One of the wonders of living in the modern Web-based world is that we have access to so much information in near real-time. Nowhere was this more clear to me than during the recent Washington drama around health care reform. To quote the old bromide, we actually got to watch the process of sausage being made in excruciating detail.
I say that because I don’t believe that what went on in Washington over the last several months on this issue was much different than the type of horse trading that’s traditionally been part of the process required to pass this kind of large, game-changing legislation. The difference is we got to watch it not just on TV, as we’ve done for a generation, or on the Internet, as we’ve done for the last 15 years, but in real-time with social media added in.
Add in the fact that because the protagonists in this battle have become so media savvy themselves, and the fact that this was played on center stage across a variety of old and new media was in itself a gamechanger. So many of the comments and positions taken were no more than grandstanding for not only the cameras but the Twitterstreams as well. So much of the drama and passion was introduced for the benefit of the players themselves and their reelection hopes, rather than to add value to the conversation.
Furthermore, the conversation was not between the players with opposing points of view, but directed outwards through the media to the public. So much hysteria was introduced–from death squads to the death of the American way of life–yet very few of the people arguing either position understood what exactly was being proposed or how this might impact them and others in the future. Lots of heat–not much light.
Interestingly, what the Republicans condemned as potentially devastating socialism was more narrow in scope than a health reform package proposed in the 1960s by a Republican president named Richard Nixon. What the Democrats insisted had to be done to save our health care system is not nearly enough to solve the issues in front of us. It’s hard to understand how we can be so backwards when we have examples of working health insurance systems like the e111 in Europe.
Without having seen all the details, the one thing I can be sure of is that the bill is not perfect. That would be impossible. It will of course cause some problems that don’t exist today, break some things while fixing others, cause issues or financial harm to some people. However, to not move ahead at all and wait for perfection makes no sense whatsoever. The bill *does* fix many of the issues faced by ordinary Americans today and it is an important step forward. It will necessarily be argued, debated, amended and updated over time as have all omnibus pieces of legislation, including Social Security, Medicare and our tax laws. In fact, one of the provisions of the bill is to fix the “doughnut hole” in Medicare coverage inadvertently created by previous legislation. It breaks down the ghetto of preexisting conditions and eliminates the arbitrary dollar caps for insurance coverage.
The bill itself is a move in the right direction. However, the process of getting there was a major step backward. One of the casualties of this new culture of observation is that it’s too easy to focus on public statements and rhetoric and less on the back and forth negotiation based on ongoing relationships that makes any complex organization work effectively. Instead, we saw people on all sides dig in and defend their positions at all costs–refusing to publicly acknowledge others’ perspectives and creating a mass hysteria that was totally unwarranted.
In simple terms, we saw a continuation of a phenomenon that is becoming a major problem for this country: extreme polarization and very little outreach and effort to work together for the common good. We saw, yet again, much too much blue and much too much red and virtually no purple. That’s the real message I fear behind this effort. To quote the first senator from Illinois elected to the presidency, “A country divided against itself cannot stand.”
Let’s hope for more purple going forward.