Friday, March 19, 2010

Ultimately, credit is due to health care reformers who stayed in the fight

Now, the political fight that matters is the next one.

Steven Pearlstein's column in today's Washington Post ("Finally in reach, health-care reform could help mend Washington, too") speaks my mind. The column also outlines some things that had not occurred to me, as well, but Pearlstein's central argument, that the imminent passage of the health care bill in Congress is both a positive, important step and nowhere near the frightening government takeover depicted by opponents, is a point worth echoing.

Passage of the bill, Pearlstein says, "would finally have the United States join the rest of the industrialized world in offering health insurance to all its citizens." The qualifiers implicit in his statement, like health insurance, not health care, and offering, not providing, are a good, if inexact, indication of how far health care reform in this country has to go, but this baby-step compromise is huge, nonetheless.

But regarding that point, Pearlstein makes a further helpful, albeit, disputable observation:
"Over the past year, anyone following the health-care drama has been tempted to question the judgment and leadership of President Obama, his staff and the Democratic leaders in Congress. Should they succeed this weekend, however, there is no disputing that it will be a remarkable political achievement, the result of a combination of focus, determination and flexibility not seen since the early Reagan years."

Of course, there is more than one way to frame what has happened so far. So, yes, Steven, there might be some "disputing." But Pearlstein's perspective is useful. Close up, and even at a distance, the whole process has been ugly. But Republicans in Congress did deliberately set out to sabotage the process. At no time did they seem to be proceeding as though they believed that all Americans should be covered and that there is a way to get to that goal.

In such an environment, it was easy for conservative hunters to harass the pack, picking out the lame and the old and the weak. It was savage politics, but when Democrats explained that Republicans were simply the "party of no," Democrats looked like whiners and, with a little bit of this for Louisiana and a little bit of that for Nebraska, also looked like opportunists. Sometimes Obama looked weak, sometimes he looked like he was merely stylin,' but there was no way to pass this bill without some Democratic cleverness, without some presidential resolve, without solidarity among the vast majority of Democrats. The fact of the bill's passage will demonstrate that those qualities were also a factor in the long process, even if it will take a team of historians a generation to identify precisely who brought those characteristics to the fight.

There is also this to say about the fights that come next: The bill's passing will come as a relief to many who are not prepared at this time to acknowledge that feeling. But they are voters who will show up at the polls in November and will not punish Democrats for the long legislative agony. They will care much more about the economy and who is working and who is not. And they will want to know, what their representative did with his or her summer. Did they roll up their sleeves and get back to work on other pressing matters, like education and financial reform? Or did they slink away to lick wounds from a battle that's over, leaving the field to others?

Now is the time for all good legislators to press forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment