NASHVILLE — Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama offered radically different responses to what was arguably the best question asked so far in any of this year’s debates.
Addressing Obama, a woman in the studio audience at the second presidential debate on the Nashville campus of Belmont University said, “Senator, selling health care coverage in America as the marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry.”
Then, she asked, “Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?”
Obama responded at some length, without actually answering the question.
McCain did the same.
Moderator Tom Brokaw pressed the point.
“Quick discussion: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?” said the NBC newsman. “Senator McCain?”
“I think it’s a responsibility,” responded the Republican nominee for president.
McCain then rambled through a torturous attempt at an answer, ranting about “government mandates” and griping about the requirements that would, necessarily, go with any univeral program to provide health care for all.
Brokaw then turned to Obama.
“Well, I think it should be a right for every American,” the Democrats declared. “In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.”
On a night when both candidates continued to dance around the economic crisis — more frequently pointing fingers of blame than offering programs for renewal — and when they repeated their stances on foreign policy issues involving Iraq, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the essential line of distinction was drawn by the candidates themselves on the essential issue of health care reform.
At a point in the American journey when tens of millions of Americans have no health care coverage, when tens of millions of additional Americans have insufficient coverage and when tens of millions more worry about losing not just a job but the health care benefits that go with employment, the difference between a candidate who says that health care is “a right” versus one who says that it is “a responsibility” could not be more stark.