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Lott: Many appeal to emotion, not reason, in health debate
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Most Americans want reform in health care that will reduce cost without sacrificing quality of care. This is long overdue and just about everyone agrees that the status quo is unsustainable.

So why is it that most Republicans and the extreme right are running scared on this critical issue and proving every day that they are willing to use any means to block real reform?

I don’t buy the old tired, worn-out excuse that the Democratic plan will create government control of health care and we’ll all be destroyed by the "evils" of socialism. Those who perpetrate such lies and fears will be the first to raise up in arms if Medicare or Medicaid programs were abolished. This is the height of hypocrisy by Republican-incited objections to government involvement in health care.

Let’s get real. What’s really going here is not being exposed in the media. The latter is a profit-driven business like "big pharma" and the insurance industry that’s more interested in sensationalizing public fears for the sake of ratings and the bottom line, than being channels for reason and common sense. This is an American tragedy in which we are both victims and victimizers. Why is that?

To understand what’s happening, we must first be able to see through the superficial facades that we hide behind, such as conservative or liberal, right or left, Republican or Democrat. Such labels may be good for our egos, but they are irrelevant to the demands of the 21st century.

The way I see it, there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who are willing to learn and grow and those fixed in their mindsets. I say this because one of the skills that Republican strategists have developed far superior than their Democratic counterparts, is knowing how to change people’s attitudes and thinking by manipulating their ignorance and fears. They have discovered that the issue of health care reform is fertile grounds for re-establishing their power, just as they used the fear of terrorist attacks for political advantage during the years of Bush-Cheney.

Fortunately, the latter was temporary as the fear-mongering was carried too far, and the same thing is poised to happen with health care reform.

People are passionate about their attitudes and opinions, make no mistake about it. The fact that the economy is bad and more people are struggling now to make ends meet only serve to bring these hidden attitudes to the surface. Many of them have racial overtones, especially with the fact that we have a black president for the first time in American history and Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority. This means that Americans who are invested in the old ways are least likely to change and are easily persuaded by demagogues appealing to their raw emotions.

According to researchers, there are basically two ways that people can be persuaded (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981; Eagly & Chaiken, 1992; Petty & Wegener, 1998). The first is called the "central route" which involves persuading the recipient of a message to think reasonably by carefully weighing the arguments.

The second way is called the "peripheral route" which bypasses the rational thinking mind and appeals to the limbic system, or one’s lower nature and instincts. Advertisers are known for using the latter, which has proven extremely effective in selling products and services.

When demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity use the public airways to inflame and incite people’s fears, by labeling President Barack Obama as a socialist, or comparing him with the evil dictator, Adolf Hitler, they are deliberately using the "peripheral route" to appeal to your lower, irrational nature. They are trying to change your attitude not just about health care reform, but also about Obama.

Recipients of such messages don’t have to bother about thinking for themselves, nor do they have to concern themselves with facts. The truth is, the Limbaughs and Hannitys are well aware that their listeners (without whom they would not be paid millions of dollars) are both not motivated nor able to think deeply about the issues they present.

My question is, shouldn’t these listeners be directing their outrage toward their leaders who persistently show contempt and disrespect for their intelligence, and essentially use them to increase their influence and bottom line?

Misguided Republicans and their supporters have already made up their minds about health care reform, or any other crucial issue facing Americans. A fixed mindset sees failure as defeat, not as an opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve.

This explains why the GOP prefers winning over public service by maintaining a campaign of lies and distortions, and avoiding high-effort cognitive and rational debate.

Harold Lott is a Gainesville resident and a regular columnist.

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