Health care reform has taken center-stage in the headlines, but it would be a mistake to call any of what’s happened a “debate.” Proponents of the bill have been saddled with the thankless task of countering the constant, bawling parade of misinformation and red herrings, which requires explaining subtleties and specific policy points — as well as overarching goals — that the other side is either too stupid or too willfully bull-headed to understand.

As H.L. Mencken once observed, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

The effort to reform health care and provide expanded coverage to the increasing millions of Americans without health insurance is simple to understand. The U.S. pays almost twice per capita what other industrialized nations pay, and we have worse rates of infant mortality and average lifespan. It stands to reason that we could have better care, and pay less for it.

But that’s not how the debate has been framed. The vocal — and oftentimes ridiculous — opponents of health care claim that the current bill would provide “tax-payer funded abortions” and “kill granny.” These ludicrous canards, which have been abetted by lobbyists using insurance-industry dollars, are so stupid that they wouldn’t merit discussion… that is, if it weren’t for the fact that so many credulous idiots in the country believed them so eagerly.

What this is, of course, is a rather transparent proxy war. Anti-health care reform activists aren’t even talking about health care — they’re toting their assault rifles to town hall meetings, they’re screeching about abortion (which their private health insurance policies cover anyway, using money from their paychecks), they’re bellowing about government intrusion (whining that HIPAA should protect their IRS information, bizarrely). What they want, really, is to see Pres. Barack Obama’s attempt to reform health care fail.

Fast forward a year, and imagine what the “debate” (and I use the term loosely) will look like. Conservatives will have all picked up the drumbeat, hectoring Democrats over the president’s “failure” to pass health reform — this “failure” being exactly the goal of their current struggle. This is pure electoral politics, and what the right wants out of this isn’t protection for unborn children, or for the elderly, or for your bank account — what they want is to see an important initiative from a democratic president fail. They want that talking point for 2010 and 2012.

Shame on them for this craven and dishonest con job to deny health care to millions of Americans in order to scrape up a few extra votes. It shows an almost Machiavellian contempt for the lives of human beings in our country.