Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

16 December 2009

What to Do About Joe


While the rest of us were focusing on climate change and Copenhagen, Joe Lieberman quietly killed the best parts of health-insurance reform. Single-handedly, for reasons obscure, he forced Harry Reid and the Democrats to abandon not only any public option, but the chance for people 55 to 65 to buy into Medicare at their own expense.

Joe didn’t even go as far as his fellow so-called Republican “centrist,” Susan Collins, who reportedly supports a public option with a trigger or state-by-state “opt-out.” He managed to defeat every means by which health-insurance reformers sought to discipline the private insurance industry and bring it to heel.

What is it about guys with hypnotically soothing gravelly voices? Everett Dirksen (R., Ill.) was one of the most pernicious politicians of my youth. But his constituents seemed to love him because he had a voice just like John Boehner’s and Joe’s.

Don’t people listen to what these jerks say? Don’t they see the harm they do? Or do they just hear the tone of voice, like a dog being scratched under the chin or someone nodding off at a concert without catching the words?

Boehner may have the excuse of being just plain stupid. If he’s ever had an original idea—let alone a good one—I’m unaware of it. But I don’t think Joe is stupid. He may be a bit forgetful; he seems to have forgotten that he publicly supported a Medicare buy-in a few years ago, when he was running for vice president with Al Gore, and as recently as three months ago. Now he claims not to remember. Maybe he’s just senile.

Yet his motives become clearer when you consider the source of his campaign contributions. He’s taken over a cool million from the insurance industry over the last decade.

Joe claims he has an excuse. He’s all for jobs, including the 22,000 that the health-insurance industry reportedly provides in his state. But those workers are a minuscule portion of Connecticut’s 3.5 million population, a majority of which wants a public option, and all of whom need reliable health insurance. So Joe kisses the hand of the industry that feeds him, thwarting the will of his people and the rest of the nation.

It’s not hard to see why. Under that soothing gravelly voice and sonorous patina of reasonableness lies one of the biggest egos in American politics. Joe doesn’t give a damn about his state, his people, the American people, or the millions suffering and dying from health insurance that isn’t. He thinks he can get re-elected, or at least rate a footnote in the history books, by bucking his party and all the folks who put him where he is today. Joe is out for Joe.

Joe loves every bit of the attention and power that his so-called “independence” gives him. He’s taking his petty revenge on the American people, who vastly preferred a younger, darker man to him, with all his grey hair, experience and gravelly unctuousness. He’s wreaking petty revenge on his party, which stripped him of his committee chairs when he refused to do what Democrats do. The fatuous, senile gasbag is having his last vengeful romp at the expense of the American people at their hour of greatest need.

So what can we do? I can think of lots of things. They include deluging his office with letter and e-mails, telling Joe just how we feel about him. They might include picketing, day and night, outside his office home. If you like civil disobedience and have a boom box in your car, you might consider driving by Joe’s home forty times a night to keep him awake.

Complete ostracism by Democrats in Congress and everywhere else would be his minimum just desserts. Joe has shown his true colors. He is now among the Republicans in all but name, having not just aided and abetted them, but given them the whip hand.

But the most important thing is to make sure that this is Joe’s last term. He’s up for re-election in 2012. I hereby pledge $1,000 to the first credible, experienced candidate to begin a run to defeat Joe next year, in 2010.

I’d prefer a Democrat. But I’ll support anyone who’s a real moderate and supports a limited government option in health care, infrastructure rebuilding at home, intelligent federal management of energy policy to secure independence and retard global warming, federally led reform of education, and an early but responsible exit from Iraq and Afghanistan. My ideal candidate would be a youngish veteran with business experience, a good education and a gravelly voice just like Joe’s, but with a lot more brains and at least some concern for the general welfare.

Lest anyone accuse me (or any of Joe’s millions of detractors) of anti-Semitism, let me remind readers that I am Jewish. Real Jews have a credo of “tikkun olam,” which means “repair the world.” It’s not much different from the American business credo “do it, fix it, try it.” It urges us all to make things better by constant tinkering.

That’s what a public option or Medicare buy-in would do. It would not seriously impair private health insurance, let alone eliminate it. It would merely goose it, making it better by tinkering around the edges and providing a lifeline for people left out.

Joe Lieberman, in my view, is the antithesis of tikkun olam. He wants things to stay about the way they are. He’s happy with a rotten private health-insurance industry that, like much of America’s financial sector today, makes its money by sophisticated swindling, leaving many Americans to suffer and die uncared for or in poverty. He’s happy because that rotten business keeps Joe where he likes to be, in the limelight.

But I’ve got news for you, Joe. Unlike you, most of the rest of us can remember what happened three years ago, let alone three months ago. In 2012, we will.

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