Small World: No runs, no hits, plenty of errors

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

These past weeks have revealed damaging mistakes in Washington. All — with a little attention to detail and a lot of inspiration driven by the public good — might have been avoided. None, especially without that crucial second condition, will be easily corrected.

If we lived in a “shame” society like Japan’s, there would have been by now a series of high-level resignations — and possibly some even more gut-wrenching resolutions of self-assumed guilt. Instead, we get a modern American tactic of responding to that guilt: “I take full responsibility for the foul-up,” the public is told. That is considered sufficient to end remorse and the assignment of blame. “Forgetaboutit. Let’s move on,” is the message.

Let’s take President Obama’s gaffes first. They are mainly two: First, a failure to ensure that the computer registration of applicants for the new health care arrangements would work as designed. Secondly, the president’s election campaign assurance that people who liked their health insurance would be able to retain it.

Now for the Republican failings: First, broadly surveying present politics, is the embittered determination not to go along with any significant Obama initiative or appointment. Secondly, the shutting down of the federal government for over two weeks at an estimated cost of over $24 billion to the taxpayers. Even established Republicans admit that the unwisely motivated closure hurt their party badly.

The faults on both sides revolve around Obama’s health care initiative — the president trying to establish and celebrate it, the Republicans trying to denigrate and destroy it. At this moment in the race, the wreckers seem to be ahead of the builders. It is said that those who would roll back the legislation fear that getting to full implementation would make most Americans understand the benefits that Obamacare promises them — assuring strong future support for the Democrats.

Let’s try — even as liberals — to be fair in examining the record. First, no one expects a president to get into the weeds of a computerized system and make sure it works. (Well, maybe Jimmy Carter would have done that.) And everyone expects political advisers to pull a president back when he makes promises that he cannot keep. Nevertheless, we do expect a president to select staff who are alert and scrupulously careful and willing to speak up when truth or efficiency are at risk. Similarly, we do not expect Republican leaders to be able to control their members’ actions when a fanatical bunch of know-nothings are at the controls. But leaders should at least try to lead.

The bottom line is that the political systems of both parties should have been made to work as designed. Pride that won’t permit confessing error, the quest for donated funds and the lazy hope that “everything will work out in the end” may be blamed for the damaging outcomes.

There is, however, an even more fundamental consideration that deserves attention: The United States is the only modern, industrialized nation that does not have a national, single-payer system of health care. Europeans and others in the upper block of developing nations have had one for decades. Moreover, Americans pay more and often get inferior care compared to their less wealthy fellow nations.

There are historic, economic and social reasons for this sad anomaly. Interest groups — insurance companies, hospitals, doctors principally — have succeeded for around a century in derailing any move in the direction of “socialized medicine.” And we can’t disregard a basic truth: Health care is not deemed a right for all citizens. If you can pay the going prices, you will enjoy the benefits of our system. If you are poor, you must depend on charity or, more often, the emergency room supported by tax and insurance paying citizens (who are unaware that they are bearing those costs).

Because politics wouldn’t allow the adoption of a single-payer system or something like Medicare for all, Obamacare, a terribly complex system, was the best available outcome. Over time, it will undoubtedly be modified in the direction, we hope, of greater efficiency and simplicity. That will take all politicians working together for a more inclusive and efficient and less costly system. We can only hope.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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