Critics of President Bush often point out that he has asked very little in the way of sacrifice from most Americans during this time of war. Our troops abroad, our homeland security officials at home and the families of these brave individuals bear a huge burden while the rest of us are asked to go shopping and given tax cuts.
But whatever one’s view of Mr. Bush’s politics, it is also true that he was in part being responsive to a political environment in which shared sacrifice has gone out of style.
Something I attended last week gave me hope that this could begin to change. On Sept. 26, the Brookings Institution and St. Anselm College held an event in Manchester, N.H., focused on health care and the federal budget deficit as part of Brookings’ Opportunity 08 project.
As a policy generalist taking in the event, I was struck by the richness of the policy options presented. But even more, in keeping perhaps with the down-to-earth pragmatism and Granite State sensibilities of the people of New Hampshire, I was struck by how many of the panelists as well as audience members talked about what normal American citizens will have to do themselves. Politicians were not asked to do it all for us. Evocative of John Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” line, the participants in the event described a number of sacrifices and efforts that regular citizens needed to make.
It was also no surprise, given the star of the event. Former Sen. Warren Rudman gave opening remarks and then moderated two panels of experts from Brookings and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
The panelists included former Bush administration health official Mark McClellan, Brookings economists Belle Sawhill and Henry Aaron, political experts Tom Donilon and Shep Melnick, Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition (and Rudman’s co-author on a paper on long-term fiscal discipline that is a key part of the opportunity08.org project), as well as St. Anselm scholars Jennifer Donahue and Jennnifer Lucas.
Among the ideas that were voiced in the course of this discussion were the following. Not all panelists endorsed each and every proposal, but together they provided a rich array of options for policy-makers as well as Americans in general to consider.
So we need to build on the strengths of our current system and recognize the fact that perhaps three-fourths of our fellow citizens are already generally happy with their health plans. That means reform should preserve what already works while helping those who now lack insurance to gain access to the system.
As Senator Rudman concluded, there may be the possibility of major progress on health care legislation in 2009. If candidates are armed with ideas like the above, we could be in for a very exciting first 100 days of the new presidency, whoever wins next November.