Thursday, 27 August 2009

1,000 Words


Political analyst Ross Baker reminds us of Ted Kennedy's remarkable Senatorial style:

Like all successful politicians, Ted Kennedy was a great actor -- I don’t think anyone I know could summon up moral indignation more convincingly than he did. I can remember him getting red in the face, and his jowls shaking, and pointing and gesturing and making some very, very emphatic point to one of the Republicans on the committee, whether it was Orrin Hatch or Jon Kyl. And then he would sit back in his chair with kind of a smug smile on his face, and put his arm around Chuck Grassley. He would make clear that none of it was personal.

But those dramatic moments were the ones that convinced all liberals that he was on their side, and after he’d delivered himself of these great and emotionally laden orations, he would say, “let’s deal.” That’s what made Ted Kennedy such a great senator. And if you talk to the other great Senate deal makers, like Bob Dole… he would tell you the same thing: that after all of the histrionics, this was a man who knew the art of the deal in the United States Senate.

Joyce Carol Oates' meditative essay on weighing up Ted's personal failings in the light of his public service is well worth a read:

The poet John Berryman once wondered: "Is wickedness soluble in art?". One might rephrase, in a vocabulary more suitable for our politicized era: "Is wickedness soluble in good deeds?"

This paradox lies at the heart of so much of public life: individuals of dubious character and cruel deeds may redeem themselves in selfless actions. Fidelity to a personal code of morality would seem to fade in significance as the public sphere, like an enormous sun, blinds us to all else.
Kennedy was a Catholic. He believed in the possibility of redemption, and he went after it for all he was worth.

But you know, even his most honorable service on behalf of the most worth causes (civil rights, education, and of course health care) was surely not entirely selfless - I'm sure he loved the game, I'm sure he had an ego on him and liked for it to be stroked. And OK, let's be honest, for much of his life he was a drunk, a philanderer and occassionally a cheat (did you know he was expelled from Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam?).

On the other hand, he may have done more good for more Americans than almost any man of his generation. He was one of the greats.

I think it's worth remembering that not only is human perfection not attainable, it may not be desirable. Our drives, our uncontrollable passions, our irrational stubborness can be as much the source of our greatness as it is of our downfall. For Ted Kennedy, they were both.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Ted Kennedy Has Died

Sitting at my desk at the PR firm where I am working, after a hectic morning full of meetings, I've just been stunned to hear of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.

I suppose it's a measure of how much Ted has been a part of our national life that, although this news was in some ways completely expected, it has really shaken me.

Edward Kennedy was never perfect - he had flaws, pettiness, he made terrible mistakes and I'm sure that there is much in his life that he would have changed if he had the chance. He was, in short, as human as any of us.

But he was a tireless advocate for the people who needed his help the most, a genius of the political system, a public servant in the most honorable tradition, and a survivor.

If it were anyone else I would refrain from adding the last part, but since we are talking about the nation's proudest Democrat and the Senate's most assiduous deal-maker, I'm sure he would himself have wanted me to add: that his passing leaves us one vote down on Health Insurance Reform. Passion for this cause was the driving force of his life, and it would be a cruel blow if his loss were to cost Americans the opportunity to finally achieve his dream.

RIP Teddy, we'll keep working for you.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Someone really should help this woman. (Warning, her despair is genuinely disturbing.)

I'm afraid Tom Coburn is not that someone.

Anti-health reform Senator Tom Coburn says that "the other thing that's missing in this debate is us as neighbors. Helping people that need our help."

Well, that's a lovely thought, Tom. But this woman's husband does not need to borrow a cup of sugar. We can't solve his problem by hosting a bake sale. He has TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY - and as the woman herself pointed out, she is not qualified to care for him, no matter how strong her will to do so or her neighbor good wishes in helping out. He needs access to medical care. Under the current system, which Tom Coburn does not think needs changing, people like this woman's husband have the choice of either suffering and potentially dying without the treatment that the need, or financially devastating themselves and their families by paying out of pocket for care that routinely costs in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Often, even for those WITH insurance.

This story, from Andrew Sullivan's blog, is too awful to even contemplate:

One night in ICU? $10,000, not covered by insurance.

After this hospitalization, we were approached by a hospital social worker, who suggested we apply for SoonerCare. SoonerCare is Oklahoma's Medicaid program for kids. Luckily I'm a social worker who was working for a non-profit at the time, so we had no problems meeting financial criteria. (Ha ha. A little social work humor there.) SoonerCare does NOT exclude kids for pre-existing conditions, and it covers Sophie's medications and treatment 100%.

Since that horrible October in 2005, Sophie has needed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of treatments, hospitalizations, surgeries, medications, testing, and interventions in order to stay strong and healthy, and in some instances, to stay alive.

[Further enumeration of Sophie's serious medical problems removed...]

Since SoonerCare is the only insurance that will accept Sophie, we have to meet their financial criteria, which means living at or below the poverty level. I have had to quit wonderful jobs because I made too much money to qualify for SoonerCare. At this point I can only work either part-time, or for a very small salary, because we CANNOT afford to lose Sophie's healthcare coverage. It's the most important thing in our lives. We structure every single financial and professional decision we make around staying eligible for SoonerCare.

And while we'll gladly continue to live at the poverty level in order to provide our daughter with the healthcare that keeps her alive, we SHOULDN'T HAVE TO. We would happily pay outrageous premiums and co-pays, and do whatever else it took to get Sophie covered by regular health insurance. But you know what they all tell us?

She has to go two years with no pulmonary medications and no doctor's visits because of respiratory problems before anyone will accept her. Sophie can't go two DAYS without her medications, let alone two years.

This is NOT a failure caused by this family's friends and neighbors failing to help them out. This is a failure caused by people like TOM COBURN failing to provide minimal access to basic, essential services.

What's the Up Side?

Ezra Klein, is typically sensible on the real opportunities presented by health care reform today. To those in my "crew" who are saying things to me like, "the public option is everything," I respectfully disagree. I'm willing to fight tooth and nail for a public option because I agree with the experts who say that it is the best way to bring down the costs from private insurers.

But what about the expansion of Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty line? That's a solid 20 million poor Americans who don't have coverage now, and will soon. What about the out-of-pocket caps, so no one goes medically bankrupt ever again? Or the assurance that no insurer can ever discriminate based on a preexisting condition? Or the subsidies for working Americans who can't quite afford coverage? Or the requirements that insurers spend more money on medical care and less money on premiums? Or the guarantee that the gruesome practice of rescission will finally end?
Even the weakest, shabbiest compromise bill currently on the table would be the most dramatic health care reform ever. And would, for example, be miles more progressive than what Howard Dean presented during his 2004 Presidential run - and nowadays Howard Dean is saying that a public plan is essential. We are SO MUCH better off on the prospects for real reform than we have ever been. One reason I'm surprisingly optimistic about all this...

Deep thought...

Every member of Congress has access to Government provided health care - even the ones who will vote against it for others. As does every senior citizen, every veteran, every current member of the military, every federal and state worker. All told, about half of US helathcare is currently government managed in one way or onother. And yet, the Republic has survived...

Chillin' Out: It's August

Dear Blog,

No, I have not forgotten you. As the song says, ya know, you were always on my mind.

It's been a stormy month out there, hasn't it? Death panels (wtf?), guns at Presidential speeches (omfg!), Obama as a Nazi (take it away, Barney) it's all been a bit... mad, hasn't it?

Meanwhile, I've been... weirdly relaxed. My husband and I had the most glorious ten day holiday in the mountains of northern Spain. If you ever have the chance - I highly recommend this pristine, largely unspoiled area where they make delicious cheese and wine, where everyone is almost freakishly tan and healthy, by London standards, and where you can walk in the mountains all day and sit outside over your evening meal until late at night.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch I've got some really interesting free-lance projects on the go, where I act as PR, public affairs or a communications consultant to some really inspiring people.

And the health care debate... lurches on.

Everywhere I go Brits come up to me and want to know how Americans can possibly be so upset about the idea of giving everyone healthcare. American Democrats that I meet are beside themselves with anger and concern that the public debate has strayed so disastrously from reason.

But you know what? It all looks... sort of familiar to me. Around this time last year I was running our campaign office and spending the bulk of my time scooping dejected activists up from the limpid pools of fatalistic despair that they were sinking into. We were coping, you may recall, with not only a dip in Obama's poll numbers following the apparently successful "celebrity ad" from McCain, which made the oh-so-rational argument that 1) Barack Obama is quite famous 2) Paris Hilton is also quite famous. 3) Therefore they were just the same. People, bizarrely, appeared to be buying into this. And then, Sarah Palin entered our world.

My spiel (repeated to every Democrat I met twice daily, and taken alongside volunteerism) was that yes, things are going to go up and down. Nobody ever expected that this was going to be easy. But also that, yes, we do have a plan to win. We don't think that plan is any less valid now that we're 3 points down than it was when were 10 points up. It does, however, involve a lot of time, energy and commitment from all of us. And that the surest way to lose is to convince ourselves of the impossibility of winning.

Two Augusts ago, those of us who were early Obama supporters started going through a milder version of something quite similar. All we were getting in the press was that Obama was 35 points behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, she was the shut out favourite to take the nomination. My spiel at that time was that, yes, it was going to be difficult to win, and it would require a massive effort, but also that the confident assertions of the pundits and prognosticators were so much sound and fury signifying, essentially, nothing. The tragectory of the race would be set by the early primaries and caucuses, which is why rather than obsessing about the implausibility of our own success, we would spend out time raising money and getting out the vote for those races.

So August, to me, just feels like the usual ritual Moment of Panic that we Democrats go through on at least a yearly cycle.

Does that mean that health insurance reform will be easy, or is certain to succeed? Not at all. It's going to be very hard work indeed - remember that universal health care has been the holy grail of every Democratic president since FDR - but:

1) We have already come closer to making it a reality than anyone ever has before - no major reform has ever cleared all House Committeees before.
2) We are unlikely to have a bigger or a more cohesive majority in Congress than we have right now.
3) Some of reform's most effective former opponents have either remained silent or joined our side. (Remember Harry and Louise? They are literally appearing in pro-reform ads.)
4) It's not entirely out of our control.

We are not in a situation where we are helplessly sitting back and watching others do terrible things to our national debate without any power to react - it is within our power to get on the phone to our Senators and Representatives to let them know what we think.

We each have a wide network of friends and family who may be hearing lies and misinformation about the healthcare debate. We can set the record straight.

Here's a snippet from the lates Democrats Abroad alert on health insurance reform:
This next 30 days are critical in the health care reform debate at home. The emails from many of our members and the first-rate discussion of this signature issue for the President at the August Speakeasy show that the level of interest among our members is extraordinarily high.

The White House has asked that we write or call our Representatives and Senators to urge support for the President’s core principles on Health Insurance Reform:

-- to reduce costs
--to guarantee choice
--and to ensure quality care for all.

DA’s Washington office has also posted a Legislative Alert on the DA website, urging members to write or call their Representatives and Senators in support of the President’s core principles.

Let me also urge you to write or call your elected representatives in Washington. Do it in the next few days. That is particularly important for those of our members who come from states where the position of their Representative or Senators is unclear or as yet unknown.

For your Representative’s contact details, go to:
For your Senators’ contact details, go to: