Jewish World Review July 10, 2003 / 10 Tamuz, 5763
How To Win By Losing
It's much smarter to let this one go
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Watching the prescription drug bill getting hammered out is interesting, much like watching a blind physician perform open-heart surgery in the middle of a three-day bender.
Because no one can control, let alone figure out, all the significant variables and functions that define the American healthcare system. Members of Congress and their myriad advisors don't know what the hell the outcome will be from what they're doing. As Republicans reminded Hillary Clinton not so long ago, the bill tinkers with one-seventh of the U.S. economy and when it comes to the economy, a push here means a bulge there and there. Good intentions have yet to trump the law of unintended consequences.
So lawmakers toil on but improvement to Medicare is the goal for only a handful of true believers, and wonks who have never seen a paycheck that didn't come from the Treasury. Neither side will say so in public, but smart Democrats and Republicans know that getting even some small part of what they want toward a monumental policy goal is a significant achievement. Republicans assert that a private medical savings accounts program (now called Health Savings Accounts, HSA thought you'd like to know) is merely a pilot, while Democrats squeal it's the camel's nose under the tent the first step toward getting government out of the healthcare business.
And for most Republicans, myself included, that's exactly what we're shooting for.
Though Republicans are good at this game, the Democrats invented it, and usually win. The prescription drug benefit bill, regardless of its precise implementation, makes Medicare, in all but name, into even more complete nationalized healthcare for senior citizens. That is a perpetual goal for Democrats, and a steppingstone toward another goal. A federally administered system of healthcare for everyone is no further away than a gradual lowering of the age at which Medicare kicks in. At least that's one way to get it. There are a million others, and the ground has been softened up.
Democrats, long guilty of shrugging off the messes they make because "they care," have now been joined by a lot of Republicans. Yet rarely has cynicism been deployed in such a wise and strategic effort.
President Bush, you may have noticed, isn't much interested in the details of the bill that will eventually emerge from Capitol Hill. He has all but declared that he will sign whatever comes across his desk.
And that's a smart move. Political capital is limited, and wasting it on a promise-making contest with Democrats over Medicare is not the way for a wartime President to spend it. Better to sign a bill, take credit for it with the important voting bloc that is the elderly, and take away a big issue from the Democrats in the 2004 elections.
Let's be honest: there is no around-the-fringes tinkering that can fix Medicare, no matter which side tries. Medicare is a tangled, incomprehensible mess crashed on the rocks, and each year it takes 70 percent of federal spending with it. And the President knows this.
George W. Bush takes head-on only a very small number of issues at a time, and wisely so. There are, for instance, international terrorists without a country who want to kill us, and middle-eastern governments committed to helping them. We face a rising tide of intolerance and virulent anti-Semitism, largely ignored (and occasionally encouraged) by a new Left whose former lodestar, tolerance, has been replaced by identity politics. Much of our old ally, Europe, now defines itself by its differences with America.
With all that in play, and with a significant number of Americans blinded to these threats by their hatred of the President, we are fortunate that Mr. Bush will save his political energy for battles more important than whether the elderly owe a $10 co-payment instead of $5.
What matters is that President Bush be re-elected not because his highest-profile domestic policies have led us toward a conservative utopia (they have done no such thing), but because he is one of the few men on the political scene who "gets it" when it comes to foreign policy.
Yes, let's declare victory on Medicare and move on. We can fight that big fight another day. The biggest goal of all is getting Bush re-elected to deal with the critical issues that Democrats have so far proved utterly incapable of understanding, let alone addressing. Think fast: Would a President John Kerry or Howard Dean strike back after a terrorist attack, or appoint a panel to assess the American portion of blame?
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06/20/03: Dems turn a sensible question into pure politics