Tina Millette waltzed into Democratic Council Member Gavin Kane’s office, as usual, without knocking. “There’s an item in the Gazette about Max Morano’s mother having gone through a successful course of treatment for colon cancer at the Baltic Creek Hospital. Want me to send a card with your best wishes for her complete recovery?”
Gavin smiled at his chief of staff. “What would I do without you?”
“Good question. I’ll send you the link.”
Once the door closed behind her, Gavin leapt to his smartphone and typed out the tweet that had come immediately to mind. “Republican Max Morano saves his mother. Kills healthcare for everyone else.”
* * *
When Max Morano’s chief of staff, Irma Jansen, opened the door to his office, she found him staring at his smartphone.
He looked more subdued than angry when he said, “That bean pole Gavin Kane has gone from the gutter to the sewer with this one.”
She’d also seen the tweet. “Funny thing is, this card came by messenger.” She handed it over.
“‘Best wishes for your Mom’s complete recovery’? Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.”
“He thinks politics is one thing,” she said, “people something else.”
“I still want to ruin his day.”
“You’re entitled. His tweet is bad.”
* * *
Crashing open Gavin Kane’s door, Tina Millette was incensed. “People are going to blame me for failing to stop you from committing political suicide.”
“How could they? I didn’t consult you.”
“No. You waited for me to leave before you sent out that self-destructive tweet. It’s my job to keep you from jumping off the cliff.”
“Fat Max proved what a hypocrite he is. I had to say something.”
“Something, maybe, but that?”
Gavin shrugged, putting on a display of indifference. Inside, he was churning. He couldn’t afford to alienate Tina. For all he knew, she could happily cross over to the dark side and work for Morano. On top of that, after a moment’s reflection, he knew she was right. On top of that, he was half in love with her.
“You know he’s going to respond,” she said. “Let’s hope he’s just as stupid. He always is, so why should he be different this time?”
Sure enough, when Gavin looked again at his smartphone’s screen, there was Morano’s reply.
Gavin turned the screen around for Tina.
She blew out her breath. “Thank God.”
* * *
Irma Jansen was back in Max Morano’s office. “You’re always looking for stories to back up your opposition to Obamacare. We just got an email from a radiologist who lost his job because all the city’s hospitals are combining and cutting staff everywhere.”
“They’re combining,” Max commented, “because Obamacare pays so little, they can’t stay solvent on their own.”
“And here’s an email from a physical therapist who says she had to close her practice because doctors won’t refer patients to her anymore, even though she’s so good at what she does that she has referral relationships with ten doctors that go back decades. The hospitals told them they have to send all patients to their in-house therapists.”
“What if the therapists are no good?”
“If the treatment doesn’t work after twenty visits, they can be referred outside.”
“Twenty visits! By that time, the patients will have exhausted their physical therapy allowance.”
Max turned to his smartphone.
“You’re not going to send another tweet, not after that last one, are you?”
Irma came around to take a look. “I like it.”
* * *
Gavin Kane and Tina Millette were taking a coffee break when Max Morano’s latest tweet arrived.
Gavin asked, “What’s this about radiologists being fired and physical therapists dropped?”
“Any new program as big as Obamacare—I mean the Affordable Care Act—is going to have casualties.”
“So he’s not making this up?”
“It’s one side of the picture.”
“My constituents aren’t going to like it.”
“They’ve already found out.”
“You have to balance all that against twenty million people having insurance for the first time, plus eliminating pre-existing conditions as an excuse for insurance companies not to pay claims, plus the right of parents to keep their kids on their plans.”
“I have to think how to respond to Morano’s tweet.”
“That’s good. The longer you think, the fewer the tweets.”
After Tina left, Gavin pulled out his wallet-sized electronic talking United States Constitution with the image of Lady Liberty at the top.
“Libby, are you there?” he said.
“I’m always here for you, you know that.”
He suppressed the impulse to call her a liar and, instead, said, “What can you tell me about healthcare and health insurance?”
“There’s no Constitutional right to affordable health care.”
“What about that ‘posterity’ clause you put me onto when the governor vetoed our plastic bags ban?”
“You can always argue from the Constitution. Depends on whether you can persuade enough people.”
“Why wasn’t healthcare made one of those First Amendment rights anyway?”
“The right to be bled by leeches? The right to have your leg sawn off by a barber?”
“I see your point. So if the constitution had been written today, you’d have included it?”
The device’s light dimmed.
“I’m sorry. I won’t ask you to speculate again.”
His apology went unheeded. The device stayed dark.
Thinking over how he was going to reply to Morano, he got annoyed all over again that Republicans had undermined the Affordable Care Act by calling it “Obamacare” and confusing voters. Polls showed that voters loved the ACA but hated Obamacare.
“‘No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,’” Gavin recited aloud. Substitute “Republican voters” for “the American public,” he thought, and Mencken had it right.
* * *
“Same old platitudes,” Max Morano said, dismissing Kane’s latest salvo.
Leaning back in her chair and looking unusually relaxed, Irma nodded. “Neither of you is going to change people’s minds, and those who are still somehow open-minded after all this time will make their decisions based on experience, not on what politicians tell them.”
“It boils down to this,” Max said, gearing up for yet another speech to the converted. “We can’t afford another entitlement. Entitlements are going to drag this country down. Maybe not this year or even this decade, but one day in the lives of our children.”
“Tell that to people on Social Security, Medicare, and all those other programs, big and small.”
“Can’t do that.”
“Exactly. We Republicans have been trying ever since FDR’s Social Security, and look where it’s gotten us.”
“For such cynicism,” Max said, “you’re looking mighty comfortable.”
“Cynicism relaxes,” Irma replied. “Stops me from feeling I ought to do something.”
“Of course not. You need all that negative energy to keep you going.”
“Okay, positive. What difference does it make?”
“You’re so cynical today, Irma.”
* * *
Gavin was also on his soap box. “Health care can’t be handled by the free market. Republicans know it. It’s why they tout charities because charities fill in the gaps. But that’s all charities can do, fill in gaps. They’re never a comprehensive solution, and you need a comprehensive solution if the entire population is to receive the health care that by all rights they should be entitled to.”
“I’m in the choir you’re preaching to,” Tina said, not exactly sounding tuneful.
“I stumped fat Morano. It’s been half an hour, and still he hasn’t replied.”
“Or else he feels he doesn’t need to.”
“That would mean I didn’t do a good enough job.”
“Stalemate. Neither of you can be honest.”
“I’m always honest. Despite everything the Ethics Commission has thrown at me, no one has ever proved me a liar.”
“I mean ‘honest’ in a fundamental way.”
“There you go with those polysyllables.”
“Well, ask yourself this. If we Democrats got laws passed that required polluters to clean up their messes every day, made businesses act ethically minute by minute, enforced everyone’s civil rights, how big do you think government would be?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“If you could, you’d be having nightmares. Now, put yourself in Morano’s place. His nightmare is exactly that—a sprawling government suppressing everyone’s freedom to do or say anything.”
“Which is why he drones on about small government,” Gavin said.
“Yes, he talks small government. But he promises voters they’ll keep their health insurance, that pre-existing conditions are a thing of the past, etc., etc.”
“He can’t admit the truth.”
“Just like you can’t.”
“We’re so far from giving people even minimum protections that your sprawling government nightmare is a long way off.”
“But Morano sees it as creeping up on us. Inexorably, you might say.”
“No way I’d say that. I’m not sure I could pronounce it.”
“You see my point, right?”
“No. There are still so many things to fix.”
“I agree. That’s why I work for you. It’s just that I understand where Morano’s coming from.”
“I thought you worked for me because you liked me.”
“Dream on,” she said, getting up to leave.