If a breathless neighbor yells that your house is in flames, you get the message without him saying anything more:
Put the fire out and save your home.
Which brings us to Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
No group has been more vociferous in its criticism of Proposition 2 - the Nov. 6 ballot initiative that would extend Medicaid coverage to the estimated 51,000 to 62,000 low-income Idaho adults who can't afford even government-subsidized private health insurance under Obamacare.
But as Idaho Public Television's Melissa Davlin discovered last week, Birnbaum and his organization are reticent about expressing what everyone knows they mean.
Instead, IFF activist Bob Tikker is launching a political action committee - Work, Not Obamacare PAC - to speak the words the Freedom Foundation won't:
"There's a lot of election law complexity. We're going to follow the law to the T," Birmbaun told Davlin. "The PAC will be the only vehicle that will actually go out and work toward a 'no' vote."
Birmbaum's not being coy.
Tax laws may be involved. For purposes of the IRS code, the Freedom Foundation is designated as a charity - which means the contributors who pay the Foundation's payroll may get a tax break. In exchange, IFF must limit its lobbying efforts and cannot engage in outright electioneering.
With all the campaign cash out there, the last thing anyone should want is taxpayer-subsidized electioneering.
A technicality may let them off the hook. The Freedom Foundation is allowed to lobby. Since a ballot measure constitutes just another form of legislating, "educating" people how to vote could be legitimate.
What has IFF's attention is Idaho's campaign finance laws. Overt electioneering might compel the organization to disclose its donors - something it has consistently refused to do.
Contributors to the anti-Medicaid PAC will get no tax breaks and their names will be revealed to the public.
Just the same, it's a bit of a surprise to hear that the Freedom Foundation has not been expressly imploring people to vote against Prop 2.
Isn't this the same group that is writing the anti-Prop 2 argument in Secretary of State Lawerence Denney's voter guide?
And in the past 16 weeks, Foundation President Wayne Hoffman has written more than 10 anti-Medicaid expansion columns. Among them:
- June 1 - "No one in their right mind would approve, for example, of a majority vote that legalizes murder, rape, arson or other acts of violence against others. So why do we condone the same tactic to take money from people by the use of force? Is it just because the act of benevolent violence includes money and not direct physical harm?"
That's not telling you to vote no?
- June 6 - "I ask you, which is likely to yield a better result for these Idahoans? Signing them up for a governmental program? Or connecting them to organizations and to donors who care and are invested, of their own free will, in the personal journeys and outcomes of others?"
In other words, good will to men; vote no on Prop 2.
- July 27 - "There's a finite amount of money to go around. Expanding Medicaid will mean less money available for everything else - be it schools, transportation or tax cuts."
Who would vote for that?
- Aug. 3 - "Most Medicaid expansion participants don't work and won't work."
In other words, it's either you or the slackers - so vote no, correct?
- Aug. 31 - "Nothing would please socialists more than to see our conservative-leaning state, the last best hope for real solutions in health care, choose government programs over less government. They want to show that even conservatives in a Republican stronghold like Idaho are ready to give socialism a try."
Creeping socialism? Yuck. Of course, he's saying vote no, right?
No, he's not. Nowhere in more than 7,000 words of writing has Hoffman ever been that precise.
Here's what else he hasn't said:
Taxation is not highway robbery.
Charities can't handle the Medicaid gap population now; if they could, fewer Idahoans would be dying prematurely.
Idaho spends so much money covering the hospital and health care bills of those deemed medically indigent that - unlike many states - it probably will save money by expanding Medicaid.
A state health study estimated just 700 people in the Medicaid gap would not be working.
Medicaid expansion - and Obamacare itself - rely on the private sector, not socialism. In fact, the concept itself came from the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Of course, Hoffman can't say any of that, either.
If he did, you might vote yes. - M.T.