Open Letter to Ben Nelson (R-NE)

(alternate working title: Why Politics Sucks Ass)

Aaaargh. Via the ever-vigilant Huffington Post, I just read something that truly fried even my jaded shorts. It’s a press release from Senator Ben Nelson’s office in Nebraska, written by a staffer named Jake Thompson, concerning the Senator’s vote on upcoming health care reform legislation.

Rather than explaining it here, I’d urge you to (if you haven’t already) watch the above video, then brace yourself and read the whole press release written by Mr. Thompson on behalf of Senator Nelson – especially the final lines. What follows is my letter to Senator Nelson.

I just got through reading the statement written on Senator Nelson’s behalf by staffer Jake Thompson, and I can only say that I hope this was nothing more than the quickly-written thoughts of a staff member who didn’t take the time to review and edit his words before releasing them to the public, instead of the carefully-considered position of the Senator himself.

I don’t have to tell you that health care reform has been pushed to the front of the nation’s legislative and policy agenda by President Obama. But in my opinion, the President’s insistence on passing a bill soon merely reflects his appreciation of the dire straits of the health care delivery system in America today. We have been talking about “doing something,” as a country, since Harry Truman was President.

That’s why it was so jarring – and frankly, unacceptable – to read Mr. Thompson’s words just now. After taking time to attack the ads being run in Nebraska regarding Senator Nelson’s health care position, Thompson closed his statement with a sentence I had to read twice before I could get myself to believe that an employee of a public servant, whose salary is paid entirely with funds collected from taxes, had written it. Thompson wrote: “If this is an indication of the politics going into August, then health care reform may be dead by the end of August.”

Really. “dead by the end of August?” What is Mr. Thompson – or Senator Nelson suggesting? That the Senator is considering casting a vote on critical pending health care legislation out of a sense of pique at the views or tactics of those whom Thompson labels “outside interest groups,” instead of based upon his own measured analysis of what would be best for the health of the residents of not only Nebraska, but all of America?

I sincerely hope this is not the case, but I find it difficult to read Thompson’s noticeably peevish statement any other way.

I hesitated to write this letter today, given Mr. Thompson’s expression of the Senator’s views about anyone who is not a resident of Nebraska as an “outside interest group.” Though I am a private citizen and not speaking on behalf of any group or organization, I do indeed reside in Georgia and not in Senator Nelson’s state. Nevertheless, I decided to write this letter anyway because – as I’m sure Senator Nelson is well aware – an issue like health care reform on the large scale that’s being proposed affects virtually every person in America; their access to care, level of care, their finances, their relationship with government…so many areas. And in that respect, though I do not live in Nebraska and am thus officially not a constituent of Senator Nelson’s, he represents me just as much as my own Senators do – and as much as he represents the people of Nebraska. With only 100 members, Senate votes on legislation can often turn on a single vote, and as such, it’s certainly possible that Senator Nelson’s decision could literally decide the course of health care reform for 300,000,000 + people for decades to come.

Although Mr. Thompson is certainly correct that none of the organizations sponsoring the advertisements in question are “Nebraska groups,” I put that phrase in quotes, because the groups are open to membership nationwide. While I have no figures on the matter, I am sure that some of their membership comes from Nebraska, even if it is a small percentage. Thompson says that Senator Nelson “has nothing but praise for Nebraska groups working toward health care reform,” but, in Thompson’s formulation, only groups who are headquartered in Nebraska and have no members who live outside the borders qualify for Senator Nelson’s “unqualified praise.” This strikes me as a bit ridiculous, considering that – as I mentioned – health care is a nationwide issue, and Senator Nelson represents part of the will of the United States as it affects not only Nebraska, but the entire country.

Furthermore, as you’re also aware, the individual featured in the ads which compelled Mr. Thompson to write his press release is indeed a citizen of Nebraska. In one sense, it matters little whether the funding for and production of the ad was in Omaha, Boise or Tokyo, considering that it featured the views of a Nebraska resident.

In the end, however, it was Mr. Thompson’s jaw-dropping final statement that gave form to what had earlier in the press release been only subtly hinted at: that Senator Nelson might consider voting AGAINST a particular piece of legislation regarding health care reform because the “outside groups” who funded and ran the ad which upset him SUPPORTED that legislation.

Please tell me that one of the hundred men and women who make up “the world’s most deliberative body” would not allow his vote on an issue so complicated and vital to virtually all Americans as health care to be decided by his desire to spite the backers of a thirty-second TV ad critical of the Senator.

I need to believe that Mr. Thompson simply chose his words poorly, and that what went well beyond implication into outright plausibility won’t be serving as the basis of Senator Nelson’s vote on this critical issue for ALL Americans – not just Nebraskans.
I look forward to your elaboration of this matter.



I don’t know – maybe it’s just me. Maybe none of you feel like this is that big a deal. But dammit, even though I know Senators and Representatives are humans just like the rest of us, and subject to the same failings, foibles, petty jealousies and the like, I still cling to my hope that the men and women dedicated and lucky enough to be chosen to shape the destiny of our country for even a short time take their responsibilities seriously enough – and, I suppose, are mature enough – to set aside their own petty wants and dislikes when it comes time to vote on crucial, far-reaching legislation. Save the petty politicking for the campaign trail. Hell, I’d go further than simply tolerating it there, I’d even argue that’s where it belongs. But, for the love of whatever things you hold holy (one of which, I’ll remind you, Senator Nelson – and all the others – is supposed to be the United States constitution), please, PLEASE dig deep and really give a vote like this the best critical judgment you can muster. I can live with the knowledge that you voted against what I as a citizen would have liked to see happen if I believe that you did your best work to arrive at a conclusion which led you to vote that way based upon the facts as you saw them and the best interests of your constituents and the nation. I can’t – I refuse to – accept the idea that you might have cast one of only a hundred critical votes on something so huge because you were pissed at Howard Dean or For fuck’s sake, man up and do the job you were elected to do.