Puzzling Over GOP Senate Candidate's Chicken-Based Health Care Plan

Why is Sue Lowden doubling down on the barter talk?

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In the course of long political campaigns, occasionally candidates say something that can be misconstrued or, by slip of the tongue, that they didn't really mean. So when GOP senatorial candidate Sue Lowden advocated redesigning the health care system to be based on bartering, whereby patients could "bring a chicken to the doctor," she was widely mocked for what could have been a simple misunderstanding. But Lowden has repeated the argument, and her campaign office, besieged by requests for clarification, maintains that "bartering with your doctor" works. Lowden is the leading Republican candidate to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada's upcoming senatorial election. Did this doom her campaign?

  • Derailed Lowden's Otherwise Likely Victory  The Los Angeles Times' Ashley Power shakes her head. Lowden "has all the makings of a majority leader-toppler. A casino executive, she can tout herself as a job creator during a devastating recession. She’s also got the looks and smooth delivery of a former beauty queen – Miss New Jersey 1973! – and Las Vegas TV anchorwoman. ... But Lowden can’t go anywhere these days without someone squawking about chickens."
  • Over for Lowden  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen suspects as much. "In a purely political context, campaigns are rarely lost in April, but Lowden's position has quickly made her something of a joke -- and once a candidate is a laughingstock, it's very difficult to recover."
  • Why Is She Keeping This Going?  The Plum Line's Greg Sargent doesn't get it. "Sue Lowden has now tripled down on her call for Americans to barter for health care," he writes. "There's a larger political context here, and Lowden’s tripling down on the idea only ensures that the story keeps on going, potentially turning her into a national punch line. One Nevada writer describes this as her 'macaca moment.,'" when Republican Senatorial candidate George Allen sunk his otherwise certain 2006 victory by calling an Indian opposition aid "macaca."
  • Barter Economies Don't Work  Liberal blogger Duncan "Atrios" Black gets real. "All joking aside, there's a reason we no longer have a barter economy. It's tremendously inefficient. Transactions require a 'mutual coincidence of wants,' meaning I have to have something you actually want to have in exchange for my heart surgery. Many goods are highly indivisible - can't trade half a live chicken - making precise pricing difficult."
  • Lowden Turned My Sarcastic Joke Into Policy  Talking Points Memo Josh Marshall marvels. When Lowden first proposed bartering, "I mocked her with the headline: 'I bid three chickens for that MRI!' But I sort of figured she'd rethink that plan after her advisors sat her down for a moment and explained the concept of a cash economy or maybe if she found out what 'barter' meant. But it turns out that she was serious. Not just serious. She was actually thinking about payment in chickens too."
  • DSCC Launches 'Chickens for Checkups' Site  Raw Story's Andrew McLemore reports, "Created by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the site allows readers to send a form letter to Lowden asking how they can find a doctor who would treat ailments such as rickets, 'ill humours,' 'the vapors' and others, in exchange for various types of livestock or even 'indentured servitude.'"
Unless the law was changed in the last several months, "backyard chickens" are illegal here in [Philadelphia]. There is a place a few blocks away that sells live poultry, but I must find something else to barter for them. Just how many chickens should I stockpile in my medical savings account? Since I can't keep them in the backyard, I'll need to have the poultry store act as my bank.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.