Skeptimus Prime » Politics http://www.skeptimusprime.net One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Michele Bachmann and the end times. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/14/michele-bachmann-and-the-end-times/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/14/michele-bachmann-and-the-end-times/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 23:02:10 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=570 Continue reading ]]> Bachmann recently claimed that the Iran nuclear deal was a sign of the end times.

“These are not fearful times, these are the most exciting days in history,” she insisted. “Talk about what you see in the newspaper. We can talk about God’s time clock and the fact that Jesus Christ’s return is imminent. Is there anything more important to talk about?”

“We need to be so on fire right now about the things of Christ and the things of God, that needs to occupy our time and our thoughts virtually from morning to night because we have very little time — in my opinion — left before the second return of Christ. That’s good news!” the former congresswoman added. “The world is embracing degeneracy, but what that also tells us as we look at what the world is doing that they’re going according to God’s time clock. Pastors, preach it from the pulpit!”

Notice how she seem to be chomping at the bit for the world to end and billions of people to die/be sent to hell? I guess all those people are degenerates so their lives don’t matter right? This is why people with beliefs like hers have no business running the country. They simply can’t be trusted to make decisions for the benefit of our society when they are secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, wanting to bring about the end times.

The thing that really baffles me about all this end times talk is how short their memories seem to be. I was a fundamentalist back in the mid to late 90’s and I remember listening to people like Bachmann saying the exact same things about the Clinton presidency. Even then I thought all the end times stuff was a bit goofy, after all even by Christian standards Jesus said no one would know the date of his return.

Yet, since then I’ve watched dozens of end of the world predictions by fundamentalist Christians, along with other groups like the 2012 crowd, and, obviously, none of them have come to pass…but yeah I’m sure HER end of the world prediction will come true. Though we know from experience that no matter how ridiculously false her predictions turn out to be it won’t cost her one iota of respectability among the majority of her peers. Most will simply swallow whatever prediction she makes next year while ignoring or forgetting the previous false predictions.

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Herman Cain claims homosexuals are possessed. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/14/herman-cain-claims-homosexuals-are-possessed/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/14/herman-cain-claims-homosexuals-are-possessed/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:02:31 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=567 Continue reading ]]> After Obama’s recent statements against Gay reparative therapy Herman Cain saw an opportunity to attack the former and defend the latter, and in doing so appeals to the notion that gay people have homosexual urges because they are possessed by demons.

If Obama has his way, a deliverance minister trying to free people from evil spirits would be forbidden by law from doing so. A person in a state of demonic oppression could not be helped because the official position of the United States government is that this state of demonic oppression is a good way to be, and no one should try to change it.

I don’t think Obama understands it this way. I don’t think he believes in any spiritual world whatsoever, nor do the people who will portray a commentary like this as odd, weird, crazy, etc. When you’re not intelligent or curious enough to understand something, you mock the whole idea of it. Any who supports a bill like this is saying that families who want help for a person oppressed by homosexuality should not be allowed to seek it.

Notice he suggests that people who don’t believe in demonic possession are stupid and incurious about how the world works, not exactly a charitable way to view your opponents, but what is really bizarre about this line of thinking is that human history is filled people who believed in demonic possession, and by and large is was intelligent and curious people, many of whom identified as Christian, who dispelled the notion that disease and mental illness were caused by demons, not that homosexuality would reasonably qualify as either of those.

Also, while I’m not a legal expert, I’m pretty sure claims of demonic possession fall under the legal definition of spectral evidence, and thus cannot be taken into consideration by our courts or elected officials. How was this guy ever a contender for president?

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Understanding RFRA bills http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/13/understanding-rfra-bills/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/13/understanding-rfra-bills/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 00:27:07 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=565 Continue reading ]]> RFRA bills, though being long criticized by many atheists and advocates for social justice, have mostly been ignored by mainstream media, after all the federal RFRA was signed by Clinton back in the 90’s and, at the time, it was largely supported by liberals. However, with the recent passage of the RFRA bill in Indiana such bills have come under much wider scrutiny. However, a lot of this scrutiny, even that offered by a lot of atheists, isn’t always based on a terribly accurate view of how RFRA bills actually function. Don’t get me wrong, I think RFRA bills are not terribly good, but it’s not as overreaching as a lot of people seem to think.

The most common idea I have heard people express is that RFRA laws can provide a carte blanch for people get out of laws they don’t like, particularly anti-discrimination laws, by simply claiming they have religious beliefs which conflict with those laws. For instance the church of Satan tried to make such an argument after the Hobby Lobby case, and Wiccans made a similar argument recently, claiming they had the right to have nude rituals on the capital steps and marry horses and other such nonsense.

I’ve also seen a few people argue people should try to throw the RFRA back in fundamentalists faces by claiming they have religious beliefs which prevent them from serving them. This is odd because by and large the RFRA laws have not been a successful means of actually protecting business faced with discrimination charges. For instance New Mexico has had an RFRA law for quite a while, and yet the court still found against the photography company who refused to photograph a gay wedding. It’s almost guaranteed that trying to cite the RFRA as justification for refusing to service merely because they do not like homosexuality would go just as badly for you as it did for the photographer in this case.

So why is there such a huge disconnect between how people expect these laws to operate, and how they actually operate, other than the obviously bad reporting on these issues. Well first of people need to understand that the RFRA doesn’t make all those other laws go away, if you break any law you can still be arrested and/or taken to court for that violation, that includes violations of discrimination laws. So most people aren’t going to violate those laws, one because most people probably don’t even want to, and two because even if they thought they could win a right to discriminate under the RFRA most people, particularly business owners, wouldn’t want the hassle or publicity that such a case would cause. For instance, the cake baker in Colorado, before even losing their case, ending up shutting down their business because the bad publicity cost them too much business. Even if they had won the legal battle they still would have lost in the court of opinion.

Now, on to why RFRA laws are no guarantee one can get around the law. To really understand this we need to look at the actual law. The wording of law is pretty similar between the federal and state RFRA laws so I’ll quote from the Indiana law.

Provides that a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.

Provides that a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a state or local government action may assert the burden as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding.

Basically what this means is that if a person fails to follow the law in some way and they are brought before a court for this they can cite their religious beliefs as a reason they should not be required to follow that law, but this defense is not an automatic victory. There are several reasons which the court may find against you.

Most obviously if they can show that the law is the “least restrictive means” to achieve the laws goal. This was the point which won Hobby Lobby an exemption, in that the government’s interest in providing better access to contraception for low income households could be easily met in other ways, and in fact that is what the government did by extending the exemption they had already granted to churches to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby.

On the other hand this argument is not likely to work very well when it comes to anti-discrimination legislation since it would be difficult to imagine a less restrictive way of protecting interstate commerce. This means that no matter what evangelical Christians may think about these laws they aren’t likely to provide them with a means of discriminating against homosexuals without legal repercussions, at least no more than they already have.

It’s also important to note that courts are also going to consider whether or not your religious practice claim is even legitimate. In other words you just just make up your own religion it’s unlikely they will take your claim seriously. The Court will consider whether or not there is some religious tradition upon which your claim is based, so claims about marrying horses, for instance, are likely to be dismissed before the previous concern is even brought up.

Of course this doesn’t mean I think RFRA laws are a good thing. I still think it’s objectionable, under the 1st and 14th amendment, to grant religious people access to a legal argument that non-religious people like myself don’t have access too, even if that argument will probably fail a lot of the time. Still RFRA laws aren’t the huge threat to civil liberty and anti-discrimination laws that they are sometimes painted as.

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Kentucky Governor wants us to know that Democrats can make terrible arguments against gay rights too. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/03/kentucky-governor-wants-us-to-know-that-democrats-can-make-terrible-arguments-against-gay-rights-too/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/04/03/kentucky-governor-wants-us-to-know-that-democrats-can-make-terrible-arguments-against-gay-rights-too/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 18:17:55 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=559 Continue reading ]]> Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration filed an amicus brief with the supreme court on March 27th arguing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage isn’t discriminatory because it applies to straight people, too.

The brief has this to say:

Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.

He makes the argument using a curious interpretation of the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause, arguing that since the ban applies to everyone equally it’s not a violation of the said clause.

If Christians opposed to gay marriage, like Beshear, want to understand the problem with this argument I’d suggest that they imagine a scenario in which the federal government has made attending Christian churches illegal. They would protest that they have freedom of religion, but the government points out that the law is applied equally, after all it’s not just Christians who are prevented from attending Christian churches, the law applies to everyone equally, and you everyone is free to attend a Muslim mosque or church of scientology so there is no violation of the 14th amendment.

How well do you think this argument would go over with those opposed to gay marriage? Not very well I suspect. The reason should be obvious, while equal application of the law is necessary to guarantee equality, it is not sufficient on it’s own to guarantee it. The thing is they should already know this, if they really thought equal application of the law was sufficient for equality they wouldn’t have fought the ACA’s contraception mandate. Yet this terrible legal argument keeps showing up from people who ought to know better.

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How atheists screw up religious freedom discussions. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/28/how-atheists-screw-up-religious-freedom-discussions/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/28/how-atheists-screw-up-religious-freedom-discussions/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 16:13:36 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=546 Continue reading ]]> Any atheist, or secular minded Christian for that matter, has probably heard one, or most likely all, of the following arguments from Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals while debating the meaning of freedom of religion. Fundamentalists assert that this is a Christian nation, that “church state separation” does not appear in the constitution, and that the founders wanted freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion.

You may have even rolled your eyes at these arguments on occasion, I know I have. They are startlingly common and both historically and politically either inaccurate or at least serious oversimplifications.

However, the counters offered by atheists are often just as bad. It’s not uncommon for me to see atheists responding to these statements with equally extreme rhetoric.  I’ve seen atheists assert that most of the founders were deists, or even in a few extreme cases, outright atheists of which none of the U.S. founders were. I’ve also seen arguments which seem to imply that the founder’s vision of secularism was essentially the same as the one we have today. Think I’m exaggerating the problem?  Check out this meme which I’ve seen a lot of atheists pass around.

6a0357e0126afe414f9c20d332b91385

So only two of the men in this picture were founders, but I immediately recognize everyone in this image except for the man in the top left. The issue with this meme is that not a single one of the people that I recognize ever self identified as atheists. The two U.S. founders, Franklin and Jefferson identified as Deists. Sagan called himself agnostic as far as I know, and so did Darwin. Some of the others like Lincoln and Einstein were somewhat inscrutable about the subject so their exact beliefs aren’t known, but while they weren’t strongly religious it’s unlikely they considered themselves atheists. The point is that that there is a tendency among atheists to start bringing long dead people into the fold, so to speak, and this tendency seems particularly strong with our founders among atheists living in the United States.

So acknowledging that this is problem leaves us with two questions to answer. First, why do atheist so often fall into making these overzealous arguments, and second, how can we argue in favor of the progressive conception of the establishment clause in a way that is more historically accurate. As for why we end up making these extreme arguments, yes I’ve overstated things myself on occasion, I think there are several reasons. Some of this is due to political polarization, in a debate with an extremist we are more likely to take more extreme positions our self as a rhetorical defense because we think it makes our position unassailable when in fact it just causes us to say untrue things about the subject. Also many of us just don’t know that much about history or politics so we end up saying things that seem right or that we heard from someone else without fact checking it.

In this case though I think the largest factor is that pretty much everyone in the U.S. has been taught to give the founders of this country a great deal of respect and deference. When a fundamentalist says the founders agreed with them on some political issue are first reaction is to try to reclaim the founders ourselves because we think what the founders have to say about our current political situations matters very deeply. We can’t shake the feeling that if the founders disagree with what we are doing, or they didn’t intend a certain line in the constitution to be used the way we are using then we have done something wrong. What we really need to be saying when this is brought up is that what the founders intended may be useful information isn’t necessarily relevant, and certainly isn’t an unquestionable dictate from on high, which brings us to the second question.

I’m gong to say something here that might seem a bit controversial to some atheists. When the founders wrote the first amendment they did not intend it to be used to prevent government at any level from expressing religious ideals, and they certainly didn’t intend it to have any effect on intuitions managed by the state. They didn’t intend it as a means to keep prayers out of public schools (which didn’t even exist then) and would not have used it to prevent religious displays on government property. When religious fundamentalists argue these things they are actually right, and we just need to accept it. Now, that being said I think the current interpretation of the first amendment as prohibiting these things is reasonable and justified given a nuanced mixture of the more general intent of the amendment, and the accumulation of changes to the constitution, our politics, and our society.

To understand this we really have to look at a few events in U.S. history, so hopefully you like history. First off, out of the original 13 colonies 6 were founded to escape religious persecution. Now you might think that said persecution taught these people a valuable lesson about the need to vest religious freedom totally in the individual. With the exception of Rhode Island, you would be very wrong. It was not uncommon for colonies to have pretty strict laws governing peoples religious beliefs, even to the point of legally requiring people attend a church of a particular denomination. This has changed a bit by the time of the revolution but leaders in lots of colonies still wanted to be able to enforce their own specific religious beliefs on people within their states. Further, many of the founders felt the primary threat to individual freedom was a powerful federal government. So, the first amendment (and the rest of the constitution) was not designed to keep all government out of religion, but to keep the federal government out of the states business, and to protect those religious colonies from federally imposed religion or religious laws, so that they could impose their own. The founders, and the entire country had a very different concept of what religious liberty means than we do today.

In the legal sense very little about this situation changed until the post civil war era. However the country did grow a great deal and a lot of new states were formed. The populations from these states were made up of immigrants from both the original 13 colonies and abroad so they were much more diverse, but the most important changes happened in the late 1860’s after the end of the civil war. A lot of politicians, particularly the radical Republicans argued for a new view of states rights and on what was needed to preserve individual liberty. They argued that the focus on states rights that the founders had written into the constitution had allowed an immoral institution (slavery) to persist, and saw a powerful federal government as a means of protecting individual freedom instead of a threat to it.

The drafting of the 13, 14, and 15 amendments provided the federal government with a broader scope of power, which of course limited state power. The 14th in particularly has become very important over the years, and has effectively extended the limitations of government power set in the bill of rights to the states, which is a situation the founders never envisioned or intended. We also live in a society that is more diverse, more mobile and better educated. The fact that the founders did not envision using the first amendment to eliminate prayer from school or religious displays on government grounds is irrelevant. There were no public schools and if the founders even envisioned such a thing existing they would have envisioned them as state intuitions to which the 1st amendment didn’t even apply at the time. Further, as our society is more diverse at every level than it was in the 1790’s the government is obligated to represent all citizens equally.

The founders claimed to be trying to create a more equal society, but what they ended up with really only provided equality for white male Christians, and even that equality was rather inconsistent. Our modern concept of the establishment clause isn’t what the founders intended, but the founders actual intent was ethically flawed, as a result of the moral blind spots the founders suffered from. If we intend to create the more equal society that the founders never could then religious equality is a necessary component. This is what we need to be arguing when talk about religious freedom. Yes, it’s a much longer and more complicated argument than just claiming the founders are on our side, but I think being correct more than makes up for the lack of brevity.

Update: Several people have pointed out that the person I could not identify was Hemingway. His beliefs were also uncertain since he converted to Catholicism but may have done so only to please his wife.

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The Nightly Show on free speech, and word bans. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/13/the-nightly-show-on-free-speech/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/13/the-nightly-show-on-free-speech/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 23:38:35 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=533 Continue reading ]]> So a couple of days ago The Nightly Show aired an episode talking about free speech and the banning of words. You can see the full episode here: Nightly Show: March 11, 2015. In particular he mentions two examples, one being Florida governor Rick Scott attempting to band the phrase “climate change” and college campuses banning offensive words.

There seemed to be a distinct lack of nuance in the discussion, particularly by the panelists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m against outright bans of words, but I think they fall prey to false equivalence when they compare Rick Scott’s attempt to ban the phrase “climate change” with these programs on college campuses. The first is a clear attempt to silence debate about an important topic, the second is a well meaning, though ultimately poorly conceived, attempt to protect people from hateful behavior or statements.

Things were at their worst when conservative comedian Nick DiPaolo (I’d never heard of him before this) spoke up, claiming that this sort of censorship was primarily done by liberals against conservatives, particularly white males. The others rightly shot him down saying it was a problem on both sides, but what was really telling was that he complained that statements he made got him labeled racist or homophobic. He essentially says that he thinks liberals are trying to silence him by using their free speech to voice an opinion about him, and therefore they should not voice their opinion. The irony is pretty hard to miss.

However, the larger point is that it always feels like people are asking the wrong question when they discuss this topic. Think about it this way. On the show they brought up that “crazy” was one of the words that had been banned, and said “banning the world crazy is crazy.” Now if the only question we are asking is should it be legal for me to say this my answer, beyond incitements to violence, will always be yes. However I can only think of two contexts in which one might use the term “crazy.” One of those uses is to refer to someone with a legitimate mental illness. We can discus the legitimacy of this, but I can certainly see how people with a mental illness might find this term marginalizing, and why exactly would I choose to hurt someone’s feelings over something a trivial as a word choice?

The second use is to refer to a person who either holds a belief or has taken an action that does not seem reasonable or correct, just as it was used by the panelist in on the show. It’s particularly common for this to occur in discussions where two people have a strongly opposed ideological positions, I see it all the time in discussions involving religion and/or politics. It doesn’t seem to me that this is a particularly helpful idea to express in those conversations. Not only do you still run the risk of hurting the feelings of any person who currently suffers, or once suffered, from mental illness within ear shot of (or able to read) the conversation you are having, you haven’t actually furthered the conversation. The person on the other end will often become defensive at being called a name, you haven’t actually provided an argument to dissuade them of their position, and as wrong headed as their beliefs may be they probably don’t actually qualify as having a mental illness.

Some people might argue at this point that such expressions are just letting off steam, or venting frustration at the futility of conversing with those we disagree with. I agree that it can seem futile at times, though I don’t think it actually is, but we need to find ways to express ourselves better, and if we can’t, sometimes it’s better to just bow out. Believe me, I’m not perfect, I’ve lost my shit on occasion, and I know I’ve used the term crazy to describe people more than once. The point is that sometimes we get so caught up in arguing that we have a right to say something that we forget to ask whether we ought to say it.

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Review of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, chapters 4-7. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/05/review-of-god-guns-grits-and-gravy-chapters-4-7/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/03/05/review-of-god-guns-grits-and-gravy-chapters-4-7/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 05:06:44 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=528 Second video in review series. I cover chapters 4 through 7.

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I had no idea Victoria Jackson was this deluded. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/02/20/i-had-no-idea-victoria-jackson-was-deluded/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/02/20/i-had-no-idea-victoria-jackson-was-deluded/#comments Sat, 21 Feb 2015 01:47:44 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=522 Continue reading ]]>

I never watched SNL regularly so I mostly only remember her fondly from the movie UHF, though I wonder if she was always this ridiculous or she grew into more recently. At one point she actually cites President Obama’s support of abortion and same sex marriage as evidence that is a not a Christian, but a Muslim. Does she have any clue what Muslims believe? I mean, while I’m sure you could probably dig up some liberal Muslims who support same sex marriage, the religion as a whole is probably the only religion in the world less accepting of these two things than Christianity. 

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Review of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, chapters 1-3. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/02/07/review-of-god-guns-grits-and-gravy-chapters-1-3/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/02/07/review-of-god-guns-grits-and-gravy-chapters-1-3/#comments Sun, 08 Feb 2015 04:08:18 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=502

Just uploaded my first in my series reviewing this book.

Let me know what you think.

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Boehner on the ACA, or why I don’t trust Republicans to have actual solutions. http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/01/27/boehner-on-the-aca-why-i-dont-trust-republicans-to-have-actual-solutions/ http://www.skeptimusprime.net/2015/01/27/boehner-on-the-aca-why-i-dont-trust-republicans-to-have-actual-solutions/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 19:40:58 +0000 http://www.skeptimusprime.net/?p=497 Continue reading ]]> Mitch McConnell and John Boehner appeared on 60 minutes a couple of days ago and the interviewer asked them, since they are opposed to the ACA, what their alterative to fixing healthcare is.

You can watch the interaction here:

Let’s look at Boehner’s response.

Providing more access we could have done without taking control of the entire healthcare system.

OK, first off the ACA did not, by any reasonable standard, take control of the entire system. The government doesn’t own the hospitals, or the insurance companies, it regulated them more than it did before, but it isn’t as if there was no government regulation prior to the ACA.

When you look at Obamacare, it’s a perfect example of what Washington does. It’s a one size fits all approach for the whole country all driven by Washington bureaucrats.

The ACA doesn’t offer one plan for everyone, as I understand it they offer three major plan options through the exchanges, so it isn’t exactly one size fits all. Further, even without government involvement, insurance companies are already more concerned about overall trends than individual needs, so the ACA doesn’t really change much in this regard.

I’ll bet they’ve hired tens of thousands of people between the IRS and over at Health and Human Services just to run this. All of the decisions, all of the rules decided by Washington.

He bets? John Boehner is speaker of the house, third in line to be president. Further, he has spent the majority of the last four years criticizing the ACA, and one of his major criticisms of it is that it expands bureaucracy. So how is it that he doesn’t have any figures on this? He should have figures like this memorized, but could have at least found out before an interview where the subject was likely to come up.

We have a wide, diverse country, and I just think it’s time for us to look at this differently. For those who don’t have access to affordable health insurance.

A meaningless stream of buzz words meant to sound nice without actually saying anything of substance. In other words the way politicians speak most of the time.

Helping those at the bottom I think we’re all for it

Since Boehner is a major player in a political party in which many have spent the last few years suggesting that people at the bottom are only there because they are lazy moochers, it’s hard to take this claim seriously.

but we don’t need Washington to ruin the greatest health delivery system that the world has ever known.

Wait…If it’s the greatest delivery system ever then why didn’t he simply say we don’t need any changes at all? The ACA was introduced because said system was not delivering very well to millions of people. Further, by many of the metrics that we measure human health the U.S. is far from the best. For instance, We currently rate 36 in life expectancy. It also seems that the implication of this argument is that the only thing the government can ever do is make things worse.

Taken in it’s entirety the statement he made was largely vacuous, he spends the entire time attacking the ACA, but offers little in the way of facts to back up his attacks, and he offers no republican solution to healthcare, or, you know, the question he was actually asked.

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