I Really Hate This Part…

If I’ve seemed a bit reclusive on all the recent fuss over the health care bill, town hall meetings, etc., it’s because the debate over the current reform package has now entered the phase of American politics that I really don’t like. There’s an early stage in which ideas are discussed and bills are drafted. People try to put coallitions together, compromises are discussed, and various groups push their policy recommendations. That’s the realm I find interesting, and in my small corner of the blogsphere, I enjoy participating, in a strictly informal fashion, in the debate.

But then there’s a point when an actual bill (or bills) are on the table, and the democratic melee is let loose. Over the last week I’ve been reading Alessandro Barbero’s The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, and in light of that it strikes me that there’s a certain Napoleonic-battle aspect to all this. A month or two ago we were staring at maps and discussing the merits of different formations, but now everything is shrouded in smoke while innumerable combatants in this democratic struggle (most of whom, on both sides, honestly have a fairly rudimentary understanding of the overall debate) slug it out until we find out which side will hold the field and which will break and run.

In a democratic republic, this is a necessary part of our political process. The people have a strong voice in what will eventually happen — regardless of how many actually understand the issues at state — and this is the stage where the people fight it out, with the leaders left on the sidelines, trying to affect the ebb and flow by sending couriers with orders into the frey. Color me elitist, but while I think it an important process (and I hope that “my side” wins — which in this case would mean going back to the drawing board in regards to any health care reform this time around) I don’t enjoy following this part in much detail. And it being a free country I don’t. (Never watching TV news helps a lot in this — reading the WSJ when I have time and keeping up with a few of my favorite political blogs at a sporadic level is a more civilized way of watching without getting too spun up about things.)

But a few thoughts on the frey:

– It’s darkly amusing to hear progressives doing the “how dare they demagogue issues which aren’t relevant to the bill” routine. Remember how you won the public relations war on the Patriot Act and Social Security Reform, guys? Remember back when “congressmen didn’t read the Patriot Act” and “this is an unprecedented assault on our Bill of Rights” and “they’ll take away your social security and give it to Wall Street” were by-words, and no one in the Democratic Party minded much if they weren’t true so long as they served to win the debate? Well, it’s not admirable coming from either side, but given that half your own legislators can’t describe the issues that are and aren’t covered by the current bill clearly, you can hardly be surprised when people float all sorts of things around so long as they work. Clarity and transparancy would be a good defense. How about a shorter bill with clear goals next time?

– Trust is one of the big issues here. The administration tried to deal with the tough issues concerning what would and would not be covered under the regulated plans by saying there would be a “panel of experts” to figure that out later. Well, those people who’ve been relentlessly mocked as “hicks” and “theo-crats” by progressive writers in recent years naturally assume that this panel of experts appointed by the administration will disagree with them on issues like abortion and euthenasia. Fair enough. Did Democrats ever trust the “trust us to police ourselves” argument from Bush? Really, if intentions were good, how much would it have cost for them to put a clause into the famously long bill pledging not to cover elective abortion or euthenasia? It’s called compromise, and it involves giving up something you might otherwise not want to in order to get what you say your main priority is. If health care really is a top priority for progressives, they should be willing to include safeguards in regards to life issues explicitly.

– Something politicians on both sides really need to learn is that people are increasingly uneasy with the complexity of government programs. Sure, big systems have to be complex, but if our democracy is going to survive people are going to have to start putting some work into coming up with structures which are basically intelligable and communicable. Coming up with insanely complex bills and then trying to sell them with simplistic slogans that have little to do with the content destroys trust in democracy.

– Democrats also need to keep in mind that while the majority of Americans voted for Obama, they majority of Americans also don’t trust “the government” very much, and think of it as “them” not “us”. As such, people are a lot less comfortable with the government deciding what is a legitimate medical need than with having private insurance and demanding that the government require that insurance cover everything. Of course, this means that Americans are to a great extent at the root of their own health care cost problems. But the solution to this which most appeals to progressives (have the government decide fairly how much health care everyone needs) just doesn’t fly with most people. Sorry…

I’ll close with a prediction: Public support for this bill will fall low enough that it won’t pass. Eventually, an even more modest bill will be cobbled together very fast and passed, which will satisfy nobody and cover very few additional people. (And probably help the middle class more than the poor.) But the administration and congress will be desperate enough to pass something before the 2010 elections that they’ll insist it is a great first step.

8 Responses to I Really Hate This Part…

  1. jonolan says:

    A few points, which may actually be significant in the current situation:

    Obama won just under 53% of the popular vote, not a vast majority of those who voted.

    Voter turnout was just over 131 million or approximately 63% of the eligible voters in the US.

    So Obama was elected by approximately 33% of the eligible voters in America.

  2. master c says:

    I think unfortunately that your prediction of a watered down bill passing that satisfies no one may be a sage one. I am here to speak out as a Catholic Obama supporter. There are more of us than non-supporters. Taking care of our fellow Americans in terms of health is very much in line with my vision of peace, love and justice.

  3. I hope your prediction pans out, but I’m not going to count Obamacare out for some time. Regardless, I agree with various commentators who have argued that one reason this is even an issue is because the GOP merely *defeated* Hillarycare rather than doing so *and* proposing a more sound alternative. While healthcare costs are certainly more of an issue today than they were in ’93, it wouldn’t have taken a Nostradamus to see that it would be a larger issue down the road. So this time around, we have to make sure we don’t just beat the bad plan but that we vigorously propose alternatives (which some are doing, of course).

  4. jh says:

    The Obama Administration nneds to hit the whole rest button on this.

    I was thinking about the immigration reform debate saga and controversy. (I supported Bush and McCain on this) Both issues were controversal and envoked fierce opposition.

    One of the things that “worked” for us that supported the immigration bill was to get poll data on what was actually in the bill. If you asked the generic question are you for the “Immigration Bill” negatives were high. But if you went through the individual provisions Public support went way up on the whole.

    If anyone is noticing that is not occuring with the Health Care bill. No one seems to want to talk about the individual provisions because well they are mostly all unpopular. That is telling

    Opponents of the health care bill should not get too optimistic. This weekend I had a chance at a party to talks to two Staffers of two different GOP Senators. They are not at all optimistic that this can be stopped and think this will be rammed through the reconcilation committee and under “deficit” reduction will not have to deal with a filibuster.

    I think for any Bill too pass

    1- Abortion has to be excluded. I think the reason Obama is so stiff necked on this is he knows that in the end private insurance is going to wiped out. I would also say we need an Euthanasia exclusion. Thought that issue is not hot now I predict it will become a bigger issue in the next 5 years. We need to get that in now and start a precedent similar to the Hyde Amendment

    2-A lot more attention has to be given to how this bill or future bills could devastate rural health care. Something that the media(that lives in the Cities) see to be clueless about and that Catholic Social Justice Advocates seem not ot have considered.

    3- This Federal Reerve like Medicare Panel has got to be scaled back. THe American people are going to be very distrusting of anything that even Congress will have a hard time overturning.

  5. master c says:

    I am bewildered that Catholics would oppose healthcare reform. I understand concerns about abortion and euthanasia, but this reform does not change the current practices.


    arent we here to care of the least of our brothers?

  6. jh says:

    Master C

    I am not sure it is a right observation that people oppose Helath Care reform or want medical care available to those in needs

    I think the concern is that this bill is going to be a disaster for the poor, middle Class and rich alike.

    According to Gallup there has been a 21 point drop in just 4 weeks in support of the Health care bill. That is a heck of a drop. No doubt many of those were Obama supporters and no doubt many of those were Catholic Obama supporters that want Health Care reform.

    That is perhaps one reason I have on the average found the Catholic defense of this bill much more muted than I expected

  7. Phillip says:

    master c,

    I think a reflexive Catholic response says the Obama plan must pass. I think a reflective Catholic response can find many failures in social justice with the plan.

  8. Dale Price says:

    Actually, as currently drafted, the public option does indeed cover abortions, as this Associated Press analysis noted:


    It’s a simple bookkeeping trick to make an end-around of the Hyde Amendment. I’m in favor of universal health coverage, but any plan that funds abortion isn’t consistent with Catholic social justice principles. Period. The most telling action is the refusal to re-incorporate a straight ban on the use of any funds inconsistent with Hyde.

    Finally, given her role in administering the public option as the bill(s) are currently drafted, I don’t trust that radical pro-abort Kathleen Sebellius any further than I can toss her.

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