Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Undermining Health Care Reform

Like Al Gore, Howard Dean is not afraid to talk about inconvenient truths concerned with potential crises. Also, like Gore, Dean seems to have discovered that it is easier to talk about those truths through the media of entertainment, rather than through the usual channels of government and politics. However, while Gore chose to raise questions about the environment through a multimedia lecture tour that was subsequently documented as both a film and a book, Dean chose to address the health care crisis by filling in for Keith Olbermann as a guest host on Countdown on MSNBC. In the spirit of an old joke about television commercials, Dean did not have to worry about playing a doctor on television, because he is one. His voice within the health care profession is far from the only one, but it is a voice that the media would prefer that we not hear. Indeed, his is a voice that still tries to view health care as a profession, rather than an industry, which is why those on the industry side of the coin seem to be throwing as much money as they can at discrediting the sorts of things he has to say.

As a Presidential candidate Dean was not always able to play the media in his favor. On the basis of the account in Ari Berman's blog post for The Notion, however, I have to wonder if Dean's fumbles had more to do with impediments placed in his path by the Democratic Party than with the quality of his media presence. As a guest host on Countdown, he was more beholden to MSNBC than to the political party he has represented; and he was not afraid to put the party itself on the hot seat. Since the success or failure of health care reform lies primarily in the hands of our representatives in Congress, Dean felt that his hot seat should be reserved for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has had a very strong hand in who those representatives are and a stronger hand in what they do than many of us would like to assume. Here is Berman's account of Dean in action:

Howard Dean guest hosted Countdown with Keith Olbermann at an opportune time last night, following reports that the Senate Finance Committee--helmed by Montana Democrat Max Baucus--is preparing to exclude a public option from its long-awaited healthcare bill.

"What if the Senate Finance Committee has already done the Republicans' dirty work for them?" Dean asked rhetorically at the beginning of show.

Dean has just authored a book on healthcare reform--detailing why America needs a public option--and knows quite a bit about the subject from his years as a doctor and governor of Vermont. He called Baucus's reported bill the "so-called compromise."

Dean asked Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, why Baucus would "give away something something so fundamental to healthcare reform as a public option?"

"We have to have the public option," Van Hollen responded. "And we hope the Senate Finance Committee will."

Dean noted that 72 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times poll, support a public option. "Is what Americans want already dead in the Senate?" Dean asked.

"No," Van Hollen answered. But it isn't clear what kind of leverage House Democrats have with the likes of Baucus, nor do we know yet whether they'll be able to keep their own Blue Dog conservatives in line.

"President Obama promised change we can believe in," Dean told Van Hollen. "Are you worried about our party in 2010 if we don't get any change at all?"

Van Hollen said that Democrats will be judged on whether they delivered on a promised new direction. What they end up doing on healthcare will go a long way towards answering that question.

Basically, Dean wasted no time going for the jugular: Are the Americans being represented by those they elected to fill that responsibility in the Congress? Dean clearly answered that question in the negative and gave Van Hollen the opportunity to refute that conclusion. Bound by the sorts of political commitments that the media do their best to conceal from us, Van Hollen could only fumble. Dean then made it clear to his audience why Van Hollen was so helpless through his next choice for a guest:

In the next segment, Dean asked Wendell Potter--a former spokesman for Cigna turned whistleblower--"what motive do Republicans and Blue Dogs have to kill the public option?"

"They have a motive to protect the insurance industry," Potter responded.

There you have it: Those who see health care as an industry and are profiting mightily from that industry see their prosperity in jeopardy from those who wish to restore health care as a profession. Furthermore, those "industrialists" have the budget to pay for their interests, rather than those of that 72% segment of the population that Dean cited. Did anyone really expect that the we-are-so-screwed mantra, so popular during the Administration of George W. Bush, would vanish with a new President from a different political party? We are as poorly represented as we have ever been. It is time to recognize that the change we need will require more than hope. It will require greater pressure on those we elected to remind them of why we chose them in the privacy of the election booth.

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