There will always be powerful interests to oppose any national medical insurance plan. At the moment, though, it would appear that, in the United States -- in Yeats' phrase -- "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Sarah Palin claims that, "my baby with Down [sic] Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil." This from the Republican candidate for vice president of the United States?
John Boehner, the Republican House Leader claims that the plan now being crafted would make it illegal for health care workers " to provide anything less than abortion on demand." And the last week has seen the spectacle of the people's representatives being shouted down at a time honoured American political institution, the town hall meeting. The goal is not to have a public debate. It is to shut down public debate. In effect, the strategy is to defeat a plan, which is still being developed, by adopting a scorched earth policy.
Next week we are travelling with our youngest son to Washington. We've only been there once before -- eighteen years ago -- with our two older sons. But you can't go to Washington without walking down the National Mall and paying Mr. Lincoln a visit. Lincoln has been a hero of mine since I was eight years old -- when my parents, in a trip to Kentucky, took us to the log cabin where he was born. Later, of course, I discovered The Gettysburg Address. But as I have grown older, I have become convinced that Lincoln's finest speech was the one he delivered at his second inaugural. The best lines Lincoln ever wrote are the last lines of that speech:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and among all nations.
Compare those lines to Sarah Palin's or John Boehner's and you see what has become of the Republican Party. The members of that party are fond of saying that they need to return to first principles. What they really need to do is to return to their first president. His spirit lives on in the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately, it does not animate the modern Republican Party.