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One of the negative byproducts of partisan politics is that social issues often lose their poignancy. The issues that Americans care most about remain unfulfilled election promises, rather than mandates for the elected president.
The prime example is healthcare.
It is undisputed that America’s healthcare system is failing. The cost of healthcare is rising at unprecedented rates while 47 million are left uninsured. The system is inefficient. For example, preventative services such as cancer screenings saved the nation millions of dollars, yet, less than five percent of healthcare funds are allocated to preventative care.
A CNN poll revealed that excluding terrorism and the war in Iraq, healthcare and education are the most “extremely important” issues to Americans. Yet at the Republican candidate debate, former Massachusetts Governor W. Mitt Romney was the only candidate to even briefly address healthcare. Even more outrageous is that, with the exception of Romney, the other candidates hardly mention healthcare on their campaign websites, arguably the best venue to address American’s concerns.
As presidential hopefuls, candidates understandably must appeal to their party’s base. The majority of Americans are demanding universal health coverage, and the Democrats are on board. Republicans oppose socializing health care because it conflicts with their principle of small government. Since the solution to the healthcare problem does not appeal to the Republican’s base, Republican candidates choose to, at best, politically trivialize the issue, or, at worst, to completely ignore it. It is an assassination of a dire social need, and the perpetrator is partisan politics.
As CNN’s Bill Schneider points out, healthcare “could be the sleeper issue of the coming campaign.” Yet, absurdly enough, Romney’s own party has questioned his conservative principles because he provides a plan for this problem. In the Republican debates, John Harris, editor in chief of politico.com, reveals that Romney’s plan has been “criticized by conservatives as something Hillary Clinton could have devised.”
Republicans have the right, even the responsibility to criticize a plan that they see as flawed. Yet their mocking words have perverted the meaning of constructive criticism. Romney’s plan is very different from Clinton’s. His plan focuses on providing healthcare through the state without oversight from the federal government and without raising taxes. Republicans have nevertheless made healthcare a political issue by referring to it as “hillarycare”.
Partisan politics certainly benefit the country in many ways. Nonpartisan problems, however, and they beg for comparably nonpartisan answers from politicians.
In order to depoliticize social issues, such as healthcare, the Republican Party must first acknowledge those issues and then, begin developing solutions. It is not a divorce from their political beliefs, but simply a politician’s true occupation: developing creative solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.
Romney made the first move toward depoliticizing healthcare. Regardless of Romney’s plan, he allowed a social issue to briefly transcend the political spectrum. Republican candidates need to demonstrate that the Democrats are not the only ones who not only acknowledge social issues, but also announce their willingness to wrestle with solutions.
Ronald K. Kamdem ’10 is a Crimson editorial editor in Winthrop House.
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