How not to contribute to the healthcare discussion

I must confess that I find Tim Rutten's Aug. 19 Op-Ed column, "America the delusional," in which he expresses dismay over the tone of the current healthcare debate, to be quite unintentionally funny. From the very beginning, irony appears to be completely lost on Rutten, as he compares the peaceful Irish countryside with the U.S., which he evidently feels is descending into the depths of radicalism. Apparently he has forgotten about the Irish Republican Army, which was active as recently as 1997.

Rutten talks about how unimaginably disgraceful it is to see signs that read "Death to Obama." Are we supposed to believe that it would be difficult to find images of signs that advocate violence toward George W. Bush? Are we supposed to believe that the public and the media have been kind to Bush's daughters as well?

As far as the "birthers" go, there are people who still cling to the idea that Bush stole the election from Al Gore, and even a few on the fringe who actually believe that Bush himself caused 9/11. Need I go on? Apparently Rutten has just noticed that unreasonable people are taking part in a political dialogue. What a revelation! Truly, reason must be under attack.

Perhaps the best part of the column is where Rutten tries to paint one side of the entire healthcare debate with the same brush. He does so not by saying that everyone who doesn't agree with healthcare reform in its current form (the 1,000-plus-page bill) is just as crazy as the gun-toting maniacs, but by writing that these people are "being encouraged" (ah, the political passive) by "those" of the Republican Party who want to defeat this reform bill "at any cost." What a clearly demarcated body of people! It's almost like a vast right-wing conspiracy.

I can agree with one thing: All this does is distract from the real issue at hand. It's convenient for Rutten to focus on gun-toting sycophants -- I mean, only an idiot would disagree with these measures, right? So the roughly trillion-dollar increase in spending over the next 10 years isn't even mentioned as a possible problem, nor is the associated devaluation of the U.S. dollar internationally, nor is the fact that China might have a problem with that because it basically owns the U.S. government, nor is the fact that according to this plan, we're supposed to earn back half of that money simply through "savings and efficiencies." Perhaps Rutten has valuable opinions on these subjects, but we'll never know.

The thing is, we only notice crazed idiots at political rallies when they are on the opposing side. Crazed idiots have always played a prominent role in democratic government, and they are visible because they're loud and the media choose to indulge them. However, as the Greek historian Thucydides made clear more than 2,000 years ago, these sorts of things bring out the die-hards on the fringes. It's a mistake to pretend that these small percentages are wholly representative of a given political party, and "those" who do so simply distract us from the more worthwhile argument.

Why must we pretend that the opposition is simply stupid and wrong? It is something that both parties do to polarize their far-left and far-right constituencies. Must we too be sucked into the same simplistic mind-set?

Bryan Kitch is a writer living in San Francisco.