Over the last year, it has become apparent that conservatives believe our founding fathers made a terrible mistake in creating a three-part, check-and-balances system of government. Their attacks on DC daily would lead one to believe that Obama and the Democrats gained power through a coup d’état rather than a fair election.  Technically, Bush won office in 2000 by 576 votes (he lost the popular vote) but claimed a mandate. Obama really did have a mandate, winning almost ten million more popular votes than McCain and sweeping the Electoral College.  However, Democrats have been hampered from delivering on their top priorities by losing the public relations battle. As I pointed out in previous columns, one would think the Democrats are responsible for the high unemployment rate and bulging national debt rather than being the savior of the economy.

As part of the PR battle, conservatives criticize the Democratic health care reform bill for having over 2,000 pages. They brag that the Republican version is a mere 219 pages. Ask any lawyer which version would be the easiest to slice and dice in a court of law. Ask any lawyer where you would find the greatest number of loopholes to exploit. Ask any lawyer which version demonstrates intellectual laziness. It is easy to state a broad principle but difficult to define, in detail, how that principle can be implemented in practice. The Prescription Drug Bill of 2003, contained over 1,100 pages so I suspect 2,000 pages may be too few for an overhaul of the entire health care system. On the other hand, 219 pages seem like an anorexic runway model.

Do you remember the health care fight back in 1994? Republicans won that battle, using the same arguments they are using today. Moreover, what did we get? Managed care, HMO’s, PPO’s, provider panels, rationed health care, preapprovals, higher co-pays, markedly increased premiums, a “free market” in health care that has driven millions of citizens out of the health care system, and markedly increased government funding of health care benefits for children, the poor, and the chronically ill. Now, after that terrible experiment, we are back at the drawing board and Republicans are proposing more of the same! Republicans had their chance and it was ineffective. They could have “tweaked” the system during Bush’s term but they did nothing in spite of mounting evidence of a broken health care system. Now it is the Democrats turn – and everything suggests a radical improvement is the only thing that will rein in health care costs. I pay over $12,000 in premiums a year for two, almost $1,200 a year in Medicare premiums, a $100 per person deductible, and 20% co-pay. Over 50% of my net pay is spent on health care – and I am a healthy person. Thank goodness, I have other sources of income.

Conservatives claim that the use of reconciliation is rare and should not be used for health care. Without belaboring the point, suffice it to say the Republicans used it frequently during their time in power.  Now John McCain, who I used to respect, is proposing that reconciliation is inappropriate for trimming fraud and waste from the Medicare system. John, bless his heart, is not credible on this issue. In 1989, 1995, 1997, and 2005, McCain voted to substantially slash Medicare funding – all through reconciliation! Republicans used reconciliation to cram the Bush tax cuts down our throats (to borrow an over- used phrase from Fox “news”). I wonder if our founding fathers intended for Congress to be paralyzed by the filibuster or if they understood passage to mean a simple 51-vote majority.

Another argument in the conservative battle to impugn government is to spew forth withering criticism of federal government programs, claiming gross inefficiency, while trumpeting the benefits of private enterprise. They love to pick on the post office so I am excited to see how they will handle the recent post office request to cease Saturday mail delivery. Every time the post office proposes raising the cost of a stamp by a penny or two, or stopping Saturday delivery, all hell breaks loose. You see, the post office cannot make changes without Congressional approval because the Post Master General is a Constitutional office, even though the post office received no funding from the federal government. However, comparing the post office to private delivery companies is like comparing apples to oranges. No other company delivers mail to EVERY address in the country, as well as its territories like Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and St. John, six days a week at an affordable price.  If UPS and FedEx did the same thing, service would be unaffordable to a vast majority of citizens. If our local, state, and federal governments had to use FedEx or UPS to deliver official documents, like tax bills, taxes would have to rise to cover the significant increase in costs.

I doubt that our founding fathers could foresee that governing would boil down to a public relations campaign. I suspect that they believed the weight and responsibility of governing would force self and party interest to yield to country interest. I think they believed that the federal government was to consider legislation in light of the entire country rather than regional and local interests. However, since we started drawing Congressional districts that look like space aliens, the interests of DC started boiling down to PR battles, earmarks, and the politics of personal enrichment.

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Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald

A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.