Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health Care Reform and the Art of Politics

We are on the cusp of seeing historic health care legislation passed.  It's not a perfect package, and then process of getting this passed hasn't been pretty.  Politics isn't pretty.  It's the art of compromise and using whatever leverage you have to get something you want included in a package.  Democrats do it, Republicans do it.  It's nothing new either -- we've been doing it since the dawn of the Republic.  So, did Ben Nelson get some money for Nebraska in exchange for his vote -- yeah he did.  He had leverage -- he was the last vote needed.  Now there will be some horse trading to get the House Democrats on board. 

Are the Republican motives pure in their opposition to this reform package?  No, there is a decision to be obstructionist for political gain.  They hope to color this ill in negative tones so they can gain seats in Congress during the 2010 election.  They haven't been part of the discussion from the beginning, because they've chosen not to be at the table. 

I grew up in a family that was very involved in politics.  My father was Chairman of the Siskiyou County (California) Republican Central Committee in the mid-60s.  He even had his own weekly radio program.  My mother was President of Republican Women for the same region.  I went door to door for Richard Nixon in 1972.  As my politics became more liberal, I switched parties in the mid-80s.  But what is interesting is that (at least in Oregon), the Republican Party was very different from the GOP of today.   Our senators were Mark Hatfield -- a liberal on many issues -- and Bob Packwood (Packwood was a moderate -- and behaved badly).  The Republican Governor was Tom McCall, a major environmentalist.  None of them would fit well in the Republican Party of today. 

So, to the issue before us.  The Senate will vote on passage of health care reform that has garnered support from the American Medical Association.  It has its detractors, but the Senate has agreed on legislation -- with no votes to spare.  Now, the House must agree to much the same language.  There will be a lot of heated debate in closed corners, but in the end I expect they'll come together and health care reform will be passed along party lines -- with sweeteners in there for everyone.

I can already hear the naysayers on both sides, complaining that either it was too partisan or it was pure enough.  But, this is these are the rules of the game, and you play by the rules of the game.  Maybe they need to be changed.  When the GOP was in charge, the Democrats complained about being excluded.  Now it's the reverse.  The party in power doesn't like the fillibuster -- up and down vote is what we want (remember the GOP mantra of a few years ago), now its the Democrats.

You can go and vote Green or Peace and Freedom or whatever and feel good about the fact that you're not being tainted by partisan politics, but remember that you are sitting on the sidelines, because this is a two party system.  If you prefer a more multi-party system, I suggest you take a look at Italy and Israel.  They have very vibrant multi-party systems -- and extremely unstable governments.  The choice is yours -- stability or instability.  Purity or getting things done.

Ultimately, we've been waiting a century, since Republican Teddy Roosevelt was President, for anything close to what is on the horizon.  No, it's not perfect, but neither is the nation in which we live (if we're residents of the United States of America).

I'll leave you with a word from Reinhold Niebuhr:

A Free society does indeed require some confidence in the ability of men to reach tentative and tolerable adjustments among their competing interests and to arrive at some common notions of justice which transcend all partial interests.  A consistent pessimism in regard to man's rational capacity for justice invariably leads to absolutistic political theories; for they prompt the conviction that only preponderant power can coerce the various vitalities of a community into a working harmony.

But a too consistent optimism in regard to man's ability and inclination to grant justice to his fellows obscures the perils of chaos which perennially confront every society, including a free society.  In one sense a democratic society is particularly exposed to the dangers of confusion.  If these perils are not appreciated they may overtake a free society and invite the alternative evil of tyranny.  (Reinhold Niebuhr:  Theologian of Public Life, Larry Rasmussen, ed., Harper-Collins, 1989, pp. 254). 
Niebuhr counsels realism and understanding, lest we fall victim to an optimism that leads to sentimentalism, which invariably leads to despair and pessimism.  


Mystical Seeker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mystical Seeker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Stability?? Seriously Bob? Why not go the one party system for pure stability??
In a nice way, you are justifying bribery, selfishness, and looking out for oneself. As a Christian, I find these virtues absolutely disgusting.
I am a conservative, I voted for Bush.. twice.. but he blew up the deficit. Now the new regime is putting the deficit building to shame. WE ARE BROKE... PERIOD!! Spending more money doesn't make you less broke, only more so.
Dems are switching parties now, accusing the White House of political pressure and arm twisting. Do you really feel good about this process? There is a reason why Obama's poll numbers are dropping and why many on this blog on both sides are spitting mad!


John said...

Health care reform was always going to be expensive - shifting the cost from the individual and from corporate America to the government is also going to mean shifting the need for funding to the government as well - so get ready for the tax increase that will be needed to pay for it.

Political horse trading is always ugly, and each "trade" when considered out of its context is absurd (and disgusting) - but that is the nature of representative government: inefficient and piecemeal. Hopefully we won't go broke before we have a chance to address the deficit.

The public, both liberal and moderate, is going to be unhappy with the compromises made to get the bill passed. It IS a compromise and nobody got what they wanted.

Personally, I just want to see the thing passed so that we begin to take concrete and irreversible steps in the process of moving toward a single payer system. Before we can have a single payer system as a nation we have to first accept the need to abandon private pay health care.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


I think you have it put it correctly.

As for the switching parties, it was the case of a less conservative Republican running as a Democrat, getting elected, realizing that he had to run as a Republican to get re-elected. It was electoral calculus, nothing more.

As for Chuck's comments, well, Obama is having to deal with a mess that resulted from his predecessor's policies.

The CBO's estimates is that this bill will end up cutting the deficit -- if it can get paid for.

As for being broke, I doubt it. Our problem is that the Chinese hold a significant amount of US debt -- giving them a lot of leverage.

As for the comment about one party system -- well if you want things to run smoothly an efficiently, then a one party system is very workable.

The trouble today is that the parties have become so polarized that they can't work together.

Obama's poll numbers are down because the country is in a recession and we didn't pop right out the day after he came into office. But note that his poll numbers are higher than Congress or any other political operative.