Of higher order thinking… and contrasts

Teachers know that students ought to be tested on higher order skills. Recall of information is only the first rung on the ladder of real knowledge. Therefore students are asked to write essays, which require them to compare and contrast. This allows them to see differences and similarities where they exist and to extrapolate from their findings.

The passage last week of the Healthcare Bill in the United States will for a long time be the subject of debate, for even after its successful passage through both Houses the divide on the matter is still as wide.

The politics of governance is similar whether in Timbuktu, the United States or here in Antigua & Barbuda. Therefore, there are more than a few lessons we here in this country can learn, not only from the debates, but the process which led to the bill’s success to official acceptance.

Even before coming to office, President Obama indicated that his term would be marked by far-reaching legislation that would impact the health care of millions of Americans who were too poor to purchase health insurance.

Likewise, the United Progressive Party in its 2009 manifesto indicated that one of the planks on which it would craft a policy for the country going forward is that government was getting out of matters better left to the private sector and would be divesting itself of some state assets.

It would be fair to say there was no secret about government’s intentions. They were written in black and white.

And here the comparisons can be considered favourable, for elections ought to be fought and won on plans and policies and not on personalities.

Thereafter, the contrast becomes a lesson in what not to do to get the citizenry whom one must convince of the rightness of a particular action, to buy into it.

For the better part of last year, the Democratic Party, led by its leader, went into little towns and hamlets of what is called the heartland of America and held Town Hall meetings where exactly what the administration hoped to achieve and what the citizenry could expect was spelled out. Questions were fielded, fears were calmed and politicians got a chance to hear what “Joe the plumber” had to say.

As with any new initiative, or because they see it as what oppositions do, the Republicans launched a massive campaign against the proposed bill. They enlisted the aid of heavyweights in the likes of vice–presidential hopeful Sarah Palin who proved no match for Democratic senators who had more practice at selling a package.

More significantly, a mammoth programme of disinformation, the likes of which had not been seen in recent times was conducted, using every available means, for months on end.

We heard that the bill would mandate Death Panels, which would determine which of the aged and disabled would live and which would die. It was noised abroad that the legislation would pay for abortions on demand and that undocumented aliens would be able to access free health care. Voices were also raised long and loud that government would be designating what type of health care persons should receive.

The task of debunking the myths was herculean. Yet the proponents of the legislation redoubled their efforts. At the end of it all the inconsistencies were revealed and the downright half-truths and innuendoes were exposed. As for the lies those were easily disposed of.

Of course, this was accomplished with the aid of an informed, educated media. Day in and day out, the networks asked questions of those who had the numbers; those who had the facts at their fingertips. The speculators were exposed and made the butt of Saturday Night Live comedy.

Somewhere along the line the debate faltered and it seemed that the bill would be dead in the water as public options were mooted; but still the Democrats persevered and redoubled their efforts. For them too much was at stake.

Contrast with the homegrown divestment debate. Except for a few lone voices, where is the concerted effort to sell the proposal. Apart from the scare mongering in some sections of the media, where are the informed, educated voices? And why are the fools who can only spout not being laughed out of studio?

It is instructive that the ruling administration did not depend on the ‘I’s to have it. In fact, their majority in the Senate is so small this would have been foolhardy, as unlike what obtains here, people do not always vote along party lines.

Although it is not clear if, in the final analysis, Parliament would be the final arbiter of whether State Insurance become divested or no, the fact is, much, much more is expected of the ruling administration in an era of doubt, skepticism and the wolves snapping at their heels if they are to make what, up to now, has become a hard sell.