Conservapedia:Andy at Rutgers - November 2009
Andy At Rutgers
On November 18th, 2009, Andy Schlafly was one of five panelists in a debate on Healthcare Reform sponsored by the Rutgers University Chapter of Amnesty International. The event was open to the public, and was attended by SpinyNorman/DinsdaleP, who provided the recap below.
The Attendee Notes
First off I apologize for not having any video or audio recording - I would love to have an objective record of the evening, but the best I can offer are my recollections and some independent correlation.
I got there 20 minutes into the program, which involved five panelists each making a presentation on their views of important healthcare reform issues, followed by audience Q&A. Each panelist took about 15 minutes to talk, and the with the exception of one incident the audience let each presentation run uninterrupted, and gave the speaker polite applause when they concluded. It was a polite audience of about 50 people, mostly Rutgers students, but some older adults mixed in as well since the event was open to the public. Since this was an open invite, I wondered if there would be some tea-party types in attendance, but it was a low-key evening overall.
I have to admit it was weird walking into the room and seeing Andy there in the flesh. I've seen and heard him on video, and certainly had my share of exchanges with the man online, but it was interesting to see his body language through the course of the event. He was polite, respectful of his fellow panelists, and during most of the presentations he seemed to fall into a pattern of listening and taking notes as you'd expect a lawyer to be doing while listening to testimony.
The other four panelists discussed the various tradeoffs in the health care reform (HCR) bills circulating through Congress. One talk was about the merits of the single payer system, another on the House bill with its tradeoffs, like adding a public option while prohibiting the public funding of abortion. A speaker from NOW was pretty critical of Congress for dealing away abortion funding via a last-minute amendment to secure votes, and expressed disillusionment with Obama for not fighting harder to keep that from happening. She focused on healthcare in the context of being a womans' issue, and in effect describing the HCR debate as a referendum on womens' rights.
This set the stage for Andy, who was speaking on behalf of the AAPS. He started off by explaining why the AAPS considers a single payer system to be bad for America, following two basic lines. First, a single payer system forces everyone to have coverage, and not being able to choose to be uninsured takes away from freedom, he reasoned. Second, he pulled out the cliched objection that people who need procedures in countries with single-payer systems, like Canada, have far greater wait times than in the U.S. I'm doing this from memory, but I recall him saying there's something like a 63 day average waiting period for procedures in Canada versus 7 days here. He repeated the numbers for emphasis in a condescending way, "63 versus 7 - why would we think that's better?", as if a suppressed truth has just been revealed to a roomful of impressionable college students.
The problem with his statement, of course, is that he was using unspecified stats in a misleading way, and expecting the crowd to buy it because it was delivered with such convincing authority. What's missing are two key clarifications. First, in the U.S. you aren't going to be signed up and on a waiting list for a procedure unless you have insurance or have the ability to pay in full yourself. His 7-day figure omits the people who have to wait indefinitely because they have no means to pay the uninsured cost. Second, his 60-odd day wait does not distinguish between people waiting for urgent procedures and those waiting for non-urgent or elective ones. A Canadian may have a longer wait than an American for an elective procedure, but one with a ruptured appendix will not wait any longer than an American for their surgery. Andy's number is an aggregate statistic that he portrays as being representative of the average wait time for all procedures, but that's not the true picture, and he knows it even as he's presenting his spin job. People in the audience who recognized this were shaking their heads as he made this argument - it's lame but nothing new from HCR opponents, but then it got more interesting.
Andy proceeded to pick up on the theme of the previous speaker from NOW, who talked about lower-income minority women as being the group who would benefit most from HCR, and suffer the most if nothing fundamental changes. Andy used that as a segue into a topic he wanted to make central to his argument - abortion. I'm doing this from memory vs. a hard transcript, but the essence of his argument here was that we expect HCR to improve health and save lives, not the reverse. Andy then pulls out a statistic that 30% of low-income minority woman have abortions, and that the infant mortality rate of low-income minority women who had abortions prior to their pregnancy is equally high. He also mentions that the infant mortality rate of nations with single-payer systems is higher than in the U.S. His implication was that abortions directly led to higher rates of infant mortality, so why would Americans want to use government funds, i.e. taxpayer money, i.e. your money to pay for higher infant mortality in the U.S.?
This actually elicited audible gasps from several audience members, who were experiencing the kind of cognitive dissonance that occurs when a well-dressed, well-mannered, professional lawyer in a nice suit stands before them, and in a calm and reasonable voice says one of the most batshit-insane things they've ever heard. Some of the panelists shook their heads in disbelief, too, and at this point a man in the audience made the only mid-presentation interruption of the evening to call Andy out on this and ask if he had a source for that statement. Andy was ready for that, reading off from his pad the name of a study that he'd expect to stifle any objection. Problem is, what counts as proof for Andy doesn't usually count as proof for most people living on planets with blue skies.
This was Andy trying to pull off his classic insinuation that something which correlates with a bad thing must be a cause of the bad thing. Low-income minority women may have a high rate of abortions compared to the general population, and they may also have a high rate of infant mortality in subsequent pregnancies as well. What's missing are checks against other factors, like low-income minority women possibly having poor prenatal care and/or nutrition compared to the general population. In Andy's view, it's all about abortion though, and being there in person I got to see his lawyer training in action. He's careful not to actually come out and state that abortion is a causal factor in subsequent infant mortality (because he can't prove it) - he just cites stats that sound similar and implies a connection in a folksy, Palin-esque way: "The rate of abortion is about 30% for this group, and so is the rate of infant mortality for women who had prior abortions - doesn't that seem like more than just a coincidence? If it is, then is this what we should be spending taxpayer money on?".
He then moved on to a final point about healthcare and women, as if attempting to take some of the impact away from the NOW speaker's characterization of HCR as a womens' right issue. "Women live to an average age of 82 years in this country, while men only live to 75. Why is there such an emphasis on healthcare as an issue for women, then, when they live longer than men? Shouldn't we be putting more of our healthcare focus in this country on mens' health? This brought the second set of audible gasps from the audience, who, by my observation, were mostly women. (way to appeal to the audience demographic, Andy.) There was an awkward silence of about 2 or 3 seconds after that, as if some of the people were thinking that this might have been a setup for a joke, and the punchline was about to be delivered. Nope, they just didn't know Andy Schlafly. But they were starting to.
He talked about objections to the public option as well, wrapped up soon after that, and got a polite if tepid applause. One final speaker went after Andy, and then the floor was opened up for Q&A from the audience. The moderator mentioned that this was a great panel discussing important differences with respect, and she requested respect in our questions and comments.
Now I have to be honest at this point and admit a few things. I am passionate about healthcare, having several children with special needs and having witnessed the prior generation in my family financially devastated by a critical illness with a 5-year-old child that impacted her parents into their retirement. I am also a passionate defender of truthfulness and honest debate. I like sparring over ideas and issues, and don't mind being proven wrong by a good argument because it means I learned something. I hate bullshit and deception with an equal passion, though, and when you combine all these factors you can understand how I was pretty keyed up when the Q&A period began. I had my hand up first, and in retrospect I'm sure a lot of the frustration and resentment with Andy came out in my voice, even if my words were civil.
I stated that my question was for Andy, and that in continuing on the moderator's mention of respect I had a comment for him first. I stated, politely, but bluntly, and to his face, that it was insulting to our intelligence to have him stand before the people in this room and pretend that correlation is the same as causality, and expect that we can't see right through that deception when he made his comments about abortion and infant mortality. I also said that he was being disrespectful of our intelligence to toss out general statistics about wait times for procedures when the only people waiting for procedures in the U.S. are the ones with coverage who can afford it - the ones who can't afford it have an indefinite wait, far longer than in Canada or anywhere else. I asked him to show more respect, then, when answering my question. What I then asked was what positive, constructive changes to the current healthcare system in the U.S. he and the AAPS are proposing, since all he'd done this evening was tell us what they are against.
Andy looked genuinely taken aback by my statements, looked at the moderator, and said that he felt threatened. He also resented that people were trying to censor his attempt to tell people about facts "that you aren't going to get from the media". I interjected to say that no one is trying to censor him, and stayed silent after that. Andy looked at me and said that everything he's talked about are facts that you can find on the internet, and that maybe I need to spend more time on the internet and look these things up for myself. (I admit I smiled at that statement, because he didn't know who I was when he was saying it).
To his credit, he did provide an answer to my question by talking about opening up cross-state competition between private insurers as a way to improve the status quo. That wouldn't go too far to solve the problems in this country, but it was a legitimate (if weak) answer.
Others followed with their questions, and three other individuals commented on the misleading nature of Andy's statistics and "logic". I also found this comment from one of the attendees posted on the Facebook page for the event, which confirms my observation independently:
- "The gentleman on the panel advancing the conservative position made a number of false and misleading claims, and I was disappointed that the two knowledgeable women on the left of the panel did not take much time to refute his claims directly."
The event ran late, and the moderator cut things off at 10:10. As people started filing out, I went up to Andy, thanked him for coming, and shook his hand to show no ill will. I explained that I have a passion about this topic, but that disagreement is not threatening, and criticizing his statistics is not the same as censoring his ability to present them. I then asked him for his opinion on tort reform, specifically how he can be pro-freedom-of-choice and action for the average American, while simultaneously proposing to cap what someone can receive as malpractice compensation instead of letting a judge and jury of one's peers work it out. At first he explained that capping malpractice awards would curtail healthcare cost inflation, but I argued that this assumed you can value a human life or human potential based on an arbitrary government-defined standard. If an infant was made a quadrapalegic through malpractice and required intense care for the next 80 years, I asked, how could any cap not run out? He responded that care should not be capped, only pain & suffering. This back-and-forth seemed to break the tension that was there in him when I had approached him, and I asked one more question. How does his concept of "supporting individual freedom" reconcile with the proposed GOP alternate health plan, which allows insurers to continue to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions? Doesn't that remove the freedom to shop for plans because of something you can't control? He didn't realize that was part of the plan, and said that he personally didn't agree with that policy, and doubted that the AAPS would either.
On that rare note of agreement, I decided to leave, and made a final parting comment to Andy. "By the way, I don't take everything I hear or read at face value, and I do quite a bit of my own research on the internet. I used to be on Conservapedia, in fact, and you knew me there as Dinsdale." At this Andy blinked, smiled, and said, "Hey, I remember you!", and we shook hands one last time and parted. That last bit had kind of a surreal feel, which reminded me of something from a job many years ago. I had worked at company X, where a man named J screwed me and several colleagues over through various games of politics he played. A couple of years later we wound up consulting for different firms at the same client, and he greeted me like a long-lost buddy instead of remembering I was a long-lost punching bag of his. That's how it felt with Andy. Godspeed, indeed. --SpinyNorman 07:33, 20 November 2009 (UTC)