Schwarzwalder: Health Care Summit — Republicans, Beware

Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:43am

Bipartisanship is a good thing if it emerges from principled compromise. Yet the term can also be a rhetorical bludgeon used by those in positions of power to force their opponents to acquiesce.

[IMGCAP(1)]As one who has been on Capitol Hill many times when this good word has been tossed about, I have witnessed firsthand how “bipartisanship” generally means, “My side wins, yours loses.”

So, as conservatives anticipate the much-heralded health care encounter at the Blair House between President Barack Obama and Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, they should keep in mind four guidelines to emerge successfully in the eyes of the public, which knows the difference between political theater and real working partnerships:

1. Conservatives should not even inferentially accept the propositions that health care reform must be systemic or run by the federal government.

These arguments — that wholesale reform is necessary and that Uncle Sam should be in charge of it — are at the core of conservatives’ dispute with the president and his party. The Republican Party’s historic understanding of our system of representative self-government asserts that targeted and incremental changes in public policy work best, that they must comport with the text of the Constitution and that any concentration of unconstitutional power in the hands of the centralized state is dangerous to liberty and the rule of law.

The Constitution gives to the federal government no authority to manage our system of medical insurance or the means of health care delivery. Conservatives have long championed the cause of original intent and inherent textual meaning. Let us not surrender this conviction now.

Additionally, the left believes in the efficacy, compassion, wisdom and potency of the federal government. Conservatives, with their belief that man is a noble but fallen being and that when endowed with too much power will do unwise and wrongful things, do not. There’s no real middle ground, and conservative Republicans must be very careful not to endorse, by silent acquiescence or active participation, the premises of President Obama’s proposal.

2. Federal funding of abortion is the massive rock on which the Democratic leadership’s plans have foundered.

We forget or diminish this fact not just to our political peril but, much more importantly, to the peril of our country. This issue, if it is neglected, will send a terrible signal to our fellow citizens. Conservatives oppose the Democratic leadership’s proposal not just for fiscal or philosophical reasons, as noted above, but supremely because they would advance the destruction of preborn life. For the sake of our creator, in whose image the little ones in the womb are made, conservatives must not forget this.

3. Any forum where President Obama presides is politically dangerous for Republicans.

He can be very appealing and the status of his office places everyone else at a disadvantage. This will be a battle of perception as much as fact: Conservatives can beat him on points but still lose the contest for “hearts and minds” if they appear either crabby, on the one hand, or cowed on the other. Unflappable pleasantness, quiet confidence and firm and easily understood statements of why they disagree with the president and his party are imperative.

4. Americans believe intuitively and by virtue of their personal experience in the efficiency and productivity of private sector innovation, market-driven reforms and consumer-based health care decisions.

Greater access to affordable insurance programs, streamlining the vast medical bureaucracy and ensuring that patients retain control of the kind of care they receive are outcomes best achieved when private sector reforms join with targeted government inputs (example: state-based litigation reform). Conservative must be well-prepared with respect to our factual information, but they should continually emphasize their core conviction that it’s the market, not politicians and bureaucrats, that offers the best solutions.

The health plan put forward by President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is an unconstitutional behemoth that must be jettisoned. It’s time to start over and adhere to time-tested American convictions: The Constitution matters, market-based changes work, big government is dangerous and inefficient — and the bedrock belief in the right to life is something that must never be bartered away.

Republicans will lose, and deserve to lose, if they ignore these beliefs. Far more importantly, so will America, for generations to come.

Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, has been chief of staff to two Members of Congress and served in the administration of former President George W. Bush.