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The Treachery of the ‘Private Option’

Updated: Apr 13

Pictured to the right is a minor classic of 20th century art: Rene Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images,” a famous example of the Surrealist tradition. If you think this is a pipe, however, think again: the painting’s inscription is French for “This is not a pipe.” Magritte suggested that to call it a pipe would have been lying. “Could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not?,” he famously said. This painting all too often comes to mind when I see statements from politicians, which all too often appear to break new ground in Surrealism. On Monday, Senate candidate Chad Niell posted on his Facebook page that he “does not support” the “private option.” The way Niell put it, however, seemed to keep open the possibility of a pro-private-option vote, so I called him up to inquire further. I published the results of that conversation yesterday: Niell repeatedly declined to tell me whether he opposes the state’s Medicaid expansion plan known as the “private option.” In fact, he told me:

“I can’t tell you how I would’ve voted before, and I can’t tell you how I’m going to vote right now. We have to get in there and see what we can do.”

(Bear in mind that he told me this after his Facebook statement.) I don’t think any reasonable person could interpret Niell’s quote just above as taking his future vote for the private option off the table, but that didn’t stop Niell’s campaign spokesman from accusing me of misrepresenting Niell and declaring — as Niell did — that Niell has made “strong statements” on the “private option.” My own view is that a strong statement in this context would tell us how Neill would vote on the “private option” if he got elected in 2014. Strangely, not one of these allegedly strong statements have appeared in the media — or on Niell’s own Facebook page. Or anywhere, for that matter. Much like Magritte, Niell’s campaign asks the public to believe something other than the obvious. When you see a pipe, it’s not actually a pipe — it’s a picture of a pipe. And when you see Niell being squishy on a defining political issue, it’s not really him being squishy, it’s him making strong statements. Oddly enough, those strong statements seem pretty weak to me. Maybe Magritte might be impressed; maybe Chad Niell’s goal is to run a campaign that looks less like a traditional Republican’s and more like a Surrealist’s. Voters who are looking for “a no-nonsense, honest guy,” however, may be unimpressed.

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