Democracy is messy. It's part of the essence of our system of government that we elect officials whom we think best represent our own political values and priorities, then empower them to go speak for us in the creation and implementation of laws that govern our nation. That very basic principle guarantees that there will be ongoing debate and differences since so two Congressional districts, no two states and no two Americans are likely to have identical views on every issue facing the country at any given time.
So it's not the conflict of the past year regarding health care reform that troubles me; our system was designed for debates like this and it's the hallmark of America that we wrestle with these tough social issues in a vocal and public way. What troubles me is the hysterical characterization of the various ideas on this issue, which has clearly reached a crescendo this month.
In the past several months, I've heard such hyperbole as "Republicans will do anything to kill this bill because they don't care if poor people die" and "Democrats will do anything to pass this bill because they want to be able to tell old people to die." Is this really the kind of dialogue that lifts us up as a people and helps us to achieve a robust debate on a topic of such serious importance that touches every single citizen of our nation?
To be sure, there are reasonable critiques to be leveled against various approaches that have been taken to this issue over the years. Republicans have launched an all-out assault on President Obama's efforts to get something done on health care reform, arguing that they have better ideas and solutions to the crisis -- but why did they not introduce a single bill or proposal for debate during the long stretch of time from the mid-90s to the mid-00s in which they had control of all levers of the federal government? Democrats have targeted pharmaceutical companies and health insurers for their pursuit of profits ahead of people -- but why have they been so reluctant to take on other areas of health care cost inflation, such as soaring medical malpractice premiums that are almost entirely fueled by unlimited tort actions? These are fair questions and legitimate issues to aggressively debate. What is neither fair nor legitimate, though, is to inject so much hyperbole and absurdity into the discussion -- "Obama wants to take over health care!"; "Boehner wants Social Darwinism!" -- that we are unable to sift through the nonsense and focus on the important underlying considerations at play in the direction of our public policy on health care in the U.S.
My own perspective on this issue is that health care ought to be a protected right we value in our society, which means we need to have in place a system that guarantees that every citizen has access to care. It seems to me that the best way to do that is to provide health insurance to every American citizen. Given the realities of how the private health insurance industry makes business decisions, I believe we need a single payer for health insurance benefits in this nation and need to essentially expand the Medicare system to cover all Americans. I believe any "reform" of our health care system that doesn't start with the premise that access to health care is a right of American citizens and then create an entirely new paradigm for providing that care isn't "reform" so much as tinkering. As a result, I'm not a supporter of the Senate bill that has now been modified and approved by the House.
But there is a larger issue at stake here. There are reasonable people with differing views on this important issue, not demonic camps of evil villains seeking to bring down the ideals of America. Republicans and other conservatives who oppose the new legislation are largely doing so because they are ideologically troubled by a program that expands the purchasing powers of the federal government in this industry; Democrats and others who support the new legislation are largely doing so because they are ideologically driven to pursue policies that extend the umbrella of health care access to the uninsured and working poor.
These positions need not be demonized and need not be characterized in hysterical terms. In the end, we have competitions of ideas in this country and the ultimate power always resides with the voters on Election Day. If American voters are bothered by how the majority party has conducted its business and opposed to the legislative agenda they have pursued, they will surely let them know at the ballot box, as they have throughout American history. But in the meantime, it cheapens our system and weakens the quality of our public discourse when hysterical characterizations of "the other team" are prized over fair and honest discussions about what one thinks we ought to value as a society and how one feels we ought to pursue public policies that move us closer to those values.