Monday, July 26, 2004


The reasons why John Kerry shouldn’t be president are very strong ... if you already feel Kerry shouldn’t be president. Otherwise, they sound like the assertions of the calm, presentable person who engages you on the T and informs you he communicates with aliens through the fillings in his teeth.

He’s missed a ton of Senate votes? Yes, because he’s running for president, thank god. He’s bad for business? Give me a break. If billionaire politicians for some reason manage to sell the public on a reform that hurts them or the economy, can they also get it past the millionaire politicians in Congress? He’s going to hand U.S. foreign policy over to the United Nations? Oddly, the phrase “Give me a break” comes to mind again. He’s selfish? Damn, there’s that “Give me a break” phrase again, if only because such judgments are subjective and largely the product of attack-dog media and right-wing nuts.

And fears about Teresa Heinz Kerry’s experimentation with reforming health care, and about those experiments being “wildly overbudget”?

It occurs to me that many billions of dollars have been spent on our missile shield technology -- if you can call it that -- since President Reagan proposed it in 1983 after an overstimulating night at the cinema. The budget for National Missile Defense in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2005 budget alone is $10 billion.

This is a system that, 20 years after scientists started work, still has to be shown which are the decoys and which are the real missiles. This is okay, we’re told, because all science has to start somewhere, and it starts with miserable failures. The funding looks almost justified by the refusal of the Bush administration to take serious steps to prevent nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran -- which ensures we’ll have enemies to use a missile shield against -- but also sort of silly considering serious threats can now be packed into suitcases and driven across the border.

So why not let Teresa Heinz Kerry experiment with health care a bit, even if the numbers aren’t working out the first couple of years? Instead of perpetuating an arms race, perhaps she can save a few lives, or make some lives a little easier.

And raising the specter of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care efforts in the early 1990s is perhaps digging in the wrong spot. Look instead to the millions spent by “special interests” in defeating the efforts, and to the delightful situation in which we find ourselves -- double-digit increases in health premiums, rising abandonment of employee benefits and demands for drug imports because our prescriptions aren’t affordable. Yes, it’s a good thing health care reform didn’t take place a decade ago; we’d all be screwed!

It’s also good to remember what James Fallows noted in The Atlantic in 1994, describing Wall Street Journal comparisons of health plans with a focus group. The members liked the Clinton plan upon hearing from Journal staffers how it worked, but “when they explained that the preferred group of provisions was in fact ‘the Clinton plan,’ most members of the panel changed their minds and opposed it.”

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