Does anyone remember last November? The wonder, pride and joy so many of us felt because our nation had elected a man of uncommon intelligence, vision and courage, who was a skillful, pragmatic politician to boot? Not an ideologue, he seemed to understand the needs and aspirations of everyone, not just the rich and powerful, and was eager to tackle the myriad challenges his predecessor had left behind. Many shared his belief that a new day of opportunity was at hand.
We also elected a Congress overwhelmingly of the same party as the new president because we were disgusted with the previous eight years of free-fall, during which Republicans ran roughshod over our Constitution, allowing hubris, ignorance and greed to drive policy.
What was unusual about our new president was that he welcomed ideas and opinions different from his own. He asked not only those around him to bring their various perspectives to policy discussions, he also invited opposition leaders to intimate conversations at the White House. He honestly thought that by behaving like a rational grown-up he could bring a new civility to Washington, inspiring the opposition to engage in honest debate about the many critical issues we face.
Alas, after eight months of nothing but knee-jerk contrariness and rancor, no matter what the issue — the economy, health care reform, energy and the environment, foreign policy — the notion that Republican leaders might engage in an invigorating, useful conversation seems like a fairy tale fantasy.
What happened to the rational, mature Republicans of the past, men like William E. Borah, Wendell Wilkie, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits or Mark Hatfield? They weren’t just naysayers hoping that the country would fail. They had ideas, they contributed positively to the debate.
Yet today the Grand Old Party is so devoid of constructive ideas it is reduced to nothing but dissembling and “No” — from Sarah Palin’s “death panels” to hysterical parents questioning the longtime tradition of a president speaking to schoolchildren to Joe Wilson’s obscene outburst calling the president a liar when, in fact, what he had just said (that illegal aliens would not have access to a public option for health insurance) was true.
Continuing Republican obstructionism, cruelly against any meaningful health care reform, and the appalling disinformation campaign financed by the health insurance industry’s $1.4 million a day to ignite shouts, screams and racist threats across the land over the summer, are not only scary, they’re sickening.
Instead of talking about how this greatest of nations might join the rest of the civilized world by adopting a health care delivery system that would take care of everyone and not bankrupt us — as our current, corrupt system is doing — the other side seems only to care about “me” — not “you,” and certainly not “us.”
Even more astonishing are the ink and air the mainstream media have given these extremist voices, as if they were rational and-or represented more than a small minority. They have learned how effective fearmongering can be, even at the expense of truth.
It also appears that the health insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies, with their soaring CEO bonuses and ballooning corporate profits, now dictate how our “representatives” in Congress, whom they generously endow, will vote.
The issue of health care reform is not only a matter of policy, it is a moral issue, involving fundamental principles of social justice. Yet, Republicans seem to care far more about the next election than our collective future. If Barack Obama achieves what the majority of Americans hope for with meaningful health care reform, Re-publicans see little chance of taking back in 2010 the congressional power they lost in 2008. Having the president — and the country — fail is far more important to them than the needs and will of the people.
It is a shame and shameful.
Susan Goodwillie Stedman of Westport Island worked for the United Nations and Ford Foundation on international development issues and was the first executive director of Refugees International.