Good News, Bad News
A step forward on health care, a step back in Salinas.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Well, it could have been worse.
After another depressing round of lousy unemployment statistics, and local elections in which most of those bothering to show up voted their fears, not their dreams, the Obama administration scored a badly needed victory as the health care reform bill passed its first major hurdle.
The House of Representatives vote was narrow, and the bill is deeply flawed – it includes an odious last-minute anti-abortion amendment insisted on by conservative Democrats. (Only one Republican voted for the bill.)
But a win is a win.
It was moving to hear from leaders like Michigan’s John Dingell, who gaveled Medicare bill into law under Lyndon Johnson in 1965; George Miller, a longtime health care advocate; Henry Waxman, a tireless crusader against Big Tobacco; and our own Sam Farr, who called the vote “one of the most important I’ve taken during my 16 years in Congress.”
And hats off to the unfairly pilloried Nancy Pelosi, who stood her ground against a sea of skeptics who caricatured the Democratic position on this defining moment as a “government takeover.’’ They demonized the first female Speaker of the House with a sexism that is all too familiar to those who recall the similar, and similarly contemptible, arguments against “Hillarycare’’ during the Clinton years.
She who laughs last, laughs best.
Credit is also due, of course, to Obama. At a time of double-digit unemployment, and legitimate fears about our nation’s economic future, he once again proved the doubters – and the haters – wrong.
With political timing that resembles his purported skills on the basketball court, our playmaking president withstood the instant judgments of the 24-7 punditocracy that he should have been out front on this issue earlier. He waited until the tyranny of town hall “democracy’’ had subsided, correctly calculating that the polls showing the majority of the country wanted health care reform would outweigh the lunatic fringe shouting from the sidelines.
There are miles to go before the bill clears the Senate. But those who predict it is dead on arrival should recall similar predictions that it would not get this far. There will inevitably be wrinkles if it is passed, but even getting this far in the struggle for meaningful healthcare reform is an achievement.
It’s a show of tenacity, smarts, and commitment to the ideals that got Obama elected that couldn’t have come at a better time, given the gloomy national mood.
Back here in Monterey County, the news is less heartening.
Concerns about the economy clearly were the driving force in the outcome of the local contests.
A “Penny for Peace” seems a small price to pay for beefing up the Salinas Police Department in its efforts to combat gang violence. But off-year elections bring out the base – literally and figuratively – of hard-core ideologues, so in an election with shockingly low turnout, Measure K was decisively defeated.
Mayor Dennis Donohue, Police Chief Louis Fetherolf and other advocates remain committed to finding creative solutions to ending the bloodshed, but the short-term outcome of Measure K’s defeat will hurt, not help, Salinas. One hopes the inter-agency partnerships they’ve been able to draw on will address the violence and some of its economic roots.
The vote on Carmel Valley incorporation was a trickier question, but clearly the economy was the deciding factor there, too, given concern about the potential hidden costs.
Legitimate arguments were advanced, but illegitimate forms of debate, including removing pro-G signs in the days before the election, and inflamed rhetoric on both sides, did not help.
One hopes the supervisors will bear the closeness of the election results in mind when making future development decisions.
And I disagree with the suggestion that incorporation advocates had their shot, and should now and forever give up their fight. Why? If it’s taken 20 years to get to a vote, I don’t see why people who live in the community aren’t entitled to another try, if they want one. Last time I checked, that’s the democratic way.
The hair-thin defeat (as of Nov. 4’s incomplete tally) of the measure to support the Pacific Grove library seems like an example of “democracy” run amok.
More than 65 percent of Pagrovians wanted to help the library. Hopefully the final ballot count on Nov. 13 will achieve the two-thirds approval needed.
Coincidentally, that’s the same two-thirds majority required for passage of a state budget in California – yet another reason for the Golden State’s reputation for dysfunctionality.
But there’s reason for hope.
As Obama and the Democrats just proved with their big step along the healthcare-reform highway, anything is possible, if you remain determined enough.