Home / General / Anti-ACA Random Anecdote FAIL

Anti-ACA Random Anecdote FAIL


With legislation as complex and far-reaching as the ACA, it would be difficult for it not to have bad effects for someone, even though it’s a major positive on net. What’s remarkable, as Michael Hiltzik and Kevin Drum have pointed out, is that the anecdotes about alleged horror stories carefully cherrypicked by Republicans have all turned out to be frauds. (Indeed, in several cases they have made Republicans look bad, as they seem to have convinced some of their followers to massively overpay rather than using Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s evil website.) Krugman notes that we’ve been down this road before:

Remember the “death tax”? The estate tax is quite literally a millionaire’s tax — a tax that affects only a tiny minority of the population, and is mostly paid by a handful of very wealthy heirs. Nonetheless, right-wingers have successfully convinced many voters that the tax is a cruel burden on ordinary Americans — that all across the nation small businesses and family farms are being broken up to pay crushing estate tax liabilities.

You might think that such heart-wrenching cases are actually quite rare, but you’d be wrong: they aren’t rare; they’re nonexistent. In particular, nobody has ever come up with a real modern example of a family farm sold to meet estate taxes. The whole “death tax” campaign has rested on eliciting human sympathy for purely imaginary victims.

And now they’re trying a similar campaign against health reform.

“Purely imaginary victims” — not just a great name for a band, a fixture of Republican propaganda.

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  • Mudge

    a tax that affects only a tiny minority of the population, and is mostly paid by a handful of very wealthy heirs.

    Mostly named Walton.

    • Warren Terra

      See also the Blethen family, owners of The Seattle Times, who took a rather nondescript local fishwrapper and utterly deranged its editorial side in order to support the party that promised them an end to the estate tax – a party that has effectively no support in Seattle, and is slipping badly in the rest of Western Washington.

      • Linnaeus

        Par for the course for the Seattle Times from the days of Colonel Blethen to the present day.

  • Rob in CT

    The “Death Tax” thing scares me. It scares me because they succeeded! The exemption level is $5MM, last I looked. My own mother gets all verklempt at the scene in Secretariat when they talk about maybe having to see the horse to meet the estate tax obligations. I did the math (looked up 1973 estate tax rules & adjusted for inflation) and pointed out that the estate had to be worth millions of today’s dollars and it bounced right off her. “I just think it’s wrong.”

    THEY WON WITH THAT. They shouldn’t have. It’s absurd, especially given the widespread belief in “meritocracy” and earning things on your own. But they did. I hope to see that reversed some day, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Exactly. The thought that this is just like the Death Tax does not fill me with hope.

      • nothingforducks

        Larry Bartels talks about the estate tax for a while in Unequal Democracy, as an example of a policy which has a much higher level of elite than popular support even though it’s clearly the platonic ideal of a just and justifiable tax in the general interest of the populace. I think, though, it’s unfair to say that Republicans “won” this in the sense of making a formerly popular tax unpopular by rebranding it as “the death tax”. My understanding is the estate tax has always had surprisingly low support among the general public, in opinion polls even after someone explains that it only kicks in above a very high wealth threshold (this is what Bartels talks about). It seems to me people have certain antecedent ideas about “what is mine” and “how I am supposed to provide for my kin” that are relatively staunch and based more in (wrongheaded) notions of justice, legacy-preservation, and family-firstism than proper meritocracy. This is always one of my go-to examples when I try and give Marx’s theory of false consciousness a fair hearing to it’s cultured despisers. Private property and inheritance are not simple concepts but are a whole series of different use rights and practices that are applied to all sorts of different things which have varied heavily across time and place. But even people with little property of their own tend to subscribe to a very naive and vulgar conception of “Property” (and “Race”) that need not be so expansive and is wholly contrary to their own class interests.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      You’re looking at it the wrong way!

      Reducing the estate tax to zero is what the GOP wants?

      So why not take it even further, a NEGATIVE estate tax for billionaires!

      That is: pay $1M to the survivors of a dead billionaire.

      But they have to turn in the head. To prevent fraud.

  • Vito Corleone

    My own mother gets all verklempt at the scene in Secretariat when they talk about maybe having to see the horse to meet the estate tax obligations.

    I always found that having to see just part of the horse was very effective.

    • Rob in CT


  • Yeah well, it works. The phony stories may get debunked on the odd lefty blog, but the corporate media don’t do it, and the TV ads are effective. The public is generally convinced that the ACA has caused millions of people to lose their health insurance (the exact opposite of the truth, of course) and millions more to have their premiums jacked up and be forced to leave their docs. Makes no difference if it’s true, there is zero penalty for lying.

    NPR is still referencing the IRS targeting conservative groups as a real scandal.

    • DrDick

      NPR, like PBS, has been bought out and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Enterprises.

      • Aimai

        Really? I mean, technically? Is that why they have become so awful?

        • DrDick

          It would appear that it is the Waltons and the petroleum industry who have actually bought them (the Kochs bought PBS). Republican cuts to CPB have had their intended result by making them more reliant on corporate and private financing.

  • It didn’t begin with the estate tax. I remember back in the 90’s, Newt used to tell horror stories of faceless federal bureaucrats interfering with innocent entrepreneurs’ ability to make a go of some idea or small business or something. The stories were crap, either distortions of reality or just yanked out of his prodigious bunghole. Even then I wondered how hard it was to find real examples of people hurt in some way by federal intervention or action, and why it is conservatives felt the need not only to lie, but to lie over and over again. I mean, remember that janitor Dick Armey talked about? A flight of fancy. Maybe they lie because they enjoy it. I’m not sure there’s any other reason.

  • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

    Can’t blame ’em for saying it if people are dumb enough to believe it.

    • Warren Terra

      Well, you can, really. You can’t blame them for people being dumb enough to believe them, maybe, except that even there I think there’s something of a feed-forward loop.

      • So-in-so

        Lying is only a bad thing if you do it so poorly nobody believes you?

        OTOH, I think the GOP knows that they do not have to be correct, and they are lazy enough to do only what is needed to get a story out there. I suppose we should give them some credit that the stories have enough factual background to check. Next phase is purely fact-free anecdotes.

        • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

          If the media refuse to call them out for lying, and the electorate is gullible enough to buy the lies, it would be irrational of them to stick to the truth. And it’s already been well-established that the electorate is basically a stupid dog that falls for the fake throw trick over and over.

          • delurking

            You’re forgetting the concerted effort to *keep* the electorate ignorant; to destroy the teaching of any real history or science, or the ability to think critically, in the public schools.

            The gullibility of the electorate isn’t just something that happened by chance.

            • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

              Historically, ignorance has been the rule, not the exception. And you really can’t argue that it’s hard to check a lot of these things. It takes less than a minute to Google how many estates are subject to federal taxes, for instance.

              • Bill Murray

                but why would you when 1. everybody that you trust says the same thing, and 2. that’s one less minute to spend on something that you care for/about

                • malraux

                  I suspect the impulse to quickly google a fact by the internet savvy is one of the things killing the GOP in the younger generations. But its also an impulse that’s not easy to learn by the older generations.

          • Hob

            Somehow, I manage to “irrationally” refrain from doing lots of evil shit that I could probably get away with. I guess I’m just a sucker!

            Unfortunately this more-cynical-than-thou shtick isn’t just a shtick, it’s part of the problem. It’s not literally true that no one in the media or the electorate is pointing out the lies. But those who do are met with an assortment of shrugs and excuses, one of which is “Well, you can’t blame them for lying, it’s only rational.”

            • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

              Trying to use the same model for individual and institutional behavior isn’t going to work. Individuals have internal and social constraints that institutions do not.

              • Bartleby

                Is an institution not made up of individuals, all facing their own internal and social constraints?

                • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

                  It is, but those constraints change in the context of an institution. Loyalty to the institution instead of society as a whole explains a lot by itself, and there’s social pressure to conform to the internal culture as well. Of course, the internal culture of an institution generally starts at the top, and rising to the top of a large institution tends to preselect for Dark Triad traits…

              • JL

                While that is true, institutions, especially top-down institutions, have decision-makers. A limited number of them, even. And some probably pretty small number of decision-makers at BP decided to do this. We shouldn’t normalize their behavior.

                • Bartleby

                  But even those people at the top presumably face some of their own internal and social constraints. They are different constraints, yes, but there is an individual responsible for the institution’s behaviors. You called them decision-makers, but they’re people, too.

                  I’m not sure if you are agreeing with me and we’re talking past each other, or if you disagree with me. (I admit I’m not as smart as most regulars here, so feel free to point me in the right direction.)

                • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition

                  Corporate leaders tend to have slightly different issues than politicians (less narcissism and more sociopathy in the mix), but the same preselection issues apply. So I agree that it’s incumbent on policy to counteract that tendency, but I don’t really know how to get there from here.

        • Bill Murray

          I think it’s more either the Costanza — it’s not really a lie if you truly believe it (sure of you go back far enough there is someone that knows it’s a lie) or the Strauss — the betters need to lie to the lessers so that the lessers get what they need not what they would want

  • So-in-so

    The assumption is that these stories need to check out to e effective. The story is out and internalized by much of the electorate. If they hear about the fact check, will they relate it to story (or even believe it)? How many remain “unsure” of the President’s religion, or even nationality?

    • DrDick

      People believe what they are inclined to believe. This is as much about ideological bias as reality.

      • NonyNony

        But there are corner-cases where this shit is harmful even if the person involved doesn’t have an overt political bias.

        I know a couple who went on the Exchanges and bought some insurance – first time they’ve been able to get insurance in years for a variety of reasons. Turns out, the insurance that they bought on the exchange here had no doctors accepting patients in our region. Zero. All of the horror stories about the ACA had these guys convinced that this whole thing was broken and the insurance company had scammed them out of their money.

        Fortunately they had some friends who pushed them to take another look and they actually got a health navigator who went through their information and found them an insurance company that actually both wanted their money AND had doctors to provide service. But had to have a bit of pressure put on them by left-leaning friends who had had some good experience with the exchange themselves. Had they only relied on NPR (their major news source) they would have been convinced that the ACA sucked.

        • Rob in CT

          I have a relative who got better & cheaper (subsidized) insurance via the ACA, but it does mean he’ll have to switch doctors. This shouldn’t be a terrible thing, as he actually moved a ways from where his docs are and never switched to more local docs. My understanding is that there are doctors in his (present) area who are in-network.

          This relative is working class (obviously, subsidies) with a pre-existing condition (bladder cancer scare). In his mid-thirties. Pre-ACA he (or whatever restaurant had him in its insurance pool) was pretty much f*cked. He’s a hard worker who just never was much of a student. He’s a prime example of why we needed the ACA (and, of course, why Medicare for all would be even better).

          • howard

            look, all other things being equal, i’d like to always see the same doctor too, but here’s 3 stories of pre-aca that didn’t seem to make the front page (i.e., doctor-changing is the norm, not some random exception):

            1. my cousin the oncologist retired last year. yes, that meant that not one of his patients could continue to see him, which is true of every doctor who retires every year (and they do);

            2. i belong to the same hmo that i have belonged to for 16 years now, and during that time, i have had 4 primary care physicians, because the first 3 moved on to other locales. not once did a reporter come ask me how i felt about it;

            3. thanks to the wonders of pre-aca america, my wife and i are on different insurances, partly so that we could each at least keep our records (if not our doctors – she’s had 2 herself). we have a 9-year-old who is on his third pediatrician: the first one moved too far away; the second was a victim of cutbacks in the pediatric group; and so we ended up changing to a different pediatrician. i promise you, hard as it is to believe, that not a single tv camera recorded our plight.

            in short, if someone’s primary complaint about “victimized” by the aca is that they had to change doctors, i wonder what world they have been living in: surely not mine….

            • Anna in PDX

              Right??? I had a wonderful doctor at my HMO who moved to a different part of the HMO (from family medicine to the ER) so I had to get another one. I was not really thrilled about this. But it is up to that doctor if she wants to take a promotion or whatever. This kind of stuff happens all the time for obvious reasons.

            • I’ve had no trouble finding a new oncologist on my new insurance, for reasons that should be obvious. Not sure about other specialties that treat mainly the chronic.

    • Ronald Reagan

      Did you know that Mt Saint Helens emitted more sulphur dioxide in a single day than all the world’s cars will over the next ten years?

  • jake the snake

    What is it about the conservative mind that make them so concerned with imaginary or at least very unlikely things
    and disbelieve so many well established things.
    Leaving out religion, there is voter fraud, widespread harm from the ACA, lost family farms, etc.

    • Bruce Baugh

      I recently read a comment, which I can’t lay hands on right now, that part of the appeal of horror, tragedy, etc., is the luxury of time to really enter into the emotional experience because it’s not real. When you deal with real-life suffering, you have a burden to do something – if it’s your own, you’ve got to survive and cope and all, and if it’s someone else’s, you’re still deciding (consciously or otherwise) whether and how to respond. When you settle in with a fictional account, though, none of that comes into play. You can be fully aware of your feelings without having any mundane work distracting you. The creator’s already done all the decision-making, so you get to be a passenger.

      Fred Clark at Slacktivist argues that by and large, the right-wing atrocity mongers know that they’re peddling lies and stories, and that their consumers know it and are playing along. I’ve tended to resist the second part of that, but in light of the above idea, find myself reconsidering. The invented atrocity tales all have the benefit of not requiring any action to actually help a suffering fellow human being; all the energy can go into hating the Other.

    • Bill Murray

      the right is heavily populated by authoritarian followers who trust, implicitly, what their trusted authorities tell them. The center and left have such people also, but to a lesser extent such that only a few areas, like the anti-vaccination crowd, are dominated by these type followers.


  • Denverite

    The thing that gets me is that there are a number of problems with the ACA that they could complain about. To wit:

    – ACO enrollment has been way lower than anticipated, likely because the feds refuse to provide a backstop in the early years for the two way risk model, and the one way risk model just doesn’t pay enough.

    – States are being way too aggressive with Medicaid fraud withholding. They’re driving entire low income provider industries out of business — for example, mental health in NM and pediatric dentistry in Texas (there’s another high profile example that shall remain nameless because I have a client in it). The word from regulators is that the ACA’s threat that states must suspend and withhold if there is the slightest evidence of fraud means that providers don’t have a chance.

    – There is a hole in Medicaid expansion states where kids are eligible but their parents arent (usually for household incomes in the mid $30k range). This is stupid — everyone would benefit if the parents could go on Medicaid.

    I could go on. The point is, the ACA isn’t perfect. Opponents certainly could point to problems. The fact that they need to make them up is a bit silly.

    • Epsilon

      Sure, but that would require assuming good faith on their part, in that they actually have some interest in improving the law to actually help it work better for everyone. These people are only interested in burning down the house and pissing on the ashes.

      Just making shit up actually perfectly matches their goals here, because actually diving into the policy specifics would largely require they concede that the entire law isn’t some massive socialist destruction of the American way of life.

    • mds

      I could go on. The point is, the ACA isn’t perfect. Opponents certainly could point to problems.

      Fortunately, we have various Democratic candidates this cycle who are willing and able to do so.

    • NonyNony

      You’re suggesting problems from either a left-leaning or technocratic adjusting perspective. These are not problems to the right-leaning folks out there – they don’t count.

      For example, if the right-leaning critics pointed out that the Medicaid expansion hole is stupid, then the result would be a whole bunch of Democrats agreeing with them and asking them to join in voting for a patch to fix it. Or if they started complaining about the fraud issue killing small providers for low income people, the Democrats would agree and ask for help in fixing it. The risk model as well – it would be an opportunity for Democrats to say “we agree, let’s work on fixing this problem”.

      And that’s the last thing that they want. That’s why they’ve been offering nothing but simpleminded rhetoric about “Repeal and Replace(tm)” without offering any actual replacement that they can even get a majority of their own caucus to vote for. Because they aren’t interested in fixing real problems, they’re only interested in either dismantling the government and/or getting re-elected by their far-right base.

    • – There is a hole in Medicaid expansion states where kids are eligible but their parents arent (usually for household incomes in the mid $30k range). This is stupid — everyone would benefit if the parents could go on Medicaid.

      As I’ll explain in my next call to the Congresscritter’s office, we’d actually be better off if Blue Cross would take our money to add our child to the policy we’re paying them for, instead of having to spend 5 hours a week since November 15 trying to get our kid onto Medicaid. (She’s now uninsured, since Jan 1st–thanks, Obamacare!)

      Then our family would have one deductible to meet and the same RX and provider networks, which would lower the state’s costs and the administrative burden on me as a parent/small business owner/cancer patient.

      In theory, 3 categories that ACA was designed to get loyalty and support from…

  • Sly

    IIRC, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl, who were the pointmen on estate tax repeal in the Senate at the time, went scouring for rich corpses in the Gulf after Katrina hit in 2005 and came up empty.

    Unsurprisingly, this constituted the only instance of national GOP figures giving a rat’s ass about the storm’s victims. Likewise, the specter of someone’s health insurance premiums going up under the ACA is the only instance of national GOP figures giving a rat’s ass about health insurance costs.

  • junker

    It’s not really that crazy right? Republicans need people who experience problems, but only a certain type (i.e., the problems Denverite listed above would suggest fixing the law. Republicans need problems that suggest the better route is abolishing it).

    The problem is most people don’t have this kind of problem, and those that do tend to me unsympathetic. The people who would really benefit from repeal are the old free riders – young, healthy, didn’t pay much. But Johnny Fratboy isn’t very sympathetic.

    The only option left is to lie about it.

    • Well, my family is actually screwed, but since we’re not Republican assholes, we recognize that a) we were screwed anyway, with no reforms & b) 99% of everyone is less screwed, so we’re not running out to tear down health care reform based on our unusual set of facts.

      Some of the losers are smart enough to understand that we lost because Blue Cross has to make a living and therefore any reform was going to be a kludge.

  • apocalipstick

    In my rural neck of the woods, these stories gain traction because people are too ignorant to know the difference between “estate tax” and “probate court.” There are lots of old coots around here who think that making out a will has the same effect as drinking large amounts of Dran-O. Many of these estates (some quite sizable, although not inheritance-tax big) must go through probate, and some families have either inherited less than they thought fair or have had to sell off large portions of the estate to pay attorney’s fees, since they didn’t understand that the nice man with the law degree wasn’t helping them out of Christian charity. This becomes a story of how “the death tax” screwed them.

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