Melanie Sturm
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

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July 4, 2012
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Melanie Sturm: Think Again

Tamara Shayne Kagel made waves recently when she wrote a column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles titled "I Don't Want to Date a Republican." Clarifying her fears, she pondered with horror, "What if I have Republican babies?" Now smitten, she's had to Think Again.

Having crossed the partisan Rubicon from insularity to open-mindedness, Kagel says she now respects and admires her boyfriend, who, she acknowledges, "values helping the poor as much as I do - just in a different way."

To arrive at this tolerant Zen state, Kagel recalibrated her moral compass, the antidote social psychologist Jonathan Haidt advocates in "The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion." Haidt cautions, "Beware of anyone who insists there is one true morality for all people, times and places." Comedian Steven Colbert didn't buy Haidt's thesis, insisting "not just that I'm right; almost more importantly is that you are wrong."

Last week, as if aping Colbert, many media, academic and political elites insisted that opponents of the Affordable Care Act were villainous and treacherous, including Supreme Court justices who might rule the law unconstitutional. "Hardball's" Chris Matthews compared Chief Justice Roberts to the judge who upheld the Fugitive Slave Act, but after Roberts became the swing vote, he seemed to morph from Darth Vader into Luke Skywalker.

Disturbed by this "Star Wars" mentality, polls show public confidence in media and government at record lows. This week's Rasmussen survey of Supreme Court perceptions confirmed the widening gap between the political class and mainstream voters - the court's favorability doubled from 27 percent to 55 percent among the political class but dropped from 34 percent to 22 percent among mainstream voters.

Every American wants our health care system to be more efficient, affordable and accessible. As world-class consumers, we expect cost containment, improved quality and more choices - we get that in our cellphones, so why not our health care? We've watched Apple compete by continuously innovating, creating new markets and must-have products at prices unimaginable a decade ago. Meanwhile, market entrants such as Android offer choices to consumers for whom a phone (never mind an iPhone) was previously unaffordable.

Not surprisingly, Americans rejected government-centric solutions that interposed Washington bureaucrats between doctors and patients and did little to address the health care cost explosion. Nevertheless, à la Colbert, lawmakers insisted they were right and opponents weren't merely wrong, but evil. Despite public outrage, Congress passed the ACA on a party-line vote aided by political payoffs, accounting gimmicks, deceptive language and parliamentary trickeries never before used for such far-reaching legislation.

As unsettling is the perception that last week's Supreme Court ruling - which rewrote the ACA in order to find it constitutional and used reasoning that politically-diverse legal experts regard as flimsy - was made to protect the court's legitimacy in the eyes of those who define illegitimacy as anything with which they disagree. If political calculations factored into court deliberations, doesn't that undermine judicial integrity?

Most importantly, two years into the 2,409-page law and 4,103 pages of associated regulations, we know it's "dreadful public policy," as non-partisan Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: Its "attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of people."

Moreover, its promises are false: Health insurance premiums have risen $2,200, not declined by $2,500; official cost estimates nearly doubled with further increases expected, thus increasing the deficit; and millions of Americans will lose their insurance and doctors as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating health care expenses.

Now consider the moral travesties. Not only does the law perpetuate the largest transfer of wealth from the young to the older in world history, it promises a quantity and quality of care it can't deliver while stifling the medical innovation on which the world depends for continuously improving health outcomes.

The story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old Medicaid beneficiary, is instructive. Unable to secure appropriate and timely treatment, he died of an infection that started with an abscessed tooth - not because he was uninsured, but because he was government-insured.

The ACA's proponents won't mention these fiscal, economic and moral challenges. Like used-car salesmen, they tout loss leaders (universal coverage and 26-year-olds on parents' plans) and free extras (contraception) - all attainable with cheaper and less disruptive policies like tax credits and high-risk pools. How do we separate the facts from the sales pitch, and why do the well-connected get waivers?

With so much at stake, lawmakers must recalibrate their moral compasses. Having done so, Kagel personifies Haidt's message that love and mutual respect engender the willingness to see those with opposing views generously, improving everyone's outcomes.

If elected leaders won't love and respect us, we must Think Again in November.


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 5, 2012 07:05AM Published Jul 4, 2012 11:46PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.