Sunday, August 30, 2009

Am I A Racist?

How do you answer that question?

Have been thinking a lot about it since the explosion of stories about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his home in Cambridge on July 16.

So, here's my personal data.

I grew up in Massachusetts, spent my early years in politics there, a volatile combination for developing an acute sense of ethnic, racial, and tribal identities.

My hometown, Brookline, was roughly half Jewish, a quarter Catholic (overwhelmingly Irish, some Italian), and a quarter White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (aka WASPS). I can remember well as a very young child driving with my parents in the town at night during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas and noticing "who was" and "who wasn't" by whether there was a lighted Christmas tree in the living room window. I can remember sitting with my father watching football games on tv and, as players were, being introduced asking each other whether this one or that one "might be Jewish."

I never knew a black person, except for Tom, who used to come once a week to clean our apartment (until my parents discovered that he had been raiding the liquor cabinet) and the janitor of the apartment building next door.

I went to Williams College where there were two blacks in my class, both much wealthier than me, and a dozen Jews out of a class of 250. (Surprise, surprise, two of the other 11 were assigned as my roommates.) On my first night at college, we had a party in our entry and in my beer-induced haze a I remember a fellow freshman from up state New York sitting down next to me and asking, "Are you really Jewish? The only Jew I hve ever met was a Canadian who came down to our town, opened a discount store and drove all the other stores out of business?" "Oh, that's intersting, I said."

In law school in the 1960s I decided not to spend my summer registering black voters in the South after my law school dean saw my name on the sign-up sheet and called me into his office to tell me that "it would be bad for my career."

In Brookline, after law school, I served as a tester, trying to rent apartments which had been refused to blacks to see if they had been turned down because of race. A close friend and I started a local foundation to provide initial loans and subsidies to assist blacks moving into town.

I voted for all the civil rights legislation that came before me when I was in the legislature and before that was a key staff person in the drafting of the so-called racial imbalance law which led to forced integration of the Boston schools by busing.

I took those racsim tests online, the one that came out of Project Implicit at Harvard and another by The Institute for Interracial Harmony. The former said I had a "moderate" preference for European Americans over African Americans and the latter, a much more straightforward almost self-assessment, said I was a wonderful person who loved everyone.

I have been accused in my classrooms of being sexist. And when I worked for Governor Bill Weld and fired an underperforming employee, I was accused by her and her supporters of being racist.

I am as racially and ethnically conscious a person as anyopne I know.

Am I a racist?

Are you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama has not Closed the Deal on Health Care

Sorry, but for me, Obama has not closed the deal on health care.

Real health care reform means both universal coverage and cost control. More people being covered is going to put more pressure on costs. And health care costs in the US are already way out of whack with the rest of the world.

When Obama talks about reducing costs, I feel like I am on a used car lot. As my colleague Jeff Lawrence says, "There's no such thing as a dysfunctional system because every system is perfectly aligned to produce the result it is currently getting." And the current reality is working well enough for medical malpractice lawyers, for people with private coverage (like me), for drug companies, for insurance companies, and for folks on Medicare and Medicaid. None of us well-situated folks want to take any real losses.

There's no real cost reform Obamacare.

Where is the requirement for service consolidation and elimination of overlap, where are the generic substitutes, where is the cap on malpractice suits, where is the middle class tax increase, where is the employer mandate, where is the ban on unnecessary procedures, where is the effort to shift services more toward younger people and prevention and, yes, away from people my age well into their AARP years?

Obama has not distributed enough pain to have any meaningful reform on the cost side. The evidence? There aren't enough of the right people people whining.

The protesters are middle class folks who are scared that either their coverage will go down, their costs will go up, or their taxes will rise. They have good reason to be fearful. The drug companies are all for Obamacare. That's a very bad sign.

If we are going to have universal coverage, with or without a public option, someone has to pay for it. Obama's feelgood administration is falling into the leadership failure traps of, gulp, his predecessor, failing to deliver bad news, failing to take the heat from his own constituencies, failing to try inspiring all of us to take a short-term hit for some larger, longer term goal.

Pain-free health care cost reform is an oxymoron.

Do you agree?