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Advertise on the Tentacle

March 22, 2010

Spoiling a journey

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

They say a journey begins with the first step. This little essay describes a journey that began with a dinner conversation.


We hadn’t taken a family trip to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution in over a decade. We often ruminate about missing a cultural and historic enrichment opportunity in spite of living so close to the Nation’s Capitol.


At dinner Friday evening, we decided to do something about that. The weather forecast called for sunny and mild conditions for Saturday, March 20, so it sounded like the perfect time to schedule a day wondering through the museums.


The biggest question facing us was the choice of driving or riding the Metro into D.C. In order to park convenient to the National Mall, a driver would need to get there early. Having an adult son spend his Friday evening enjoying Frederick’s club scene suggested a bit of a late Saturday departure, hence a ride on the subway.


The parking at the Shady Grove Metro station is easy, although it seemed as though there were a lot of cars in the lot for a Saturday. As we walked toward the station, I noted a lot of people carrying placards, banners, and American flags.


Banners are not something people carry around aimlessly. A person clutching a hand-lettered sign is a probable protestor, and I saw signs urging an end to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, signs calling for an end to the murder of the unborn, and most prevalently, signs attacking the Obama healthcare reform bill.


I thought I saw a few Frederick faces; one was on the car we sat down on, although at the other end. The train was full, we were lucky to find a seat. And sit we did, for almost 45 minutes. Doors open, no hint of movement.


At the 45- minute mark, a MARC operator came on and told us all to vacate the train, that the presence of a mechanical problem required us to exit, walk across the tracks, and board another Metro train. Having found a seat, we were some of the last people off the now-empty train. That placed us among the last onto the new train, and squeezed into the aisle hanging on to the overhead handrail.


As a long-time Metro commuter, this was nothing new. Not so to many who seemed to making either the first Metro trip or, at least, their first trip in decades.


By now the evidence of a planned major protest on Capitol Hill was apparent. Proud members of the TEA Party movement were busy engaging seatmates, standing room passengers, and practically anyone in earshot in a lively discussion of how Obamacare would lead to the loss of employment, elimination of healthcare choice and result basically in the ruination of the American way of life.


Can anyone say hyperbole?


Not to be outdone, House Democratic Party Leader Steny Hoyer of Prince George’s County spent the weekend justifying the arm-twisting in the House of Representatives by pointing to the overwhelming support of the American people as evidenced by media polling.


One problem, Mr. Hoyer. Not a single poll, taken by a credible source, demonstrated majority support for the bill you are squeezing your members to vote for. Sure, Americans want health insurance reform!


We want to know that if we get sick our insurers won’t drop us from our plan. We want to have insurance that can go with us when we leave a job, thereby avoiding the roulette game of finding new insurance when we might have existing health problems. We want our doctors fairly compensated for the services they provide. We want frivolous lawsuits reigned in, so our doctors won’t face huge liability premiums and over-test and over-prescribe medicine to keep from being sued.


Where in all of that does it suggest that we want the federal government to get into the healthcare business?


If that were all the TEA partiers said, if those sentiments are all that the placards and banners stated, then Saturday’s trip to the National Mall, in spite of the Metro hassles, would have included a fun and enjoyable experiment in the First Amendment.


Unfortunately, the signs also included racially disparaging comments about the president and the people who elected him. They included references to taking the next step in this process should the bill pass, and words about the need for resistance including the violent kind, if necessary.


Several debates broke out among the Metro riders. As other people boarded the train in the urban areas of Montgomery County, the disparity in thought between conservative suburban protestors and more liberal city dwellers resulted in some angry exchanges.


One particular argument demonstrated the level of passion on both sides. A woman who got on when we did, with a banner accusing Barack Obama of embracing socialism, found herself arguing with another woman from Friendship Heights who supported the reform effort.


They went back and forth for about 20 minutes, until the conservative protestor exhausted her ammunition for the fight. They were debating whether insurance was a right or privilege, and the obligation of taxpayers to provide it. The liberal from D.C. brought up a friend who was dropped from her workplace health plan due to an earlier diagnosis for breast cancer.


When asked how the conservative would solve that problem if not for a mandate to discontinue pre-existing condition termination, this poor protestor flat ran out of ideas. You could see her frustration as she struggled to recall how Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Laura Ingraham would have handled it.


Lacking a technical response, she finally blurted out something disparaging about her liberal antagonist, and said she had had enough of the other woman and offered no further comment.


The stakes in this debate are very high, on that both sides can agree.


On one hand, the very presidency of Barack Obama is being described as in jeopardy if the Democrats cannot pass health insurance reform right now.


On the other, Republicans claim that if this bill passes, unemployment will soar, healthcare choice will suffer, and worst of all, Medicare benefits will be denied to thousands of seniors.


Both are lying in an effort to retain or regain control over the electorate.


In truth, without some common sense health insurance reform, there will be fewer doctors practicing medicine in the future. Those fewer providers will also be ordering batteries of tests that are not necessary, out of an abundance of caution to avoid being sued later. Insurance companies will continue to raise premium rates each year, while denying coverage to those most in need, especially those with known health issues.


The president’s plan is a prescription for an overly complicated, costly, and unduly burdensome solution. In his approach, he wants to replace an insurance company underwriter with a government employee in deciding what care our doctor would give us. He wants us to believe that we’d all stay with a private market insurance company even though a much cheaper government-subsidized health insurance option would now be available.


He’s either a dreamer, a fool, or a liar.


The Republicans were very late to the party with viable ideas. Sadly, it wasn’t until the Senate was actually in a position to pass a bad bill that the GOP locked arms around a handful of reform ideas that they all could agree on. Until that point, the total effort they had expended could be summed up in these words – Anything other than the president’s plan.


When a Republican congressional leader says there is nothing wrong with the American healthcare system and insurance industry, they join the dreamer, fool, and liar club mentioned above.


A trip to the Museum of American History reminded me that our nation is founded on precious ideals and principals. The ride down and back reminded me that in spite of our better nature, politics as usual on all sides is moving us farther from the dreams of our Founders.


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