When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Some head home to town hall meetings to face down the mobs; the president goes to sanitized town hall meetings in airport hangers (who said all of "W"'s ideas were bad?); Sarah Palin walks away in search of a higher calling; and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle says he's had enough and won't be running for a third term in 2010.
It's hard to blame Doyle for wanting to be someplace else. State budget deficits are routinely soaring into the billions, with a structural deficit that has gone largely ignored for years, by two different administrations. And one recent poll found that 60% of Wisconsin residents disapprove of how their governor is doing his job.
Perhaps the only real surprise is Doyle's willingness to serve the remaining time on his second four-year term.
With the departure of Doyle and the boneheaded missteps of Democrats on the national stage over the issue of health care reform, 2010 is suddenly looking like an opportunity to reassert conservative values. Few would have thought this possible a few short months ago, when Barack Obama and leftist congressional majorities seemed unstoppable.
Then came the town hall meetings of August 2009, that turned the victory march towards health care reform into the Democrats' Waterloo. Once again, Democrats miscalculated, overreached and totally misread the mood of the American people.
I feel so bad for my Democratic brethren I'd like to offer some well-intentioned advice.
When it comes to health care reform, your basic problem is that hardly anyone believes what you say. A dwindling minority is buying the claim that you can extend coverage to another 46 million or so people without raising taxes, rationing care or both.
Palin touched a nerve with her Facebook comment about "death panels," prompting members of Congress to remove the "offending language" on mandatory end-of-life counseling for older Americans from the bill. Okay, so now we don't have to worry whether you really did intend, as Conan O'Brien said, to creep into grandma's room and put a pillow over her face. Then there's the unnerving language giving the government unprecedented access to citizens' personal financial records. The list goes on.
This is what happens when you guys assemble a thousand-page bill that seizes control of one-sixth of the U.S. economy and which, according to Michigan Democrat John Conyers, is too long and complicated for members of Congress to understand. With painful admissions like that, it's no wonder you guys are losing the debate.
Consequently, here's one step you could take to bring more credibility to your push for health care reform: Let Congress and the president go first.
Between members of Congress and the president, we have 536 people who are uniquely positioned to be the national focus group for health care reform. That many are too feeble to read the health reform bill shouldn't be viewed as an impediment to trying out the new system on them. After all, that's what they intended to do for 300 million Americans.
Why not try a five-year experiment with health care reform that applies only to members of Congress and the president? After the five-year trial ends, an independent panel of Americans and health care professionals can assess the results.
Here's how it could work:
Every member of Congress and the president will be required to attend yearly consultations with a panel of health care professionals and ordinary Americans to determine their fitness to serve in public office. Determinations will be made whether they have the intellectual and physical stamina to read and understand 1,000-page bills.
For instance, members of Congress would be asked to explain, in clear and concise terms, the $1 trillion stimulus bill, the cap-and-trade bill and the impact of TARP on the American economy.
Since 26 members of the U.S. Senate are at or over age 70, with three in their 80s and one in his 90s, this should be a fair test of how health care reform could affect the level of care provided to senior citizens. And with at least two senators (Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd) now waging battles with cancer, it would provide good test cases for how it will affect older Americans battling possible life-ending illnesses.
Once we've had a chance to gather the data on how satisfied members of Congress and the president are with rationed care, mandatory counseling and dictating who can treat them and who can't, we'll be in a much better position to judge whether it's a good idea to extend the "benefits" of this reform to the rest of the country.
Rick Berg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Madison-based writer and commentator.