In the debate about healthcare reform, why are the loudest voices in the room the ones who seemingly are against all reform? Where are the champions of the progressive ideas? I've asked this question (at great length) before, and while President Obama has started to (half-heartedly) speak up for "the public option," so far nobody else seems to be defending the idea at all. To say this is a disappointment is an understatement. Part of the problem is that the senator all Democrats are deferring to on the issue is Teddy Kennedy. Who has his own problems with healthcare right now, which precludes his being a leading and forceful voice to the public on the issue.
Or does it?
That thought prompted me to write the following television ad script for Kennedy's staff to consider. Now, I fully admit that the language could be changed slightly to highlight different facets of the very complex problem healthcare reform presents, but I think the basic idea is a good one. See if you agree.
[Fade-in to Senator Edward Kennedy lying in a hospital bed. Various high-tech machines surround him, but are muted, with no "beep beep" noises to distract.]
KENNEDY: "Hello. I'm Senator Edward Kennedy, and I'd like to talk to you about an issue I've been championing for 40 years in Washington: healthcare reform."
[Camera switches angles to more close-up shot]
KENNEDY: "A lot of people are saying a lot of things right now about the different ideas for healthcare reform that are currently being discussed in Congress. Some of these, frankly, are just untrue -- which is why I felt it was necessary to speak to you today."
[Scene changes to show various newspaper headlines showing worst of critics' quotes about "government-run healthcare."]
KENNEDY: "The first principle we started with is that any American who likes the healthcare they have now will not have to change it. If you like your plan, you do nothing, and you keep your plan and your doctor. Don't believe anybody who tells you different."
[Scene shows some stock footage of overwhelmed emergency room -- either a series of still shots, or show in slow motion.]
KENNEDY: "But, sadly, not everyone in America is happy with their healthcare, and not everyone has access to affordable healthcare -- which leads many to do without it because they can't afford it."
[Still shot of a gavel and a judge's hand.]
KENNEDY: "And some who thought they had good health insurance have still wound up going bankrupt because they got sick -- after spending their life's savings on medical bills the insurance company bureaucrats wouldn't pay for."
[Back to Kennedy, medium-shot showing hospital bed again.]
KENNEDY: "We think that's wrong, and that's what President Obama and Democrats are trying to change. But everything we have suggested so far has been attacked by people who simply can't see that there even is a problem with our healthcare system. Most Americans don't need to be told that a problem exists -- because almost everyone has a family member or a friend with a horror story about how expensive healthcare has become."
[Scenes of angry Republican leadership faces, in still black-and-white shots.]
KENNEDY: "But still, some are trying to scare you by saying that Democrats want the government to radically 'take over' healthcare -- which is just not true. The federal government is already in the healthcare business, and serves millions through Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. None of these are perfect, but then private insurance isn't perfect either."
[Back to Kennedy's face, close-up.]
KENNEDY: "Which is why we want to offer Americans a public option to compete with the private health insurance industry. Nobody would be forced to try this, which is why it is called an 'option.' But we believe giving Americans this freedom to choose a public option is important. Republicans want to deny you this option. We think you're smart enough to decide for yourself whether it would work for you or not."
[Headlines from the 1960s and 1930s ripping into Medicare, Medicaid, etc.]
KENNEDY: "You know, every time healthcare reform is brought up, the naysayers always predict the death of the private insurance industry. They said this when Democrats passed Medicare, and they said it when Democrats passed Medicaid. But neither one killed private insurance, and the public option we are proposing now will not kill private health insurance either. The people who predicted doom for the insurance industry were wrong back then, and they are wrong now."
[Return to medium-shot of Kennedy.]
KENNEDY: "All we want to do is add some competition to bring the price of health insurance down for everyone. This competition will force insurance companies to rein in their out-of-control cost hikes. I'm not sure why Republicans are against the idea of the free marketplace, or why they're so scared of a government-run program out-competing the private industry, because they've been saying for years that nothing the government does is as efficient or as good as what private industry can do."
[Kennedy, close-up of face.]
KENNEDY: "What we want is not a 'takeover' of healthcare by the government, what we want is to give Americans the choice -- in the form of a public option -- of a different way of delivering healthcare. If you don't like that option, nobody is going to force you to sign up for it. If you try it and don't like it, nobody is going to force you to stay in it. If you like your healthcare as it is, you won't have to do anything. But some may think the public option makes sense for them. Which is all we're trying to do -- to give them that choice."
[Kennedy, long shot showing whole hospital bed and equipment.]
KENNEDY: "Don't deny Americans this choice, that is all we are asking. Even if you decide it's not for you, don't deny your neighbor the choice -- which may mean the difference between no healthcare and having healthcare. I ask you to write or call your representatives in Congress, and ask them to support the public option for real healthcare reform.
OK, it's a bit long, even for a 60-second ad. It could be tightened up. Or perhaps spit into a few different ads which address different angles. And, yes, it is manipulative to show Kennedy in a hospital bed. And perhaps the word "Republican" could be changed to "reform opponents" or something, in a more bipartisan spirit.
But sometimes you have to play the hand you're dealt. And Kennedy, if he weren't in the midst of his own battle against illness right now, would assumably be all over the place speaking in a loud voice about what the Democrats were for. Nobody has stepped into the void Kennedy's health problems have caused (Senator Chris Dodd seems to be trying, but hasn't really been vocal enough yet). And, like Obama, Kennedy enjoys both name recognition and high approval ratings all over the country.
So, what do you think? If you think the idea has merit, let Kennedy's staff know. Personally, I think it's time for a strong voice for the public option, even if it comes from a hospital bed.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com