Health czar doesn't need to know health care

January 28, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

The White House has brought in a new health care czar. It is his job to pull everything together and get the Clintons' revolutionary plan turned into law.

And I have to admit that the new health plan boss -- Harold M. Ickes -- has perfect credentials for the job.

First of all, he is a lawyer. But of course. Just about everyone involved in rebuilding the nation's medical world is a lawyer. Around the White House, especially the health-care people, if you don't know how to write a writ, you are considered a barbarian.

It is rumored, falsely, I assume, that when a physician tried to sneak into one of the planning meetings, he was taken to the White House basement, put in chains and whipped with his own stethoscope. He was released, they say, only after promising to enroll in law school.

And what does health czar Ickes know about health care? Besides flossing his teeth, apparently not much.

As a New York Times story that raved about his brilliance said:

"What Mr. Ickes does not bring to his job, he acknowledges, is dTC expertise in health care."

It quotes him as saying: "I was brought in to help talk strategy and help manage the overall process. I wasn't brought down here to be a health-care expert."

Which makes perfect sense. You put someone in charge of steering a monster-sized reshaping of our nation's health care through Congress, the last thing you want to do is confuse him with details about actual health care. A bed pan is a bed pan. You see one bed pan, you've seen them all. So what else does he have to know about health care?

No, the special skills that Ickes brings to his role as the new health czar were described by a Clinton political adviser:

"Harold brings passion and excitement."

Those, of course, are qualities any sensible person would look for in a health-care czar. Or in a blind date.

But he has other qualifications that make him an ideal choice for the Clinton administration.

He was born into a prominent political family, his father a Cabinet member for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And as one who came of age in the '60s, he has marched to the same social drumbeats as most of the friends of Bill and Hillary.

He, like Clinton, was part of the anti-war movement. And he worked in the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy (a loser), Ed Muskie (another loser), Morris Udall (a really spectacular loser), Ted Kennedy (a loser, but a fun guy at the beach), Walter Mondale (a dull loser), and Jesse Jackson (a feisty loser).

Most recently, he worked for New York Mayor David Dinkins, who managed to defy all odds by running so flabby a campaign that he lost an election Beavis and Butthead could have won.

So Ickes, as a political operative, has never been described as a kingmaker. He appears to have spent most election nights sitting around with a lot of depressing people.

But it isn't whether you win or lose, or even how you play the game. It's whether you get in a big law firm, make some bucks, and pick up some important friends along the way.

And Ickes became one of those fortunate people who is a Friend of Hillary and Bill.

He ran Clinton's New York primary campaign, which Clinton won. Considering the drabness of the competition, that is not one of the major political triumphs of the 20th century. But it helped Clinton stumble to his destiny as Arkansas' gift to the rest of us.

And now he is in charge of shoving the Clintons' health-care package down our throats.

While he doesn't know as much about health care as the nurse on the midnight shift at your local hospital, he realizes how important this program is.

"It's probably the most important social program, certainly in my lifetime and probably in decades. It [is] a great opportunity to work with this administration and on this program."

Absolutely right. And I wish him luck. I also offer a bit of advice: If the pressures of being the health-care czar get to you, and you get sweaty and feel chest pains, dizziness, you can just ring your secretary and have her rush in one of your fellow White House lawyer health-care experts.

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