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How LSU’s media guru taught future journalists the wrong lesson

Yesterday the Health and Welfare Committee of the Louisiana House of Representatives considered whether Louisiana should participate in the Medicaid expansion being promoted by the federal government through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. I testified at the hearing, explaining why I thought the expansion was problematic. The committee voted to involuntarily defer the bill, likely killing it.

In the aftermath, Robert Mann made some ugly accusations about Medicaid expansion critics, highlighting my commentary on the issue. Because Bob Mann holds the Manship Chair in Journalism and is the director of the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at Louisiana State University, and his accusations center around the issue of racism, I feel compelled to respond to his claims.

First, Mann points out that I compared the federal government’s approach to enticing states into expanding their Medicaid programs to the practice among drug dealers of offering prospective customers a “taste” of the product to lure them in.

My obvious point was that legislators should think about the long-term impact of this policy, not just the short-term benefits. A free sample of cocaine can lead to a costly and destructive drug habit, just as a program initially funded by the feds can become costly and destructive down the road. Nothing about this analogy lends itself to racial stereotyping, nor does it imply anything negative about Medicaid patients. My analysis was focused on the incentives that distort policymaking decisions.

Next, he cites a portion of my recent column on Medicaid:

To make matters worse, these programs and their incentives have contributed to the demise of marriage and the traditional family unit, to the detriment of the children that are raised in unstable environments, lacking the demonstrable benefits of a two-parent family. These social costs cannot be fully captured by empirical data but they may well outweigh any of the other costs and benefits typically referenced in the debate over expanding Medicaid.

Rather than addressing the substance of my argument, Mann simply characterizes it as a tactic to get racists riled up over the possibility that black people will get free heath care from the government. He does not address the evidence that welfare has contributed to a host of severe social problems among people of all races across the nation. Of course, there are many people who would disagree with my statement. But my observations about the welfare state and its perverse incentives are not novel in any way, nor are they limited in relevance to blacks.

Readers should examine the entirety of my column and Mann’s blog post. I think they will conclude that his accusations are extremely unfair. They might also lament the fact that the most prominent professor of journalism and communications at Louisiana’s flagship public university uses his considerable skills to poison the well of public debate.

Accusations of this kind are especially pernicious because they cannot be disproved. There is no way for anyone on either side of an issue to scientifically demonstrate purity of motive when making a political argument. That is why one of the requirements of civil debate is a willingness to assume honorable motives on the part of your opponent. Mann simply assumes the worst without offering a shred of evidence. His bold attempt to categorize reasonable, mainstream arguments against Medicaid expansion as racially-based is both clever and repulsive.

This is a destructive form of advocacy. Attributing malign motives to your opponent increases the likelihood that listeners will reject an argument without giving it a fair hearing. This approach exacerbates an already polarized environment. The decline of civil discourse has been much lamented in recent years. I don’t know what Mann’s thoughts are on this issue but his actions speak volumes.

It is also worth noting that my comments were directed to state legislators. Mann gingerly avoids calling me a racist, instead claiming that I was making an argument designed to appeal to a racist audience. It appears that Bob Mann has found a roundabout way of calling the legislators who voted against expansion racists. Or maybe he just thinks their constituents are racist. Perhaps he should clarify this for us rather than beating around the bush.

If this were just another political blogger these accusations could be overlooked. But Bob Mann holds an important position at a prestigious public institution and he is understandably accorded a great deal of respect. More importantly, he is a teacher and mentor to many bright young people at LSU. His cynical deployment of racism is the wrong lesson for these future journalists and communicators.

Those of us concerned with the state of journalism will take no comfort from Bob Mann’s approach to political commentary. And those of us concerned with the state of higher education will take no comfort from the presence of another taxpayer-funded partisan. As for the students, let’s hope they remember the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do” when studying with Bob Mann.  

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  • Charles Stokes

    I hope other readers will be as disappointed with Prof. Mann’s unfair attack on you as was I. I commend you for your restrained response. Unfortunately, LSU leans to the left in spite of the empirical evidence that a welfare society is a burden that no State or Nation can support. People lured into dependency are only valuable to a corrupt government ,

  • Sunny

    Sorry, Kevin, but Bob nailed it. The fact that he shared this on his blog is demonstrable proof that he is willing to entertain views opposite to his own. Your ad hominem attack on Bob is un-called for, particularly when you call him “another taxpayer-funded partisan.” Bob is one of the best journalists I know, and I do know a lot of them. I think (with Bob) that Louisiana is being short-sighted and unfeeling at the least to refuse the Medicaid money that would help so many people who are struggling to care for themselves and their families. This state and its poor families need help!

    • Sunny, may criticisms cannot be categorized as ad hominem. Bob is taxpayer funded and is is a partisan. Those are not opinions, they are facts. Further, I specifically refuted his allegations. This is not to say a reasonable person cannot disagree with me on Medicaid. But to claim that I’m courting the support of racists is an outrageous insult.

      • Sunny

        Kevin, to my knowledge I have never met you and I certainly don’t mean to insult you. I do know Bob, and have for years. I think there is little doubt that when words like welfare, drug dealer, etc, get tossed around, a majority of the white population will immediately think “black people.” (I am white, BTW.) I think the point of Bob’s column was that “code words” too often call forth knee-jerk reactions, regardless of what you may or may not have intended. As for “poisoning the well of public debate”– aren’t we debating, and in a fairly civil manner?

        • What a strange way to debate! One side says the expansion of Medicaid will have disastrous long term effects on the role of people and need in a civil society because it manifests a self interest in perpetuating a dependency that a dwindling number of people are being obligated to pay for. How does that not divide our society further? The best welfare is work, and a growing vibrant economy. In the last 5 years Washington has faired poorly in achieving that success. And now the solution to an already overburdened and uncertain taxpayer is to load him or her up with an unlimited obligation to fund an unimaginative boondoggle. That is what one side says. The other side says we have to help the least among us more by expanding a system that has proven itself to be inefficient and hugely costly, and they admit won’t solve the problem but may exacerbate other problems down the road. But it comes with a fist full of IOU backed cash from the Feds, who in the future reserve the right to cut off your support and stick u with the obligation. And lastly, if you disagree with us, your a racist or race-baiter! That only poisons the debate.

        • Sunny, I have no idea how you can conclude what goes through millions of people’s minds when a reference to drug dealing is made. It sounds to me like you might be engaging in some stereotyping of your own. Another way to interpret your observation would be to conclude that you associate drug dealing with blacks and you simply assume everyone else does, too. Frankly, I don’t believe that but it is an example of how these speculations distract us from the substantive issue at hand. Poisoning the well of public debate does not necessarily shut down all debate, but it results in fewer people being willing to speak up and it causes the debate to focus on peripheral issues.

          • Sunny

            I don’t believe I am stereotyping, just pointing out what those “code words” do. Did I say anything about “millions of people” and what they think? No, I did not. Maybe we are getting away from the issue at hand, though.The point is that Louisiana is saying “no” to federal money (some of which comes from you and me as LA taxpayers) that would help people here who need medical care. I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. I will not personally benefit. As a person with a chronic auto-immune disease who’s married to someone with Parkinson’s, I am forever grateful that we have good health insurance. Many people do not, though. There but for the grace of God… I hate to think that others with our health issues would not be able to access adequate care because our state turns its back on their problems.

          • You claimed that the majority of whites make certain associations when they hear certain words. So you are claiming to know what millions of people are thinking. The matter of “code words” has been exploited as a way of shutting off debate. If you haven’t noticed, it is hard to critique welfare policies without referencing welfare. This is not a peripheral issue, either, because the ability to speak freely on a range of issues without being called a racist is vital to our society. As for the merits of Medicaid expansion, it obviously cannot be addressed fully in a comment section. Suffice to say those of us who oppose expansion certainly recognize the need for a safety net, we just reject this approach.

          • Sunny

            OK. I give up. I don’t think I am “shutting off debate” by noting that some words have connotations that do spark reactions. That applies regardless of race. Just curious… what approach would you support for a “safety net?”

          • Bob Mann did much more than simply note that some words have connotations that spark reactions. Who would deny that? He took a reasonable argument and assumed the worst possible motives on my part.

            As for the safety net, let’s just say that programs should not encourage long term dependency, they should not reward destructive behavior (having kids out of wedlock), and they should not require the creation of an enormous bureaucracy to run them. Poor people need health insurance? Giving them money to buy their own private insurance would have better outcomes than what we are doing now.

          • E.J.

            So what would be a better way? IF someone can qualify for health insurance, we’d have to give them about 4k/year to afford private sector premiums, upwards of 12k/year per family. Private insurers will often not insure people with pretty much any pre-existing condition (including fairly common, non-life threatening conditions like ADHD), if they do, now we’re talking about 5-6k/person we’d have to give them to afford private sector insurance. Is that affordable?

            I am also confused about how welfare programs like Medicaid prevent poverty if you already have to be poor to qualify for Medicaid and other welfare programs. They can only prevent deeper poverty. Finally, as a healthcare provider for children, MANY of my patients on Medicaid live in two-parent households. And not once has anyone ever said: “Oh my marriage just fell apart after we got on Medicaid.” What I have seen multiple times is that people are driven from having private insurance to Medicaid AFTER they get divorced and no longer have two incomes to be able to afford private sector insurance and/or can no longer be a dependent on their ex’s employer’s group policy. Although other programs like WIC discouraged marriage, Medicaid is not one of them.

          • E.J.

            It’s more than just a claim. There is plenty of research to support it. Search “implicit attitudes test” or “implicit association test” and in the particular the work of John Dovidio.

  • Howard Arceneaux

    Bob Mann is an unethical elitist who takes cheap shots at Conservatives and Gov. Jindal without doing his homework. He relies on throwing crap at the wall, hoping some of it sticks. He has an unhealthy obsession with Jindal, just read some of his posts. I subscribed to his blog and called him out for a number of his hypocrisies, and asked him what journalistic ethical code he followed when writing his blog. He cursed me, called me a troll and blocked me because he couldn’t take the criticism. I wonder if his boss, the dean, knows he writes his blog posts while on the clock for his LSU gig? In other words, LSU is paying him over $100K a year to write his liberal-biased blog during work hours in his LSU office and to indoctrinate his students with the same garbage he espouses in his writings. Talk about unethical as hell. But criticize Bob and he’ll zap you from his rosy little world. He’s a loser who likes to dish it out, but can’t take it.

    • GJD

      And so you think Sadow’s obsession with Jindal is better, and he is less of an elitist, and is more ethical than Bob Mann?

      • jeffsadow

        Hmm … So since I wrote about a lot about KBB when she was governor, I guess I was obsessed with her as well? But to answer your question, I suppose I’m more of an elitist and less moral because, as anybody who hangs around me knows, I sit around and light cigars with $100 bills while sipping champagne out of the shoes of pricey call girls. Seems to me your comment is more a recognition that you find yourself unable to counter the ideas explained by myself, Kane, and others, and thus fall into the typical leftist habit of avoiding the argument you lose and try to disparage the communicator of it.

    • jeffsadow

      Dude, I don’t understand why people even find his stuff interesting. Very simplistic, not particularly well-informed. I tried looking at it a couple of times, but it was such unchallenging boilerplate it bored me to tears, stuff of the same kind that you can find on any slacker Angry Left blog. So no loss for you being blocked.

      I certainly hope he doesn’t do it with LSU resources. That would be illegal. He should know that.

  • Yes, because when you testify about street crac, oops, I meant street cocaine dealers and unwed mothers only liberal scum would think you meant black people…

  • E.J.

    Regarding the substance of your argument, could you explain how having access to healthcare erodes the traditional family unit? You yourself stated you have no empirical evidence to back up that claim, so in all fairness, how could someone attack the substance of an argument which has none to begin with?

    Could you also please point us to the evidence that welfare has contributed to a host of severe social problems among people of all races across the nation?

    • I did not say that having access to healthcare erodes the traditional family unit. Have you been studying with Bob Mann? As for evidence of welfare’s impact on family formation, the most obvious example would be the increase of single parent families since welfare made having children out of wedlock a more appealing option than it had been before. Right wing crazies like Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned policymakers of this likelihood back in the 1960s and were shouted down as racists. Plus ca change…

      • E.J.

        LOL! Good one. No, I didn’t even know who he was until I read your post. So if the purpose of Medicaid expansion is to provide more healthcare coverage, and you write an entire post comparing Medicaid expansion to welfare policies which eroded the traditional family unit, then what exactly was your take-home message?

        As for the race thing, I am having difficulty wrapping my mind around how someone as savvy about and well-versed in politics as you are wouldn’t know that invoking the welfare meme MIGHT be interpreted as racist.

        • I do not compare Medicaid to welfare, Medicaid is a form of welfare. Medicaid was an essential part of the expansion of the welfare state that took place in the late 1960s. Those policies were well intended but have fueled many problems, including the breakdown of the two parent family. Which, I might add, does more than any government program to prevent poverty. So it was entirely appropriate to discuss welfare in this context.

          Any argument MIGHT be interpreted as something nefarious. One of my points is that we should assume honorable motives on the part of our opponents unless there is legitimate reason to believe otherwise. I do not believe that Medicaid expansion proponents have secret motives, all I ask is they show others the same respect.

  • So while we sit here and debate the finer points of racist code words and dog whistles, and what is in a person’s heart, all Bob Mann has achieved with his slander, is to obscure a real debate on the merits of Medicaid expansion for citizens of Louisiana. Why you may ask? Because the history and track record of Medicaid and its implementation across the states by the federal government has been a dismal failure in Blue as well as Red states, and as Kevin has pointed out, it has long term ramifications far beyond the health care debate. Stop calling people names and start debating public policy.

  • cardiodude

    Taking money we do not have from people who are not yet born to addict more to big government handouts sure sounds like racism to me.

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