'The Dour and Monolithic' Have Managed to Unite the Opposition

My friend Bob Wachter MD, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, had this interesting line in his blog on KevinMD about health care reform:

"unmistakably, the mojo has shifted back to the Democrats--it is amazing how a dour and monolithic opposition can cause even Dems to unite for a common cause."

It's an important line and it got me thinking: the Democrats have presented something very far from a united front in the health care debate; factions have formed around abortion and other causes.   For people who have an interest in seeing health care reform -- imperfect as it may be -- pass, this splintering within the party has felt quite disheartening. But not anymore. Perhaps it speaks of a party that is alive and thinking and debating and not willing to toe the party line.

Reading a twitter post by Newt Gingrich (or to be fair, a retweet ) a few minutes ago that says "America's doctors DO NOT SUPPORT the healthcare reform bill," (capital letters his) it struck me how true Bob Wachter's statement is.  When the opposition is united only by its opposition, then the rhetoric becomes quite unimaginative and predictable. (And in the case of that retweet, quite inaccurate. The fact that the AMA -- traditionally opposed to just about anything I consider worth doing -- is getting behind this reform proposal speaks volumes to me.)

I have been trying to explain to my youngest why this is such an exciting moment: front line soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq take personal risks, put their lives on the line. But so few politicians put their careers on the line, even though they make decisions that have an impact on soldiers. President Obama (and to some degree every Democrat who supports this bill) is putting his political career on the line. The idea that you might do what you think is right and pay a penalty has been so foreign to politics that it surprises us when we see it. I think my son is surprised to hear all this. He assumes at 12 years of age that people, especially people we elect, go to Washington to do the right thing.

I hope the "Dour and Monolithic Opposition" will also surprise us and reveal themselves to be less dour and monolithic than we believe, and perhaps not vote as if they were a hydra with many heads but only a single word in the vocabulary: NO. Win or lose this vote, the opposition needs new thinking.

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Abraham Verghese is an author, physician and med school professor. He is the author of Cutting for Stone and his writing has appeared in many major publications. More

Abraham Verghese is a physician and writer. His third book and first novel, Cutting for Stone, was published by Knopf in 2009. He is also known for two acclaimed non-fiction works, My Own Country, which was based on his experiences working with persons living with HIV in Johnson City, Tennessee; that book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award and was made into a movie. He followed that with The Tennis Partner, also a New York Times notable book and a national bestseller. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times , The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and The Wall Street Journal as well as many medical journals. Verghese is board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and infectious diseases. He attended the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa where he earned his MFA. He currently practices and teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine where he is a tenured Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine.

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