Elected leaders must get taste of real world


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

Here's what I'd like to know: How do people who have the power to ease hardship for millions of their fellow human beings squander and even jam up opportunities to help?

Explanations for Joe Lieberman's conduct on legislation for health care reform—using the phrase loosely since reform suggests improvement—run the gamut from extreme attention neediness, an inability to think clearly, an outsized ego and a desire to keep the campaign cash flowing from the insurance industry that has blessed him at least $1 million.

Take your pick.

Whatever the reason, the senator from Connecticut, the state that billets many big insurance companies, has managed to use his position as an independent to bully the incredibly inept Democratic leadership into peeling off good provisions in the bill that will get health care to more of the people who are going without.

Lieberman's muscle comes from the fact that Democrats are desperate for his vote to overcome the Senate's silly filibuster protocol that members of the party of “;no way, no how”; are locked and loaded for.

At least Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who objects to the bill because his anti-abortion stance compels him to deny even a penny in federal funds for a legal medical procedure he will never need, has been consistent in his misguided principles. But Lieberman? Principles, schminciples.

As a politician sovereign to himself, Lieberman sees no hypocrisy in saying yes to expanding Medicare for years, then taking a U-turn to promote his importance, or to demand exclusion of a government alternative people could choose when private insurance isn't feasible, just because he can.

I have a suggestion: Sen. Lieberman and his colleagues should go to a rural clinic or an urban emergency room for just 24 hours and watch as people come in seeking medical attention.

They should see what kind of care these people get and compare it to what they receive on the taxpayers' dime. They ought to find out what it's like to skip regular checkups for diabetes or heart problems because there's no money for them, talk to people who work two or three part-time jobs, but still don't have insurance coverage even under comprehensive laws like Hawaii's.

They should listen to people who worry about losing not only their jobs, but their employer-provided health benefits, and learn how health care costs inhibit businesses large and small. They should see how families go bankrupt, trying to keep up with doctor and hospital bills for sick children or for elderly parents.

Ensconced in Washington, in an atmosphere of contrived decorum and entitlement, they forget what they are there for.

All elected leaders should get out more.

Rather than tucking themselves away in the bowels of the state Capitol 1or in the warren of cubicles in City Hall, legislators and council members ought to sit at desks in a windowed storefront with the door open to all comers.

Maybe then they won't behave like Lieberman. Maybe then they'd get it.