This Tuesday, Democrats nationwide face a nail-biter Senate election in Massachusetts. Some interest groups would like to cast this election as a referendum on health care legislation currently being negotiated in Washington, in hopes of breaking the Democrat's filibuster-proof majority.
Some are questioning the Democrat's commitment to working families, honest leadership and open government as they point to the lack of Republican participation and closed door meetings in final negotiations on the health care bill.
Politics in a democracy is by nature a business full of compromises. Rarely does anything get done unless each side is willing to disappoint their constituents and fall short of their campaign promises.
In the current debate, most Democrats wanted a public option as a way to keep the private insurance company rates realistic. We are not getting that as a result of negotiations. We are crossing our fingers that all will turn out OK or that any problems will be dealt with through future refining legislation.
But, like Republican constituents, we Democrats are inclined to trust the elected representatives from our party to do right by us. Most people (regardless of party) are not naive. We know that politicians go to work each day in an arena where the corrosive elements of power, cynicism, money and lobbyists over time can corrupt most any politician or at least lead them to some jaded attitudes.
However, my experience of American politics over the last 60 years is that when there is an effort or initiative in the works that will benefit or protect the power of business (in spite of the fact that it will cause ordinary people grief), you can bet that Republican politicians fully support it and Democrat politicians are against it.
And, when there is an initiative to help assure that all citizens have basic rights and protection from the abusive exercise of power by business or government; you can bet that Democrat politicians support it and Republican politicians will oppose it on grounds of government intervention into free enterprise, individual responsibility or that the citizen beneficiaries are freeloaders or engaged in fraud.
I would like to have seen Republicans (recognizing that Democrats do currently hold the majority) provide constructive input into a health care bill that both parties could support. I would also like to have seen these final negotiations televised so that interest groups would not have an excuse to create suspicion and discontent.
However, I also recognize that Republicans have, from the beginning, been uncompromisingly opposed to any health care plan Democrats proposed. It is understandable then, that they would not be expected to provide constructive input in negotiations to meld the House and Senate bills (passed without their support) into a final bill.
Also, from the beginning, the issues surrounding health care reform have been openly debated in town meetings, in newspapers and magazines, on television and on the floors of the House and Senate in a very open way -- as should be the case. Most every document and analysis available to legislators has been available to the public to read as well. The players and notable changes made in current negotiations have been communicated to news media (including elimination of the unacceptable one-of-a-kind federal subsidy to cover the entire cost of a Medicaid expansion in Nebraska).
Unfortunately, it is a fact of life (known to anyone who has ever been involved in high stakes negotiations in industry or politics) that contentious hammering out of final terms rarely take place in public view because the players would be unwilling to be fully candid. Whether it happens in a private discussion in the hallway during a break or at the bargaining table, the moment when minds come together to make a deal does not happen while the whole country is watching.
I would encourage the voters of Massachusetts -- and Democrats everywhere when considering how to cast a vote, to first look at whether a candidate has the technical qualifications to do the job they seek. When a candidate has no disqualifying attributes, consider that political parties are, in reality, an extension into the community of the world view, orientation and priorities of their individual supporters.
If you choose to vote for a candidate based on a single issue such as health care (a bold initiative that truthfully all of us are approaching with much trepidation), it may come at a cost of having a senator for the next six years who on most issues won't reflect your priorities and world view. Of the two parties, only the Democrats have consistently championed the rights and economic well being of ordinary people.