In communications lingo, “straw man arguments” are assertions or implications that falsify the other person’s position in order to make it easier to win the argument. The term is derived from the combat training practice of using dummies filled with straw. These dummies presumably prove easier to whoop than real soldiers, just as straw man positions are easier to thrash than real positions.
While all candidates from all parties delight in setting up straw men, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a particular fine exhibition of this art form the other day. Marking perhaps the first time in the campaign in which Mayor Giuliani goes a full sixty seconds without mentioning 9/11, the Mayor promotes his health plan by noting that his chances of surviving prostate cancer in the United States was 82%, but was only 44% in England “under socialized medicine.”
This would be a fantastic ad if only Giuliani were running for Prime Minister of jolly old England. But alas, Mayor Giuliani is running in the United States, and none of his Republican or Democratic opponents are proposing a system anything close to England’s. All of the major contenders’ (sorry Kucinich and Gravel) plans allow citizens the choice of keeping their private insurance.
(By the way, the survival rate in England is actually 74% rather than 44%, so this was a midget straw man.)
As an increasing number of Americans become uninsured, the real comparison we all should be focused on is insured patients versus uninsured patients, not England versus the United States. After all, a study of Kentucky patients published by the American Medical Association found the 3-year survival rate for prostate cancer was 15% higher for the privately insured than the uninsured.
Beating up Britain is a silly straw man exercise. Reporters need to demand an honest comparison of Rudycare, Mittcare, Johncare, Hillarycare, Barrackcare, and most importantly Statusquocare.