#32 – Dick Bernard: Health Care Reform ("Good Morning Vietnam")
Yesterday was spent with a group of about twenty persons. We were having our annual meeting. It could be fairly said that with very few exceptions, we all knew each other reasonably well.
Someone observing us from the outside would quickly note that we were about the same age. We would appear to be homogeneous in composition, of roughly the same economic status, all accustomed to being leaders in one context or another. And we would even agree on the major issue facing our constituency, and that issue was Health Care Reform.
Near the end of our meeting the group was presented with a proposed statement of position on Health Care Reform. The draft was very brief and general: two paragraphs, one-half page.
Rather than simply approve the draft and go home, there ensued a vigorous debate and a number of amendments to the contents of the fifteen lines of text. What two pairs of eyes had thought would be a relatively simple action statement became considerably more complicated when 20 pairs of eyes looked at the same sentences.
And we were all basically similar in our points of view on the general issue.
It took about a half hour of vigorous discussion, but finally a generally acceptable draft was approved and we went home.
It occurred to me that if our little group had so much trouble agreeing on a general framework, how much more difficult it is when the constituency is over 300 million, as is our U.S. population. Change does not come easily.
But change does happen, and that’s why the “Good Morning Vietnam” addition to the subject line of this post.
I was in the Army in 1962-63, the beginning of the Vietnam era. So I saw the entirety of the Vietnam conflict as an adult American.
Vietnam was a long, destructive, contentious and divisive war among the American people. Wounds still fester 35 years after the conflicts official end.
But there is a lesson from that era that is directly applicable to today’s debate about Healthcare reform.
Years ago, very slowly but very surely the national conversation about Vietnam changed. People can key in on different events which led to the change – there were many such events – but that part of history is less relevant than the ultimate fact that at some point a tipping point was reached, where the status quo of continuing the War became politically unacceptable, and the politicians sensed the change, and the war ended.
In my view the same general dynamic is in play today regarding health care reform. The tipping point either has or soon will be reached in the debate. Unlike the unfortunate end to the Clinton initiative in 1993-94, today’s efforts are not as clouded by public rigidity to change in the inefficient status quo. People know that something needs to be done.
But as evidenced by the debate over a small statement of position by a small organization yesterday, the process of moving from the status quo to a new standard will be extraordinarily messy, and the initial outcome will be unsatisfactory to most who will legitimately see this defect or that in the resulting creation.
The very least we can do as individuals is to make certain that our personal positions are made known to our elected leaders at state and national level. And, in addition, to enter into the debates in our organizations – as we did on Saturday afternoon – to take organizational positions on the abundant issues as well.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge the reality that this will be an extraordinarily difficult and imperfect process.
As we enter this debate, I offer my favorite song from “Good Morning Vietnam”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnRqYMTpXHc. Louis Armstrong went up against long odds. He was not a quitter.