You've heard of the Hippocratic oath -- the ethical code for doctors. Maybe it's time we consider a hypocrite's oath for politics.
Case in point: State Question 756, the proposed constitutional amendment that obstensibly would assert the state's authority to reject the new federal health care law.
Never mind the practicality of it -- more than a quarter million uninsured Oklahomans finally will get coverage -- the new law is a flashpoint among Tea Partiers foaming over alleged government intrusion and Republicans scrambling to turn anti-government zealotry into votes.
Never mind that courts long ago settled the question of whether Congress has the authority to enact such laws and states the power to nullify them.
What's especially appalling is that some of the most vocal critics of the federal health care law were among the first in line to take advantage of it.
Ironic? No -- it's bald-faced hypocrisy. And cynical: Whip the great unwashed into a lather over perceived government misdeeds, yet quietly, without fanfare, belly up to the taxpayers' trough to take advantage of the allegedly wicked law.
Two of the biggest hypocrites are in our region: The Oklahoma Publishing Co. (OPUBCO), which produces the state's largest daily newspaper, The Oklahoman, and Wichita's mega-billionaire Koch brothers.
Oklahoman editorials railed early and often against "ObamaCare," helping turn public sentiment against efforts to finally get a handle on skyrocketing health care costs that are bankrupting way too many American families.
The Kochs underwrite a bevy of right-wing anti-government groups with honorable sounding names like Americans for Prosperity that wrap a pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda in flag-waving God, motherhood and apple pie rhetoric.
OPUBCO and Koch Industries were among the first companies to sign up as participants in Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, a $5 billion program established by the new health care law to help employers and states "maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 2,000 employers, representing large and small businesses, state and local governments, educational institutions, non-profits and unions made application and have been accepted into the program and "will begin to receive reimbursements for employee claims this fall."
Moreover, at least 19 of the 22 states that are suing the federal government over health care reform have applied for the law's rate review grants. Some, such as Utah, are actively working with the federal agency to ensure the law meets their needs.
Other Oklahoma companies and groups that signed up in the first round include Advantage Health Plans Trust, ConocoPhillips, Indian Electric Cooperative Inc., OGE Energy Corp., ONEOK Inc., Pieline Industry Benefit Fund and the Williams Companies.
There's nothing wrong with taking advantage of the new health care law. It was enacted, after all, as a first effort to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs for a nation that ranks poorly in both categories when compared to the rest of the industrialized world.
But the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do approach employed by some of America's deep-pocketed, rightwing motormouths ought to give pause to many enamored of the don't-tread-on-me rhetoric. If it's good enough for The Oklahoman and Koch Industries, maybe it's not quite so evil, after all.
Taking stock of the blatant hypocrisy is especially important as the Nov. 2 mid-term elections near, given that SQ 756 is one of 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Health care is a serious issue that deserves sober long-term debate -- not snarky talk radio one-liners designed to inflame, not inform.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority estimated last spring that more than 494,000 Oklahomans -- including many children -- are without health insurance.
That means a half million of our neighbors, if not more, don't have access to preventitive care that might help avert many high-cost, often debilitating or fatal health problems. That means one in every six of our residents are left with few options but to seek help in hospital emergency rooms -- the most expensive care imagineable.
Who ends up paying for those who can't? The taxpayers and those who have health insurance -- their premiums continue to skyrocket to offset indigent costs. Yet under the new federal health care law, state officials estimate 250,000 uninsured Oklahomans will get coverage by 2014 and the $1 billion annual tab for non-paying patients will be cut in half.
Among the chief complaints of critics -- yes, even those hypocrites who've signed up to take advantage of the very plan they're attacking -- is that the big, bad federal government is mandating that people buy health insurance. Mandating! Oh, the humanity!
I don't hear those same people complaining that government -- which is us, after all -- requires that drivers purchase at least liability insurance. It's designed to protect others on the road from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The health insurance program is no different -- the more people are insured, the less cost to everyone else.
If you read The Oklahoman's editorials or listen to Sen. Tom Coburn's rants, you'd think the world is coming to an end. The same, recycled malarkey that followed the creation of Medicare in Lyndon Johnson's day.
Now, you see Tea Party members at rallies holding signs that declare: Keep the government's hands off my Medicare! Irony, lost?
The conventional wisdom among political experts is that SQ 756 will be approved by the voters. But in the end, unless an activist Supreme Court breaks with a century of legal precedent, the state constitutional amendment will end up being so much hot air -- a way to register discontent or stick a thumb in Uncle Sam's eye, especially Fox News' axis of evil: Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
And yet again, Oklahoma voters will face the unappetizing realization that they've been hoodwinked by the inflammatory rhetoric of deep-pocketed rightwingers like OPUBCO and the Koch Brothers who talk out of both sides of their mouths.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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