I’ve been a huge fan of the President since is convention speech in 2004, and my support of him, his perspective, his philosophy, and his agenda have never once been in question. So, the last several weeks have been depressing. I had already begun to tune out from politics during December, as the health care debate in the Senate dragged on and on. But I hadn’t yet begun questioning my passion for politics or my devotion to intelligent progressivism. Just that all the arguments for and against, intelligent and stupid, were all so tired and recycled, I wanted someone to wake me when it was over.
Then came Massachusetts. It was an unreal, nightmarish scenario. Almost overnight, health care reform—what would have been (will be?) the greatest social policy achievement of the last four decades—went from almost assured passage to teetering on the brink. I didn’t really know how to respond to this. It really seemed to me that if President Obama, with all his intelligence, judgment, and charisma, couldn’t get silly legislators to stop talking BS and just DO SOMETHING—nobody could. Now, I know that health care reform isn’t entirely dead, and I’ve been inspired by the path forward he has outlined in recent days. But I was so exhausted from nine months of hope and frustration, I founding myself asking, “what’s the point?” My energy for politics, progressive or otherwise, was at an all-time low.
“The point,” so to speak, became clear to me when I went and saw Newt Gingrich speak at Scripps College last Wednesday evening. After giving a decent talk about leadership, he opened up the floor to questions, and when my turn came, I spoke:
“Regarding the 46 million people in the United States without health insurance, liberals have proposed using the collective resources of society, via taxation, to provide them coverage. Conservatives have been so strenuous in their opposition to this approach that is has come across that conservatives simply don’t care about those who don’t have health coverage. Can you please comment on this, and touch on what a conservative strategy would be to ensure universal coverage?”
From someone with so distinguished a resume, and given that this was a talk at a place of learning, not a press conference, I expected a substantive response. What I got was a sound bite. I cannot quote directly, but essentially Gingrich said that it has come across to people like him that liberals don’t care about the 260 million Americans who do have health insurance, who he claimed would all face higher taxes and higher costs under the proposed legislation. He then went on to talk about how the bill had been written in secret by Pelosi and Reid and really was just a plot to grow government. And he didn’t even try to answer the last part of my question.
I came out of that lecture inspired. So I’m now going to write for the Port Side. Not because I’m no longer disappointed at the intractability of our system, or because I think that I can somehow extinguish conservativism from our political landscape. It’s because one of the leading conservative intellectuals of the last thirty years can stand on a stage, say that to tax high-cost health plans to subsidize coverage for the uninsured is somehow dangerously unfair to those who already have insurance, and have the whole room stand up and cheer. Because the smartest among our opponents can’t get it together to even care for those in our society who have been victimized by our system. Because without a myriad of voices drowning out those who oppose justice for our citizens and the world, we’ll never have real change. That is why I’m here. I look forward to a great semester of progressive dialogue.