population.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There is arguably no area of public policy in which reality more profoundly clashes with the cherished right-wing myth that the government can do no right -- and the "free market" no wrong -- than in health care.

Recipients of Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program are the beneficiaries of health care covered by the functional equivalent of a government-run, single-payer program, and most are quite satisfied.

Not only does their care come with less overhead, but, according to a study by the Rand Corp., the even smaller group of Americans, veterans, who have truly socialized medicine -- government-run clinics providing care directly -- have the best health care in the country in every measure, except for emergency care. (That's because the emergency care available to veterans is the same as that available to anyone else: Everyone can get treatment in any emergency room, regardless of the ability to pay).

The push to reform the system runs headlong into another cherished belief -- one not limited to conservatives: American exceptionalism.

In the U.S., we take it for granted that We're No. 1! And while we are number one by a long way in terms of the amount per person that we spend on health care, the World Health Organization ranks our system as the 37th in the world; we lag behind all other developed countries in terms of deaths prevented by medical treatment.

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