Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Reformation

I blogged a lot last year on health care reform. I wrote a lot on the public option - give people a place to pay their premiums! - and I went to congressional meetings (one with Maria Cantwell, one with Cathy McMorris Rodgers). I was horrified at the traction that the phrase "death panels" got, when all the bill proposed was to give people the opportunity to not have to pay for a discussion with their doctor on end-of-life issues.

And even when I stopped writing about it - at some point these last couple of months, so exhausted I was by the rhetoric - I still followed it. I didn't actually sit and watch the seven-hour meeting between the parties, but I read synopses of it - cared about it - agreed with Sen. McCain that the special side deals should be taken out, was buoyed when the President said "good point".... I even got the chance to feel like a Microsoft commercial (you know, the ones where a single person who shared an idea with Microsoft believes the company actually got his email and ran with the improvement) because, on a recent Thursday, I called Maria Cantwell's office in D.C. and said that something needed to be done about all those pet projects, it was the principal of the matter, that I'm the choir for them and even I am unhappy about that... And then two days later, the Prez asked that the pet project funding be taken out of the final bill. Wow, I thought. I need to make phone calls more often!

But I didn't take part in that final push of phone calls this past week. I was still discouraged by the private deals, I suppose. Besides, in my corner of the world, the votes were already essentially cast (senators in favor, representative opposed). I did get the emails asking that I take this action or that... but for better or for worse, I let them slide.

Then, this past weekend, somehow I started to feel the enormity of it - how this was doing something that had simply not been doable at any other time - that this really was happening. I felt proud of the people who had kept on keeping on. I felt gratified that I had, at least, helped out early on, and periodically. And I was suddenly glad to see the bill pass, frailties and all.

Then on Tuesday, I received an email from Mitch Stewart, head of Organizing for America. The president wanted to talk to me. Well, now, apparently he also wanted to talk to his 500,000 or so closest friends (don't really know the number, am just guessing) but still, I was invited. "For all my hard work," the email said - or some such thing. Hmm.... I felt a little guilty, since I hadn't been working all that hard in recent weeks.

But still, I got on the call. And I heard the president thank us all. And I had a few tears, as I realized again the mountain that had been moved, by this bill being signed. He called it an "improbable journey" - and it was. He told us to savor the moment - and we did. He said that the bill "enshrines the idea that everyone" should have some security when it comes to health care - not just some, but everyone - and that once the principle is enshrined, it means that people will have enormously more secure lives than they do now. And he said that neither illness nor accident should endanger the American dream. That last line - schmaltzy, you know? - but it's right. He's right. It matters that much, at that much of a core level.

He said there was more work, to help explain what the bill really contains (and he went through a list - he mentioned, btw, that Congress will be on the exchange when it gets in place, which does give some hope that the exchange will work). He said - in response to a question - that one thing he learned was to stay focused, stay with the big picture, and then stay dogged. And then he said again, thanks - that our hard work was his inspiration.

This morning, I went on line and a few things warmed my heart again. One was this clip from the signing ceremony, where he spoke about young Marcelas. And then there was this excerpt from Teddy Kennedy's obituary from 2009 - from the Boston Globe:

Despite his illness, Senator Kennedy made a forceful appearance at the Democratic convention in Denver, exhorting his party to victory and declaring that the fight for universal health insurance had been "the cause of my life.’’

He pursued that cause vigorously, and even as his health declined, he spent days reaching out to colleagues to win support for a sweeping overhaul; when members of Obama’s administration questioned the president’s decision to spend so much political capital on the seemingly intractable health care issue, Obama reportedly replied, "I promised Teddy.’’
Those are the kinds of promises that have to be kept.

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