Editor's Desk: Competing interests may foil plans for true reform

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James M. Berklan, Editor
James M. Berklan, Editor
The old wilderness story recalls the time a deadly snake falls ill and is about to die from wounds and cold. “I won't make it through the night without help,” the fading snake gasps to a mother rabbit.

“Why should a harmless rabbit help a noxious viper like you?” the mother asks. “I would be eternally grateful, and, besides, I would protect you the rest of your days,” the snake replies. Eventually, the mother rabbit huddles herself around the snake. And sure enough, the snake grows stronger and is healed, almost as if by magic.

In the morning, when both awaken, the rabbit is rather pleased with herself. The snake is smiling, too, and in a flash, it pounces and fatally bites the rabbit.

“How could you do this?” the rabbit cries in disbelief. “You were the one who lay with a snake,” the viper replies icily. “What do you expect?”

I thought of the above parable when contemplating the flurry of healthcare reform banter taking place before U.S. lawmakers' August recess.

Politics is an ugly game. That, above all, should be remembered. It is also full of snakes with competing agendas. Want to reform healthcare? Help the elderly? Sounds great, but everything comes with a price.

That's why I take one recent undercurrent in Washington with a grain of salt. The reasoning goes that lawmakers might want to pay tribute to the biggest healthcare reformer among them, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), who is apparently living out his final days with brain cancer away from Capitol Hill.

While there truly is affection on both sides of the aisle for the 77-year-old liberal, I don't think it's going to be enough to get rivals to lay down their arms in a battle over reform costs. That and the fact that fractious forces such as physicians, insurers and the pharmaceuticals industry all have rooting self-interests in tearing apart Kennedy-favored legislation.

As of this writing, the rhetoric has never been hotter for healthcare reform, especially with the Cheerleader in Chief leading reform calls. But he and Vice Cheerleader Biden have both shown themselves adept at finding convenient excuses to modify a position (think rising unemployment rates). Public approval has started to slide.

The Kennedy clan was a vital backer of Obama in the election, but realize another old adage that is apropos: Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly, the end game is near.

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