Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ross Douthat Makes Sense on the Health Care Summit

I don't think I've agreed with three sentences Ross Douthat has written since he moved to the New York Times roster of weekly columnists. Surprisingly, his commentary on the recent health care summit was so on-the-money I actually rechecked the byline.

Yep, it was Douthat.

Having watched large portions of the event as they unfolded, it took a great deal of effort to focus on Buddhist concepts like tolerance and equanimity as my primal side felt compelled to race to Washington and punch people in the head.

Douthat saw things similarly.

The first five hours proved the first point. Even with Professor Obama keeping a firm rein on the proceedings, the Republicans (especially Jon Kyl of Arizona, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Dave Camp of Michigan, all exceptions to the self-parodic norm) were able to demonstrate that you don’t need to mention “death panels” to critique health care reform. You can talk about the bill’s budgetary gimmickry, the burdens of its mandates and the risks involved in having Washington set prices, define benefits and (eventually) limit care.

In the last hour, though, President Obama finally invited the Republicans to offer their own ideas — beyond, yes, tort reform and interstate purchasing — for covering the uninsured. And the Grand Old Party’s representatives lapsed swiftly into platitudes and filibustering.

Yes! It was like a game of reverse-health-summit-musical chairs. Each time the melody stopped, everyone scrambled to ensure they weren't left sitting on the seat of accountability.


As the forum wound down, the participants complimented one another on having such a respectful and substantive conversation. (“Never have so many members of the House and Senate behaved so well for so long before so many television cameras,” Joe Barton of Texas remarked.) Afterward, some commentators acted as though our elected representatives were to be congratulated just for talking publicly about policy without falling on their faces.

No congratulations are in order. The forum exemplified why Americans have every reason to hate Washington right now. The first five hours revealed a majority party whose health care bill probably deserves to be defeated. But the sixth one exposed a minority party that deserves to lose as well.

It will probably be months before I again agree with Douthat, but I'm willing to give the man his due. This essay accurately adduces both the symptoms and the disease.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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