Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Health Care Reform and Football

Sports metaphors can be overused, but the Super Bowl is fast approaching and football works pretty well as a metaphor for some current political situations.

First up, Tom Toles from Friday, 1/22/10:

The little tag in the lower right, if you can't read it, says "We can kick ourselves after." (I'm assuming most people know basic football scoring rules.)

Moving on, Steve Benen wrote on 1/27/10, before the State of the Union:

Post Script: Paul Glastris, the Monthly's editor in chief, will be on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" in a few minutes, talking about this and other issues related to the State of the Union. (Paul served as President Clinton's chief speechwriter, and offers a great perspective on this.)

When I talked to Paul earlier, he told me the line he'd like to hear the president say tonight: "Health care reform is the Super Bowl of issues, we're on the one yard line, and the other team has walked off the field. Let's pick up the ball and walk across the goal line."

Maybe Glastris saw Toles cartoon, but that's pretty good.

This next one requires more set-up. Back to Steve Benen, in a piece on Evan Bayh (emphasis mine):

EVAN BAYH'S MORAL WRONGS.... The solution to the health care reform debate seems pretty obvious -- the House approves the Senate bill; the Senate agrees to improvements through reconciliation. One of the obstacles, of course, is the group of center-right Democrats who not only don't want to return to the issue, but are staunchly opposed to using reconciliation.

It's worth fully appreciating, though, why reconciliation is considered so distasteful. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) explained that the procedure should be avoided because it may bother Republicans. And if Republicans are bothered, they may not work with Democrats on bipartisan solutions. Seriously, that's the argument.

"There would be some real consequences from that for the legislative agenda for the rest of the year," Bayh told me last night, "the other things the president called for: cooperation on education, financial reform, a whole host of other things."

Bayh says he sees a real prospect for bipartisanship on those issues, but that Republicans will walk away if Democrats play hardball on health care.

"The problem with reconciliation is that it runs a real risk...of poisoning the well on progress on some of these areas," Bayh said.

This is so hopelessly misguided, it's hard to know where to start. I'd remind Bayh, for example, that reconciliation has been used plenty of times in recent years, and the institution and its members survived just fine. I'd also ask why on earth Bayh think Democrats giving up on their signature domestic policy initiative would suddenly make Republicans -- who've run a scorched-earth campaign since Day One -- open to bipartisan compromise on a whole host of issues.

But let's put all of that aside and characterize this in a way that too often goes overlooked. Bayh isn't just wrong about the legislative process; he's wrong about morality.

Read Benen's post for the links, and his moral argument – helping out tens of millions of Americans obviously should be more important: "Helping those who are suffering isn't as high a priority as maybe getting some GOP help on a few issues?" Glenn Greenwald also provides some good background on Bayh in "The face of rotted Washington."

Bayh and the Blue Dog Democrats remind me of the Cincinnati Bengals of the 90s under owner Mike Brown. The Bengals actually won their division this season, and made the playoffs, although they lost in the first, Wild Card Round. Before that, though, they had one winning season out of 19 and were the worst team of the 90s. One sportscaster called them "an embarrassment to sport," as in, the entire human endeavor of sports, where a team supposedly should try to win, perhaps out of basic competitiveness or pride or shame. During the 90s, some critics felt that Mike Brown had no real interest in or commitment to fielding a competitive team. This was because he could field a lousy team and still make a tidy profit – and his profit margin would actually be higher. Sure, he wouldn't sell out the stadium, or sell as many seats, or sell as much merchandise, but there were enough Bengals fans out there, and enough NFL TV cash coming in, to make him good money.

Evan Bayh and most of the Blue Dog Democrats (we'll include Lieberman) aren't really interested in reforming health care, helping their constituents significantly, or making the country a better place. They're happy with the status quo, and as long as they think they can stay in business and make a profit, they want to field, or sell, an inferior product. In fact, they don’t like it when they're any pressure to win, to deliver to the loyal fans, and will actively seek to hobble their teammates. It's contemptible, but that's the way it is.

Let's take another look at Bayh's line: "The problem with reconciliation is that it runs a real risk...of poisoning the well on progress on some of these areas." At this point, only an idiot or a shill would pretend that the GOP is acting in good faith and will vote with Democrats. Republicans have practiced obstructionism at unprecedented levels, and they've expressed their intent to continue. Giving up on health care will only make them much, much bolder, and it's easy to write the midterm campaign ads now. It's deeply unfortunate that American politics is currently a zero-sum game between the two major political parties – but that's the way it is – and that's primarily the fault of the GOP.

So, in football terms, Evan Bayh (a senator from Indiana) is saying that, in the upcoming Super Bowl, the Indianapolis Colts shouldn't score on the New Orleans Saints, because that might make the Saints upset, and if only the Colts don't make the Saints upset, the Saints might allow the Colts to score later. Hey, maybe not in this game, but at some point in the future. (After the November midterm elections, maybe.) Maybe they'll let them score - but maybe only if the Colts don't play to win now, because winning (even with a big lead and good field position) would be terribly rude.

Did we mention this was the championship game?

Bayh's argument is that stupid. Bayh is openly rooting for his own team to lose, and working to make it happen. Sadly, he's not alone in the Democratic caucus. The Blue Dog crowd is almost as bad as the Republicans.

(It might be more apt to say Bayh is telling the Colts to throw the Super Bowl and let the woeful Detroit Lions win. This will alllow the Colts to maybe have a shot at winning again in 20 years.)

As for the Democrats dealing with the GOP - strangely, when a group openly seeks your defeat and destruction, the best move is to kick their collective ass.

As for our vapid Beltway chatterers, they mostly consist of gossip columnists and bad sportscasters. To borrow from an earlier post:

Even if we view the press as sportscasters, or even home-team sportscasters, our press corps lacks good play-by-play announcers, but is positively overflowing with really bad color commentators.

To strain this metaphor even further (and apologies to all non-sports fans), say the Green Bay Packers were playing the Chicago Bears and scored the first two touchdowns. If our political reporters were sportscasters, David Broder would insist that the Packers should let the Bears score, Sean Hannity would loudly proclaim that the Bears did score, and Cokie Roberts would misreport the score and then proceed to ignore the game.

There's a saying that politics is the blood sport of Washington, but we've got awfully idiotic sportcasters for it.

There's one more metaphor plenty of people have used to describe how foolish it is to trust the Republicans on health care reform. We'll end with it, because it still may be the best:

(Previous posts using sports to discuss politics: "Hall of Fame Material", "The Sporting Life" and "Political Football Theater.")

(Updated with one link.)


libhom said...

Evan Bayh's team is made up of HMOs and health insurers. He is so evil he makes me sick.

Anonymous said...

It is impossible to believe that any democrat blue dog or not would think that its possible to work with the republicans in a bipartisan manner. I don't want bipartisanship, I want partisan players who believe in something. I don't want an objective player who doesn't believe in anything other than negotiating away principles for privilege that will never come. Bayh is a douche bag.

Qwertyman said...

It is sad that Politics and even religion is involved when it comes to sport. Celtic and Rangers in particular as soccer teams are both renowned for thei Catholic and Protestant appraoch when it comes to players. Even online bookmakers now have odds on which players are going to be purchased becuase of their political/religous beliefs!