Are voters that dumb?

It was your basic sports story: Dentists 53, Hygienists 47. The victory was celebrated in the hometown paper. Details were scarce about the losers, the visitors. A couple of things could have happened. The sportswriter faced a deadline and decided he only had time to quote the jubilant home team coaches. Or the visitor`s coach may have been in a foul mood and spouted only unquotable, four-letter words.

Jan 1st, 1998

Mark Hartley, Editor

markh@pennwell.com

It was your basic sports story: Dentists 53, Hygienists 47. The victory was celebrated in the hometown paper. Details were scarce about the losers, the visitors. A couple of things could have happened. The sportswriter faced a deadline and decided he only had time to quote the jubilant home team coaches. Or the visitor`s coach may have been in a foul mood and spouted only unquotable, four-letter words.

It was your basic sports story: SHOUT lost in a fair contest with the Washington State Dental Association. My mood was simply to move on to other things, devoting this space to another topic. After all, Heidi Emmerling cranked out eight pages about the "losers" for this issue. If you add the cover photograph, that`s nine pages. I was thinking the magazine shouldn`t devote 10 pages of a 48-page issue to Initiative 678, a public ballot effort to gain automony for dental hygienists in Washington state.

Then I read the eleventh paragraph of this basic sports story, as it appeared in the Nov. 17 issue of the ADA News. A WSDA official is quoted as saying, "... the initiative process is not the arena within which to make health care policy."

In all fairness to him, I`ll explain by adding that he was mainly relieved that "special interest groups" did not decide the election. He wasn`t actually suggesting that voters are incapable of deciding health care policy. Or was he?

Still, the remark rankles. My initial reaction during the drive home from work went something like this: "That (insert cuss word here) said voters are too dumb to make decisions about health care. The gall of that guy! What an arrogant (insert another cuss word here)!"

I drove back to work the next morning, still steamed up. The whole quote reads, "... the initiative process is not the arena within which to make health care policy. With the legalization of paid signature gatherers, the initiative process has moved from a grass-roots effort by the voters to special interest groups with enough dollars to buy their way on the ballot."

Since the rest of this basic sports story talked about how the home team, the Washington State Dental Association, fought valiantly for victory, I have a question: Am I the only one on the planet that thinks the WSDA and the American Dental Association are not "special interest groups?" Make it two questions. Does anyone seriously think the special interest group representing hygienists spent more money to influence voting than the special interest group representing dentists? The only reason the score was 53 percent to 47 percent was because dentists spent more money. They spent money on television advertising that capitalized on the fear generated by other initiatives on gun control, gay rights, and marijuana - the kind of details that most basic sports stories would include.

Understand this about the basic sports story. Diane Sawyer doesn`t work for the hometown paper. NBC`s Dateline crew wasn`t even at the game. Readers` Digest is probably working on an exposé about wart removal at dermatologists` offices - so they weren`t interested in the election.

The ADA News is the house organ, baby! Dentists are fond of saying the media misquotes them. Can`t say that now. It`s there in black-and-white on page three of the Nov. 17 issue. The next time a dentists`, uh, special interest group wants to humiliate your local hygiene association, why don?t you whip out the hometown paper and tell your patients something like, OSee this? Dentists think you?re too dumb to make intelligent decisions about your health.O See how that plays with the voters on Main Street.

To return to the dental association?s basic sigh of relief about the election, I will observe this: I personally met hygienists from Washington State who had blisters on their feet from gathering signatures. They also made many personal sacrifices beyond pounding the pavement and asking voters for signatures. If the hygienists paid for some other people to help gather signatures, so be it. It?s legal. Besides, the signature-gathering was to get the initiative on the ballot, not to buy votes for it! Three-quarters of a million voters in Washington state, in a very democratic fashion, said the initiative made sense to them.

Yeah, the final score was 53-47. Just don?t insult our intelligence about how victory was achieved.

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