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Jewish World Review July 10, 2003 / 10 Tamuz, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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How To Win By Losing

It's much smarter to let this one go | 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.

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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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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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02/25/03: The Cradle of Civilization, Again
01/31/03: Silencing opponents because you can
01/28/03: You can't always eat what you want ... But you still can, for a while 01/10/03: What They Believe For The Moment
12/06/02: Federal Spending: Look At It This Way And weep
11/15/02: On the radio: What really happens behind the scenes at talk shows
11/08/02: Coming Soon: 1972
10/31/02: The Election Goes Republican: Election 2002 finds Democrats alienating nearly everyone
10/22/02: What if we never catch the terrorist-sniper?
10/04/02: A Few Thoughts On The News
09/27/02: Goodbye To All That: The terrible, wide war that must be fought
09/20/02: The Florida Lesson: We need better voters, not better machines
09/13/02: A few thoughts on the news
09/06/02: Give Them What They Want
08/13/02: The Dangerous Lull on Iraq ... And how today's delay proves why 9/11 had to happen
07/26/02: Where's Honest Debate on Judge Owen?: NOW members should demand better of President Kim Gandy
07/19/02: A Secret No One Can Keep: Why Osama bin Laden is still alive
07/09/02: Don't forget why Bush was elected
06/28/02: The bravest pop culture icon in the war on terror
06/14/02: Five Thoughts On Father's Day: Personal Stuff
06/06/02: Stay Awake, Grads, I'm Almost Done Talking: Life, and How to Live It
05/31/02: See This Movie: "The Sum of All Fears" is a wake-up call
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05/13/02: The Carnival at the FAIR: "Unbiased" acquires a new definition
04/22/02: Bottled And Sold: Economic Confidence Under a Screw-top
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04/02/02: The Right to Do Wrong: The Creator, A Clockwork Orange, and war
03/26/02: The Big Story No One Talks About: Why isn't Washington serious about airport security?
03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
03/08/02: The safest place in the world --- for now
03/05/02: Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long