Perhaps I was dazzled by Frank Capra's Mr. Smith and Aaron Sorkin's President Bartlet, but I've long believed that most citizens seek public office because they want to do the right thing. Many have different views of that right thing than I do. And, as we all know, many of them succumb to temptations that take them far off course, where they indulge greed, selfishness, and a hunger for power.
Still, I believe most of them want to serve their constituents and improve people's lives. That's why Democrats need to pass a comprehensive health-care bill, even if they think they'll face a backlash in November. Comprehensive reform is simply the right thing - the moral thing - to do.
Millions of Americans cannot afford health insurance. Nearly 45,000 people die every year for want of the insurance that would provide medical care. It's shameful that a country as prosperous as this hasn't figured out a way to extend health care to all.
The health-care "system," by the way, doesn't work all that well for those of us who have coverage. Profit-making insurance companies do everything they can to keep from paying. They employ a huge bureaucracy to find ways to drop customers who get sick. They refuse to cover existing conditions or ongoing medical complaints. And, with or without health-care reform, costs will continue to soar. At least provisions in the House and Senate bills have the potential to keep costs in check over time.
Much of the public dissatisfaction over health care stems from the abysmal and protracted process - GOP obstructionism, deal-making, proposals that die, reappear, and die again - that has left voters confused about what change would accomplish. And Republicans who equate destroying the Obama presidency with doing the right thing have fueled that confusion with dissembling, distortions, and outright lies, from "death panels" to claims of a "vast government takeover."
If the responses on my blog are any indication, some of the opposition stems from a misunderstanding of what the plan represents: Many critics say they believe health-care reform represents the stereotypical welfare proposal - a transfer of benefits to the poor. Happily, the poor are already covered by Medicaid.
Those who stand to benefit most from health-care reform are hardworking, legal citizens whose jobs don't provide medical insurance. They are waiters, retail clerks, house painters, massage therapists, day-care workers, and a host of others who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs of private insurance.
Still, days after Scott Brown's stunning upset in Massachusetts, Democrats are quaking in their boots. They need to keep three things in mind:
First, Brown didn't campaign against universal health care. As a state senator, he voted for the universal health-care plan in Massachusetts, which still draws broad support. (That plan became the model for a national health-care bill.) Brown cleverly convinced his state's voters that they had already fixed their health-care problem and shouldn't have to foot the bill to fix it for the rest of the country.
Second, as a practical matter, Democrats are already seen as the party of health-care reform. If they back away from it, they'll look weak and unprincipled. Voters are unlikely to reward them for that.
Third, and most important, passing comprehensive health-care reform is the right thing to do. Many of the most-loved pieces of progressive legislation, including Medicare, met a storm of disapproval when they were proposed. So some Democrats might lose their seats for supporting health-care reform.
But what's the point of holding office if you're not prepared to do something courageous every now and then?