Government should settle for simpler alternatives

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald July 31, 2009 11:05 am

President Obama appeared on what seemed like half my channels the other evening, pitching his prescription for health care.

The president had plenty to say about the American people. Politicians have in recent years taken up the American people in a big way, and we are as a result getting quite a lot of press coverage.

The politicians’ definition of the American people seems to me one of the bolder, and least plausible, conceits our elected representatives have yet conceived.

There were at last count more than 300 million of us, which is a few too many for the degree of homogeneity that politicians imply exists. I’d wager that if, say, eight members of any typical family got together for a barbecue at least one would argue that the burgers aren’t even close to done and then drive away muttering about how if the rest of you are so eager to sample salmonella then go ahead and eat.

And all those people are related.

The president said during his press conference that “the American people need some relief.” He talked about “what we’re trying to build for the American people.”

The truth, of course, is that many American people would prefer even a nasty stomachache over a government-sponsored ulcer. And they don’t think much of the government’s carpentry, either.

I don’t doubt that the vast majority of the 47 million Americans who lack health insurance would like some. And most, I suspect, wouldn’t object to the government paying some or all of their premiums.

But millions of others are pleased with what they’ve got now (I can think of at least 535 who are, anyway), and I imagine they felt left out while they listened to the president.

I agreed, in principle, with most of what Mr. Obama said.

There is no good reason for 15 percent of Americans to go without health insurance.

A night in the hospital shouldn’t cost a middle-class American two months’ salary.

Doctors shouldn’t have to shell out the price of a new Mercedes for malpractice insurance every year.

But although I admire the president’s courage in seeking to cure an ailment that baffled his predecessors, I don’t share in his optimism that he has finally rounded government into fighting trim.

Suffice it to say that any book purporting to chronicle government profligacy would be a thick volume indeed.

A couple hours after Mr. Obama’s press conference I went for a walk. The sun had slunk behind the wall of the Elkhorns but the temperature was still in the low 80s and the still air thick and stifling.

As I walked west on Washington I noticed, parked in the Geiser Grand Hotel’s lot, a white SUV bearing the U.S. Forest Service logo.

There was a second Forest Service rig in the lot, and a Prius with state of Oregon license plates.

I don’t know what event brought the drivers of these three taxpayer-owned vehicles to Baker City.

I do know that you can conduct many sorts of business by computer or telephone, both of which devices the government faithfully provides its employees, along with hybrid cars.

And although I think the Geiser Grand is a landmark, and a source of great pride for Baker City, I’m pretty sure that travelers can find cheaper accommodations.

This is, I admit, a minor matter — three hotel rooms compared with the federal government insinuating itself even more intimately into the healthcare industry, which constitutes one-sixth of our country’s economy.

I worry, though, that hotel rooms and four-wheel drives and buying hybrids even when cars are available that cost half as much but sip gas almost as frugally represent, as it were, microscopic particles of virus which, when multiplied by their millions, result in a patient running a high fever.

Perhaps this president is the one who finally demands that the government forego the suite and the dual-zone climate control and settle for the plain, but acceptable, alternatives.

I, as a member of the American people, wish him well.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.