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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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January 21, 2010
A political junkie like me must, of course, start this week’s column with some thoughts on Tuesday’s Massachusetts senatorial election results which CNN political commentator David Gergen called “a vote heard around the world.” Gergen’s explanation of the Massachusetts vote: “There is a lot of anger in Massachusetts as to the direction they are taking in Washington.”
Another CNN commentator put it this way: “The message has been sent. The question is, did the White House get it?”
A few thoughts which seem to me to reflect some of the major lessons to be learned from Republican Scott Brown’s capture of what—very unfortunately from the Democratic point of view—was frequently described as “Teddy Kennedy’s seat.” (A description which allowed Brown to score heavily when he responded that the senate seat involved belonged not to a Democratic Ted Kennedy successor but to the people of Massachusetts.)
The lesson for both parties surely was that, more often than not, elections are decided by independent-minded voters who may not be registered as independents but are perfectly willing to cross party lines if they think the other party has the better candidate.
A political truism, you say? Yes, but it’s good for the American political system—for the way we govern ourselves—to have that truism demonstrated from time to time by such a dramatic example as was on display in Massachusetts Tuesday.
A case could be made, I think, for the argument that the big loser in Tuesday’s voting in Massachusetts was not Democratic candidate Martha Coakley but another better known Democrat, Barack Obama. Remember that Obama had come to Massachusetts for some very public campaigning for Coakley as recently as last Sunday. Obama had carried Massachusetts some 15 months ago with a victory margin of 26% of the vote.
The Massachusetts results Tuesday underscored, as I see it, this question: In the history of American politics how many presidents have fallen so far in public favor in their first year in office?
His obsession with “ObamaCare” has certainly contributed in significant degree to President Obama’s decline in popularity, but other factors are certainly at play.
Obama’s principal problem, as I see it, is that despite his lack of executive experience, he is eager to take on a variety of issues which require campaigns and judgments beyond his managerial capabilities.
Tackling fewer issues would help, but lack of managerial or executive experience is another matter. Presidents should not require so much on-the-job training.
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To me, the most interesting and significant numbers turned up by the recent Omaha World-Herald poll dealing with the health care issue were these figures:
Among the 500-person sampling of Nebraskans’ opinions, only 6% said they were not satisfied. Ninety-three percent of those responding indicated they were either completely satisfied (36%), mostly satisfied (42%) or somewhat satisfied (15%).
Consider other issues of lesser but still very considerable public importance—things like schools and police protection and the state’s tax system with its heavy reliance on property taxes. Do you imagine that public satisfaction—from complete to somewhat—would total 93%?
Standing somewhat in contrast to the “quality of health care you receive” responses was the 54% positive response when the 500 Nebraskans were asked whether the national health care system “has major problems.” Fourteen percent responded positively when asked if they believed the national health care system is “in a state of crisis.”
Why the dramatic difference in a very high degree of personal satisfaction and the belief that the national health care system has major problems? If think the explanation lies, to a very large extent, in the fact that so much confusing information—much of it ranging from half truths to outright untruths—has been spread by politicians ranging from President Barack Obama to Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.
Too typical is this cheap shot by Obama: “If Republicans want to campaign against what we’ve done by standing up for this status quo and by standing up for insurance companies over American families, that is a fight I want to have.”
On another occasion Obama said he would continue to fight for the people against greedy insurance companies. Obama has offered absolutely no proof—none—that the great majority of American health insurance companies have been unprincipled or greedy. Attesting to that fact is the general satisfaction of the American public with the health insurance coverage that they have.
One of Senator Nelson’s contributions to the confusion was this flat misstatement in a written statement released publicly last weekend: The proposed federal legislation will provide new access to coverage “for 220,000 Nebraskans without health care today.”
In the first place, no one knows the number of Nebraskans who don’t have health insurance. There are estimates, but no basis for the flat implication that 220,000 Nebraskans don’t have such coverage. Even more questionable is Nelson’s clear implication that a person without health insurance coverage is “without health care today.” This is preposterous, as forcefully pointed out in a column written by a New Hampshire surgeon and published last week in The Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Mark B. Constantian wrote that what is consistently overlooked is that “our population has universal access (to health care) because most physicians treat indigent patients without charge and accept Medicare and Medicaid payments, which do not even cover overhead expenses.” Addressing further those ObamaCare advocates who denigrate the availability and even the quality of care offered by doctors and hospitals, Dr. Constantian wrote:
“The Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology have been awarded to more Americans than to researchers in all other countries combined. Eight of the 10 top-selling drugs in the world were developed by U.S. companies. The U.S. has some of the highest breast, colon and prostrate cancer survival rates in the world. And our country ranks first or second in the world in kidney transplants, liver transplants, heart transplants, total knee replacements, coronary artery bypass and percutaneous coronary interventions.
“We have the shortest waiting time for non-emergency surgery in the world. England has one of the longest. In Canada, a country of 35 million citizens, 1 million patients now wait for surgery and another million wait to see specialists.”
The New Hampshire surgeon’s article concluded: “Who determines how much a nation should pay for its health? Is 17% too much, or too little? What better way could there be to dedicate our national resources than towards the health and productivity of our citizens?
“Perhaps it’s not that America spends too much on health care, but that other nations don’t spend enough.”
So writes an American doctor presenting facts that seem indisputable and opinions which, I believe, at least deserve consideration, although I don’t agree with any implication that health care costs should not be subject to scrutiny and modification where justified.
It’s hard to single out the most misleading if not simply untrue arguments being offered by ObamaCare advocates. I have already pointed out the leader in this category; i.e., that being without health insurance means being without health care at all.
Then there is the implication that it’s simply greedy insurance companies which have declined coverage for pre-existing health problems. Never mentioned by the critics is the fact that this has typically resulted when a person chooses not to buy health insurance until he has a health problem that demands attention and then applies for health insurance. Something like a person who tries to buy his first life insurance policy after being told by his doctor that he has six months to live.
Then there is the accusation that doctors and hospitals run up bills unnecessarily by subjecting a patient to an array of tests and possibly treatments which aren’t necessary. One response to that accusation is that doctors frequently are attempting to protect themselves from malpractice suits brought by a certain class of attorneys who specialize in malpractice litigation. (You’ve seen some of the television ads paid for by attorneys soliciting such clients.)
In an effort to keep these emotion-charged malpractice lawsuits from being tried in courtrooms where clever attorneys can play on the emotions of the jurors, a proposal was made that ObamaCare include the creation of a special court in which such cases would be tried to a judge, not to a jury. Members of the trial attorneys’ bar quickly and vigorously objected, and the proposal sank quickly and without a trace.
Incidentally and interestingly, it was his ability to figuratively make jurors cry that made John Edwards rich. (Before he became a United States senator and a Democratic vice presidential candidate, before his moral and political bankruptcy when his extramarital affair became known to his wife and the public.)
One reported example of Edwards’ successful, emotional appeal to jurors: In a case involving the death of a youngster, he dramatized his appeal to the jurors by telling them that he could literally feel the youngster speaking through him to the jury.
* * *
Let me conclude with a request for help from readers. Our In-Depth-Research-Department’s entire staff (my administrative assistant Jackie Wrieth and me) hasn’t been able to come up with the answers. A recent headline read:
The story was about a program that will work to create interest in health science careers among students in Omaha area high schools. An admirable objective, but the story didn’t explain what a “Doogie Howser” is.
Then there was the headline which supposedly reflected the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ Huskers Holiday Bowl victory over the Arizona Wildcats. The headline: Raise Arizona.
I have no idea what that meant.
Marian guessed that it referred to some sort of cult movie popular some time ago and was possibly understandable if you could remember—if you ever knew—the theme of that movie.
Any help you can give us in deciphering those headlines would be appreciated.
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