Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"To fix health care, we have to fix Washington"

Really? These are the last words in Barack Obama's health care commercial, which is now running in heavy rotation in Wisconsin in preparation for next week's primary on Feb. 19. The same ad has been running in other primary states. In Ohio, the Plain Dealer's politics blog commented on the commercial and its script.
Obama: My mother died of cancer at 53. In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.

I hear stories like hers every day.

For 20 years, Washington's talked about health care reform and reformed nothing.

I've got a plan to cut costs and cover everyone. But, unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyist, we'll be in the same place 20 years from now.

I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message because to fix health care, we have to fix Washington.
The commercial is pertinent, pointed and punchy in a confident way, but I have some reservations about the emphasis on the closing tagline, "to fix health care, we have to fix Washington." I find this less than reassuring. Even with a Democratic congressional landslide this year, most incumbents would still be reelected, Congress would be different at the margins, but we would still have largely the same Congress, and definitely the same Washington. One mortal, human being is going to fix this -- and then fix health care?

Haven't we been down this road before? In 1993, that's essentially what the Clintons said -- the system is broken, and we have a better way. They, too, pointed to decades of congressional inaction and promised to jump-start the process. But by failing to bring an admittedly compromised -- and compromising -- Congress into the process, they doomed their plan to failure.

Everyone wants health care reform. The public wants it. Most of the business world wants it. But, as we know all too well, there are many entrenched interests with a huge stake in the status quo. No matter how much demand there is for reform, it will take more than a mandate for change to make it happen. What will make it happen is a tough, hard-fought political battle (bickering?), working within a less than perfect system (lobbyists?), one in which competing interests must compromise to some degree, ideally not at the expense of basic principles.

Fixing Washington is a great goal. But why don't we fix health care first?

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