Lawmakers pushing to add the prefix “Kennedy” to the health care bill have grasped the late Senator’s passing as an opportunity to refresh flagging interest in the reform.
What Congressmen think this means:
“KennedyCare” advocates hope to capitalize on the Lion’s brain cancer as an illustration of one ailment subject to health care. Ideally this soldier’s falling will refresh waning interest in Kennedy’s last stand:
[T]he real question raised by Kennedy’s death is whether it can help rally fellow Democrats who have wavered on certain aspects of health-care reform such as a public insurance option.
KennedyCare advocates see Teddy as a unifying figure immune to party lines. The health care debate knows no partisanship. Stance on gov’t health care has less to do with party lines and rests more in a person’s faith in individuals’ ability to make personal decisions based on the inevitable tradeoffs in life versus faith in the state’s heavy handed effort to relieve us of our choice.
What this actually means:
Those who hope to memorialize Kennedy with a health care bill named for him cite his death as one that could have been postponed with enhanced medical care. But Kennedy was a Senator. He enjoyed the Senate health insurance plan — notably different from the plan Senators offer private individuals — and was wealthy enough to afford the best treatments in the world.
Responding to this argument, Senator Grassley said that in countries with government-run health care, Kennedy “would not get the care he gets [in the US] because of his age.” Instead, the government would decide to spend health care resources on younger people “who can contribute to the economy”:
GRASSLEY: In countries that have government-run health care, just to give you an example, I’ve been told that the brain tumor that Sen. Kennedy has — because he’s 77 years old — would not be treated the way it’s treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care he gets here because of his age. In other words, they’d say ‘well he doesn’t have long to live even if he lived another four to five years.’ They’d say ‘well, we gotta spend money on people who can contribute more to economy.’ It’s a little like people saying when somebody gets to be 85 their life is worth less than when they were 35 and you pull the tubes on them.
Using a colleague’s death to revive a political agenda cheapens the agenda and reflects horrific disrespect for the departed.
Disrespect for life is what frigthens KennedyCare opposition most. Ted Kennedy was not a symbol; he was a man. He died a lonely death, and spent the last months of his life suffering from a painful medical condition. If colleagues cared about their fallen comrade at all they would not begin using his death as a tool even before Kennedy’s funeral.
This attitude reflects opponents’ precise objection to the health care bill. We are all men, not statistics. Sweeping statistics that fail to account for self-reporting and “unseen” errors (like the fact that most of the “uninsured” Americans are students who choose to save their money and pray for no accidents) reduce everyone to sheep, helpless except under the nanny hand of our shepherd.
Kennedy personified this exact bias in his private life. He touted health care reform from his fortunate, wealthy position that kept him immune to what he deemed good enough for “the masses.” Indeed Kennedy’s reliance on his family’s influence infamously kept him immune to what any other private citizen would have endured under similar circumstances.
Health care reform in its current form will fundamentally change the relationship between individuals and the state. Naming this sweeping bill after a paternalistic favored son eager to pay forward his father’s protective wing perpetuates the dark underbelly of politics. The wealthy will always angle for power and more wealth. The poor will seldom surpass strict thresholds set by their fortunate peers.
Kennedy would not have traded his position of influence for the position of those he was trying to help. Senators cling to the idea that they always “know best.” Had Kennedy truly believed in the sacrosanct plight of those trying to make ends meet, he would have borne their struggle inasmuch as it fell on him to bear. But when he had an opportunity to learn how the other half lives, he ducked responsibility — and the obligation to try to save one life — to hide behind his father’s coattails.
I sincerely hope Ted Kennedy finds forgiveness for his errors, as I hope we are all forgiven. But again: forgiveness is not ours to give. Exploiting a senator’s death does not gloss the choices he made in life.
Unfortunately, naming a critical bill after this symbol of political corruption simply memorializes the very disrespect for life that fuels opposition and, indeed, partisan politics at large.