As I write these thoughts, it’s a day or two after passage of the historic health care bill by the U.S. House. And I’m numb.

For several years, I’ve believed a national health system guaranteeing access to care was a responsibility we’d taken too long to meet. I’ve been an advocate for changes in the system to streamline access while cutting costs; seeing higher reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals while opening doors to Americans who previously could not qualify or pay for care; stopping the national premium rape at the hands of insurance companies; reducing waste and loss.

A lot of that’s going to happen now. But I’m still numb. The euphoria of achieving all this … and more … is being trumped by the accompanying disgrace in the actions and words of many members of Congress. It’s being overcome by reprehensible actions inside and outside the walls of the U.S. Capital. The joy of accomplishment is overshadowed by the arrogance and outright ignorance of men and women who should know better.

And it’s not over.

Now come expensive and likely futile court challenges to the powers of congress. At a time when all state budgets are being sliced thinner than lunch meat we will see tax dollars by the hundreds of millions spent to assure lawyers lifetime incomes while millions of non-lawyers are homeless and hungry. This is not America at it’s best.

Few people with any personal experience will disagree the system of health care access and delivery in this country needs fixing with more people included. The basic issue has only been how. Maybe this is the answer. Maybe not.

What all who watched this at times torturous process must recognize is something was needed to start the process; something had to be on the law books. There is much not to like about some of this legislation. I certainly don’t care for all of it. Some parts … especially those that were payoffs for votes … anger me most.

Still, we would go no place until there was something in law. Now we’ve got it. Imperfect; possibly still allowing wasteful programs and practices; incomplete; short of announced goals. But it should be looked at as “a work in progress” needing continual tweaking and an occasional overhaul. If there are portions that truly are not in the national interest, they should be amended. If the language to accomplish the necessary ends is not what it should be, change it. Perfecting a comprehensive law can take years.

The subject of health care is no longer in the eye of the beholder. We now have a body of law that is … and should be … perfected in line with the national consensus under which our country operates. For far too long it’s been this bill, that bill or the other. Now we have a law. Now we can examine it, perfect it, throw out what doesn’t belong and move on to other issues. We had to get to this point.

But how we got here is another matter. However you view the issue, the lies, defamatory words and charges, the shouted “baby killer” and you lie” shattering the decorum of our political structure, the tactics of distortion and obstructionism offered as discourse should offend us all.

We’ve become a coarser culture allowing words to be said without holding speakers to an accepted standard of civil responsibility. We’ve allowed disruptions to process without accountability. We’ve left unchallenged baseless accusations and lies. We’ve used the lowest common denominator when judging some candidates for public office. The events of recent months underline and confirm all of that.

No one … no one … comes out of the health care battles of recent months with accolades and honor. From the White House to Congress to the streets and back again, the cacophony has been a national embarrassment. Other nations where arguments over citizen rights and access to health care were settled long ago have watched our national battles with astonishment and disappointment. As we so often do, we washed our dirty linen in public but it was our reputation as a world leader that was, again, hung out to dry.

From here on, as this new body of law is examined and amended, we must expect … and demand … higher standards of political discourse. There is much work to do. It must be done as necessary. It must be done accurately. It must be done civilly. Those that don’t approach the task accordingly should be ignored.

It is important that it be done so. It is, after all, the work of the people.

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