Friday, February 26, 2010

Health Care Reform: what's conservative or progressive?

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 26, 2010
I watched yesterday’s health care summit for over an hour after it started. Personally, President Obama was in charge, the most on top of an issue as any president I’ve seen since Jimmy Carter. When he was challenged on details, from polls to Congressional Budget Office estimates, he did not need to check notes or be whispered to, he was on top of the issue. When the Republicans led off with Tennessee doctor/senator Lamar Alexander, who from note cards read out the message that their cost-containment measures had not be considered in the Senate, then did everything but propose an alternative on how even to get started, I literally screamed to myself, “So WHAT are YOU proposing?” The unified Republican answer was: Let’s not pass any legislative reform until after election day next November, so as to show voters that Democrats can’t do diddly squat. As readers of my blog and other writing know, “just say no” is a blatantly violent position to take, especially when members of any Party above all never break ranks.
Many friends with whom I most agree on directions for change call themselves “progressive,” just as family-value Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats vie for the “conservative” label. Once again, I’m reminded how political labels describe, and of the larger structural violence inherent in labeling differences between “us” and “them.”
If “conservative” is a belief that we ought to consume within our own fiscal means, call me conservative. I’d start by shutting down our army the way Oscar Arias long ago did, and the way prisons were also shut down in Costa Rica more than twenty years ago. That would save money and stop creating criminals and terrorists. I would shut down drug wars, a position advocated by that classically Republican conservative, Barry Goldwater.
If “conservative” means fighting change or trying to return to visions of good old days that never really existed, then conservatism is a lost cause. Buddhists have it right: change, including happenstance like the earthquake in Haiti, and the burst in the bubble of US borrowing to spend more, is as inevitable as its form may be unpredictable. Change happens. The question remains: Do we just let change happen while we struggle to stop it—defying death and taxes for example—or try to work with it.
Wikipedia tells me that conservative is the opposite of progressive because “progressive” means advocating reform. Since change is always happening, all political initiatives become by definition progressive. Increases in sentences for criminal convicts have often been planned, and hence, I trust, progressive. So all calls to political action are inherently progressive. And so, I’m progressive and in ways conservative. So what?
I’m with President Obama on health care. Some attempt to accommodate change in provision and expense to health care ought to happen, subject to modification as we learn effects of legislative intervention. Congressional Republicans are not conserving anything. Just because I want health care reform to progress doesn’t take away the differences I have with other would-be power brokers on how we reform. Ultimately we are all progressives. As President Obama put it yesterday, once we concede we all want reform, the question of how to reform remains for negotiation and experimentation. Nice try, Mr. President, keep at it. Love and peace--hal

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