Democrats fail in execution, not policy

After facing much criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, President Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress last week about his plan for healthcare reform. The president outlined his vision for reform and re-emphasized his support for a public option, but hinted at his willingness to look at alternative solutions.

Obama’s speech came after a tough Congressional recess in August when the healthcare debate devolved into screaming matches and open confrontations in town hall meetings across the country, fueled by partisan falsehoods and scare tactics.

Instead of conducting a proper discourse on the issues, the debate was hijacked by misinformed individuals using buzzwords like “socialism” and “Nazi.”

Several of the concerns raised by the GOP are legitimate points of discussion, especially the argument that a public plan will out-compete private enterprises. I concur that more competition should be created by healthcare reform, but I believe that government has a role in increasing competition. Another legitimate concern raised by the GOP is the effect of reform on the national debt, and how reforms will be paid for.

But instead of debating the proposals on their merits and working across the aisle to develop a solution, the GOP has resorted to comparing proposed reforms to Canada’s healthcare system, calling the plan an outright socialist takeover, and even inflamed people into believing that the government will set up “death panels”. Some GOP supporters, driven by right wing media outlets, have even taken to comparing Obama to Hitler, as if this insult will advance the debate in any way.

The fact is that a majority of Canadians are happy with their healthcare plan, no government panel will decide whether you live or die, and what the President has proposed is a middle-ground between a universal healthcare system and a completely privatized system.

Hitler noted that the only way to perpetrate a falsehood was to come up with something so egregious that its very fantastic nature would give it credibility, and then to repeat it again and again until it was ingrained in the mind of the public. Sound familiar?

Still, the effective mobilization of support by the GOP against reform proposals is impressive. Democrats could certainly learn a thing or two from them. Instead of countering falsehoods head-on, Democrats have allowed the opposition to take control of the healthcare debate.

When Congress began debating the idea of healthcare reform in March, polls showed that a majority of Americans supported a public option. What happened?

By not laying out a clear set of proposals, the Democratic Party squandered its support and left followers without a roadmap for change. Therefore, the majority of those who wanted healthcare reform were left divided, making it hard for proponents to mobilize support and bring the debate back to a civil tone.

One of the things that I am consistently impressed with is the lack of debate within the Republican Party. The emergence of a Blue-Dog style coalition that goes against its own party is unfathomable today’s GOP. By starting the reform process without forming a broad consensus on the issues within its own party, the Democrats stumbled over one obstacle after another, allowing the Republicans to gain ground in the debate and unify support against the proposals.

President Obama took an initial step during his speech last week to move the debate back to the issues surrounding reform and away from the hostile nature that has overcome the debate. Still, it may be too little too late to move decisively on healthcare. The problem now is that those who were most passionate about healthcare reform last spring are now the most passive.

The Democratic Party must decide within itself how to pursue reform before courting allies on the opposition. Only then can it hope to mobilize public support for a bill and regain control of the debate.

As college students, we must make every effort to become engaged in the debate in a non-partisan fashion. We stand to lose or gain tremendously from healthcare reform. We must resist the temptation to look at those with differing political views as enemies and instead engage in a vigorous debate on the issues. Finally, we must be willing to compromise. Only then can we hope to move forward into a post-partisan world where we can get things done.