The ongoing attempt to cobble together a health care bill has given us a priceless opportunity to see government in action. It was a “teachable moment,” as the president likes to say. The lesson in this case was that politicians are inherently incapable of reforming anything.
Reform requires pain and sacrifice. Reforming health care would require special interests to give up some benefits or sources of profit. But politicians hold power precisely by pandering to special interests, dispensing favors to those who support them and penalties to those who don’t. Insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, labor unions, lobbyists for retired persons were bought off. Then the disgraceful payoffs to hold-out politicians commenced. The goal of the bill wasn’t to reform health care but to get control of it, to make the industry subservient to political power.
It was a seat-of-the-pants enterprise from day one. Rather than addressing the perverse incentives that drive up costs, the politicians decreed costly new entitlements. Blithe promises of savings were routinely refuted by the government’s own budget office. Every day revealed negative consequence of deals cut the day before. The legislative alchemists tweaked and dickered until their pet mongrel ballooned into a 2,700 page Cerberus that none of them understood and few had even read. They’d created another bureaucratic tangle of loopholes, kickbacks, subsidies, regulations and exceptions. It was a monument to naked bribery, willful incompetence and shameless mendacity.
But don’t attribute this sordid spectacle to some genetic defect of the party in power. Rather, it’s a revelation of the way politics works, regardless of party. Politicians pursue their own self-interest and the interests of powerful lobbies. They spend enormous amounts of energy and money to protect themselves from competition and to prevent voters from unseating them. That’s why the Constitution was designed to frustrate them rather than make it easy for them to “get things done.”
Politics as it operates today fails to serve the general welfare. The general welfare has no lobbyist, no war chest other than millions of taxpayers’ thin, defenseless wallets.
The mystery is why people continue to put so much blind faith in politicians. Most of them have no experience outside of politics. How can anyone imagine they’re qualified to run the banks or change the climate? What were people thinking who swooned over Obama’s promise to “change the world,” a prospect that should have inspired dread rather than rapture?
Politicians glibly blame the “greedy” private sector, but they’re strangely silent about the role they played in creating the economic collapse. How can they improve their performance if they refuse to recognize their own mistakes? The president himself said, “We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works…” How can he in the same breath ask Americans to acquiesce in a radical expansion of Washington’s power?
A curious notion supported by some dubious study claims that independent voters are “less informed” than diehard partisans. Common sense would suggest the opposite. Blind allegiance to either party seems lazy, thoughtless. It’s more likely that independents are the ones who do their homework, judge each candidate on his merits and refuse to give any candidate support just because he’s a Democrat or a Republican. Independents looked at the health care bill without partisan blinders and gave it a thumbs down. The statement they made in Massachusetts recently was hardly an endorsement of the disheveled Republican Party. It was a rejection of the political status quo. Independents aren’t knee-jerk obstructionists. They’re not polarized. They’re united in disgust.
A politician worth voting for should be at war with his own party. Wouldn’t it be encouraging to hear a Democrat chastise the teachers unions for blockading educational reform or a Republican tell his xenophobic constituents that our long-term vitality depends on immigration? Until politicians recover some identifiable principles, we should all be independents. Politicians shouldn’t think they have us in their hip pockets. We should hold their feet to the fire and make them writhe for our precious votes.
— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.