Saturday, June 20, 2009

Healthcare: Why Can’t We Get the Congressional Option?


Healthcare: Why Can't We Get the Congressional Option?

There's at least one thing that Republicans do much better than Democrats, and that's marketing their initiatives. It doesn't matter how regressive the idea, Republicans manage to frame it in a way that if you oppose it you look like you're either degenerate, or at the very least, un-American. For example, instead of accurately calling themselves "The Order of Religious Bigots Dedicated to Shoving Our Version of God Down America's Throat," they market their insanity as "The Moral Majority," and instead of being honest and calling themselves "The Public Vagina Brigade," they call themselves "The Right to Life" proponents (even though they're willing to let that very same life starve to death after it's born). Conservatives get a lot of milage out of their creativity in this area, and progressives would do well to follow suit.

The initiative to legalize same-sex marriage would have been much more marketable, for example, if it had been dubbed "The Right to Love." And the same is true of healthcare reform. Proponents of a public option for healthcare could make life a lot more difficult for opponents in congress if instead of calling it "The Public Option" they simply dubbed it "The Congressional Option" - that way the issue would be self-explanatory. It would force every member of congress who placed the interest of the insurance industry over the welfare of his or her constituents to explain why they want to deny the American people the opportunity to opt into the exact same plan that congress and their families enjoy.

But I only bring this issue up as an introduction to a much more serious problem - demagoguery. All of the public manipulation above is symptomatic of a system that's out of control. It's a clear example of how politicians who are suppose to represent the people, are using marketing and public manipulation to feather their own nests.

The vast majority of politicians could care less about abortion, same-sex marriage, religion, or national healthcare reform. The only thing these people truly care about is being reelected - and that goes for Democrats as well as Republicans. The mere fact that these people, who we sent to congress to represent our interests, are willing to undermine our most fundamental right to long and healthy lives in order to ingratiate themselves with the insurance industry and feather their own nests, clearly demonstrates that our system is broken, and it requires our immediate attention.

With our economy in the worst shape that it's ever been since the Great Depression, let there be no doubt about the fact that we're involved in a class war. But the only way that America is going to come out whole is if we come to grips with an objective truth - we're either going to win together, or we're all going to lose together. That makes it all the more important that we have statesmen and women in office, rather than self-serving demagogues who can't see beyond the next election, but the latter is exactly what we've created.

We now have an entirely new class of people among us - the political class. With the exception of a handful of legislators, these people don't care about the rich, the poor, or the middle class - all they care about is who's in the best position to get them reelected in the next election cycle. They are totally self-serving, and America is suffering for it. The abject selfishness of these people have either created or contributed to every single problem that we have in America today.

But Americans are beginning to recognize that fact, that's why congress is either at, or close to, its lowest point ever in the polls. It's becoming increasingly clear that these politicians have become so arrogant and self-serving that they've lost touch with the people that they're suppose to represent. They've completely forgotten that they're public servants, our employees, not America's aristocracy. The political class has, literally, come to think of themselves as royalty.

Hyperbole? Let's look at the facts: During the Great Depression the House of Representatives voted to cut their own salary from $9,000 to $8,500 per year. In contrast, today a regular member of the house makes $174,000 a year. They've given themselves $16,000 in raises over the past five years. In addition to that, while their constituents are losing their jobs, their homes, and struggling to make ends meet, earlier this year congress gave itself an additional $93,000 (in addition to their salary) in "petty cash." Then, at the very same time that they were lavishing themselves in this unconscionable orgy of largess, they were coming up with countless excuses why our children shouldn't receive the same medical coverage as their own.

First they tried to cloud the issue by claiming that providing the American people with a congressional option for healthcare was a form of socialism, but then, so is social security. They then claimed that a congressional option would lead to government bureaucrats stepping between patients and their doctors, yet, they don't seem to have any problem in that regard, nor do their families.

The truth is, most of the members of congress could care less about any of that. All they really care about is their bottom line - being reelected. Thus, in this case, the best interests of their constituents have to take a backseat while they follow the money - money which is in the hands of large insurance companies that are determined to avoid having to either amend their business practices or lower their rates in order to compete with a government option.

These politicians try to cover themselves by touting the virtues of the free market, but they know full well that while there are certain things that the business community can do much better than government, like marketing, manufacturing, and selling, there are other things that business is lousy at, like providing public service. Most of us have an innate understanding of that fact, that's why very few citizens would opt for a private military, police, or fire department.

And there's a very logical reason for that. Business, by it's very nature, is designed to generate profit, not to provide services - there was ample evidence of that during the Bush administration. Prior to the military turning over many of its support services to Halliburton, for example, we never heard about our troops being given contaminated water or being electrocuted in the shower. The reason for that is our military's top priority was maintaining the troops, while Halliburton's top priority is maximizing its profits. The very same dynamic is at work when it comes to insuring our citizens - and the politicians know it, but they don't care, because again, for them, it's about me first, and only then, the public good. I mean, am I the only one sick of these people dictating what is on and off the table? I don't think so.

So what should we do about these demagogues?

The only way the people can regain control of the system is by completely cleaning house. We need to use our primary system to vote most our sitting politicians out of office - both Democratic and Republican. That will send an unequivocal message to everyone holding public office who's running things.

Thereafter, we need do away with all congressional perks, and instruct the newly elected politicians to vote themselves a salary and compensation package that reflects the median income of a middle class American, and salaries should be capped at an agreed upon percentage above the minimum wage. Only then will we be able to establish and maintain a representative body that is truly reflective of the people.

In short, we need representatives who actually feel our pain - those who can only imagine it, just won't do.

Eric L. Wattree
If you really want to be hip, hop into a book.

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