Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Give Me A Lever: John Kitzhaber for HHS Secretary

I got a text message yesterday morning from a friend of mine who is as much a political junkie as I am. It said, simply, "We lost Daschle."

My heart sank. The red-bespectacled wonder had won redemption, something that comes along far too few times in American politics, only to piss it away over a car, a driver and one, admittedly galactically stupid, tax error. Daschle is one of the nation's thought leaders on health care and how to fix our broken system. In fact, he may be THE thought leader on the subject. He basically singlehandedly wrote the new President's health care policy during the campaign. If you ask people high up in the administration, they will tell you when the time came to select a health czar, the President had his man in Daschle.

Of course, he was so busy figuring out how to fix health care, he kinda sorta forgot to pay his taxes. A lot of them.


The truth is, Daschle could have weathered the storm, but - and I actually believe this when I say it - Daschle so intimately knew the fight he and the President were going to have to wage on fixing our health care system that any distraction - a la the HillaryCare debacle in 1993 - would give the entrenched interests an opportunity to distract, delay and defuse the forces of Good and defeat any bill that would move us to a progressive health system.

We need real movement on this issue and we need it today. No distractions, no sideshows, no BS. People die every day because of lack of access to health care in this country, which is a fact that drives straight through cruelty before arriving at being a sin, a stain on all of us.

So, with this early setback, where do we go from here? Why not try the Pacific Northwest?

Allow me to introduce you to Governor John Kitzhaber. I am lucky enough to have a friend and political mentor in Joe Trippi, my former boss on the Dean campaign. To Joe's credit, he has been out in front on Twitter since the Daschle retraction went down yesterday, introducing his legions of followers to the work Kitzhaber's Archimedes Project has been doing. And as I've read more about Kitzhaber, himself a medical doctor, and his project, I have been thoroughly impressed with his chops.

The Archimedes Project has been working since 2006 under three key notions on how to reshape the health care debate in this country. Instead of working to fix medicare or other barely functional existing institutions, we must ask ourselves a simple question: What would the optimal system look like that could improve population health, reduce per capita cost and improve the patient's experience regardless of their category, how care is financed, a person's age, income, race or gender? It is a more holistic look back at where we've been with health care, where we've succeeded, more notably where we have failed, and, most importantly a look forward to what American inginuity on this idea can bring us.

Kitzhaber understands, as well, that change like this does not come swiftly, but rather with the steady drumbeat of leadership and forward thinking coupled with legislative initiatives to back it up. And, more importantly, the Project understands that being a thought leader on such an important topic is great, but without the support of the grassroots, the people who will benefit directly from these ideas, the Project won't go anywhere.

John Kitzhaber is a perfect intermediary to work between the President and the Congress and the People on this issue. He and the Archimedes Project leaders understand the need to work collectively on an issue that will mean greater prosperity for us all. And, though I haven't checked his tax returns as yet, Kitzhaber showed leadership as a two-term Governor in Oregon, expanding access to health care and building economic prosperity throughout the state. I encourage you to read more about and get involved with Kitzhaber's current work with the Archimedes Project at, and join in the growing chorus of support, reminding President Obama that real change comes from the people, and that leadership on this issue means working across all boundaries to get the job done for the American people.

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