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Healthcare: 2009's Political Super Bowl

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The arrival of football season is a reminder that the debate over healthcare reform is actually a perverse sporting event. Conservative columnist George Will observed,"Football combines the two worst features of American life: violence and committee meetings."Certainly, the healthcare debate involves violence and many, many committee meetings.

There are obvious parallels between the sport of football and the pursuit of healthcare reform. Advocates take them both very seriously."Football isn't a matter of life or death; it's much more important than that,"said a famous coach. And impartial observers suggest that an obsession with healthcare reform or football impairs one's mental faculties:"Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead,"Erma Brombeck declared.

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Both "games" feature two teams. Healthcare reform involves Democrats, the "Blues", versus Republicans, the "Reds". Each team has a leader, the quarterback. The Democratic quarterback is Barack Obama, whom many say waits too long to throw the ball and therefore is susceptible to being sacked. The Republicans are mired in a quarterback controversy; it's not clear who runs their offense - some say it is Rush Limbaugh who isn't an official team member - or even if they have an offense. As a result, the competition between the Blues and the Reds takes a classic form: offense versus defense.

The Obama-led blues feature a ball-control offense,three yards and a cloud of dust, that many observers find boring. They want Obama to speed up the game, go into the hurry-up offense. The fact that he won't suggests to some that Obama isn't giving 110 percent.

On the other hand, because they have no offense, Republicans rely solely on their bend not break defense. They live by the maxim,"we have to take it one game at a time," and are putting everything on the line. They have a poor team and a sorry record, but if the Reds win the big one on healthcare reform, they believe this will turn their fortunes around. Healthcare is the Republican's Super Bowl.

It's clear that these two teams don't like each other. So far, Republicans appear to have an advantage because they are the hungrier team. Nonetheless, the score is 0-0 and either the Blues or the Reds could yet emerge the winner. In September, when the teams emerge from the locker room for the second half of the game, here's what to look for.

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If they are to prevail, Republicans have to:
(1)Bet their whole season on this one game. For the Reds,there is no tomorrow. Their entire season - more importantly the 2010 season with mid-term elections - is riding on healthcare.
(2) Deny Democrats a victory. If no healthcare legislation is passed, Republicans live to play another day- they can claim they "saved" America by stopping the Democrats.
(3)Play with reckless abandon, pull out all the stops, go out there and play smash-mouth football. The Reds have to get after the quarterback(Obama) and force him to make mistakes.
(4) Foster a win at all costs mentality. The outcome will depend upon which team wants to win it more. In order to prevail, there can be no quit in the Republican team; they must leave nothing on the field.

In order to thwart the Republican kamikaze tactics, Democrats have to:
(1)Get back to basics. In football, this is blocking and tackling. In the pursuit of healthcare reform the Blues have to return to common-sense politics: speak with a unified message - tell Americans what they are for rather than counter the whoppers told by Republicans - and provide concrete examples of how healthcare reform will benefit average Americans.
(2)Play a full 60 minutes. The game isn't over until the fat lady sings. The healthcare debate will go on for at least another month and won't be over until there is a decisive vote in the Senate. That means that Democrats have to show up every day and dominate the line of scrimmage.
(3)Take what they give you. The Reds have no offense. The Blues have to play ball-control offense, establish their running game, and pound it out on the ground. Democrats can wear down Republicans by emphasizing what most Americans know to be true: healthcare is a national problem that must be fixed. Democrats must push the obvious advantages of their plan for each segment of American society: individuals and businesses; young and old; rich and poor...
(4)Play like a team. Democrats have superior personnel, but they have to keep them in line,get their minds in the game, and play like a well-oiled machine.

The Healthcare Bowl isn't going to be played by the Marquess of Queensberry rules:"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."To score the winning touchdown, Democrats should take the gloves off and slug it out in the trenches. They must heed the adage"when the going gets tough, the tough get going."

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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