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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Lie of the Year': dirty, rotten government takeover of healthcare

December 18, 2010 |  7:07 am

BoehnerHealthCareWith the economy tanking and Americans hurting, political fear-mongering and fibbing reached a fever pitch in 2010. The biggest lie of the year, according to a respected fact-checking organization, was the canard that a new healthcare law amounted to "a government takeover of healthcare."

Led by pollster and political message-doctor Frank Luntz, Republicans used the term to conjure foreboding about an overreaching, socialist-style government program that would move to control the entire healthcare sector, according to

The researchers at the website, operated by the St. Petersburg Times, noted that the reform -- which incoming members of Congress have vowed to repeal -- would leave the vast bulk of healthcare in the hands of private insurance companies, doctors and hospitals.

The law, supported by President Obama and the Democrats, sets up exchanges to help consumers buy insurance through private companies. They  specifically ruled out the "public option," insurance provided via the government.

PolitiFact chose the phrase as Lie of the Year because dozens of politicians and media pundits repeated it. Fear of government overreaching played a role in the midterm election.

PolitiFact noted that Luntz pushed the "government takeover" language in a 28-page memo that argued: "Takeovers are like coups. They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom." Although the study didn't say so, Fox News became a particularly willing vehicle for the "government takeover" meme.

That sort of thinking helped scare many Americans about any change in their healthcare. By the time Obama signed the reform in March, a Bloomberg poll showed that 53% of respondents agreed that "the current proposal to overhaul healthcare amounts to a government takeover.”

Those who follow PolitiFact closely know that it does not merely slap down mendacity on the right. Democrats and liberals also feel the website's wrath. The site recently concluded, for example, that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had been flat wrong when he argued that the extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts was "giving that $700 billion to millionaires and billionaires."

A rigorous breakdown by PolitiFact showed that, with the lower taxes extended for two years, the amount forgiven would be a lot closer to $60.7 billion. And that money would be saved, not just by millionaires and billionaires, but by many other Americans.

With the presidential election season soon to be upon us, righteous arbiters like and, which also found the "government takeover" language to be a whopper, will become more and more valuable. Safe havens from the hyperbole machine are few and far between.

[For the record, 9 a.m.: An earlier version of this post gave wrong domain names for two websites. The correct domain names are, not, and, not]

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner (R-Ohio) is among those who pushed the notion that the new Democratic-backed healthcare reform amounted to a "government takeover" of healthcare. The respected watchdog group dubbed that notion the "Lie of the Year." Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press