I find it useful to have a steady supply of volumes about Theodore Roosevelt at the ready. Not just for the history, but for the grounding effect. You should try it. The next time you’re feeling a little too pleased with yourself, read a chapter from just about any book about Theodore Roosevelt and you’ll come back down to Earth really quick. On a typical day in the White House he would ride his horse, respond to dozens of letters and dictate dozens more, read a book, push Congress to pass Square Deal legislation, talk to reporters, walk a few miles, play with his kids (sometimes while conducting some of the latter activities), eat dinner, maybe another book, more writing, then bed. I get tired just reading about him.
Roosevelt remains one of America’s most endearing leaders – a blend of pro-business, pro-worker and pro-public lands stances combined with a personal energy that remains unmatched in presidential history.
No wonder he won Idaho in 1904.
Later on, in 1910, he delivered his famed “New Nationalism” speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, where he synthesized his views regarding the well-being of our nation, our citizens and our future, saying:
“The health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part.”
Roosevelt’s distant cousin, Franklin, would go on to establish Social Security.
His successor, Harry Truman, signed into law the Hill-Burton Act which lead to the construction and modernization of hospitals and nursing homes which provided low-cost healthcare services to local communities. Two “Hill-Burton” facilities still operate in Idaho today.
And, of course, Lyndon Johnson ushered in Medicare (Truman received the first ever Medicare card) and Medicaid for the elderly and working poor.
All three of them won Idaho – FDR did it four times.
Given this long history, it is little wonder Medicaid expansion won Idaho in a landslide, garnering 61-percent of the statewide vote. As noted in an earlier column, Medicaid expansion received more votes than our governor, lieutenant governor or superintendent of public instruction. The measure received nearly as many votes as Idaho’s two congressional winners – combined.
A deeper look at the numbers indicate support for Medicaid Expansion was statewide. It received majority support in 29 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and 60-percent support in nearly half (17). The eight-county Magic Valley supported Proposition Two by a margin of 60-40. Even in the handful of districts where voters turned it down, the “low-water” level of support was still 43 percent.
Unfortunately, the real fight begins now.
Despite overwhelming popular support, legislative sources indicate that state lawmakers are already talking about attaching conditions (waivers) to Medicaid expansion funding – whether it’s work requirements, expiration dates (“sunset” clauses) or simply not funding it at all. None of those “conditions” are what voters approved. And remember what is at stake: hundreds of millions of federal dollars coming back to Idaho and more than 60,000 Idaho residents getting access to quality healthcare. The “vitality” that Theodore Roosevelt spoke of more than a century ago is embedded in the vote for Medicaid expansion. Healthier citizens lead to stronger and more prosperous communities. That, in turn, makes Idaho a more “vital” state. That is what Idaho voted for. That is what Idaho should expect.
However, while Medicaid Expansion may be the clear “will of the people” there is no guarantee it will be the will of the state legislature.
That’s where TR comes into play again.
The same year he spoke about the “vitality” of our nation, he gave his famed “Man in the Arena” speech in Paris. The most quoted passage talks about the “credit” due to those who are “in the arena” – not the critics. Roosevelt applauded those “who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds[.]”
Idaho voters sent a message to the state legislature – first with their petition signatures and second with their votes. Now it’s time they stepped into the arena to remind their elected officials that the “will of the people” must be honored. Democracy does not end once you leave the voting booth. Sometimes it requires writing letters, making phone calls or attending town halls. More often than not, elected officials need to see the faces and names behind those votes before they will act.
Enforcing the “will of the people” requires action from those same people. Being a mere critic will not suffice.