An Open Letter to Tom Daschle

Mr. Daschle, you are now exactly the wrong man for health care reform.

It is clear you will work for a solution that is a political compromise -- and now, any compromise you might attain will be lethally vulnerable. From all sides, your compromise will be attacked as the work of a man unwilling to pay his fair share of burdens he willfully imposes on others, of a man who's not even cognizant of his actions when he ducks those burdens.

To progressive Democrats, you appear as a man in denial, blissfully ignorant of the tight fiscal and legal constraints in which others live. Denial has devastated America, during the Bush Administration. You appear to be a man who hates what he preaches others to do: pay taxes, believe in government. You appear to be a man who preaches equality but cannot practice it, who is most comfortable in positions that elevate him above the shared norm.

This is fatal for the effort to educate the public about an equal-access health care system. Appearances are not truth. But every politician knows that his or her image, as well as his or her actions, can make the difference between failure and success.

If the people could vote knowledgeably on this issue, they would not vote for middle men -- insurance companies -- to gamble with our tax money and our health, selling financial "products" at a profit. We would vote to pay our doctors and nurses fairly for services rendered, and for access to preventive care and education about our own physical health, which is sorely lacking even in the 21st century. We would not vote to give shareholders the maximum possible return on their investment in health insurance companies that decide on delivery of care. But shareholder interests are the legal responsibility of any for-profit company. Few health-insurance company shareholders grasp the irony that their profitable investments will be wiped out, by the very system that created them, at the time of their physical demise.

For-profit does not belong in a taxpayer-funded health system. For-profit means cutting medical services to patients, and payments to providers, to preserve profits. It means closing the business if it can't be profitable -- leaving people and communities in the lurch. When the taxpayers mop up after such lousy investments, it is more expensive than ever, as the bail-out of our supposedly safe banks, which were hell-bent on maximizing profit to the extent of ignoring all fiscal responsibility, has shown.

Your closeness, Mr. Daschle, to the health insurance companies and their executives, suggests a willingness to add them to the taxpayers' payroll. If this position were credible for another Secretary of Health, it is unfortunately without credibility in your case. You are a delinquent taxpayer, which undermines our trust in your fiscal judgment.

I often rue that the web of justice seems to catch so many Democrats, while much more venal Republicans slip through. For whatever reason, you are caught in that web. Without a microscope, Americans can see you do not share their accountability. However deft a politician you are, they will question your health care solution, whatever it is. Your colleagues in the bubble may not see this. They will vote you in. The trouble will come later, in selling your solution to the public. The only way to avoid trouble for the Administration's health care reform effort, down the road, is to withdraw.

Since the time of Richard Nixon, there has been a strange lack of will in the media to identify the real cause for Americans' anger at politicians who fall, publicly and spectacularly. But the reason is blood, though the political "Gate" of the day may be the mechanism. It is not whether Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Iraq went badly or well -- there is usually disagreement on that question. The shame is that innocent blood was shed by this leader, and during the time of bloodshed we, the American people who are supposed to self-govern, were unable to stop it. However righteous a war or the arguments for war seemed for a time, the blood is on our hands, and an unrighteous war makes it very difficult to wash away. Your leadership in the rush to war in Iraq amplifies your tax delinquency. The doubts about the truth of the Administration's casus belli, the agenda for the New American Century, and testimony from Administration whistleblowers were all available and evident, but in your position as Democratic leadership, you failed to bring it forward. By omission and commission, you assented to pay for the war and the shedding of innocent blood. With our economy in shambles, the public discussion about your appointment doesn't center on the war, but the fact is there: you helped put blood on your hands and ours.

That your intentions are good and that you've done much good, I don't doubt. Your constituents and colleagues praise you. But you had the challenge of a very difficult and bloody time, and however innocuous you thought your failings were then - the very thing that makes people uneasy with your judgment --their revelation makes you sadly unfit for the position of high priority to which our president nominated you. He cannot withdraw his support without doing tremendous political damage to himself. It is up to you to withdraw and be rewarded with some consolation prize, which you will be, by both staunch friends and those, like me, who will applaud a long-delayed moment of grace.