Tuesday, December 15, 2009

$1 million vs. a free pen

Two items have grabbed me so far today: one on your favorite contemporary intellectual (and mine) Sarah Palin, and the other on the "Democratic" senator we love to hate, Joe Lieberman. The common thread is flip-flopping of opinion in favor of ideology.

An editorial in today's Washington Post by Eugene Robinson points out Palin's complete 180-degree turn in her views on climate change. Robinson writes:

Back then, Palin was the governor of a state where "coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans," as she wrote. Faced with that reality, she sensibly formed the high-level working group to chart a course of action.
This sober view from just one year ago is a complete antithesis to her most recent call in a WaPo op-ed to President Obama to boycott Copenhagen and to deny the "shoddy" science of climate change.

In a similar vein, the New York Times talks about Joe Lieberman's ardent opposition to the Medicare buy-in provision in the Senate healthcare bill, the opposition that now looks to be resulting in complete removal of this provision in order to get the bill passed. What is fascinating about his stance is that just a few years ago, as Al Gore's running mate, Lieberman had proposed exactly the Medicare expansion as the solution to our healthcare woes. In fact, the story contends that even a few months ago the Senator was in favor of this strategy.

So, what has changed for each of these politicians in just a matter of months to make them turn completely away from what they had believed? For Sarah Palin, as Robinson astutely points out, it is clearly her political base:

I predict we'll see more artful dodges of this kind from Palin. She made any number of pragmatic, reasonable, smart decisions as governor -- and now, it seems, will be obliged to renounce them all. Her tea-party legions have one answer -- a shouted "No!" -- for every question.
As for Lieberman, he has his own base to cater to. While the NYT reporter hints at the motivation, the Senator is given full credence in his denial of the accusation:
Campaign finance advocates have attacked Mr. Lieberman as “an insurance industry puppet,” suggesting that he wants to protect private health insurers from competition because he has received more than $1 million insurance company campaign contributions since 1998.
During his 2006 re-election campaign, Mr. Lieberman ranked second in the Senate in insurance industry contributions. Connecticut is a hub of the insurance business, with about 22,000 jobs specifically in health insurance, according to an industry trade group.
In the interview, Mr. Lieberman dismissed assertions that he was doing the industry’s bidding. “It’s hogwash and it’s weak,” he said, noting that he had often sided against the companies. He said he favored a proposal, not included in the health care bill, that would end the insurers’ limited exemption from federal antitrust laws.
Hogwash, really? I am not so sure that I am willing or gullible enough to dismiss $1 million in contributions as hogwash. Again I have to go back to my assertions here and here that it is incumbent upon the person taking the money to disclose any real or potential conflict of interest, and let the public decide whether or how this COI may affect one's stance.

So, is it possible that both Palin and Lieberman are just blowing with their financial winds? Well, if you think that a free pen with a drug's name can alter a physician's prescribing pattern, why is it so difficult to concede that $1 million in contributions and a strong political backing may hold some sway over our politicians?

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