Sam Uretsky

Republican Looking-Glass Language

Former-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s ads, focusing on his history of prostate cancer, “My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44%, under socialized medicine,” show a healthy respect for The American Way. Not truth — or he would have used more reliable statistics; not justice — or he wouldn’t be credited with inventing the “perp walk,” where people were arrested and put on display, even if there wasn’t always enough evidence to bring them to trial — but he still gets an A-plus in American Way.

Over the years, the Republican Party has demonstrated a collective genius for Looking-Glass Language:

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’”

“‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’”

“‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’”

Their most impressive achievement was to take the word “liberal,” which meant a person who cared about the welfare of other people, and twist it to mean a person who favored waste and tax increases. Then, they took an administration marked by cronyism, repression, fiscal irresponsibility and overall ineptitude, and called it “conservative” without being called out for flagrant misrepresentation. While they were at it, they slimed “France,” ignoring the fact that without France in 1778 and 1812, we would have Queen Elizabeth on our money, and Spotted Dick on our menus.

Fresh from those achievements, the Republicans have taken aim against “socialized medicine,” happily ignoring two critical facts. The first is that none of the Democratic candidates have proposed a program of socialized medicine and the second is that, in contrast to Mayor Giuliani’s statistics, numbers compiled over decades of experience show that socialized medicine actually works.

The Edwards/Obama/Clinton health-care proposals reflect an awareness of the national tragedy of 1993, when the Health Insurance Association of America launched an advertising blitz that derailed the Clinton Health-Care Plan. The plans offered this year offer no more than reasonable regulations and some element of choice of insurers — far short of a single payer proposal — but even this is going too far for the Republicans who clearly believe in the Right to Die as long as it’s due to lack of medical care.

Also, and this has been repeated so often that we should have learned it by now, socialized medicine offers longer, healthier lives and lower costs than whatever we choose to call the current system. The latest iteration is a Nov. 1 report from The Commonwealth Fund ( which compared care in the US with six other developed nations. The US finished last, with more people skipping appointments and failing to take medications because of costs, and lower overall efficiency. People in the US had higher out-of-pocket costs than those in other nations surveyed and ran a higher risk of errors. As in all past studies, the US spent a higher percentage of its Gross Domestic Product, 16%, than any other nation. Germany, which came in second, spent 10.7% of its GDP, while Britain, which actually has practically the same cure rate for prostate cancer as the US, spent only 8.3%. While the US provided rapid access to sophisticated treatments, Americans had long waits for access to primary care, with problems in obtaining care on nights and week-ends.

Republicans have learned that if you say something with a sneer, be it “liberal,” “French” or “socialized medicine” — people will take the hint and conclude it’s bad. It’s a good trick, with a proven record of effectiveness — Lewis Carroll would have admired it. But no amount of flag waving will change the facts — all over the world a national health service offers better care at a lower price than the American system. The Commonwealth Fund study reported that over 80% of Americans recognize that our system of health care funding needs either fundamental revision or complete overhaul.

Mayor Giuliani was cured of a potentially fatal cancer thanks to American health care — that’s good. But isn’t it a kicker when you can get more equality in health care under a monarchy than in the United States of America?

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

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