On the Friday-morning ride to the surgery center, I shouldn't really be thinking about work. I should be relaxing, telling myself that everything's going to be just fine. Instead, I'm thinking about health-care reform.
I'm not worried about the surgery — it's minor and routine for women of my age. But I'm dreading my immersion into the American health-care system, even for a day. I know how lucky I am to be healthy, to not have to spend much time in doctors' offices. But because of my job, over the past few weeks I've been exposed to all of the toxins infecting my country and its medical system.
On August 8, I spent a sweaty Saturday morning outside a coffee shop in Lee's Summit, where hundreds of people showed up to, under the guise of opposing health-care reform, yell at Rep. Emanuel Cleaver for being a Democrat in the Obama administration. These people held up placards depicting Obama in whiteface (like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight) but denied that their signs were racist. One woman told someone standing near her, "If you like socialism, you need to go to Russia and enjoy the wonderful communistic, socialistic society. And get the hell out of my country." One of these patriots looked like a second-grade teacher, except that she hurled invectives at her congressman.
I attended Sen. Claire McCaskill's less rancorous, but still tense, August 24 town hall at UMKC. And I sat through the August 26 stop on Rep. Sam Graves' "Main Street Matters Listening Tour," where north-of-the-river Republicans gathered in the Park Hill High School gym to complain about how they're oppressed by a new, communist administration that's destroying the Constitution by forcing health care on an otherwise free people.
Meanwhile, I added up health-care campaign contributions for everyone in the metro's congressional delegation. Totals ranged from the anemic $9,500 on Cleaver's books to the astounding $525,000 — in medical-industry money alone — banked by Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In between: $11,500 for Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback (who faced no real opposition in his last election); $20,500 for Missouri Sen. Kit Bond in 2007 and 2008, though his last election was in 2004 (earlier this year, the Republican announced that he would retire rather than run again in 2010); $33,129 for Kansas Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins; $62,000 for Rep. Dennis Moore (one of the now-notorious Blue Dog Democrats supposedly stonewalling the Obama administration's reform efforts); $85,000 for Missouri Republican Graves; and $132,000 for McCaskill (who spent a lot of money from all over the country to win her fiercely contested race against Jim Talent in 2006).
I've been reporting on the topic since February, when I started driving to Topeka to reconstruct Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' troubled efforts to reform health care in Kansas. That article, The Cure From Kansas, ran on April 9, just as Sebelius was headed out the door for her job as secretary of Health and Human Services in Washington — where, apparently, she wasn't able to teach Obama anything about trying to make too many changes too fast. That story was in The Pitch's print edition, as was Carolyn Szczepanski's June 11 cover story, House of Pain, about the big babies who masquerade as members of the Missouri House of Representatives and their own "debates" about providing health care to poor people. Also running in print was David Martin's August 6 column, Sick Chamber, exposing the Chamber of Commerce's backward logic in opposing publicly provided health care.