Whitesburg KY

Between ‘inspiration’ and knowing how to fix health care

Why so many Americans want their president to be a personal motivator and religious guide vexes me. You do want a leader with dignity and self-control, but attending to the economy, national defense, foreign affairs, the environment and other aspects of the public’s well being should be a full-time occupation.

For these reasons, I find President Bush’s moral mouthing and Barack Obama’s self-portrayal as the embodiment of hope both irritating. Their purpose is to lift the man above the grimy chores of formulating national policy. Aren’t meeting those challenges part of the job description?

We are told that the primary voters don’t really care about the issues. They are looking for someone who makes them feel good – and consider candidates who muck around policy uninspiring.

But there are Americans who do care, and they came out on Super Tuesday. In California’s Democratic primary, Latinos were 30 percent of the voters and preferred Hillary Clinton by a two-to-one margin. Hispanics are far more likely than other groups to lack health coverage, even when you subtract those here illegally. Given a choice between inspiration and health care, they chose health care.

Though Clinton prevailed in big-prize California, she and Obama generally divided the Super Tuesday spoils. The Democratic contest moves on to other states, many home to folks who are struggling economically. Apart from African-Americans, who have shown a special loyalty to the biracial Obama, the bruised workers seem to be supporting the candidate who grapples with the details. That would be Clinton.

From his Chicago headquarters, Obama ended the exhausting Super Tuesday with an almost mechanical “we have to choose between change and more of the same.”

How odd that when it comes to the Democrats’ top concern, health care, Obama offers very much “more of the same” – as in more of “no universal coverage.”

Obama would make “affordable” medical insurance available but not require everyone to obtain coverage. “Senator Clinton has a different approach,” he said in the Los Angeles debate. “She believes that we have to force people who don’t have health insurance to buy it … .”

That all sounds congenial and non-threatening. Problem is, lots of healthy people who don’t have to buy health coverage won’t. They’ll avoid paying into the insurance pool until they get sick, at which point they’ll claim their taxpayer subsidies. How about a state-government auto insurance plan that lets drivers buy coverage after they’ve wrecked the car?

Over in the Republican camp, John McCain calls for tax credits to help Americans buy health coverage. Making health policy through tax policy is an ineffective approach, though for many Republicans, an ideologically gratifying one. But McCain deserves credit for this: He doesn’t promise coverage for everyone. With McCain, at least you know what you don’t get.

A coherent health-care system isn’t just a matter of social equity. It’s a dire economic need. Today’s patchwork of coverage and non-coverage is enormously expensive, inefficient and a drag on America’s ability to compete globally.

Obama’s supporters say the Illinois senator is a very smart guy, and once he’s in the White House, will iron out any flaws in the proposal. That could be, but it insulted many wonky Democrats that Obama didn’t go to the trouble of drawing a coherent plan to cover everyone. He produced something that sounded half-Democrat and half-Republican but was 100 percent unworkable.

Ah, those pesky details – far beneath the nobility of a man galloping to his date with destiny. Back in Chicago, Obama is telling his devotees: “We have to choose between looking backward and looking forward. We have to choose between our future and our past.”

OK, but how about the present?

©2008 The Providence Journal Co.

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