On April 6, 2010, Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden suggested that patients might barter for health care.
“You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say I’ll paint your house. … In the old days that’s what people would do to get health care with their doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”
It wasn’t particularly elegantly phrased, and the campaign of Democrat Harry Reid — who did not want to run against Lowden — targeted her with a vengeance. Television spots and people in chicken suits were soon dogging Lowden. Her poll numbers started falling.
Some other candidates such as Danny Tarkanian had baggage of their own, so the GOP candidate who started rising as Lowden fell was fringe figure Sharron Angle, who has specialized in multicandidate primaries in which a plurality instead of a majority can win.
It’s not surprising that the Democrats, like chicken-suited party functionary Phoebe Sweet, quickly took cheap shots at Lowden. (Sweet called the barter notion “ridiculous” without saying why.) Their job was to win, not to conduct intellectually honest debates on the issues.
Reid and his supporters had one big advantage in this dispute. They were aided by journalists who didn’t do their jobs. Reporters took their cue from the Democrats and piled on Lowden without doing the research spadework first. Of all the local reporters who wrote about the controversy, I was unable to locate one who bothered to scrutinize Lowden’s proposal. Not one.
The same thing happened at the national level. Journalists excoriated Lowden without giving her proposal even a onceoverlightly look. Politico, for example, described Lowden as bumbling: “If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wins re-election in Nevada, it may be thanks to those … words spoken by Republican challenger Sue Lowden in late April.” (It was early April.) What Politico did not do was coverage of whether Lowden’s proposal had any merit.
On the Washington Monthly website, blogger Steve Benen wrote, “This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard from a candidate for statewide office.” He didn’t bother checking the worth of Lowden’s idea before denouncing it.
Political chitchat always trumps substance. So journalism missed this story: Lowden was right.
If reporters had even run one online search — say, for the phrase “barter for health care” — they might have found what I did when I took a look at the Lowden idea, which I reported on April 22 that year: In Henderson, Western Barter Corp. brokers for businesses bartering “a wide variety of products and services around the United States and Canada.”
At least 11 state governments and an unknown number of municipal governments coped with the recession with barter.
At UExchange, an online site, Nevadans were bartering scuba instruction, slot machines, photography, furniture, cars, flight instruction and even real estate. The Internal Revenue Service said barter had become popular enough that it had made provision for deductions and other procedures in barter transactions.
Nevada Revised Statutes address barter and the Nevada Taxation Department said “barter clubs” were becoming popular.
The year before Lowden’s comments, The Associated Press had reported, “Craigslist says overall bartering posts have more than doubled over the past year as the recession took hold. People who barter for health care say the practice allows them to stretch their resources or receive care they couldn’t afford.”
A few days ago the Nevada Democratic Party complained that New Hampshire Republicans have stolen their technique, using chicken suits to stalk a Democratic U.S. senator in that state. Maybe it’s time for them to admit their lame stunt is childish in either party’s hands.
Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.