Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Putting the Hype into Hypocrisy

Immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Founding Fathers began to rancorously bitch at each other and disagree on many a political issue. For instance, Jefferson was a champion of "states rights" while Madison and Hamilton were leading "federalists". Here's the primary difference: State's Rights = the states get to boss the fed around; Federalism = Washington gets to boss the states around. Even today, this argument isn't totally settled but the Feds have had the upper hand ever since that pesky Civil War back in the mid-19th century. The current Supreme Court is trying to re-balance the scales.

From the outset, one of the primary "state's rights" issues was slavery. Jefferson argued that the states should each decide for themselves. At the time, Jefferson was busy making babies with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and probably didn't want the federal government legally messing with a really sweet arrangement. (I'm nearly certain that Miss Hemmings was given a binding "yes-no" vote regarding sleeping with Massah Thomas, but it's just my intuition.)

Well, this slavery argument festered for the better part of 80 years until it was finally settled by force of arms in 1865 (politics at an extreme level). The Federalists won this particular skirmish. If they hadn't--and if you currently live in one of the original Confederate states and you are white--you could own your very own darkie today. Given current demographic realities, however, contemporary slaves would likely be Guatemalans. On second thought, were slavery still legal in the south, there would likely be far fewer Central and South Americans blithely scurrying across the border. I'm sure that some conservative or libertarian talk-show host has already proposed "the slavery solution" as an effective curb on illegal immigration (I'll check Lou Dobb's Twitter posts as he is the most likely candidate).

All of this is to illustrate that early in our Republic, politicians argued, scuffled, occasionally dueled and voted based primarily on contrary beliefs and differences of ideology. Today's politics, although they are often elaborately cloaked in ideology, are really, truly, actually, no kidding about money. I give you, as example number one, the junior Senator from Connecticut, Joseph I. Lieberman. As a observant Jew, Joe would like you to think of him as Joseph I. Liebermensch, a "man" yes, but one who stands out as particularly reliable, stalwart, brave, true and independent in a robust and very self-reliant independent way; sort of an Adult Jewish Eagle Scout.

Joe, having had no chance of being re-elected as the Democratic candidate from Connecticut in 2006 by losing the primary, peeled himself away from the Democratic Mother Ship and ran as a faux independent (actually he called his campaign the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party). It worked and Joe returned to Washington as Senator. His actions chapped off a number of really important Democrats and Joe repaid their bad attitudes by endorsing and campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Barracuda in the 2008 election. Joe can torch a bridge, push come to shove.

Now we come to Joe's most visible, if not shiny, hour since 2000 when he actually made Dick Cheney look good during the V.P. debate.

Health care legislation has returned Joe to center stage. In Joe's hands rests the outcome of the entire nation's dysfunctional health care contraption.

Joe has recently risen up, done an airborne 180 that would make Nureyev proud, and, mid-leap, tossed a wrench directly into the cogs of the Congressional sausage-making apparatus.

Let's keep Joe's stated and actual reasons for his behavior simple.

Joe "Remember, I am an independent and self-reliant mensch in a very independent way" Lieberman's stated reason: The current Senate health care legislation is fiscally irresponsible.

Joe objects to two very specific provisions. First, he opposes the "public option" insurance proposal. Second, he also opposes the "Medicare Buy-In" alternative, an idea that he championed as late as September (not September 2008, this year's September which was, what, less than 90 days ago?). He claims not to recall his recent position. If true, that fact alone should give the citizens of Connecticut a queasy feeling about old Joe's mental faculties.

Both of these insurance alternatives would give people a choice between private insurance coverage and a government version. This, loyal readers, is a key distinction.

Independent Joe represents Connecticut. Hartford is in Connecticut. Hartford is the Valhalla of big insurance. In fact, five times a day, across this great land, insurance agents are required to repair to their prayer mats, face Hartford, kneel and pay homage. This is the reason that your insurance agent is so often "away from (his or her) phone" when you call.

One of the downsides of leaving the Democratic Party was the loss of financial support for campaigning. So, more than ever, Joe really, really needs the $427,894 that the Hartford insurers gave him just this last reporting period. Over his Senate career, big insurance has provided Joe with way north of $1 million. Now, big insurance absolutely, positively wants no provisions in the current health care legislation that would create bona fide competition. The public option or the Medicare Buy-In alternative would certainly do that. Someone probably recently reminded Joe of that, given his memory problems of late.

So, wrapping himself in the tasteful pashmina of "fiscal responsibility", Joe has doubled back on Reid and the rest of those loathsome Democrat/nanny state wimps and stood up for the "58% of Americans who currently oppose the current health care legislation", even though this opposition cannot be based solely on federal deficit concerns.

Besides, as a recovering consumer behavior researcher, I am leery of statistics that claim to represent the feelings of the American people regarding complex issues. The answers to many such questions can be easily manipulated by the way the question is asked or by carefully selecting the group of whom you ask it, or both. This, plus, at least 25% of adult Americans couldn't tell you the difference between a "public option" or a "public restroom" and they get their current and ever-changing political viewpoint from either Old Blevins down at the Neon Angel Lounge or some talk-show entertainer. Subtract that 25% out of the data and the percent of Americans who have some knowledge of the issues yet still oppose modestly modifying health care--for the eventual good of most Americans--is probably 33% which is, coincidentally, about the number of Americans who are insurance agents.

Senator Lieberman (and now we come to the actual reason) has insured that the financial spigot in Hartford will continue to gush lucre his direction. And, even should Joe fail in his 2012 bid to remain a Senator from Connecticut--and it seems highly likely that he will fail--Joe has insured (ahem) that a lucrative lobbying job for the insurance industry awaits. Therefore, supporting the legislation would indeed be fiscally irresponsible, primarily for Saint Joseph his-own-self. So much for ideology. Perhaps Chris Dodd should challenge Joe to a duel related to insurance industry fund-raising since the slavery issue has been settled already.


Observoid of the Day: Can't wait for the Rose Bowl Parade featuring Tiger Wood's All-Ex-Mistresses Marching Band.

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