January 8, 2014

The uncommonwealth address

While most men his age are enervated — retired or soon to slow down — Steve Beshear is invigorated. The governor always gets 15 seconds of network fame in the Winner’s Circle after the Kentucky Derby. But this silver stallion became a sought-after spokesman for Obamacare last October, when kynect.ky.gov gained national prominence as one of the most celebrated online state health insurance exchanges.

Beshear seized the spotlight, promoting Kentucky’s user-friendly website in interviews with NPR, NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “The CBS Evening News.” He was called a rock star, a poster governor and a media magnet. Kentuckians were proud of their leader, a corporate lawyer and former attorney general who’s always been smart and articulate. The polished Democrat is just as comfortable in his own skin as when he’s crawling up the spine of an opponent. So he could hardly resist a role in an epic American melodrama in which grown men shriek about train wrecks and babble they should shut down the government and waste billions of dollars to save billions of dollars. And a hysterical fool in a suit and tie rises from a fainting couch to read Dr. Seuss on C-SPAN.

At the height of the histrionics over a broken website that’s going to be fixed, Beshear said, “Folks just need to chill out and take a deep breath.” Of course he was talking about the governor of Ohio, who was sitting right next to him and foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog — because his constituents can’t buy “socialist” insurance?

I’m sooo sure. I’m so sure I would have clobbered him on national television — right there in front of David Gregory. Why do people make me kick their asses? I want to be a seasoned, savvy fox like Steve Beshear. I wonder who he sees for anger management; it’s just not working for me.

We all enjoy seeing performers on a roll. So it’s nice to see Pappy Van Twinkle cast in a role he’s uniquely qualified to own. The entirety of his life experience prepared him to be the chief executive advocate for affordable, universal health care. Likewise with Congressman John Yarmuth, who was once my boss — the day he wasn’t golfing.

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence that John, Pappy B. and I are all Democrats. At this stage of the game — the apex — we’re looking to our legacies. So maybe it’s existential altruism. I’m sure plenty of Republicans agree that it’s inhumane to let people die for lack of access to health care. I never bought into the myth that the Republican plan was “If you get sick, die quick, ’cuz you can’t afford to dissipate.” That’s insulting. The GOP didn’t have a plan. Affordable care and patient protection certainly aren’t priorities for the McConstipator.

With the holiday hangovers behind us, now is the appropriate time to urge my fellow citizens to celebrate and savor this momentous occasion. This legislation will prevent countless deaths and prolong countless lives each year. Affordability is accessibility. Diagnosis and treatment will be sought sooner and more often. People won’t sacrifice health to save their homes. Personal bankruptcies will decline dramatically. Millions of new policyholders won’t fear losing precious life, savings and property.

Instead of seeing dead people, I hear heartwarming stories of a happier, healthier America. Not too long ago, the law denied insurance companies the cruel luxury of refusing coverage to citizens afflicted with preexisting conditions.

When someone is beyond help or seeks it belatedly, that’s a tragedy. When greed puts survival out of reach, that’s an abomination.

No pervasive, magnificent transition in health care happens smoothly. Nobody pretended it would, and there will be more glitches. The opponents remain incorrigibly vested in the death of this law. It’s politically unaffordable for them to let it survive and thrive.

I believe the Affordable Care Act will live long and strong. For the minority whose premiums increase, l ask that you delight in the greater good of your sacrifice.

It was something of a milestone in Gettysburg 150 years ago last December. Lincoln reminded the young nation of slavery’s assault on “the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Likewise, Obamacare affirms our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” For those who would argue that liberty invalidates the individual mandate, I would counter that life precedes liberty for a reason. In other words, public health transcends selfishness.