Panel Nerds: Tom Daschle Introduces Civility to the Health Care Debate


panelnerds-i-disagree-sir1Who: Tom Daschle in conversation with Bob Kerrey

What: The New School’s President’s Forum: An Evening with Senator Tom Daschle

Where: The New School

When: September 16, 2009

Thumbs: Up

If you talk for any period of time with a politician, they say you’ll walk away thinking he or she shared a lot only to find, in hindsight, that you don’t recall him or her saying much at all. That’s twice as true when you listen for 90 minutes to a politician explaining, analyzing and speculating about the complicated subject of health care.

Through writing about health care and speaking about it at town halls this summer, Daschle reached the conclusion that the public option, in some form, is inevitable. His argument hinges on the failures and pitfalls incremental health care reform has produced over the past decade. A sweeping, comprehensive change, Daschle argued, is the only way left to go.

To make his points stronger, Daschle fervently cited statistics to back up his beliefs and claims. These statistics sounded impressive and convincing. In response to Daschle’s umpteenth statistical example, though, Kerrey quoted Larry the Cable Guy (of all people) that 71.2 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

Daschle was not only vocal about health care itself, he focused also on health care coverage. Daschle said that media irresponsibility turns up during controversial eras. It turned up at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam era, and during the war in Iraq. Public policy debates breed misinformation and hyperbole.

Daschle shares the dissatisfaction that many Americans feel about how talk shows and newspapers have covered health care. He said that at one town hall meeting this summer he found people to be both rational and respectful. Yet the local newspaper the next day ran images from protesters outside the building, barely touching on the substance of the meeting in the story. The town halls were intended to drive public opinion in the direction of support, but wound up proving to be destructive.

It’s the confusion over the issue that makes health care so hard to understand, Daschle said. He did an incredible job outlining and identifying risk pools, the trigger option and more, putting it all in language for the layman. We may not actually have learned more about health care, but we do know that people would feel more confident if they heard more often from Tom Daschle.

What They Said

“We ask the generals ‘What do you think works in Afghanistan?’ but nobody thinks to ask the doctors what works in hospitals.’”

– Tom Daschle hopes to make doctors advocates, not adversarial

“I live in Greenwich Village now. The longer I live here the more left-wing I get on health care.”

– Bob Kerrey’s nightlife experience in the West Village might be atypical

“Starbucks spends more on health care than they do on coffee.”

– In one swoop, Tom Daschle explains what’s wrong with health care and Starbucks coffee

“God, I wish you were HHS Secretary.”

– Bob Kerrey presents the most awkward moment of the night

What We Thought

  • Before serving as president of the New School, Bob Kerrey was a senator and a governor of Nebraska. Kerrey recalled experiences he had, shared stories about dealing with constituents, and expressed frustrations that ultimately led him away from government service. While he acknowledged that the health care discussion eludes him at times, Kerrey brought an “insider” perspective to the talk. Still, he made sure to assume the role of a concerned citizen with a heap of questions.
  • Daschle spent an astounding 40 minutes fielding questions. He began most of his responses addressing the crowd with phrases like “That’s a great question.” Daschle seemed to recognize that civility and congeniality were things that had been lost during ongoing health care debate. It was nice to see those qualities restored to the debate.
  • We appreciated that Daschle left the panel listing some helpful web sites people can visit in order to answer whatever questions remain about health care. They are, Kaiser, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund.


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Panel Nerds Etan Bednarsh and Danny Groner are New York-based writers and avid panel-goers. Want them at your panel? Email them here:

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