Now, it’s no secret that I’ve really warmed to Ben Ponder these last few weeks. He impressed me. He still does in many ways. We were beginning, here at Blue Arkansas, to discuss making an endorsement. But this is just too big an issue to just say we simply disagree and while I can’t speak for the rest of the Blue Arkansas frontpagers, I think I know them well enough to know this is as much a deal killer with them as it is with me. This is, frankly, a disappointment that can’t be shaken.
Let’s go through it, piece by piece.
First, it’s important to note that this video was taken before the health care reform vote. The first thing out of Ben’s mouth is a little joke about how there would be a vote, “or not vote”, on that Sunday. First, we all know there was a vote, and we, along with the folks at Talking Points Memo, have hashed all this out and how it was done. Here, Ben was spreading misinformation on how Congress was going to proceed at a time when that was THE LAST THING Democrats needed. Now, that could be just an honest mistake. I could accept that explanation. But to then say he was against Reconciliation to pass the bill, or, in reality, the bill’s fixer upper, when we literally had NO OTHER OPTIONS, that’s bad form. A lot was riding on that vote-including the election here in AR-01. Had health care reform died in Congress, there’d have been a lot of Democratic voters deciding that there was no reason to turn out to vote…yes even in Arkansas. Besides that, after all we went through with this and all the fighting we’ve done against Blanche Lincoln, Marion Berry, and Mike Ross, I’m not interested in supporting someone who’s vote would have gone right along with them, regardless of the reasoning behind it.
Now, the most maddening thing about this whole video is that Ben makes clear that to a great extent he understands the problem. He says himself there’s no excuse for us not to have the best health care system in the world and acknowledges that we don’t have that, but from there it kind of falls apart. Now let me be clear. I love his idea for making all health insurance companies work as non-profit cooperatives. It’s a great idea and one that would work as a great fixer upper to the system going into place under the new law. What’s more, he is absolutely 100% right about the negative aspects of the insurance mandate when he talks about how it’s going to make us all part of a captive market. But then he strikes out. First he knocks single-payer (nationalization as he refers to it) and then, in the same breath, says he’s against a public option/medicare expansion, without laying out any reasons why. We’ve been over this time and time again here, most notably in my interview with Wendell Potter, and the public option is the best way to insure competition in the current system. Now, to be fair, Ponder’s proposal on shifting to a non profit model for insurance companies might be an excellent substitute. But there’s no guarantee he’ll get that, and I want assurances that he won’t make what he sees as the perfect the enemy of the good.
The points Ben makes about preventive care and improving face time with primary care physicians are spot on. And I’m not opposed to health savings accounts if they’re part of a broader package. But the way he talks about encouraging ownership of health (which I’ve heard him say before, but never quite like this) and people using the emergency room for primary care sounds almost callous. These folks haven’t been lolly gagging into ER’s because they don’t take their health or the cost of health care seriously. They’ve been having to do that because they couldn’t afford to do it any other way or get the insurance that would enable them to actually take care of their health care needs before they had to go to an emergency room, all of which is addressed by the law that Ponder says he would have opposed, the law he says we asked the wrong questions to reach. The whole illogical circle is just plain maddening. And speaking as someone who, out of college, had no insurance (still don’t) and had to pay bills from two ER trips when I should have gone to a clinic if I could have…trust me, no one else pays. It took me a long time to pay those bills off so that they wouldn’t hurt my credit, and that was after I finally found a job and after a lot of nail biting over what my financial future held.
It’s always the person you like to ends up disappointing you the most. This isn’t just another issue. This is THE issue that spawned Blue Arkansas back when I was so frustrated over the actions of Blanche Lincoln and Mike Ross on health care reform. This is the issue that we lobbied Congress over, that we worked to primary a U.S. Senator over, that we fought so hard for, that we got emotionally invested in as we digested the stories of the people whose very lives were hanging in the balance. There is no way we, or at least I, can look the other way on this and agree to disagree, even when we were so, so close to getting in behind Ponder full force. The worst thing about it is that Ben has excellent positions on education, the economy, and campaign finance reform, and is at least tolerant towards LGBT people enough that his other social conservative positions become tolerable. But this is the big one, and none of us can rightly harp on Lincoln, Ross, Berry, Wills, and Causey while hyping someone who’s position is essentially the same for different reasons.
So what do we do now? I don’t know. I personally am wondering if David Cook is worth looking into. I could still buckled down and vote for Ben-I do like the guy a lot and he does still impress me, but after this it will be a hard, bitter pill to swallow unless he can somehow mend the fence on this one. An endorsement is out of the question now at this stage. It’s a shame, Ponder was surging up to this point, mostly I think due to progressives disenchanted with Chad Causey, and both jsamuel and I were praising him for his leadership on the debates. This, unless he can pull off some sort of miracle, breaks that momentum.
Between this and Obama’s offshore drilling announcement and the administration’s move away from cap and trade, this has been a disappointing day in a lot of ways.
Oh, and one last thing. About that tort reform-if a doctor operates on me and leaves a sponge in my kidney, I want to see him filing for bankruptcy afterwards. That’s all I’ll say on that.
Update: It didn’t take long for Ben to get back with me directly with an email. We had a little chat about health care and he says he plans to do a broader speech discussing the issue. I’m hoping he’ll at least express a willingness to support a public option if he can’t get his cooperatives proposal (which I again have to say that I like) passed. If he’s willing to recognize the good parts of the new law, express some openness on how to make it better, and doesn’t sign on to any repeal effort, I think I’d be willing to try to break bread over that.