SINCE MY COLUMN advocating a “single-payer” national health plan ran in this space last week, I’ve received a good bit of feedback along these lines:
Dear Mr. Warthen,
I think your article is right on target and has a very good insight of the realities of the inefficient American health system. However, it is my feeling that by mentioning that [Dennis] Kucinich is the only one talking about single payer, and in the same line that he is not viable and has seen a UFO you are delegitimizing him.... If you think that this country needs a health care reform, why not throw your support to Kucinich...?
Regards, Kethrin Johnson
Then, my regular blog correspondent Doug Ross wrote:
Again, I’ll ask you to put your proverbial money where your mouth is. If you think this is an important issue, don’t endorse candidates who don’t support single payer....
I get this sort of thing a lot, and I think it’s worth pausing to address. Doug was literally right — I think a national health plan is “an important issue.” It’s not the important issue. If there were anything that I would designate as the important issue in a presidential race, it probably wouldn’t be a domestic one. And I’d rather not judge on the basis of any single issue in foreign affairs either, if I can avoid it. (We found ourselves unable to avoid it in 2004, which made for a most distasteful endorsement.)
Health care is very important; so are other things. If I chose on the basis of one issue only, I would have to endorse everybody at least once. Just off the top of my head, it might go like this:
Health care — Dennis Kucinich in a walk.
Iraq (as a military operation) —John McCain, the only guy who stood up for the “surge,” which was based on the idea that he alone had been pushing for four years, which was that Donald Rumsfeld refused to send enough troops to get the job done.
Iraq (long-term strategy) — Joe Biden, who (along with erstwhile candidate Sam Brownback), has been pushing the federalist approach of transforming the nation into three semi-autonomous political regions with only a loose Baghdad government uniting them.
Immigration — Either Sen. McCain, who took all the heat on the recent failed comprehensive reform effort, or Hillary Clinton, who refused to demagogue on the driver’s license flap.
Afghanistan — Barack Obama, who had the nerve to say he’d go after the Taliban in Pakistan if necessary.
Pakistan — Sen. Biden, for articulating the fact that we needed a Pakistan strategy, not a Pervez Musharraf strategy.
Administrative ability — Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney or Bill Richardson, the only governors.
Most likely to be the UnParty nominee — Tough call, but I see three most able to lead us out of the vicious partisanship of the past 15 years: Mr. Huckabee, who seems to have governed Arkansas pretty effectively with a Democratic majority in the legislature; Sen. Obama, who has made his desire to be the president of all Americans a centerpiece of his campaign; or Sen. McCain, who, from confirming judges to campaign finance reform to immigration to fighting the use of torture, has demonstrated his willingness and ability to work with Democrats time and again. (See my blog for my UnParty Manifesto; the address is below.)
Abortion — Either Mr. Huckabee or Sen. McCain. The Democrats walk in the door disqualifying themselves on this one (from my point of view; maybe someday a Democrat like Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania will have a shot), and none of the other leading Republicans can be trusted fully in this area.
Most likely to be the Energy Party nominee — Nobody. Sen. McCain has done some good stuff in the Senate (along with Joe Lieberman, who was my pick for the Democratic nomination four years ago), and I like some of the things Sen. Biden has said about a president’s role in leading on this critical strategic issue. But I don’t think anybody goes far enough. (You can also read about the “Energy Party” on the blog.)
Education — Ron Paul almost gets it by wanting to do away with the U.S. Department of Education; the federal government has no business trying to run our local schools. But then he blows it by wanting to give tax credits to pay people to attend private schools, which is none of the government’s business at any level.
You get the idea. You may notice that I have no scenarios in which I endorse John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Dodd or Fred Thompson. That’s not to dismiss them completely. I suppose if I dug further into all their positions I’d find some single-issue excuse to endorse each.
But that’s not how we endorse, and that’s not how voters vote (I hope). Since we can only choose one candidate, practical reality demands that we accept some compromises. The candidate you end up favoring might get just “Bs” and “Cs” on your unique grading scale in most subjects, while someone you reject might be at the top of the class on one issue, but flunk everything else.
On my own scale, for instance, Mr. Giuliani gets mostly Bs and Cs, with a couple of poor grades on personal deportment. He may not lead the class in anything that comes immediately to mind, but that doesn’t count him out entirely.
One good thing about primaries is that they force people who might otherwise surrender their thinking to a party to understand that even within a party, there can be great diversity of thought. Such choices compel us to acknowledge the necessity to compromise on some things, unless we’re fooling ourselves. For any thinking voter to find a candidate with whom he agrees on everything would a minor miracle.
Anyway, back to where we started: Rep. Kucinich gets an A-plus and a gold star on health care in my gradebook. But he flunks national defense, which is a required subject.
For my blog, go to http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/.