Monday, February 15, 2010

Can this country be governed?

We the people have lost another one.

The big money boys have scuttled health care reform. The citizens of the United States will not have the same access to health care enjoyed by the citizens of every other civilized country in the world. We’re the richest, most powerful nation on earth. We can accomplish anything we set our minds to, yet we can’t do this simple thing for our people.


Because the lobbyists who keep Washington, D.C.’s money wheel turning don’t want it. So they killed it.

And they killed it in exactly the same way that they did in 1993, the malicious stirred up the ignorant with a pack of well-funded lies.

So “Obamacare” meets the same fate as “Hillarycare.”

That’s surprising because the president tried to take a different approach than the Clintons did, although you can’t say that it worked out any better. The Clintons were criticized for being too secretive as their plan was crafted and not letting Congress be a part of the process. So Obama decided to let Congress control the process. Which lead to some ugly-looking sausage making that critics were able to spin into confusion and corruption.

You can criticize Obama for taking a hands-off approach to the process. Sen. Jim Webb has done just that. But the congressional approach did lead to both houses passing a version of health care reform. The Senate version wasn’t much. It lacked a public option and included an insurance mandate that was a give-away to the industry. But it was more than had passed the Senate since Teddy Roosevelt first broached the idea of national health care in the early 20th century.

One thing Obama hadn’t counted on, but probably should have, was the Republican’s unwillingness to participate in the process. The GOP didn’t want to compromise on the health care bill, perhaps getting some of their policy proposals like tort reform or allowing insurance companies to operate across state lines, in exchange for Obama getting his health care bill. Instead they decided to become the party of “No” and to collaborate with the insurance companies in stirring up the witches brew of misinformation, racism, anti-government rage and Ayn Randism that coalesced as the Tea Party movement.

They may come to regret that. “Tea Party” candidates have emerged in several Republican primaries and done very well at the expense of established Republican candidates. A Tea Party third-party effort threw a New York House seat to the Democrats for the first time in over 100 years. Republicans may find that in creating the Tea Party they’ve forged the sword that will disembowel them.

Democrats are certainly not blameless in the health care fiasco. They fumbled every chance to proceed in an orderly manner and despite huge majorities in both houses couldn’t manage to impose their political will and managed to make themselves politically unpopular by half-heartedly trying to do something that would have been good for the country.

But now, having lost the “all important” 60th vote in the Senate, they are helpless.

That’s not how the system is supposed to work.

The framers of the filibuster rule never intended it to be roadblock that the majority could never bypass. It was meant to allow the minority to slow down legislation, to allow for compromise and modification, not to derail it. And it was certainly never envisioned that the minority could stop legislation merely by stating their intention to filibuster, as is the current interpretation of the rule. No, if Republicans are willing to stand at the podium in the Senate reading the phone book into the Congressional Record rather than allow Americans a fair shot at health care, Democrats should make them do that. The CSPAN audience should get to see just how ridiculous their elected officials are willing to make themselves in service to their insurance company paymasters.

You have to give the Republicans credit for one thing, they are an organized political party, they set a unified policy for their congressional delegation and not one member deviated from party orthodoxy. That’s a far cry from the Democrats, who can’t agree on what to have for lunch.

The health care disaster raises the question of if this country is governable any more.

If we can’t accomplish this, what can we accomplish? Even the most conservative Republican would agree there are too many uninsured Americans. Even the most liberal Democrat would agree that malpractice insurance premiums have gotten out of hand. Both sides seem to agree that insurance companies should not be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Yet these major areas of agreement didn’t lead to compromise and a deal that everyone could live with, they led to stalemate and gridlock.

Why? Because we’re no longer dealing with parties and individuals on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum who have different opinions. We’re dealing with two sides which believe they have their own facts. They each have their own news media, which validates their prejudices. They don’t see opponents as wrong, but as liars. The two sides view each other as bad people, rather than as people with bad ideas. The last time this country was this divided, we settled it with cannons.

In this atmosphere it’s hard to imagine any administration, of any party, successfully governing the country. If the agenda is to be “all politics, all the time,” with never a thought for policy and if politics is no longer the “art of compromise,” but a field in which competitors seek total victory, good government will be hard to come by.

If both parties embrace their most ideological bitter enders and denounce any violations of the party line as heresy, as evidence of “RINO” or “DINO” tendencies, they’ll never be able to meet in the “mushy middle” where most good laws get made.

And that, rather than any perceived moral shortfalls or the rising economic strength of other parts of the world, would be a real signal of an America in permanent decline.

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