Sunday, August 2, 2009

In Search of...a lion

It's Sunday, and if it's must be politics day on my blog. Let's see, what should I talk about today on the ol' blog? Okay, twist my arm - healthcare. I just can't let this one go.

So there I was, thinking about how out of proportion we Americans blow everything to do with celebrity, and how our genuine affection for people we don't know can seem absurd, especially in light of their personal shortcomings. I've thought this about politicians, and princesses, athletes, and actors. I've thought the magical powers with which we attribute them lack any kind of rationale and only serve to ultimately disappoint us. Then I caught the last half hour of a documentary on Ted Kennedy.

The Kennedy's have often been referred to as American royalty, and in light of the all the information that's been made available to us in the current information age, I've wondered if that wasn't too big a scepter to carry around for a regular family. But here's the thing - the Kennedy's are no regular family. Yes, they've taken accomplishing the American dream to new heights, even if some of their past methods of accomplishing that dream have been dubious at best. But they've also sacrificed their lives in service to this country in every way one can sacrifice his or her life in service, and they continue to do so in ways both big and small. At the very least that's worth some admiration, if not the title of royalty.

So Teddy the Lion. For those of you who don't know, Edward Kennedy (Teddy) is known as "the lion of the Senate." As with everything else Kennedy I thought this affectionate title may have been blown out of proportion, but after watching footage of him spanning nearly four decades in the Senate, I'm convinced that there is no amount of affection or title big enough for Teddy the Lion.

On Bill Maher Friday night they were discussing healthcare, and the author Joe Queenan said that healthcare reform wasn't going to happen in this country because we are basically a selfish people, and we don't care what happens to the next guy really as long as we're not that next guy. Well, Joe, let me just say that you are not a guy I particularly like, but you did make me pause to consider the veracity of that position. And I did. I paused. I considered. I buried my head in my hands and wept at the possibility that most Americans could feel that way. I slept on it. And then I saw this documentary on Ted Kennedy.

So here's this wealthy guy from a family dynasty. To the casual eye, it seems like a lifetime in the Senate has not made up for the promise he might have shown had scandal not bankrupted him of the opportunity to serve in our nation's highest office like his older brother. And yet his staunch belief in the value of public service has not stopped him from doing the best he could for others regardless of the accusations or limitations placed on him. And as I watched this man survive the changing tides of political fortune and continue to fight the good fight regardless of personal loss, I began to understand where the title of "lion" came from.

Now you might be wondering when exactly I'm going to talk about healthcare and how that ties in to the reverence I'm heaping on ol' Teddy, so here it is. Since his senate career began in 1962, here's what Teddy has done. And by the way, he has called his forty-seven year fight for affordable and accessible healthcare the "cause of his life."

In 1966 he created a national system of neighborhood health centers in an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act.

In 1971 (1971!!!!) he held hearings around the country and released "The Healthcare Crisis in America" report.

In December of 1971 he took over as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on healthcare and soon after led passage of the National Cancer Act which increased the staff of the National Cancer Institute.

In a stalemate with President Nixon in 1973, he refused the administration's offer for a national HMO-based solution to healthcare.

In 1978 he had a falling out with Jimmy Carter because Carter said the $65 billion price tag for a national healthcare system was too exorbitant. (I've just lost complete respect for Jimmy Carter.)

In 1986 Kennedy pushed and passed COBRA, a program to continue health benefits from a former employer for 18 months. (I've utilized that one. Haven't you?)

In 1990, Kennedy guided passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, granting rights to disabled citizens seeking employment. (Aren't you embarrassed that they actually had to pass legislation for us to treat disabled people fairly?) And keeping on that theme...Ted Kennedy also introduced the Ryan White CARE Act to give help to communities impacted by AIDS.

In 1993 he endorsed Hillary Clinton's national healthcare plan, which eventually failed.

In 1996 Kennedy led and passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which expanded options for people changing jobs. He also sponsored the Mental Health Parity Act which expanded coverage for mental health patients.

In 1997 Kennedy led the passage of the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the largest ever expansion of public healthcare for children.

Have I mentioned enough? (Thanks to, by the way for supplying the pertinent info.) So Ted Kennedy, a man who's got both good health insurance as well as money, has been crusading for forty years to see that the rest of us can have good healthcare too. So much for Joe Queenan's theory about selfishness.

So as Ted Kennedy fights for his life, and make no mistake he would not even be around today were it not for the great healthcare afforded Congress, I wonder who will be the next "lion." I wonder who will have the fortitude to stand up to his own party if necessary to do the right thing for the people of this country. I wonder who will sacrifice a lifetime of comfort for the conviction that those of us without a lobby need a voice too.

I hope that those of us who are here to witness that kind of courage can find some of our own. I hope that the masses of us who are struggling to stay afloat in these times can band together to be a bigger lobby - one that can make our needs as well as our principles known. I hope we can impact those we've put in office by letting them clearly know that they will no longer be in office should they not adequately represent the needs of the people who put them there. A good tee-off time or a steak dinner will not compensate them next term when someone else has replaced them. So let's make that clear to them.

Yes, I'm angry - angry that corporations have the power to determine life and death. And I'm scared - scared that lions who would stand up to them are a dying breed.

This is not the time to get bored with the discourse and start tuning out. That's what Congress and the insurance companies are banking on, that we Americans have the attention span of a gnat. We can be easily worn down by threats and confusing rhetoric. But we mustn't. It's simple, really. Everyone deserves the right to good and affordable healthcare. Either you believe that (like me and Teddy), or you don't. And if you do, then there's a way it can be accomplished. For starters, how about we study the 36 countries that are ranked ahead of the U.S. in healthcare and see what they're doing. Why don't see take the best of the best and utilize that. Surely we have mastered the art of cheating off the other guy's paper. Why don't we use that finely honed skill for the greater good.

The thing is we all have the capacity to be lions. We've just gotten so used to being sheep that we've forgotten. (And I promise I'll stop with the jungle analogies now.) So Ted, thanks for leading the charge. Now it's our turn. Roar.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends and contact your representatives.

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