Saturday, March 20, 2010


Two opposing forces locked in titanic struggle, political careers in the balance, one side ahead and then the other and back again, forceful and sometimes overblown rhetoric -- the debate over health care (or health insurance) reform has all the makings of great drama. But what makes this such an absorbing story for so many Americans is that such great interests are at stake -- our own. Whether you care about your own health insurance, or your family's, or if you're concerned about the national debt or what you see as the creeping government interference in people's lives, then there's plenty to interest you directly in the outcome of this debate. And the final round of battle is scheduled for tomorrow, when the House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill already passed by the Senate.

Consider some of the ups and downs over the past year. (Here is a timeline of efforts to reform health care.) President Obama promised during his campaign to tackle health care reform, and early in his term launched the effort. Saying that we were in a terrible crisis that only promised to get worse if we did nothing, Obama aimed to effect reform by the end of the summer. Let the fighting begin! Pow! Sarah Palin said that if Obama had his way "death panels" would decide the fate of seniors. Bang! "Town Hall" meetings about reform were disrupted by protesters disrupted. Thwonk! At one such meeting, Rep. Barney Frank memorably asked a protester who compared Obama to Hitler just what planet she spent most of her time on. Ouch! At a press conference on health care, Obama took attention away from health care when he said the cops who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates acted "stupidly." Zonk! Crash! Ker-pow! The fate of the so-called "public option" went back and forth, creating a kind of cliff-hanger within the cliff-hanger that was the overall debate. Same thing with the way the Democrats courted Sen. Olympia Snowe to make the reform bill at least nominally bipartisan. Wham! Bam! In time, the House and Senate each passed their own bills. Ka-boom! Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "you lie!" during Obama's speech before a joint session of Congress, rankling some and emboldening others. Shplap! Scott Brown get elected in Massachusetts, taking away the Democrats' super-majority in the Senate. 

Plenty of other blows were landed, each of which took on greater meaning because the stakes were so high. If you believe that health care reform signaled that we were turning into a socialist fascist communist country, then you were probably just as invested as if you worried that health care costs were going to spiral out of control and we'd all -- individually and as a nation -- go bankrupt before too long. And if you got involved politically -- at protests, or phone-banking, or making donations to one or another effort -- then you probably became even more emotionally attached to the outcome. If the suspense wasn't killing you, then perhaps some catastrophic illness for which you weren't covered someday would. At least the suspense is no longer going to kill you, because tomorrow appears to be the big day. Tune in to C-Span or, well, pretty much any other news outlet!

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