and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #5

Choosing root canal over Congress
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, December 31 2009

Early last week I had a choice: watch another few hours of the Senate health insurance debate or have a root canal.

So there I was, at Endodontics Inc. on Winter Street in Salem, having a consultation with Arnold Maloff, DMD, about a tooth that had been bothering me that my dentist suggested could be more painful by Christmas.

If the choice had come before my first root canal eight years ago, I probably would have made a different decision and put off something that I knew about only from phrases like "I'd rather have a root canal than ... name some other obvious horror." But my actual experience back then was so positive that I didn't hesitate to choose the dentistry especially since I knew it would come with novocaine, which the debate would not.

I remember being reassured in 2001 by first the homey antique Salem building, and second the scrapbook in the waiting room with letters of appreciation from former patients, who emphasized the absence of pain and the friendliness of the staff. Later, after a positive experience, I sent a note myself about choosing a root canal over a tax increase anytime; found it in the scrapbook last week.

Dr. Maloff and his two associates take pride in their patient-friendly practice, which is limited to endodontics and takes referrals from dentists like Kip Sandfield, who takes excellent general care of my teeth, but prefers to outsource root canals and extractions, sending his patients to specialists who do many of these procedures.

So while I was lying in the chair, feeling no pain, I was thinking: why can't we do government like this? Elect general practitioner legislators and Congressmen, who determine that there is a problem that requires specialists in that issue, who will be paid when the problem is solved.

This might work better than hoping that politicians, who are elected because of name recognition, personal popularity and/or ability to raise funds for campaign advertising, can acquire enough information to make a solid decision. Instead, have them set priorities for action then let experts compete for the business of writing reforms.

Health care is too expensive, and some people aren't covered by insurance? Doctors, hospitals and clinics, insurance and drug companies, academics and business market specialists could draft proposals and submit them: Congress would then vote on the best overall plan, name it after the winner (remember my OhBarbaraCare column?) and pay the going rate for consultants.

Or the government could put some of the proposals on television, call the show "Medical Survivor" or "American Health Care Idol," let viewers call in to vote for their choice. I have a very strong feeling that they could do as good a job as Congress is doing on the issue right now.

I remember William F. Buckley Jr. saying "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." Of course, he graduated from Yale, so I'm not sure he is making the same populist point with which he's often credited.

However, a September 2009 Rasmussen poll found that "42 percent of American voters believe that a group of individuals randomly selected from the phone book would do a better job than the politicians currently in Congress ... This number has changed by 9 percent from last fall, when 33 percent believed the same thing ... The same number, 42 percent, disagree with that point of view, and 16 percent are undecided."

I'm undecided myself; the phone book may be a tad too random. Local lobsterman Paul Crowell suggested to me that legislators could be picked from the jury pool. If jurists can be trusted with our essential justice system, they could, he thinks, be trusted with the legislative system as well. Each group would serve for a month or so, dealing with whatever comes up, and then be replaced by the next group.

Or maybe one group could serve to solve one specific problem. Jurors, dress appropriately for a winter trip to Copenhagen.

Downside from the random legislators idea: Considering the woeful state of our education system, especially in the teaching of history, can we trust the average citizen to make important decisions? However, if the answer is no, then we must also ask: Can we trust the average citizen to choose his representatives or even his president? Might voters choose someone because of gender, race, or simply overuse of the word "hope"?

Upside from the random legislators idea: no more politicians who are beholden to campaign contributors, dependent on special interest groups, lying or over-promising in order to curry favor with voters. They would all have term limits and be citizen- legislators, knowing they will be returning to the jobs they could risk with economy-killing legislative decisions. I can't imagine they'd vote this week to raise the national debt ceiling to $12.4 trillion.

A lesson from my root canals: Sometimes the things we fear aren't as bad as we expect.

A lesson from history: Sometimes they are worse.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.