Oy. Better yet, a roaring “OMG”.
I think I will go to Arlington National Cemetery this week to visit Teddy Kennedy’s grave. Certainly I am bound to see some movement there: I am sure that he is rolling over and over in his grave.
Not even the most talented, imaginative writer could have scripted the scenario that is now in front of us. The drama is overwhelming. Not only has a Republican taken ownership of Teddy’s Senate seat, a seat held by a member of the Kennedy family for almost 60 years, but also the result of this election could be the demise of our one shot for universal health care, the heart-and-soul issue of Teddy’s tenure. Granted: Martha Coakley was a very weak candidate. However, Scott Brown was a nobody, one of only five Republican state senators (of a 40 member body) and a former male centerfold model. So ironic, so devastating and at the core of this turn of events, a sad commentary on the state and effectiveness of our form of government.
This effort at passing health care reform has all the markings of a Greek tragedy, almost doomed from the start. This was in part, due to President Obama’s aloofness and the horse-trading methods of our government’s legislative process.
Very briefly, let us review the factors that played into this mess. Numero uno is that President Obama insisted that the Congress should be the designers of health reform and that they should negotiate their proposals through the horrendous legislative process. After all, when the Clintons came up with their own plan and tried to ram it through Congress, it was summarily buried. In theory, President Obama wanted this to be a bill for the people, by the people. He wanted the citizens and their elected officials to take ownership, assume responsibility and invest themselves in the fate of their own health care. The purity of the President’s objective was admirable. However, his major fault was that he removed himself a bit too far from the process. Was this because of the piety of his original objective, or was it due to an unwillingness to partake in political risk? He did not assume enough risk and thus, the reward might not come to fruition.
Secondly, the antics and deal-makings undertaken to pass this legislation were shameful. Please explain to me how the federal government’s concession to Ben Nelson, to exempt his state in perpetuity from all Medicaid expansion costs, was a fair deal when made on the backs of the other 49 states, who would have to cover the free ride of Nelson’s state. Also explain to me why Joe Leiberman is still chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after he single-handedly killed any chance of a public option, an absolute necessity for attaining fairness and competition in health care.
The irony of all ironies is that neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Leiberman matter as health care reform comes down to the wire. Ha! Our President and our publicly elected servants gave away nearly the whole kit and caboodle only to discover that the Senate race to replace the deceased Lion of the Senate, the strongest proponent of decent and affordable health care, was the last minute deciding factor. The ultimate sin was that our lawmakers lost sight of their original intent of enacting a bill that would insure every American fairly and affordably. Instead, the wheeling, dealing and bowing to special interests became, in and of themselves, the ultimate goals. Political gamesmanship overtook our dire need for universal health care. The process, in this case soiled and corrupt to the core, supplanted the substance.
Some politicos say the Massachusetts Senate race/health care mandate was a response to the proposed bill, believing that it is not conservative enough, i.e. it involves too much government interference coupled with runaway costs. Others say that the bill is not liberal enough, i.e. contains no public option. Arianna Huffington commented that the results of the Massachusetts senate race provides an opportunity for the Democratic party to “course correct” before the 2010 midterm elections. Spin is a funny thing. It can go either way. That is why it is called “spin”.
The possible strategies for rescuing health care reform include the President signing the Senate bill as it now stands, the Senate attempting to use the tactic of budget reconciliation to pass the bill and a public option by a simple majority of 51 votes, or delaying the swearing in of Scott Brown until the bill passes through the House and taking a final vote. All of these options will further infuriate both sides of the aisle. Once the original intent, the integrity and the legislative process of a great idea is watered down so profoundly, there are no saving graces.
Our legislative process is so corrupt and out of sync with what the people need and want. This is the lesson of the “referendum” passed in Massachusetts today. Only 12% of the registered voters in that state are Republican, while a whopping 51% are Independent. This race was, in President’ Obama’s earlier turn of a phrase, a “teachable moment” —– in humility, complacency and above all, democracy. Americans want what they were promised, or at least, something that resembles those pledges. As with AIG and the other huge financial institutions that are using our tax-provided bailout funds for disgraceful bonuses, the people of Massachusetts used this Senate race to let our government know, this time before any legislation is voted on, their displeasure with “selling out”. Americans are angry. They do not want the same hoax vis-a-vis the bailouts/bonuses revisited on an empty health care bill. They have been the victims of an egregious violation of the original promises and intents. The results of this state election for U. S. senator was indeed a mandate on the subterfuge, chicanery and deception that flourishes in our halls of government.
A more optimistic lesson learned from current events is to always expect the unexpected. The impossible can become a possibility. With that in mind, a glimmer of hope for a comprehensive, cost-conscious and effective health policy still exists. How (and if) we get there and implement it will be the true test of our values. Perhaps this “revolt” will be the fruition of the courage of our convictions.
What a way for our President to mark his first anniversary of taking office. Oy. And a rip-roaring OMG.