"No, I'm not disillusioned. I'm just not illusioned, either.” – Bob Dylan
In this response to a question posed by an interviewer in 1965, Dylan captures simply and completely my feeling about President Obama and his attempts to rehab the health care system in the U.S. Indeed, after watching the president speak to Congress the other night and witnessing the response from both sides of the chamber, I was left with a feeling that’s significantly less than excited, but not quite apathetic. I do believe that some reforms are on the way, I just don’t think they will be immediately or significantly effective.
My wife watched the speech live, but I was only mostly attentive to it from across the room. She was disappointed with my response and lack of enthusiasm – especially since the topic is discussed almost daily in our house. I listened to Obama talk as I typed an email to a friend about an upcoming backpacking trip. My wife questioned me about my restrained excitement and I replied that I was less than enthralled with what I deemed theater from a president for whom I had much higher hopes. I have seen little of what was promised actually get done and am left, again, feeling jilted by our governmental leaders.
It’s not that I’m cynical enough to think nothing will happen with health care reform – it’s just that I’ve been paying attention to politics and government for too long to think any changes made will be right the first, second or third time around. Reform will be something that’s tinkered with in small increments and over a long period of time. Eventually, it may be done right, but perhaps that won’t happen for the next 20 years.
Sitting there, trying to understand my own sentiments, I couldn’t help but think about the reforms that were enacted on the credit card industry this past spring and summer. They were supposed to help consumers by limiting why and how quickly the card issuers could raise rates. They were touted as a big “win” for regular folks against issuers who had been able to seemingly raise rates and change the rules whenever they wanted. In the end, the unintended consequence of those credit card reforms was that the issuers hiked rates on cardholders before the laws prohibiting the same took effect. As a result of “helping” out the consumer, rates on most cardholders are now 3-4 times what they were previously. This kind of help “fixing” health care we don’t need.
While Obama was getting heckled, I decided to take a quick tour of opensecrets.org and peruse their charts detailing money donated by the insurance industry to candidates up for re-election in 2008. It’s an impressive list that includes politicians from both major parties – the largest donations going to the leaders of each party and those with positions of influence over potential reforms. I quickly reminded myself that hope is often sold and seldom redeemed for any value - but campaign contributions almost always pay dividends.
I decided to go to bed and not go over it all again. When my daughter is old enough, I’ll show her how our government, and indeed our country, really works. I’m sure I will almost feel guilty for showing her the things I have learned over time and through repeated frustrations. But she’ll need to learn these things while she’s still young enough to not fall prey to the theatrics that pass for political statesmanship. When I’m done, she’ll be no one’s fool and she’ll be able to spot the Shakespearian influences immediately.
Ultimately, I think health care reform will get close to where we need it to be - but today I am stuck somewhere between hopeful and hopeless. The simple truth is that while most citizens will feel as though they are helped by the reforms that ultimately get enacted, a select few – the wealthiest citizens – will no doubt benefit disproportionately thanks to a government that is only too happy to receive their donations and “support” when it comes to election time.
As for me, I have no utopian visions for our health care system. I just want to see that something worthwhile gets done so that people get the care they need. I’ve heard enough talking about what, who, how much and why – now I want to see what can be accomplished. It’s time to put up or shut up. Come on Mr. President and Congress – I’m not hard to impress and my expectations are minimal.