The health reform debate is inherently political, but it is also about policy, and there is a vital distinction between the two. Policy is often the end result of politics, but politics for politics' sake happens all the time, too. That causes a bit of a problem, because -- especially with our dominant two-party system -- everything seems to get turned into a black or white, heads or tails, us versus them mentality. Many times it is as though one party pulled a policy position from a hat and the other party had no choice but to take the opposing position.
On the whole it makes sense that there are differences between the parties. Otherwise, they might as well unify into a single party. But does it make sense that the parties must take an opposing stance on each and every issue? Absolutely not. There are certain things that are in the best interests of the American people. Don't expect me to give you a comprehensive list of what those things are, but I will offer one: health reform.
Why can't people see that health reform is in their best interests? I think it has everything to do with the powerful cues supplied by master politicians and rhetoricians to the masses of poorly informed individuals. When influence and ignorance intersect, guess whose agenda is pursued? Of course, there are two camps and both are guilty of this political game. For every person who spent the summer shouting for government to keep its hands off their Medicare, there's a "latte-sipping" liberal who supports health reform without really knowing why. Heck, even I've been labeled as being clueless about reform. To which I must respond, as humbly as I can muster, if I'm clueless about health reform then God have mercy on us all.
God. Perhaps this is a good place for an analogy. You see, religion often tends to be a divisive issue just like politics -- maybe even more so. In fact, the two often get inextricably intertwined in an ugly mess that cheapens religion and distorts politics. But aside from how God feels about abortion or the death penalty, there's the bigger question that has an answer whether we've arrived at an answer for ourselves or not: Either there is a God or there isn't. It seems that debating the merits of this issue has become quite trendy of late, and the people who do so, those who attempt to make cogent arguments for the existence of God practice apologetics -- the defense of their faith through reason.
Like the question of God's existence, the question of health reform also has an answer -- either we need to reform the health care system or we do not. This is the question that we must answer before we concern ourselves over the matter of what needs to be done or how it needs to happen, but politics confuses the issue, leading uninformed people to react viscerally to soundbites overheard talking of "death panels" and a Senator from Iowa speaking of "pulling the plug on Grandma." Let us first answer the foundational question from which all others follow.
In our great nation, doing nothing -- perpetuating the status quo -- does not require an argument or an action. No, the argument that must be made is that in support of the need for change. Yet, as I've hopefully made clear by now, politicians cannot be entrusted to make this argument, because they cannot be effectively severed from their political nature. On the contrary, there is a strong need for what I call health reform apologetics to defend the need for health reform. Who are these apologists if not the politicians? They are the academics, the think-tank researchers, policy wonks, and industry experts, who subject to their own political biases, are nevertheless free from the need to woo the voting public.
Fortunately, we have many such health reform apologists, and they've been making strong cases for reform lately. As always there are Jonathan Cohn and Ezra Klein, but so too we have Jill Lepore's commentary on health reform as a preexisting condition, Atul Gawande's examination of widespread geographic variation in Medicare spending, Ron Brownstein's explanation of all the good--and much needed--things that the health reform legislation currently in Congress would achieve, and Jonathan Gruber's careful point-by-point argument in support of health reform entitled "Getting the Facts Straight on Health Care Reform." It's all incredible stuff, which I fully endorse, and you need to read it before making up your mind one way or another on the health reform issue. "But it's all just more politics," you say. Perhaps, to some extent, you're right. Then again, Ron Brownstein's piece has quotes in support of health reform legislation from members of both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Perhaps there are some things that only an elected official can lie about with a straight face.
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