It goes like this: The Republicans issue a statement and within minutes you have the Democratic rebuttal. The new Reform Party commentary is not far behind. In politics nothing is what it appears to be. Questions are raised and the voters wonder who or what to believe, what the truth is, and how to find out the real facts.
Some politicians believe that taking a nightly poll is the way to go. It's a kind of politics du jour - to see how the voters react to this slogan or that campaign promise or the wearing of an open shirt, or if a candidate smiles too much. In other words - how did it play in Peoria?
Aside from the hoopla and the rhetorical overstatements, counterstatements, misstatements and faux pas made each day by the candidates, is there something we can learn from this spectacle?
There was for a long time a very close analogy in chiropractic to the two-party system, and now a spoiler Reform Party has also formed to "save" chiropractic. Notice that even the reform party love fest has deteriorated into a split within the Buchanan and Perot camps. Some differences have to do with ideology; some with money; others involve ego, pride; and many politicians simply want their "15 minutes in the sun." But chiropractic, like the American political system, has multiple groups claiming to represent its views and claiming that they can "do it best."
The two legitimate, long-standing national chiropractic associations each have a percentage of membership that is not particularly significant for either group to claim a majority. Neither can claim dominance over the views of the majority because neither has a majority. Of the legitimate long-established groups, one is smaller and more focused, and the other is larger and more diverse.
These groups disagree on many issues, but - thank goodness - on some occasions they see the wisdom of coming together and speaking with a common voice and a common message for a common good. Examples of this are the Veterans Administration testimony; the Department of Defense project; the HCFA Medicare lawsuit; and other issues having common objectives. The goals of these joint efforts appear and designed to help advance the profession; improve benefits; remove obstacles; demand equality. Such goals are significant enough to put aside petty differences to undertake a larger objective. They illustrate areas of commonality and demonstrate that divergent factions within the profession can and have worked harmoniously for a common goal that is larger than or consistent with the individual goals for each organization.
Not to be outdone by the legitimate national political groups are the splinter factions in chiropractic. Formed with fancy-sounding names incorporating the world or the entire universe as their exclusive domain, they disregard democracy in organizing their structure (after all, democracy moves slowly and calls for consensus) and they claim to represent the rank and file, a voice for whom they claim there is no spokesperson. Additionally, as other minority political groups do, they inflate their numbers and try to adopt all the trappings of legitimacy and the appearance of significance in order to gain a platform, sometimes used as a bully pulpit. The message is often out-of-step with the other organizations, but these factions repeat the message, claiming to be the only group capable of saving this wonderful profession from doom and destruction. "Join us or perish" is their theme. The unfortunate aspect in all of this is that the vast majority of those not belonging to any group, political or otherwise, do not make their positions known. They allow the chaos to continue, because each group claims to do or be what the profession wants or needs.
Who can the profession believe? One group says this, the other says that, and the radical right or left say something else. Is it any wonder the great majority of Americans simply don't vote? Could that also be the reason the great majority of our profession does not belong to a national association? It seems that for the past 50 years, crisis has dictated our policies and political agendas, particularly as it relates to where the profession should go or what the profession should do.
Good stewardship is about good leadership, not about crisis creation or management. What we need is leadership that will attempt to define issues and frame the debate to reach a consensus from within. The grave consequences of failure demand consensus, and then find it as a profession or suffer an immeasurable outcome.
We continue to debate issues and argue that there is no definitive science to back positions on either side. Thus, we offer radically divergent points of view to whomever will listen, and we wonder why the world is confused. Many in the profession are battle-weary, and combat fatigue has caused so many to withdraw. Most honest, hardworking doctors are not prepared for the daily, weekly or monthly battles that ensue at every meeting they attend.
Doctors are not anxious to pick up journals filled with constant crisis calls and doomsday predictions; worse are the self-appointed saviors of the profession - continually attacking individuals and organizations that attempt to labor in the legitimate structured groups. The reasonable and rational majority is simply tired and wants something in which to believe.
The political conventions are over. George W. Bush and Al Gore have been approved by their respective parties to be the standard bearers ,and have selected their running mates. The Reform Party supporters of Buchanan and Perot continue to battle and pronounce victory, and appear to go through a similar process of selection and election. The balloons and confetti are cleaned up. The convention halls host parties or concerts the week after conventions; then the cities go back to normal, perhaps a bit improved in infrastructure and a few dollars richer.
The campaigns are now in full swing, the rhetoric is at a high decibel level, and the charges and countercharges are reaching combat readiness. The candidates are taking polls, consulting advisors, and polishing slogans - hoping that something will appeal to every segment of the voting public. The media relies on the political opinions of musical groups, celebrities, TV and movie award winners, and covers fundraisers at the homes of publishing moguls. No wonder the public grows wearier with each passing day and wishes it would be over.
Chiropractors, as a group, are no different, except that our political rhetoric and mudslinging contests do not have a primary day beginning or a November election to ending. The rhetoric just continues month after month, year after year, continually reducing the number of doctors who have the stomach for the nonsense. The constant haranguing does have some value to the fringe that are zealous in the pursuit of their brand of chiropractic and fostering their political agenda, while the majority simply tune out.
It may be, however, that we are reaching critical mass in the profession. Those 10-to-15-year doctors who have the majority of their careers ahead of them are now beginning to wonder what will happen. Older practitioners are growing tired of the battles and are looking for new leadership. Most new doctors have no memory of days past except for what they see or hear from older practitioners or what they read from history. Many are confused by the infighting and wonder if there is not an easier way to advance the profession short of self-destruction.
We have survived another presidential nomination, another round of empty promises, another round of slogans that will make their way into the history books and late night monologues, and another four years of mudslinging across the Potomac.
Meanwhile, back at the chiropractic ranch, we are still fighting ourselves, still trying to reduce this wonderful profession to a singular slogan and a definition of chiropractic the consumers of health care will not understand or accept. We continue to talk to ourselves and hope others are listening, while we systematically dismantle any semblance of science or portrayal of professionalism from our internal dialog. We continue to call each other names, as if that will solve any of the problems confronting the profession. We seek to shoot at each other and ignore the peril from the outside that is closing in on our profession.
I hope that with each new political saga a new awareness that will energize new doctors of chiropractic. From the rhetoric may come awareness that much of the internal bickering is simply nonsense and advances the fortunes of those who seek to continue to fuel the empty debate. An outcry from the silent majority will make their voices known, so divergent organizations will recognize they do not represent the majority and that through their silence, the majority permits this destructive dialog to continue.
There are legislators who say, "When you all get together we can do something for chiropractic." Ask them why the political parties do not need to come together for legislation to be passed, for rules to be implemented, for administrative edicts to be directed, or for the politics of divergent views to cease before something is done. I guess I get tired of hearing that worn-out statement that we should get together before anything can get accomplished. What we need for political advancement and accomplishment is to show what the true majority of doctors of chiropractors want - whatever it is - and then we can make logic and reasoned debate prevail. Isn't it about time we at least secured enough numbers to make a majority?
After the nomination, patients still love what we do; our enemies still are out there trying to stop us; our organizations are gearing up for another round of "we are better than you" campaigns; and the silent majority remains silent. It seems like nothing has changed, and unless we decide to truly change it, it will remain politics as usual. Maybe the start of the new century will encourage those who have remained silent to become vocal. We don't want four more years of the same, do we?
Click here for previous articles by Louis Sportelli, DC.