“I’m Glad I Lost, Because I Now Know That I Was Wrong”
While watching Ken Burns’ miniseries The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I was struck by the parallels between the creation and maintenance of the National Park Service and the health care reform battles. Both have been long, long struggles, with progress coming intermittently and never easily.
Progress has required strong political leaders. I mean presidents willing to boldly act, cabinet secretaries willing to stand up for what they are called to do, and members of congress dedicated to serving not only their districts and states but the nation as a whole. Former cattle rancher, Wyoming governor, and US Senator Cliff Hanson, was one of the leading voices against the expansion of Grand Teton National Park in the 1940s. In the mid-1960s, at a luncheon in New York, he said:
I fought against the establishment of the Grand Teton National Park as hard as I could and I lost and I want you all to know that I’m glad I lost, because I now know I was wrong. Grand Teton National Park is one of the greatest natural heritages of Wyoming and the nation and one of our great assets.
I’d love to hear some of today’s opponents of health care reform say the same kind of thing in twenty years.
Progress has also required dedicated women and men in government. They are often young and always lower down in the power structure, and are people who see what needs to be done and can push their superiors to recognize it as well. People like George Melendez Wright, who died far too young.
Progress has also required people who can inspire the general public to get behind change, like the NPS rangers (the Cook family, Sheldon Johnson, and Gerard Baker, among others) as well as passionate outsiders like John Muir and Ansel Adams.
Progress has also been consistently opposed, and in retrospect, the opposition has been from those concerned with short-term profits, the lobbyists they employed, and those politicians who catered to them. When Burns highlights the secretaries of the interior who did the most to preserve, defend, and expand the parks, I couldn’t help noticing that these were generally Democrats (with Teddy Roosevelt and his administration being the notable exception).
Finally, progress has required political persistence. "It’s a marathon, not a sprint" kept going through my head watching The National Parks. For health care, the story is the same. You can go back to Teddy Roosevelt and early public health laws, to Harry Truman and his push for a more systemic approach to health care, to the Medicare and Medicaid battles of the 1960s, and to the battle being fought today.
At the end of the whole series, as I pondered these parallels to the health care battles, I am ever so grateful for those who have come before and for those taking a lead today. People like the House members who are standing up for the public option, like Jay Rockefeller in the Senate, like Jane and others pushing from outside the halls of Congress, and like the thousands who make the phone calls, send the faxes, and show up in the local offices of their Senators and Representatives.
Someday, there’s going to be a documentary about public health care in the US, and maybe Marcy’s YouTube will be featured. And we can each say "I knew her when . . ."