IT IS a well-known cliche of doctors' waiting rooms that the magazines are old. Or it may be that the magazines are new but just seem old by the time the doctor sees you.
As a traditionalist in most things, I don't mind this, but lately I have come to suspect that the magazines in some doctors' waiting rooms are really old - perhaps with advertisements for women's corsets and articles about the Red menace threatening the American way of life.
How else to explain all this talk about socialism as regards health-care reform? Socialism has a precise definition, which perhaps explains why the general public considers it too limiting.
It has to do with the government owning the means of production. Some people just want dictionaries to put aside the traditional, stuffy definition and cut to the nub: Socialism, n. 1. Anything that the Obama Administration does. See also Marxism.
But in terms of health care, will the aspirin factories be government-owned? Will the hospitals and clinics? Will the government print old magazines to supply America's waiting rooms? Well, of course not.
Several competing bills are in Congress and the issue is a moving target, but what seems clear is that we won't see government-run health care, as such.
Our old friends, the insurance companies, will stay in business. Hurrah for them! Whether we should shout hurrah for us is another matter. The single-payer idea seems a nonstarter, which may be a mistake. If you are going to be called a socialist anyway, you might as well go for it.
It is passing strange that nobody ever says the Veterans Affairs department is a socialist outfit, even though the government is the sole owner and operator. That's because its customers are ex-servicemen and we owe them something (which I fervently believe we do).
But the question is: Do we owe them a socialist system of care? The VA could just as well pay for patients to be treated in other hospitals.
Yet few conservatives will say anything about this because 1) they support the troops and 2) socialism is only socialism when President Obama does it (see definition above).
Perhaps the answer to health-care reform is to enlist all the uninsured into the Army for a spell, so that the government-sponsored care they receive later won't be socialism. By the way, Medicare isn't socialism either. Too many voters like it.
It is true that government will pay a king's ransom to cover Americans who do not now have health insurance. Private and public insurers would compete in some fashion, which the private insurers apparently don't like. Why, next thing you know, they'll be required to cover sick people and their business model will be destroyed.
President Obama has set August, when Congress is scheduled to recess, as the deadline to get health-care reform done. But many loose ends need to be tied up, not to mention many loose cannons.
How can the system be made to pay for itself? One of the greatest arguments for health-care reform is that the current excuse for a system is a dead weight on the economy. But the Congressional Budget Office said the other day that President Obama's plan could add $239 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years. This is bad and must be addressed - $239 billion is a lot of hot dinners where I come from.
Of course, the Democrats are toying with the idea of taxing the rich. While I don't believe, as many Republicans do, that "Thou Shalt Not Tax the Rich" is an actual commandment, it is important to make sure that the rich being taxed are really super rich and don't need any more money to spoil them further.
Why, it would be wrong to impose such a tax on some deserving journalist planning to write a highly successful and lucrative book. In short, everything argues for steady, cautious progress in a bipartisan manner with no artificial deadline. But all conservatives can do is squawk "socialism, socialism" like sick parrots - presumably, sick parrots with good health insurance. They embrace the talking cure to rid the body politic of the virus of humane common sense.
The truth is that many conservatives hate the idea of any plan that seeks to cover the millions of uninsured people, whom they consider have a great nerve getting sick. As much as these folks hate socialism, they like corporatism, which also has a number of meanings but which I will define by the average person's understanding: "A government of the suits, by the suits and for the suits." They want to make sure it shall not perish from the American earth.
Never mind that corporatism has been to health care what the Titanic was to marine navigation.
Reg Henry is deputy editorial page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: rhenry @post-gazette.com