Follow the Bouncing Buck: The year’s highlights in blame shifting

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BY JACOB SULLUM – Two weeks ago, writing in The Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius argued that Americans must be forced to buy government-approved medical coverage to prevent “unfair cost-shifting” by uninsured patients. They neglected to mention that the federal government mandates such cost shifting by requiring hospitals to treat all comers, regardless of their ability to pay.

Holder and Sebelius also misleadingly implied that the individual insurance mandate is aimed at addressing uncompensated care, which according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation represents less than 3 percent of health care spending. The main reason ObamaCare compels people to buy insurance is not so they can pay their own bills but so they can pay other people’s bills. Since the new system requires insurers to cover everyone while forbidding them to charge sicker policyholders more, it needs to conscript people who hardly use health care so they can subsidize the expenses of people who use it a lot.


The Obama administration’s refusal to acknowledge that coercion begets coercion when the government meddles in the health care market was one of the year’s most memorable examples of blame shifting. Here are a few more:

Tiny Toy Terror. This month, with help from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Monet Parham, “a mother of two from Sacramento” (who happens to work for the California Department of Public Health), filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s, complaining that the fast food chain “uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald’s and to develop a preference for nutritionally poor Happy Meals.” In the spirit of former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin—who once declared that “you can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don’t want…but why should you have to?”—Parham concedes that she can say no to her kids but resents the necessity. “As other busy, working moms and dads know,” she says, “we have to say ‘no’ to our young children so many times, and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do.”

Four Loko Madness. The Food and Drug Administration banned the fruity malt beverage in November amid a moral panic about a product that grandstanding politicians denounced as “a plague,” a “witch’s brew,” and “a death wish disguised as an energy drink.” Alarmist press coverage blamed Four Loko for making people break into homes, crash stolen vehicles, shoot themselves, and contemplate murder.

Mooting the Messenger. President Obama called Citizens United v. FEC, the January decision in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by corporations, “a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics.” Later he pre-emptively blamed the ruling for letting “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” trick people into voting against Democrats. Obama thereby ignored the ways in which his big-government policies, including stimulus spending, bank and automaker bailouts, and expanded federal control of health care, simultaneously invited special-interest lobbying and alienated voters.

Government-Guaranteed Drug Dangers. This year drug warriors repeatedly warned the public about hidden hazards in psychoactive substances sold by unscrupulous traffickers, including a veterinary medicine used to cut cocaine and the obscure chemicals that supply the high in quasi-legal alternatives to pot and speed. They never acknowledged their own role in creating such hazards by enforcing drug bans that make quality unreliable and drive people to potentially dangerous substitutes.

Scope or Grope. The Transportation Security Administration invited travelers to blame Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up an airplane by igniting explosive powder sewn into his underwear, for the ritual humiliation of routine full-body scans backed up by newly aggressive pat-downs. But the new scanners probably would not have discovered Abdulmutallab’s underwear bomb because they are bad at detecting thinly packed, shape-hugging explosives. The specious excuse suggests TSA officials are determined to cover their butts while making us show ours.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2010 by Creators Syndicate Inc.