I'm writing on Tuesday night, a bit less than 24 hours before President Obama's apparently critical speech to Congress - and the nation - on healthcare reform, and I'm wondering what bizarre new disease has infected the body politic and brought us to the present sad state of affairs. I refer, of course, to the poverty of our political debate.
Healthcare is front and center, but it is only one of many examples. The uproar over "death panels" wasn't really about healthcare at all, but a deep and fundamental antipathy toward the institutions of government. Elected members of the
Congress refuse, in surprising numbers, to squelch the "birthers" bizarre claim that the President wasn't born were he was born. Most recently, the President of the United States has been excoriated for having the temerity to use the start of the school year as the occasion for an educational pep talk to students. It appears that if you disagree with someone today, it is perfectly okay - even de rigeur - to use any unpleasant label you like (nazi, socialist, communist, fascist) to characterize the other side. And this is going on not just in the internet and cable fringes of respectability, but also in the institution that laughably calls itself "the world's greatest deliberative body." That claim was proved false years ago, and no one is doing much to improve things.
The fact that I've identified primarily right of center and Republican miscreants shouldn't be taken as a partisan position. The Democrats are in the majority, so they are the targets right now. I'm perfectly convinced that Democrats and left-wing bloggers would be just as embarrassingly irrational and rhetorically excessive if they were on the outs and on the attack.
Returning to healthcare: Listening to the debate, such as it is, a visitor would never see that there is a broad consensus on the nature of the underlying problems in our health care system, and pretty fundamental agreement on about 85% of the content of the proposals generated by the various Congressional committees. Our institutions are designed, among other things, to prevent significant action when there is no clear majority sentiment. But if the Congress cannot translate the current level of health policy agreement into legislation, it is is terminally disfunctional. and if Obama can't cut through the silliness, he is less politically astute than I ever thought.
So I'm waiting - to see how the speech will go; to see if there is anything like a return to reason and responsibility; to see if in a little while I can go back to puzzling through interesting questions of reimbursement and business strategy.