Notes from the Perimeter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Imaginary Interview with Olympia Snowe


October 19. For those of us who care about health care reform and aren’t willing to join the frenzied anti-debate (“Read the bill! Read the bill!” I’ll read you the bill, pal), Olympia Snowe’s gutsy decision to break ranks with a party notoriously unsympathetic to independent action was inspiring. Senator Snowe didn’t endorse every aspect of the bill and expressed grave reservations about the public option (she and I differ on that one) as well as the costs (a legitimate concern but so are my insurance premiums) but at least she was willing to move the bill out of committee and on to the next step. I found myself thinking how much I admire her integrity and how I’d love to ask her some questions. So I did, even if just in my own mind.

PT: Senator Snowe, thanks for joining me in this invented conversation. In the statement you issued about your decision to vote yes to moving the Baucus bill out of committee, you said, “When history calls, history calls.” By that, did you mean that the need for health care reform has become too critical for both citizens and the economy to fall victim to partisan politics?

OS: Aye.

PT: You still maintain that the public option would disadvantage insurance companies but you insist that real and substantial changes must be made to the way insurance companies do business in order to rein in costs and eliminate abuses. Is that correct?

OS: Absolutely.

PT: May I tell you a brief story?

OS: Please.

PT: A few years ago, on vacation in Tuscany, I got into a serious motorcycle accident. I was treated at a local hospital and released with instructions to have my injuries checked in a week’s time. By then we had moved on to Rome. There I found a public clinic where my wounds were seen to, the dressings changed and I was sent on my way, all at no charge. This service is part of their national health care system. The United States is the only industrialized country without some sort of public health care option. Don’t you think this is wrong?

OS: Right.

PT: In the aftermath of your vote, I imagine you’ve had to deal with a barrage of both positive and negative feedback.

OS: Indeed.

PT: After your decision Rush Limbaugh called you a “joke” and, with regard to Maine, said, “let’s just saw the state off and let it sail out to sea.” Do you think Limbaugh represents the conservative faction of your party?

OS: Yikes!

PT: I’ve also heard unsubstantiated rumors that Representative Boehner circulated a petition on the House floor calling you “stuck up” and that Michael Steele, GOP chair, suggested that your action was the reason the Red Sox were swept by the Angels. Do you care to comment?

OS: No.

PT: My goodness, I see that I’ve done most of the imaginary talking! Can I ask that we engage in a real interview sometime in the near future? Senator? I’ll have my people call your people!

In these deeply divisive times, it’s rare to find someone of either party willing to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism in order to take a stand. I don’t agree with Senator Snowe’s position on everything but I have great admiration for this woman who clearly puts her own integrity and her duty to principle before blind adherence to ideology. Perhaps ultimately she’ll bail on health care reform if it becomes too costly or too “liberal” and that would disappoint me. But I won’t fear her caving to pressure. In standing her ground, she has given health care reform a chance and created a powerful antidote for the poison of pandering, partisanship and prevarication that currently afflicts the body politic.

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