We've become cynical about politics in our country. Some would have us believe that this happened when Bill Clinton took office; others trace it to the aftermath of the Nixon Administration. I think it's worth noting that cynicism toward politics played no small role in shaping our nascent federal government, dating to the Articles of Confederation. We as Americans have a nearly-contradictory view toward our government; on one hand, it is a symbol of our collective might and greatness; on the other hand, it is a frustrating institution seemingly devoid of any ability to function productively. I spent much of today watching C-SPAN's coverage of the House of Representatives as it deliberates and votes on HR 3962. Here are some observations:
I was astounded at how refreshing it was to follow the activities without the filter of shouting analysts. Even the most partial media coverage would insist on characterizing the discourse in the context of viewing politics as some kind of competitive sport. We too easily accept the "Democrats vs. Republicans" billing, looking to count votes and see who can overcome a filibuster. We talk about bills as "victories" or "defeats" for either party, and seek to identify every resolution as an indictment of the sitting president (whomever that may be) and his agenda. Stripping away that tally-keeping leaves us with the actual procedures of our legislative branch.
We have a sense that we vote for people who go to represent us, and then believe that they are forced to abandon any principles upon which they campaigned in order to keep themselves fat. Today, I listened to a variety of Representatives endorse or slam HR 3962 and while it is fairly easy to identify those whose resumes were built on bombastic language, it is not so easy to say that any one perspective was somehow wrong-headed. I listened to Republicans who complained that ideas of theirs that they genuinely feel would contribute to help reign in our out-of-control health care system have been excluded from the legislation. Chief among these is the notion that allowing patients to purchase out-of-state health insurance would take advantage of market principles and help promote, through competition, patient-friendlier pricing. I have to say, that part makes sense to me and I would urge further legislation to explore this idea.
The public expresses indignation at the disagreements that erupt in our nation's capitol. We tire of hearing our duly elected officials "squabble" when they should be "doing their jobs." Well, guess what? Their job is to squabble. Contrary to popular belief, we do not enjoy a democracy in the United States; ours is a republic. Were we to have a true, complete democracy, every franchised citizen would cast a ballot on every piece of legislation. We don't have the time to dedicate to such an effort; this is why we elect officials to represent us in government. All you have to do to realize the enormity of their thankless job is to consider the vitriolic rancor that has dominated this singular issue. Older Americans feel threatened by an increasing trend that panders to the lazy; younger Americans rail against the heartless, survival-of-the-fittest opposition to what they see as the best hope to improve the quality of life for too many of us.
Of course their representatives should voice these concerns; that's their job. It's tempting to characterize any politician whose vote we dislike as "pandering" to "special interests." We would do well to remember that even those who speak on behalf of undesirable portions of our society (be they corporate executives or convicted felons) do so to see that our collective voices are heard. Even when I hear an objection that the government has no place interfering with the "special" relationship between a mother and her child's physician in determining the proper course of treatment for her offspring, I have to admire the dedication to which that Representative has gone to ensure that those who hold that view and fear go acknowledged. (I would ask them just what insurance companies they've dealt with so far that have so painlessly accommodated all the required tests and treatments that their pediatrician might feel relevant.)
Ultimately, I do not believe that this legislation begins to end the issues facing our health care situation as a society going forward. There are numerous issues not addressed, and unforeseen issues that have yet to arise, that will need to be solved. We would do well to bear that in mind, and regardless of the problems that remain--or arise later--that this legislation went through the proper channels. I, for one, actually found today's discussion encouraging. Under all the theatrics and the repetitious bumper sticker slogans, these men and women did what we asked them to do: address our issues, and ensure that our disagreeing voices are heard. It's a shame that too many of us choose not to listen to them work so dedicatedly on behalf of us...and the rest of us.