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David Reynolds | Bridges

There is the left versus the right; liberal vs. conservative; Democrat vs. Republican; and social progress vs. individual growth. Pick any topic. Then dig into its core and you will find these fundamental differences.

A couple of other things can be found in your dig. You will know better where you stand and how to build the best bridge to the other side. That’s important because politics is all about building bridges. 

The big bridge in Washington is called the Congress, a place where our representatives come together and proudly talk about “reaching across the aisle.”

Of course you know all that. It was the big lesson we learned last week with the tributes to Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy. He was a good bridge builder because he knew where he stood. Twenty-five hundred bills bear his name. Why so many? To a great extent it was his strong belief not in what we now call liberalism, but, more specifically, a strong belief in Catholic social-economic justice.

If Mr. Kennedy had not possessed this belief he would not have been able to work so successfully with those of across the aisle. Moderates lack this ability. They lack the necessary strong anchors to bridge their differences. If opponents don’t go after each other tooth and nail, a weak compromise follows. And the dance of legislation is out of step.

The Boy Scouts of America folded their tent here because we failed to build any bridges. The loss of hosting their big show was a serious blow to those of us who believe that building bridges is far more important than shouting across canyon walls. We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and blew it. Bridge building is hard work. We were lazy.

I can’t forget last Saturday seeing all those Kennedy staffers on the Capitol steps. None were lazy. They were his legislative engineers. They drew the blueprints and worked the details. But here in Virginia we did not bother with working the details. We rejected repeated offers to be partners with the BSA in finding solutions. Which, by the way, were found, but at too high a cost to the scouting organization. So we both lost.

Our mistake was a common one. We kept insisting on perfection, swinging for the fences, forgetting that when you go for the home run you are far more likely to strike out.

And that is what is happening with the current national debate over reforming this nation’s health-care system – which, of course, is not a system at all, nor should it be. Washington is striking out in attempting to make perfect in thousand-page bills what was never meant to be perfect. But don’t tell that to the central planners who work there. Don’t tell them that we have 50 states for testing national theories. And don’t tell them that you can’t water down an entitlement once it has been given out.

Please tell me how can you build a bridge when one side knows everything, and the other side shows some humility? You can’t. Talk in incremental steps to those who know everything will get you nowhere. Arrogance breeds contempt. And contempt has no place in a democracy.

Another bridge that can’t be built is the one between life and death – the little matter of who should decide when we go. One doctor, Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., an oncologist and a bioethicist, is at the center of this debate. Dr. Emanuel is President Obama’s health advisor and brother of his chief of staff. This doctor scares me! He is attempting to redefine a physician’s duty to include working for the greater good of society instead of focusing only on a patient’s needs. Dr. Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for “overuse” of medical care. In numerous writings, he chastises physicians for thinking only about their patient’s needs. He describes the problem this way: “Reasoning based on cost has been strenuously resisted. Indeed, many physicians were willing to lie to get patients what they needed from insurance companies that were trying to hold down costs.” I sure hope so! That’s my kind of doctor. But I guess the White House wants to change my world to another world – a medical nether-world. In the process it will substitute doctors for insurance companies as its next villain.

Question: How do you build a bridge between life and death? There’s no way to compromise on these two sets of core beliefs. Not even Ted Kennedy could have pulled it off if God had given him more time in the U. S. Senate. I think God would say to Ted, “That is my job.” And Ted would agree.

 

– Column by David Reynolds


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