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Politics & Current Affairs

Chickens for Checkups

Sue Lowden thinks we should barter with doctors for our medical care. Lowden—currently the leading Republican candidate to challenge the very-much-in-trouble Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in the fall—says that if we can’t afford the costs of medical care, we should barter for it. “You know, before we all started having health care,” she recently said in an interview, “in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house. I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”

Overnight, the former state senator became a national punchline. As Greg Sargent notes, Nevada Republican—and Lowden ally—Chuck Muth called it her “macaca moment.” Lowden seems to have been originally trying to suggest that people negotiate with the doctors, offer to pay in cash for reduced fees. Haggling with doctors isn’t by much of a great solution to our health care problems—and it is tough to ask people with serious illnesses to negotiate for treatment the way they might for a used car. But of course what was really bizarre—and easy to ridicule—was her suggestion that we could address our health care problems by returning to a barter economy.

Lowden defended herself by pointing to the letter a doctor—and a former Republican candidate for Senate—sent to the Las Vegas Review-Journal saying she had traded her services for “for alfalfa hay, a bath tub, yard work and horse shoeing.” But while some people may be able to strike deals with the doctors, that won’t work for most of us. It would be difficult to trade my knowledge of political theory for antibiotics. And most doctors would prefer have the money to buy whatever they wanted over a chicken—never mind that a hospital stay would cost a lot of chicken. Switching to a standard currency has allowed to live in larger communities do business with people who don’t need what we have to offer. And returning to a barter economy wouldn’t hold down health care costs anyway.

“Welcome to the 21st Century, Sue Lowden,” writes Liz White. The Democrats quickly launched Chickens for Checkups, a site allowing people to send letters to Lowden asking for her help finding a doctor who can cure their lumbago in exchange for livestock or bushels of grain. A Democratic staffer even showed up at Lowden’s campaign headquarters with a goat. But the funniest jibe might have been the ad Talking Points Memo found on Craigslist:

I’ve got heart disease. I need a new heart, but I’m not insured, or rich.

Any surgeons out there willing to perform a transplant in exchange for one of my chickens? They’re healthy, spotted brown chickens, ranging from 5 to 8 lbs.

Please reply quickly—want to get this done before Obama’s healthcare takeover kicks in.

The gaffe—and Lowden’s clumsy attempts to defend it—shows that her campaign isn’t ready for prime time. Harry Reid’s declining popularity means that he’s in trouble anyway, but Lowden will need to run a much more professional campaign to beat him. In a larger sense, Lowden’s remark is emblematic of the how unserious the Republican attacks on the Democrats’ health care plan have been. In an effort to deny the Democrats an electoral victory, they have attacked even proposals they originally made themselves as socialism. Instead of offering alternative solutions, they have hearkened back to a vision of a society that no longer exists. Sue Lowden just became the new poster child for that strategy.


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