Saturday, August 11, 2012

Edward Kennedy Redux III


This summer I have been working mostly on a sequel to my last novel, which introduced the Landau family, a wide-ranging and vigorous -- some would say oversexed -- assortment of individualists who have a startling way of backing hilariously into politics.  You'll hear about them.

Here I would like to add a footnote or two to the Mitt Romney saga.   Like so many voters, I am now confirming my opinion of Romney as a kind of perfumed manikin of country-club politics, the robotic floorwalker you might expect to find in a genteel ladies' ready-to-wear boutique.  Perhaps most unsettling is Romney's apparent aphasia, his seeming inability to recall positions he took on virtually every significant public issue.   In a June 28 column in The New York Times Nick Kristof ticks off a few quotations from the now-effaced predecessor Romney persona, starting with "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose" through "we seek to establish full equality  for America's gay and lesbian citizens" to "I believe that climate change is occurring." and that "human activity is a contributing factor" to "It's critical to insure more people in this country.  It doesn't make sense to have 45 million people without insurance."  And on and on.

Romney now trumpets that, as president, his first order of business will be to cancel President Obama's Affordable Care Act legislation. As governor of Massachusetts, of course, Romney engineered the passage of a program of almost universal health coverage for the citizens of that state, Romneycare, which served as the model for the Obama initiative.  Heralded as Romney's signal  -- pretty much only -- accomplishment as governor at the time, it remains the candidate's number one embarrassment.

The way in which Romneycare came into being has largely gone unnoticed.  As a Republican governor in a historically liberal state, with a heavily Democratic legislature, Romney needed to present himself as at least a little progressive to get anywhere at all.  His one accomplishmet in semi-public life at that point had been his takeover of the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics -- Winter is important here, a series of ski races in the mountains forty-five minutes north of Salt Lake City is an incomparably easier event to orchestrate than the all-embracing summer games in the midst of some enormous metropolitan area.  Once installed as governor in Massachusetts Romney maintained a low political profile and went along with most of the comparatively progressive legislation that crossed his desk -- for example he signed, without hesitation, a bill outlawing assault weapons in The Commonwealth.

As things worked out, a program to universalize health care in Massachusetts was not in any way forced on Romney.  He went after it. An undeservedly neglected piece by Karen Tumulty in TIME on November 12, 2007 specifies how that worked out.  Before the Tea-Party fanatics convulsed Republican politics, most of the elements associated with Romneycare were developed by conservative strategists, who took umbrage at the way the undeserving leeched off the taxpayers by exploiting the nation's emergency rooms.  We needed an "individual mandate." Let the working poor buy health insurance.
Health care was Kennedy's issue. He was soon following Romney's thinking in The Boston Globe, and promptly reached out and put his powerful Washington connections behind Romney's initiative.  This involved helping Massachusetts hang into $385 million in Medicaid funds that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was threatening to take back from The Commonwealth.  Kennedy's own health-care specialists moonlighted on Beacon Hill to help tune up the drafting of the bill.  When Massachusetts legislators hesitated, Ted Kennedy returned to Boston and implored the local legislators on the house and senate floors, alluding movingly to the battles with cancer his son and his daughter had suffered.  Kennedy found federal money to help subsidize the start-up years of Romneycare.  The day Romney signed  the nation's first comprehensive health care bill into law, Kennedy was standing behind him.

That was in April of 2006, time out of mind in politics today.  Edward Kennedy is dead.  What progressive spirits survive are struggling to hang on.  The outcome in November will determine whether any of us have much of a future.

Cheers, Comrades.

Burton Hersh 


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