Politicians Should Learn Bigger Lessons From Their Pet Causes


Harold Pollack highlights an excerpt from a Chicago Sun-Times interview with Sen. Mark Kirk, who suffered a stroke last year and has spent the time since in intensive rehabilitation:

“I will look much more carefully at the Illinois Medicaid program to see how my fellow citizens are being cared for who have no income and if they suffer from a stroke,” Kirk said.

He said in general a person on Medicaid would be allowed 11 rehab visits in Illinois. “Had I been limited to that I would have had no chance to recover like I did. So unlike before suffering the stroke, I’m much more focused on Medicaid and what my fellow citizens face.” [italics added.]

Harold says that this comment “commands respect,” and in one way, of course it does. But in another way, it’s one of my big bugbears. Politicians all seem to have their own pet causes, and all too often they’re related to something personal. A congressman’s wife had breast cancer, so he supports funding for breast cancer research. A senator’s kid has multiple sclerosis, so she supports MS research. A governor’s state gets hit with a hurricane, so he supports a huge federal aid bill for hurricane damage. This goes on and on and on.

But too many politicians, and this especially includes self-described fiscal conservatives, simply can’t draw the obvious conclusion from all this: namely that you shouldn’t support help for the poor and the sick and elderly only if you personally happen to know someone who’s poor or sick or elderly. All of these people exist whether or not they happen to be family members.

So I’d suggest to Kirk that he broaden his horizons. Making sure that Medicaid helps stroke victims is a great idea. But an even better idea is making sure that Medicaid also helps victims of diseases that Mark Kirk hasn’t personally confronted. Medicaid should help everyone. It’s not just a plaything for a small subset of pet causes.

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