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Mark Axelrod Headshot

The Slow and Senescent Death of Health Care in America

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August 31st, 2010 will be the 75th anniversary of Eldridge Cleaver's birth. Perhaps, there will be some kind of celebration, somewhere, but I doubt it. After all, white America pretty much hated Cleaver and the Black Panther Party of which he was a part. But Cleaver was a true student of human behavior and, because of his "marginalization" knew white America better than white America knew itself. I think that was fairly self-evident in his book, Soul on Ice. Cleaver was known for a lot of quotes:

"All the gods are dead except the god of war."

"History could pass for a scarlet text, its jot and title graven red in human blood."

"If a man like Malcolm X could change and repudiate racism, if I myself and other former Muslims can change, if young whites can change, then there is hope for America."

"The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less."

But the one quote that has always stood out for me is: "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem."

Clearly, the rancor and divisiveness occurring in the US Congress would have set Cleaver off, but Cleaver isn't here. Cleaver died in 1998 before he had a chance to see what the revolution was all about. But for me, his quotes have a lasting impact, especially the last one since it would appear that both parties are clearly part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Clearly, there's pork in the Democrat's bill. Score one for McCain about the controversy in Louisiana and Florida. But one can point fingers at the Republican Party as being the epitome of what Cleaver suggested since, of course, not being part of the solution is clearly continuing to be part of the problem and the Republican Party has been obstreperous to the point of obscenity. At the recent Blair House Health Care Summit (a misnomer if there ever were one) there were such highlights as Mitch McConnell keeping time which clearly indicated where his attention was focused and clearly accented where his skills lie. No fewer than a half-dozen Republicans repeated the lines "start over" at least 13 times, "clean or blank sheet of paper" at least twice and "step by step" at least 7 times which leads one to believe there aren't any original thinkers on board.

I remember a time when moderate Republicans actually existed. The fact that moderate Republicans don't exist today or if they exist, they're silent (How could a Rhodes Scholar like Dick Lugar essentially align himself with the acolytes of Michelle Bachman?) or anomalies (Is Eric Cantor really Jewish?) or ostracized (Scott Brown is a "Massachusetts Republican") or intellectually challenged (the Constitutional historian, John Boehner) or retired (Where's Howard Baker when we need him?). Sometimes I think what the Congress needs is for someone to have the courage to, well, go on a hunger strike. You know, sit in Congress and not eat until some action has been taken. Better yet, sit in Congress and die of starvation because some action has not been taken. But instead of courage we get Eric Cantor:

Well, actually, Mr. President, this is the Senate bill along with the 11-page proposal that you put up online that really I think is the basis for the discussion here.

Of course, Obama called him on bringing and using "the bill" as a prop, but what was even more interesting than bringing the bill was that Cantor had opened it to various sections giving the false impression that he had actually read the bill. I'm not sure anyone, least of all the Republicans, have read the entire bill, least of all Cantor.

But Cantor continued:

But I do want to go back to your suggestion as to why we're here. And you suggested that maybe we are here to find some points of agreement to bridge the gap in our differences. And I do like to go back to basics. We're here because we Republicans care about health care just as the Democrats in this room.

Okay, he has trouble articulating it, but is Cantor eluding to the fact that health care is a right and not a privilege that both parties believe in? Not really.

He continued:

We don't care for this bill. I think you know that. The American people don't care for the bill. I think that we've demonstrated in polling that they don't.

I can't imagine Obama ever thought the Republicans didn't care for the bill, but to prove his point, Cantor, ignorant of Disraeli, employs the ever-faithful maneuver of using statistics.

Cantor continues:

But there is a reason why we all voted no. And it does have to do with the philosophical difference that you point out. It does have to do with our fear that if you say that Washington can be the one to define essential health benefits, there may be a problem with that.

Now here's where Cantor can't make up his mind. Is it a philosophical difference or is it their fear of "big government." Even Cantor equivocates by using the subjunctive. Doesn't he know for sure?

Cantor continues in his inimitable fashion:

But let's -- in the spirit of trying to come together, let's try and say [the idiom is "to try to"], maybe if -- if we assume that Washington could do that, could really take the place of every American and decide what is most essential, what would be the consequences? And that's also where we have a big difference in this bill and what would happen.

This statement makes absolutely no sense. One may even call it "politicobabble."

Cantor concludes with:

So I guess my question to you is, in the construct of this bill, if we want to find agreement, we really do need to set this aside. And we really do need to say, okay, the fundamental structure is something we can't agree on, but there are certainly plenty of areas of agreement. And because I don't think that you can answer the question in the positive to say that people will be able to maintain their coverage, people will be able to see the doctors they want in the kind of bill that you're proposing.

Okay, so what's the question?

One can use any number of "obstructionists" in this way. McConnell, the time-keeper; McCain, the two-time loser; Boehner, the king of iteration, but at the end of that marathon session one thing became patently clear, "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." Long live Eldridge Cleaver.