‘Oops’ is a word never spoken in Washington, D.C.

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 7, 2009

Picture two men leaning over the engine compartment of a pickup.

One jiggles a wire and tells the other, “Get in and see if that fixed it.”

The other does as told.

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“Well, that didn’t work. Guess we better try something else,” the tinkerer-in-chief says.

Now stop and think.

See if you can remember an instance — ever —when a government attempt to fix a problem, any problem, has failed and any official has said, “Well, that didn’t work. Guess we better try something else.”

It’s easy enough for Bubba, but elected officials, for some reason, seem absolutely incapable of admitting error.

If the stakes weren’t so high, it would be comical. These people really make it easy on political satirists. The backdrops they provide for “Saturday Night Live” skits are better than any writer could invent.

Take President Barack Obama. Every vote he cast in his short career as a Democrat elected to the Senate was against the war in Iraq. He flatly predicted the 2008 troop surge ordered by former President George W. Bush would make things worse, not better. It had no chance of helping, he said.

Obama has never retreated from that position, even now that he’s ordered the same tactic in Afghanistan.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

And the Republicans are no different.

Their challenge last week — and many felt up to it — was to explain why President Bush’s surge was wise and President Obama’s is iffy, at best.

The second week of Senate debate on a bill to reinvent how health services are delivered and paid for in America is under way. More weeks are ahead.

But to what end? There may be five senators, total, who are the least bit ambivalent on various provisions. The votes of the other 95 could have been cast last week, last year or 10 years ago. Their minds are made up. Politics first. Objectivity not to be found.

It’s maddening to listen to some of the speeches. Republicans make claims about the bill and dare Democrats to refute them. Democrats make claims about the bill and never address claims made by Republicans.

It’s like a lawyer who asks a witness, “What time did the wreck occur?,” and the witness responds, “Orange,” and the lawyer forges right ahead. Members of the jury, who really want to know what time the wreck occurred, are left dazed, confused and uninformed.

The process of changing health care delivery — something crucial to the nation as a whole and to every individual who lives — should be methodical. Everyone who wants to know what’s really going to happen should have a level of comfort in understanding the choices our elected officials are making for us.

It’s beyond ludicrous that no one really does.

If Congress and the president get it right, great.

But if they don’t, remember, there’s that looming reality. If, as the dean of Harvard Medical School said last month, the looming legislation “will markedly accelerate national health care spending rather than restraining it, and do little or nothing to improve quality or change health care’s dysfunctional delivery system,” then that’s what we get to live with.

And there’s nobody in Washington who is going to say, “Well, that didn’t work. Guess we better try something else.”