(CNN) — There is a phrase that has long been used in certain big-city political circles.
It has always been said with an implied — and sometimes literal — sneer:
“They think it’s on the legit.”
It refers to people who are trusting by nature — occasionally novice political adversaries, often the general public — and who make the mistake of actually believing a proposal that is being presented to them. People who, hearing a promise, take it on faith.
“They think it’s on the legit.”
This is Thanksgiving week. For all the heated talk about, and blame-placing over, the deeply troubled federal health care initiative — for those who blame President Barack Obama and the Democrats for the screwed-up rollout, for those who blame the Republicans for their longstanding opposition to the White House plan and their determination to combat it at every turn, for those who are furious that the early pledge about being able to keep current insurance was not real, for those who take delight that the website has been a disaster because it makes one side come off as incompetent — this may be a good moment to step back and think, with real-life compassion, about what sometimes gets lost in the partisan back-and-forth.
To think about the people who don’t care much about Beltway haggling, but who desperately need dependable health care for their families, and who were hoping against hope that readily available medical care was at last going to be theirs. The people who heard the promises.
They thought it was on the legit.
At base, this isn’t — or should not be — a matter of politics, of Washington winners and losers. The families to whom reliable health care has been an unattainable dream don’t care which party finds a way to that health care for them. And both parties, at least in their public statements, agree that while they might not concur at all on the method of getting there, they concur on the goal. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida: “As policymakers, we must focus on making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans.”
Let the ideologues on both ends of the right-left continuum make a game of this, if they wish. But do you think, when a person with a sick child finds a doctor who will help and who will bring peace of mind, the parent cares whether the physician is a Republican or a Democrat? The same goes for how a person in such need would feel about a member of Congress who helped him or her find a path to decent care.
For those among us fortunate enough to have doctors we can go to, and the means to pay for them, this Thanksgiving week is a time to remind ourselves how grateful we should feel to be in such a position. Because it is only when you’re not in that position — when you are sick and have nowhere to turn, or, worse, when it is your son or daughter who is sick and you have to explain that you have nowhere to turn — that you fully understand the fear and helplessness that kicks in in the middle of the night.
Come October 1, the people who yearned for a way to take care of their families’ health were told, such a way will be yours.
Well-to-do people are always going to have more options for finding the best health care for their families. That is a fact of life.
But — and here is where political leaders of both parties, whatever their differences, should find common ground — access to health care shouldn’t be a luxury. Health care is not a Mercedes, or a mansion on a hill. A family should not be deprived of it merely because they lack wealth, or have lost employment. Republicans and Democrats, Americans all, should acknowledge that health care is not a diamond bracelet to be gazed at with longing through a store window.
It’s time to cool down the rhetoric and the finger-pointing. Before we get any deeper into the recriminations about rollouts and delays and extensions and penalties and startovers and repeals, we might want to pause, this Thanksgiving week, to put ourselves in the shoes of the people to whom the promise was profound and real.
There but for the grace. . . .
The people who need health care and who wait for this mess to be cleaned up are the people who have always been asked to wait. They will wait again, because they have little choice.
For the rest of us, perhaps this is a week not only for prayers of thanksgiving for what we have, but also a week for thoughts of those families who believed it when they were told that things were going to change for the better.
Who thought it was on the legit.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene
Editor’s note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include “Late Edition: A Love Story”; “Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War”; and “Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen.”