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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Cage Match!

July 13, 2012 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

Minnesota’s conservative state legislators oppose the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). They want nothing to do with it. They refuse to even participate in the state’s health insurance exchange implementation planning committee. This is shortsighted because the healthcare exchange will expand access to affordable healthcare.

I’m left with the impression that conservatives oppose affordable health care, preferring the current broken system. Since government is deeply involved with present healthcare delivery—Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran’s Administration, military and federal employee health insurance—it’s absurd to insist that ACA represents an expansion of government health care involvement. Instead, ACA is an attempt to bring genuine market competition to a less-than-competitive system.

Resisting health care reform means using government authority to maintain a broken system and its vendor beneficiaries. That’s exactly the sort of thing that small-government conservatives should want abolished and yet, they’re intent on preserving it. If it weren’t real with dire consequential results, this weird stand-off would make for an excellent professional wrestling story arc.

Are you reaaaddyyyy to rumble? In this corner, affordable health care advocates. In that corner, not even bothering to show up at the meetings, affordable healthcare obstructionists. It’s time for the Minnesota health insurance exchange cage match!

Why pro wrestling? Because talking and hype, in pro wrestling, is always much, much more important than wrestling itself. And, as conservatives demonstrate, their attacks on affordable health care are true pro-wrestling grade taunts, distracting us from the real issue: moving forward on affordable health care reform.

Back in the early 70s, the coolest people in the world lived in Walnut Grove and had cable TV. Out in the country, we got KEYC-TV, Mankato’s CBS affiliate. That was it. On good days, if the wind was right and a high pressure front stalled over southwestern Minnesota, we could pick up KELO-TV's signal from Sioux Falls.

Normally, KELO’s signal yielded a fuzzy black and white curtain. I didn’t watch NBC programming so much as I vaguely deciphered plot lines, imaginatively filling in the blanks. It was a lot more like listening to radio than watching television.

I missed Fred Silverman’s ABC programming revolution entirely. “Happy Days” and “Charlie’s Angels” were things that I read about but never watched. I had “Gunsmoke,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Hawaii 5-O” and whatever else CBS threw at us. In town, however, it was a different deal altogether because Walnut Grove had cable and cable meant CBS, NBC, ABC and the Twin Cities’ independent TV station, WTCN.

WTCN carried All-Star Wrestling. Whenever I visited my grandparents in town on Saturday mornings, they let me watch WTCN and pro-wrestling. Because of this, my grandparents were the coolest people in the world.

WTCN’s wrestling coverage was a series of in-studio demonstration matches. The time was purchased by Vern Gagne’s American Wrestling Association and served to promote upcoming matches. The wrestling was almost beside the point, particularly on WTCN’s Saturday morning shows. Talking big was everything. Since the match outcome was proscribed, the journey, not the result, was the adventure.

I still enjoy the heel’s well-crafted taunts and boasts, paired with the face’s slow but certain rising ire. This was, and is, pro wrestling’s awesome entertainment power. It is our kabuki theater. Despite its ginned-up premise, good vs evil structure, simplistic narrative structure, pro wrestling’s predictability is the fan’s reward. Subtle permutations and thematic variations keep a high-structured entertainment form fresh.

Watching the Saturday morning show, I didn’t understand that I was watching a contemporary version of old-time carnival barkers. Viewers were being enticed to purchase tickets to something even better that what we witnessed in the studio performance. Wrestling, like the sideshow, entertains by separating suckers from their money and winking all the way to the bank.

Conservatives make excellent heels, the pro-wrestling term for the designated bad guy. They’re outrageous. They boldly declare for impossible objectives and insist on unrealistic outcomes. They point fingers. They boast, parsimoniously and piously insisting on their narrative’s truthfulness, seducing the public into willing suspension of disbelief.

If their policy proposals weren’t so dangerous, conservative proposals would be tremendously entertaining. The problem, as we’re witnessing with conservative refusal to participate in Minnesota’s health insurance exchange planning work, is that they have no plan beyond opposing change.

Health care is expensive. It’s labor intensive. Health care advances come from costly research and innovation, pursued to meet our human desire for long and healthy lives. None of these things will change any time soon.

Affordable health care improves everyone’s lives. The health care exchange creates a competitive bidding pool, putting consumers into the driver’s seat. It’s a promising step forward. I just wish conservatives would get on board and work the problem rather than oppose, taunt, hector and belittle the effort. If that’s what they need, there’s always pro-wrestling.

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