At the CNN/Tea Party Express debate on September 12th, there was a question posed to Ron Paul on healthcare, and it’s ensuing response has taken on a life of it’s own.  President Obama even offered a critique of “conservative values” he derived from the episode at a recent fundraiser:

“You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care”

This incident has been elaborated by numerous pundits (and would-be pundits) to be illustrative of how the GOP and/or the Tea Party just want to “let the uninsured die”:

So is it true – does the Tea Party and/or GOP want to “let the uninsured die”?  Did they “cheer at the prospect”?  Or is it just… well… Obfuscation?  We’ll get to that.  Was what happened in the audience smart?  No.  Was it mature?  No.  Was it sensitive?  No.

Let’s return to the source and look at what actually transpired (the response in contention is around 01:00-01:05):

So is it fair to say “the crowd at the debate wants to let the uninsured die”?  Not without being disingenuous, at best.  The LA Times article gets the closest to accurate, in saying “there was support” for that – while factually true, it masks “how much support”, implying “broad support” – but I’ll give them credit for being clear about the audience’s response, albeit 2/3 of the way down the article.  So why are these claims disingenuous?

  • The question was not about “the uninsured”.
    • It was a very specific hypothetical about a man who could implicitly buy insurance (“healthy” & “good job”)  who chose not to, and was subsequently critically ill – “an uninsured”, not “the uninsured”.
    • Extending or implying the sentiment to “the uninsured” is incredibly more broad, and not what was asked.
  • Far from the entire audience cheered or said “Yeah/Yes”.
    • The LA Times article describes this as “‘Yeah,’ came the shout from the audience. That affirmative was repeated at least three times.”  That hardly implies “the audience as a whole” – that implies “up to 3-4 people in the audience”.
    • This may be clearly observed by comparing the audience response in the segment prior to the question being asked, 00:45-01:00, to the contentious response to Blitzer’s question in 01:00-01:04, and the response to Paul’s answer in 01:18-01:22 – the audience response was markedly less in the “contentious response”.
  • The audience clearly cheered & applauded when Ron Paul answered the question with “nobody got turned away”
    • Why would an audience that wants to “let the uninsured die” then cheer (more vociferously) to the proposition of “nobody getting turned away”? (see: 01:05-01:22 and on)

So were those who answered in the affirmative immature & foolish?  Undoubtedly, in my opinion.  But it is fair to imply those who answered in the affirmative want to let “the uninsured”, as a blanket group, “die”?  Is it logical to extrapolate the response of a very few to be the opinion of the many?  If you’re any of the select publications noted above (save perhaps the LA Times), or President Obama – I guess it is.

Postscript: Breaking it down the clip…

  • 00:06-00:30 – Blitzer poses the question to Paul: ”A healthy young, 30-year-old man has a good job, makes a good living but decides, ‘You know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month on health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it.’”
  • 00:30-00:45 – Paul gives his 1st stab at an answer
  • 00:45-01:00 – Blitzer presses/clarifies on the question that the hypothetical man doesn’t have insurance & needs intensive care – who pays?  Paul answers “That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.” – and the audience begins cheering.
  • 01:00-01:04 – Blitzer presses further on the question – “Are you saying that society should just let him die?”  At this point, a few calls of “Yeah” or “Yes” can be heard from the audience, followed by some chuckles.
  • 01:05-01:18 – Paul gives his answer, to the ends of “before Medicare & Medicaid, we never turned anybody away.”
  • 01:18-01:22 – Audience responds & Paul continues his answer

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