Avoiding political flu

When it comes to the flu, health officials strongly recommend that three groups be vaccinated. First, children — with weaker immune systems and less knowledge about the spread of germs — are vulnerable. So too are college students, who should know what it takes to stay healthy, but often live in crowded quarters — where hygiene and clean living often come second to the communal consumption of food, drink and late-night celebration. Third, pregnant women — who often shun medication out of fear of side-effects for their unborn babies — are four times more likely to be hospitalized by H1N1 than those who aren’t expecting.

ADVERTISEMENT
In Congress, the first principle is self-preservation. If there were a political offshoot of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials might offer undecided lawmakers in three groups the following advice. Vote to fix healthcare; it’s the prudent thing to do. They would target three at-risk groups.

First, freshmen — whose political vulnerability stems from lower name identification, weaker fundraising networks and fewer legislative achievements. After a national mandate for change in 2008, many freshmen will be judged by whether they helped make good on that promise, or chose Washington’s business-as-usual instead. Supporting reform is a security blanket.

Second, Republicans representing states or districts President Barack Obama carried. Many won election by emphasizing their ability to cross party lines and get things done. For these Republicans, a vote for health reform could inoculate them from charges that they’ve been infected by pressure from the do-nothing national GOP and the health insurance lobby.

Finally, Blue Dog Democrats. These lawmakers are accustomed to going against the national Democratic grain, as voters back home tend to be resistant to federal legislative action.

This week, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona tried to define his opposition to health reform in those terms, blasting the Senate Finance Committee legislation as “a tangled web of federally dictated insurance regulations.”

But Blue Dogs, take note: Health insurance reform is no ordinary set of federal rules.

For Kyl, it may be philosophically objectionable to require insurance companies to cover preventive care and pre-existing conditions; to place a limit on out-of-pocket costs; and to eliminate annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

But for many Americans represented by Blue Dogs, keeping insurance companies honest isn’t merely acceptable. It is real change to a broken system that’s long overdue. In a poll conducted last month by Anzalone-Liszt Research in 52 Blue Dog districts, 55 percent of respondents supported major reform or a complete overhaul of the healthcare system. Over 60 percent were concerned that Congress would fail to pass reform this year.

And there’s no more reliable prognosis for a party’s midterm prospects than its president’s approval rating — which is bound to be tied to the success of health reform.

For the fall season, the bottom line is this: Whether you’re an American at risk for the flu or a politician at risk of losing your seat, you simply cannot afford to do nothing.

Roll up your sleeves and get it done.

Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the political consulting firm founded by David Axelrod in 1985. He served as media adviser and admaker for Obama for America and Obama-Biden 2008.