Health Care Insurance Reform, Politics and Prejudice

In the wake of last week’s summit on health care insurance reform, President Obama demonstrated his willingness to compromise by making some incremental concessions to Republicans in a speech from the White House. President Obama proposed strengthening efforts to limit waste and abuse, extending dependent coverage to age 26, allowing automatic enrollment in health insurance and an exchange for small businesses to pool and purchase affordable insurance. He may also consider a plan to rework the way malpractice claims are adjudicated.

These efforts will not win over any new Republican converts, but should provide cover for some conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, who have found it difficult to support the president’s health care reform efforts. Unfortunately, instead of working toward a solution, both sides remain firm in their respective positions.

There are philosophical as well as practical issues at play here. Philosophically, the key issue in the health care debate is the same issue that has divided this country for 223 years. How much power should be given to the national government? Should the national government play a role in ensuring that all Americans have access to health care and, if so, to what degree? Practically, at the heart of this debate, are partisan politics, inept democratic leadership and, to some degree, racial prejudice.

In 1787, it became clear to the leaders in this country that the Articles of Confederation were no longer effective and a new form of government would have to be developed. One of the first issues to be resolved was government structure. Would there be a weak national government with strong states or a strong national government with weak states? Patrick Henry of Virginia feared that a strong national government would result in the monarchy taking the American people back to the type of government they had fought to overthrow. Alexander Hamilton of New York saw the need for a strong national government.

What the framers of the Constitution quickly came to understand was that, in order to move forward in the best interest of the nation (Africans in America excluded), compromise would rule the day. As a result, a Constitution was written, and a stronger, enduring and prosperous government was formed.

Today, the opponents of the Obama administration’s plan for health care insurance reform are using distortions and partisan politics to control the debate. By injecting abortion, coverage for illegal immigrants, and other wedge issues into the debate, they are diverting attention away from what’s best for the majority of the American people.

This is evidenced by the statements of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), who, according to McClatchy newspapers, has vowed to make health care Obama’s “Waterloo.” DeMint has compared the United States under Obama to 1930’s Nazi Germany under Hitler; and cast the heated health care fight as “a real showdown between socialism and freedom …” Comparing President Obama to Hitler adds nothing to the debate. Calling the effort to provide affordable health care to more Americans a threat to our freedom and labeling government involvement in the process “socialism” is a deliberate distortion of reality intended to undermine the process and frighten Americans.

At the Health Care Summit, Congressman Boehner (R-Ohio), Sens. McConnell (R-Kentucky) and McCain (R-Arizona), and others failed to offer one viable recommendation to move the dialogue forward. Instead, they continued to parrot prepared talking points and urged the president to “start over” with a “clean sheet of paper” and take a “step-by-step approach.”

The democratic leadership has been unable or unwilling to take charge and champion the issues of this debate that the American people elected them to accomplish. If not correct on the facts, Senator McCain was correct on the perception of “unsavory deal making” with states and special interests. These deals result in geography dictating the type of health care Americans will receive and their inability to purchase lower cost pharmaceuticals from Canada.

Finally, one cannot ignore the impact that racial prejudice has in this debate. As former President Carter stated, “an overwhelming portion” of animosity toward President Obama is “based on the fact that he is a black man.” Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo opened the Tea Party convention by calling for a reinstatement of Jim Crow-type literacy tests for voters and said, “This is our country … Let’s take it back.” Take it back from whom? Researchers from Stanford University and the University of California at Irvine have found that negative views of the president do correlate to racial bias and this racial bias correlates to negative reactions to his health care reform efforts.

This is not politics, with interested parties honestly debating the distribution of limited public resources. This is ideology, ignorance, ineptitude, partisanship and bigotry getting in the way of the best interest of the American people.