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Published: Friday, 9/4/2009

Recuperation hardly tempered this observer's zeal

BOY, you take a few weeks off from work and the whole world goes to pot.

Well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but from my couch perspective - where I was planted for long stretches recovering from back surgery - the dog days of August were anything but dull.

OK, they were a little dull at times when all I could do was assume a horizontal outlook on life for hours on end. I quickly learned how doing absolutely nothing - no lifting, bending, twisting, driving, or anything remotely active - is apt to make an otherwise fast-forward individual go bananas in a relatively short period.

When brief walks around town become the highlight of your day, can Looney Tunes be far behind? To preserve my fleeting sanity, I set out to read all the piles of resource material I had always meant to tackle but never did.

With nothing but time on my hands, I even plowed through H.R. 3200 for kicks. Once you get past its "off-putting legal speak," as Dr. Bernadine Healy wrote, the House bill on health-care reform actually has some surprising details worth vigorous debate.

Problem is, in the last month few people were really debating the more salient proposals on the table. I wanted to hear how the most prominent cost concerns of both health-care providers and consumers would be addressed.

As one such consumer about to be hit with a mountain of medical bills, insurance claims, and out-of-pocket pain, discussing how to reduce the high price of medical care was of chief interest.

So it was hugely frustrating to me, and I suspect many others, that instead of learning more about how lawmakers proposed to fix an acutely dysfunctional medical system, we learned how some idiots could keep constructive public discourse about reform from ever occurring.

When medical costs - you know, the litany of charges not covered by insurance or applied to steep deductibles - consume a lion's share of a family's yearly budget, people need help, not hysterics.

When oppressive medical expenses are the single biggest contributor to personal bankruptcies in this country, the urgency for reform is plain.

When the nation's delivery of health care remains hobbled by systemwide inefficiencies and duplicities and even out-of-pocket preventative medicine can be cost-prohibitive, maintaining the status quo is not an option.

Yet it seemed to be for a handful of reactionary dimwits who went all out in August to disrupt a series of town hall meetings and other constituent question-and-answer sessions.

From what I could tell, these lemmings didn't come to hear their congressional representatives talk or to let fellow citizens speak their mind. They came to shut down participatory democracy with noisy nonsense and get on the evening news.

They came to parrot the vitriol of right-wing performers on radio and TV, stoke fear of change - any change - and silence civil discourse. It was great sport for sore losers.

The sheer complexity of health-care reform gave them a green light to distort the facts, deride the President, and attempt to derail efforts to substantially improve health care in America.

Engaging in thoughtful debate over the pros and cons of specific health-care choices is obviously the more difficult but more productive route to take.

Yet even those who should know better couldn't resist joining the sporting resistance to reform that sprang up in the void of strong Washington leadership.

Even those previously dedicated to achieving bipartisan solutions on expansive health-care bills, like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, stirred unfounded apprehension about the federal government "pulling the plug on grandma" simply to pander to uninformed voters.

But politics isn't a sport or about one side scoring points against the other. We're supposed to be on the same team in this nation when it comes to advancing progress for the greater good.

The late liberal senator from Massachusetts understood that principle despite his political bent.

Teddy Kennedy was the consummate pragmatist, driving the passage of numerous bills that made life better for countless Americans.

For him, ensuring quality health care for everyone was too important to play sides like a sport.

His Capitol Hill colleagues would be smart to emulate his success and the rest of us would be wise to discern fact from fiction on proposed reform before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions or succumbing to the muddled mentality of wing nuts.

Hey, I'm just getting warmed up.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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