I have been thinking much recently about President Obama Healthcare plan and why it is going to fail. I do not wish it to fail as I believe we need to fix a broken system.Like Hillary Clinton attempt in the 1990s, Obama’s will never see the light of day.
Unlike Clinton’s plan, Obama’s will not be killed by the Insurance Companies, the AMA, Big Pharmacy, rather by the revolt of the people against the plan. A revolt seized on by the Republican as a means of blunting the gains of the Democrats in the 2008 election and because they rediscovered their MoJo and learned that minority power comes from saying no.
While there are some who would say the Republicans are being obstructionists, I believe that they have more correctly read the mood the country than have the Democrats.
If Obama’s plan passes, and I doubt it, there will be many who claim credit for the success, but as I believe it is destine to fail, the Democrats will attempt to blame the Republicans rather than looking in the mirror to see themselves.
So why do I believe it is destine to fail. I believe there are two reasons. One, there was a genuine concerns by the American people about the concentration of power over Healthcare in a distance bureaucracy in Washington DC. Two, the plan was overly complex and not easily understandable except those in the Healthcare industry.
Today while reading Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics I was struck by the perceptiveness of one of his observations and how that observation is critical to understanding the backlash toward President Obama’s Healthcare legislation. Hofstadter said:
. . .From the pre-Revolutionary tracts through the Declaration of Independence and The Federalists to the writings of the states’ rights advocates, and beyond the Civil War into the era of the antimonopoly writers and the Populists, there has been a perennial quest for a way of dividing , diffusing, and checking power and preventing its exercise by a singe interest or by a consolidated group of interests at a single center. . . .”1
While Hofstadter wrote this almost fifty years ago, his observation about the 1960’s is still accurate. There is a theme in American History of opposition to concentrated power. While we remember the American Revolution as a revolt for independence, it was also a revolt against the concentration of power in the hands of the British Crown. But it was not the first revolution, most American are not aware of Bacon’s Rebellion which occurred in the Colony of Virginia in 1676 and was a revolution against the concentrated authority of the Colonial Governor.
Throughout the History of the United States, there has been a fear of concentrated power. The Populists movement was in large part a belief by farmers that Railroads were so powerful as to deny them the just fruits of their labor. The Progressive movement was in large part a response to the growth of large Corporation, Trusts which were believed to have supplanted the legitimate function of the state through favorable legislation, corruption, and support to their chosen candidates. So how is this theme linked to the debate over health care?
Very simply, the American people, or at least a vocal group has decided that by allowing the Federal Government to have control over health care that they will lose control over their medical care; that faceless bureaucrats in Washington will be making medical decisions and not Doctors and care givers. There is the fear of “death panels” which was trumpeted earlier this year by Sarah Palin. (I have avoided using either the term minority or majority to describe the opposition, as I do not believe that does justice as the exact extent of support or opposition is not well defined.) This fear may seem to border on paranoia of change to what we are comfortable with, yet, if anyone has dealt with the Government be it the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, or the State Motor Vehicle Department one concludes that they all hide behind regulations which are not easily comprehended by the layperson. Unfortunately this is the nature of bureaucracies.
It is the fear of the faceless they. It is the fear that people faraway in Washington are going to make decisions. It is a fear of the unknown of change, it is fear compounded by the economic recession that our country has found itself in. It is the fear caused by high rates of unemployment, of people seeing their savings and investments wiped out by a giant bubble. But this is nothing knew, this paranoia style has often been found in American political history; and it will wane as our economy improves, but it shan’t wane sufficiently to convince the people the President’s Health Care plan is a better alternative.
But if fear underpins the opposition by some to the Health Care plan, many are put off by the incomprehensible nature of both the Bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate Bill the last time I checked is over 2500 pages and is a policy wonks dream, but is not easily understood by the common man. Just as Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Reform wad doomed by its complexity, both the House and Senate version are view with suspicion because of their complexity.
Both Bills are not the work of politicians, but rather are the work of the Professional Staffs of the individual Representatives and Senators or the Committees responsible for Health Care Reform. The Professional Staff responsible are earnest young men and women who have an academic understanding of public policy, but have little experience outside the confines of ivory towers or Capital Hill. Their earnest desire to do good has allowed the Health Care Reform bill to become an unintelligible mash of policy gibberish and legalese which rather than clarifying or simplifying our Health Care System appears to the American Public to make it more convoluted and to stroke the fires of fear.
While not of the same magnitude nor attempting to reform a system as complex as Health Care, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a mere two pages in length. Let’s think about that for a moment, two pages, to end the abuses of the denial of voting for African-Americans in the South. What was the difference? I would postulate that the greatest difference between the drafting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and of the Health Care Reform Legislation is that politicians and not earnest young men and women were responsible for drafting the legislations. Politicians who understood that to be palatable to the American public it must be easily understood and comprehended, otherwise it was destine to fail.
But there is another aspect, which needs to be considered; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was truly a bipartisan effort of reform. Lyndon Johnson, when shown the first draft, asked his aide, “What did Ev think?” He wanted to ensure that the Minority Leader of the Senate Everett Dirksen was on board, as Johnson knew to pass he needed Dirksen support in order to counter the defection of Southern Conservative Democrats.
There is much discussion among the pundit class, be it print or talking heads, that our government is dysfunctional. This past week’s issue of The Economists devoted it lead article to the dysfunctional nature of Government in the United States. There are those who believe that our democracy is grinding to a halt. While seasoned politicians like Lyndon Johnson understood there were times that partisan politics had to be set aside for the commonweal. But they were a much different generation of politicians. Today’s generation, by and large are members of the Baby Boom Generation. (As a matter of accuracy in pontification—I too am a member of the Baby Boom Generation.) It is my fervent belief that the Baby Boom Generation through its collective actions should not be allowed to govern. As children we were spoiled and told how special we were. We were the campus radicals who questioned authority, who thumbed our nose at the conventions of society. Today we continue that radicalism of our youth. Where working with the other political party is a sign of weaknesses, where ideological purity is more important than doing what is right by our nation.
How I long for the days of politicians like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, or Ronald Reagan, who all could be as partisan as the next politician but also understood that working with the other side was necessary for the betterment of the country.
While the Democrats have pretended to want a bipartisan solution, the reality is they have not tried very hard. As for the Republicans they have pretended to want to participate in a positive way, but in reality it has more advantageous to “just say no.”
In the end what this mean for our nation, is that Health Care system will continue to burden our nation because the necessary reforms will not be made. In the future Barrack Obama’s Presidency may or may not be judged as a success, but like those before him who tried and failed, he will be remembered for the failure of Health Care Reform.
1. Hofstadter, p. 205.