Certain things struck me as I watched — yes every minute of the nearly
seven hours — the healthcare summit.
First of course was the civility.
No “you lie” or anything close.
To say that civility when grown public officials gather is worth
mentioning tells you a lot about the times in which we live. But what was striking about this
momentary quiet is how it magnified the deep divide that now plagues not only
the Congress but also our country.
Fifteen plus fifteen people in a room each group living on a different
plane, seeing the world through different eyes. It was sobering and disheartening, not so much because
divergent points of view are in themselves bad, quite the contrary, but because
no time has demanded some semblance of unity more.
For the President of course it was another display of how informed he
is, in this case every detail of the two thousand plus pages so derided by the
Republicans. To be sure Bill
Clinton could have done the same — different as they may be, both credentialed
wonks — but that can’t be said of our recent Republican Presidents. John McCain took part, and made some
headlines on CNN which, given the very few minutes he spoke during those seven
hours, was a bit of a surprise to me.
But on second thought, perhaps not. The McCain we saw yesterday was the angry looking one and
his performance in many ways echoed that seen in face of the economic crisis in
the fall of 2008. That one sealed
Obama’s victory. This time made
one feel all the more relieved he is sitting in the Senate not the White House.
Looking at the President’s facile handling of both facts and the room,
I couldn’t help thinking too of Sarah Palin. Remember the silliness made of her “hand notes” following
the tea party convention where she took a swipe at the President for using a
Teleprompter? Can you image (I
shutter to even utter it) President Palin leading that session yesterday, much
less having to engage on a complex bill or problem? I know asking that question might seem below the belt, a
cheap Katie Couric gotcha shot, but humor me. Think about that — seriously!
My major take away from the Blair House square table was that we make
a huge mistake and do ourselves a great disservice in simply labeling
Republicans as the party of “no”. In
the first place, it’s a vast over simplification. Second, the hyperbole, which gets old very quickly, undermines
substantive argument. While we get
caught up in the cleverness of our zinger, the Republicans proceed to drive the
conversation and to define us as they see fit. For the moment they remain far more adept than are we at
using words and characterizations to promote their agenda. If you have any doubt of that consider
their continuing success in getting the very people who have been devastated by
their policies, to eat a regular diet of their dog food and drink their cool
In that context, reality and facts — exactly what the President
pressed for yesterday — are rendered moot. Rest assured that a growing number of today’s unemployed
think Obama and the Democrats created the entire deficit, the near collapse of
our economic system and are preventing them from getting a job or a decent
wage. In the same way, Republicans
have convinced them that healthcare reform that would, if nothing else, bring
more people under the protective umbrella, is a bad thing. The Republicans “no-bill” alternative
makes clear where they stand.
Forget the distractions of tort reform and cross state insurance
marketing, the real message is found elsewhere. Their focus is entirely on those now covered, in wringing
out costs by eliminating defensive medicine with its unnecessary tests and with
prosecuting fraud. All these are
good things, upon which most of us can agree. Where they tip their hand is in expanding coverage to only 3
million of the 45+ million uninsured — the Democrats seek to cover 30
million. It’s ironic that they
deem helping these desperate fellow citizens too expensive but are always at
the ready to loot the treasury with a one-sided tax policy.
It is time to act. The
legislation before us is flawed.
Ultimately only universal Medicare will solve America’s healthcare
problems. But, like Paul Krugman
and others, I think an imperfect bill is better than no bill at all. I’m not troubled by Reconciliation, but
why give that ammunition to the Republicans when the resulting bill will be
only marginally better than what the Senate put forward? The House should take on and pass the
Senate bill and the President should sign it. Nobody can question that. They should do it now!