It’s possible that by the time I’ve finished this post that you folks will have figured out how to play well with others (a skill that most individuals learn in kindergarten, along with not running with scissors.) On the chance that you still are a bit stymied with respect to the government shutdown, however, perhaps these thoughts might help break up the legislative logjam you seem to have gotten yourselves into.
Mr. President, I would encourage you to calmly explain to the country just exactly why you believe the Affordable Care Act can’t wait a year for implementation, for I suspect that if you really wanted to do so that you could find some valid reasons. Mention the more than 47 million Americans who are presently uninsured, which doesn’t even count the elderly population. Explain that the majority of those folks are from low income families for whom insurance has simply been too expensive. And point out that even just a one year delay in the program could mean that some of those needing medical care in the next twelve months won’t get it.
In short, don’t just bristle and bow your back because you’ve been challenged, but instead appeal to our better nature, Mr. President, and remind us that the measure of any society’s greatness is in how it looks out after those who are on the fringes of life, especially children who make up 27% of the uninsured. Help us to remember that America has always been a compassionate nation and this act simply exemplifies that idea. For though the law did pass, you still have a majority of your citizens who have come to believe that it is a bad one, so your work is not yet done in that regard.
On the other hand, Mr. Speaker, make your case more strongly than ever that there are serious flaws in the program hidden in the host of regulations and rules that only a handful of people have probably ever read. Put the economic analyses out there, side by side, with those of your opponents, and show how this law may actually backfire and end up costing folks more. And then if you believe that the ACA is simply too flawed to fix, give us something better to replace it with, for the American people may be distracted but they are not dumb. Point out that for almost every other consumer need in this country that we rely upon the private sector, and that the government’s track record in managing huge programs is not all that good. Do your very best to win the argument in the chambers of public opinion, thus, even if you can’t quite do so in the chamber across the rotunda from you right now.
And you who serves as the Majority Leader of the Senate, perhaps you can find a way to hold firm to your own beliefs without having to utterly destroy and denigrate those who may disagree with you. Calling your fellow legislators “anarchists,” for instance, would hardly seem to be a helpful way to advance the dialogue. No doubt emotions have been running high on both sides of the aisle, but if you really want to lead you can’t simply do so with majority manipulation or legislative legerdemain. Remember that ultimately all authority is moral authority, and so try at least a little harder to hit the high road rather than drag your colleagues with you down into the fray.
In short, what the country is expecting from each of you during this time is that you put aside your own ambitions (whatever they might be), bury your pride (wounded or otherwise) and remember that those on the other side of the aisle may love this country just as much as each of you do. And in that respect, perhaps some words spoken long ago by a chaplain of the United States Senate might be helpful. For in his prayer “To Change the Spiritual Climate of the World,” Peter Marshall once asked simply to be made an instrument to alleviate “the pain and heartaches, the tears and sorrow, and the greed and cruelty that had been unloosed” around the world.
He prayed that God would allow him to do so by “returning good for evil, returning soft answers for sharp criticisms, being polite when I receive rudeness, being understanding when I am confronted by ignorance and stupidity,” so that in gentleness and love he might “check the hasty answer, choke back the unkind retort, and thus short-circuit some of the bitterness and unkindness” that has overflowed God’s creation.
I know it may seem like an intractable problem at present, the embodiment indeed of an immovable force which has met an irresistible object. But it’s not impossible. Indeed, the prayer of that chaplain offered in those Senate chambers on April 7, 1948, is worth repeating even today:
“O God, our Father, history and experience have given us so many evidences of Thy guidance to nations and to individuals that we should not doubt Thy power or Thy willingness to direct us. Give us the faith to believe that when God wants to do or not do any particular thing, God finds a way of letting us know it.”
Here’s hoping that all of you–and all of us, for that matter–may be listening.