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MATTERS AT HAND: Both sides compromised too soon on health care

This above all, the great bard Shakespeare said: "To thine own self be true." The modern political equivalent: "Never compromise with yourself." Apparently, nobody reminded Democrats of this hoary yet timely wisdom when they embarked on their eff...

This above all, the great bard Shakespeare said:

"To thine own self be true."

The modern political equivalent: "Never compromise with yourself."

Apparently, nobody reminded Democrats of this hoary yet timely wisdom when they embarked on their effort to reform America's health care system.

Democrats immediately compromised with themselves, thus jeopardizing the possibility that far-reaching reform could actually occur.

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Rather than offering a single-payer system, like Canada's health care system, Democrats suggested creating a new insurance company that would compete with private insurers, the so-called public option.

North Dakota's Sen. Kent Conrad offered a further compromise, private cooperatives to compete with private insurance companies.

But opponents of any kind of alternative to private insurance attacked this, too, and pulled the debate still farther from the position that Democrats might have started from.

At this point, a single-payer system is clearly out of the question.

And a public option is in doubt.

The prospects for health care reform have been obscured by political posturing that misrepresents the specifics and distorts the intent of legislation.

This should have been anticipated.

What's been missing is a clear program of reform.

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The president bears some responsibility. Rather than offering a program, he allowed the Congress to draft one.

Members did what congressmen do. They looked for an easy course.

They didn't find one, since the only thing clear about health care reform is that it's not going to be easy.

Nor could Obama himself avoid involvement. Although he didn't -- and hasn't -- offered a program of his own, whatever his critics don't like has been labeled "Obamacare."

Republicans aren't blameless.

They delayed offering any alternative to Democratic plans until last month, and their bill was hardly a comprehensive program. Even its supporters conceded that it was a hodgepodge of ideas that had been offered before.

They might have done better to offer these as individual bills aimed at specific areas of the health care system that could be reformed.

But they didn't, preferring instead to compromise with themselves, hoping to win a few points at the expense of the larger principle, in their case, the idea that government has little or no role in health care.

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All of this overlooks the first rule of politics, which is that politics is the art of compromise.

But the compromise is with your adversaries, not with your own principles.

When compromise fails, of course, we have confrontation, and that's what Americans face now that both sides have essentially forfeited their roles.

This leaves the field to extremists, and they're having a field day with health care reform.

Their advantage is that they don't need to provide any comprehensive program, nor even any truthful information. They simply attack what's been suggested.

That's what's happening in the advertising that's lately saturated television broadcasts in North Dakota.

Where will this all end?

Of course, it's impossible to know.

My own guess is that the first rule of politics will prevail and that some compromise position will be found.

It is certain, however, that this position is far short of what advocates of health care reform imagined when Obama was elected.

At the same time, it's likely to be far beyond what the president's critics imagined they'd have to settle for.

For ordinary Americans, it's likely the substance of the next election campaign, and probably several more beyond that.

But that's only the politics.

There's also the substance.

My own experience as a business person is that private businesses are under increasing pressure to control the cost of health care, and that coverage will become less while premiums increase.

There's a point at which this escalation of cost is not sustainable, and America is going to have to deal with it.

It now seems possible that meaningful health care reform will fail because both sides compromised too soon. That allowed extremists and ideologues to poison the process.

Jacobs is publisher and editor of the Herald.

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
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