In the entire health care debate, among all the competing lawmakers, politicians, experts and pundits, there's just one person who has seen things from both sides of the political aisle. That is Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama, who was elected as a Democrat in 2008 and was part of the House Democratic caucus until last Dec. 22, when he switched sides to become a Republican. (Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter doesn't count, because he switched parties in April 2009, before the current health care debate got underway.)
Given Griffith's unique perspective -- he is also a doctor, with 30 years' experience as an oncologist -- perhaps he has some insight into why the White House and his former Democratic allies in Congress continue to press forward on a national health care bill despite widespread public opposition.
It's gotten personal, Griffith says. "You have personalities who have bet the farm, bet their reputations, on shoving a health care bill through the Congress. It's no longer about health care reform. It's all about ego now. The president's ego. Nancy Pelosi's ego. This is about personalities, saving face, and it has very little to do with what's good for the American people."
Conflicts driven by personal feelings can lead to self-destructive outcomes. Ask Griffith whether Speaker Pelosi, his old leader, would accept losing Democratic control of the House as the price for passing the health care bill, and he answers quickly. "Oh yeah. This is a trophy for the speaker, it's a trophy for several committee chairs, and it's a trophy for the president." It does not seem to matter that if Democrats lose the House, the speaker will no longer be speaker, the chairmen will no longer be chairmen, and the president will be significantly weakened.
As Griffith sees his former colleagues, Democratic leaders have become so consumed with the idea of achieving the historical goal of a national health care system that they are able to explain away the scores of opinion polls over the last six months that show people solidly opposed to the Democratic proposal.
The polls are wrong, they say. Or the polls are contradictory. Or the polls actually show that people love the health care plan. And even if the polls are right, and people hate the plan, real leaders don't govern by following the polls. So just pass the bill.