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Dynamic Chiropractic – October 7, 2008, Vol. 26, Issue 21

Politics Can It Get Any Stranger?

By Louis Sportelli, DC

"I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."

- Helen Keller

There has not been a more interesting political campaign for the presidency than the current race for the White House. An African-American, a Washington insider, a maverick and a woman governor; together, you have all the makings of an intriguing novel about the American political system.

There have been interesting challenges, twists and turns along the way, with issues raised from playing the "race card" to playing the "gender card" to playing the "age card" and the "soccer mom card," all making for a "wild card." How this will change American politics forever and change the way political campaigns are won or lost will not go unnoticed, as pundits will discuss the potential consequences ad nauseam in the wake of this year's election.

The first-ever African-American candidate accepting the Democratic presidential nomination prompts reflection on the amazing transformation that has taken place in America in the past 45 years. After all, it was almost 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech that Barack Obama made his acceptance speech, clearly illustrating the change in attitudes, demographics and ideologies in this country.

John McCain's story is another example of determination and tenacity - a former POW coming back from a virtually defeated campaign to win the nomination as the Republican choice for president. An even more bizarre turn of events was his selection of a little-known woman governor of Alaska as his VP, which certainly fed the insatiable appetites of the 200-plus television and radio stations and their never-ending quest to convolute, confound, confuse and possibly convert their viewing audience.

So far, nothing new, but it only took a few hours after the nomination of Sarah Palin for those who would discredit her to begin their attacks on her qualifications, experience, motherhood, parental suitability and a host of other character traits. What surprised me were the attacks from some of the female groups and the likes of Gloria Steinem, who said she was the "wrong" woman. For years, the women's movement has been shouting that the "glass ceiling," from corporate America to the White House, needed to be broken. Hillary Clinton shied away from saying she was a female candidate, saying instead that she was the experienced candidate. Now there is a female candidate, but she is not the "right" one, or she does not represent women, or she is not the stereotypical female, but rather the typical soccer mom next door.

I am confused! No less confused, I suppose, than hearing the commentary about Obama being black, which is not really a topic to even discuss. There are blacks opposed to Obama because he is black, and there are blacks opposed to Obama because he is not black enough. Wait, I am still confused! We have John McCain, who will be 72 years old on Election Day, being accused of being too old by senior citizen groups, yet these same groups are resentful if "senior citizen" is the label they are given. Confusing? Then there is the Democratic VP nominee, Senator Biden, who is an insider and supposed to know something about foreign policy, and is criticized because he is entrenched in Washington. I would simply ask: How did he get his experience without being there? I am still confused.

There is simply no way to win, or should I say no way to please or appease every segment of our very diverse nation. Ultimately, if the voting "chads" do not cause any additional problems for the Supreme Court to consider, we will have a new president in January 2009. Regardless of who it is, we will just have to live with it until the next election cycle four years from now.

As you might have guessed, I could not think about politics without reflecting on the politically charged, very diverse and opinionated chiropractic profession, and the similarities between the issues facing our profession and the issues of this election. I often wonder how individuals such as Drs. Scott Haldeman, Jay Triano, Reed Phillips and a host of other "dual-degreed" chiropractors have managed to stay connected and committed to this profession for all these years. The profession recognized that we needed dual-degreed individuals to advance the profession. Yet when certain individuals obtained those degrees after long, hard and very difficult times, the profession challenged that they were not "DCs" any longer.

Somehow, they had lost their roots, said the critics. There were those in the profession who questioned their motives and their commitment, and attributed agendas to their involvement. The profession was indeed fortunate that these individuals remained committed to a cause greater than themselves and withstood the unjust criticism. We should be thankful they did not just "give up" and help some other profession advance.

Another confusing and challenging change involved the colleges and the leadership of these institutions, who recognized that the profession could only move forward if educational standards were raised. How well I remember when Palmer College required additional prerequisite education back in the 1970s, and the outrage from those who suggested the college was selling out to medicine. Along came National College, mandating a bachelor's degree. National took severe criticism, too, yet withstood the opposition to help raise the bar for the entire profession.

The criticism, conflict and confusion continued when testing procedures were implemented and the requirements for licensure examination were being standardized, rather than arbitrarily administered in each state. Mandatory hours for license renewal stirred more debate. Today, there is equal recoil about certifying office personnel and mandating attendance records for CE credits. The voice of opposition rings loud and continues to challenge the very groups within the profession that are doing something different.

The fight over terminology and semantics still rages after 110 years, and we still struggle with oversight and protocols that demand demonstrable outcomes, accountability and evidence of effectiveness in order for the procedure to be used, regardless of the dedication to a belief system. We have battles over technique, language, identity, scope, definitions, practice modes, hospital affiliation, integration and heritage.

Chiropractor fighting chiropractor is as prevalent today as it was 50 years ago. All the while, these battles are observed by other groups that are more united, more economically viable, more focused and more energized than the chiropractic profession. Across the nation, the chiropractic profession is suffering from terminal apathy. The journals from the state and national groups all have common themes - membership down, dollars limited, reimbursement challenges, legislative disputes, legal confrontations, general unrest, and frustration over what to do to appeal to the membership. There is the small, dedicated core of individuals who continue to belong to their various organizations across the nation, but not enough to sustain an energized program.

We want legislative change, but when a DC who is qualified runs for office, they get little support from the profession: "They can't win, so why bother?" We want to be included in federal programs, but when a program such as the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) asks doctors to fill out a simple questionnaire, participation is poor. College building projects are going on at every institution. While some are more successful than others, the bottom line is simple - the financial support is difficult to come by.

The Foundation for Chiropractic Progress has been trying to gain positive press for chiropractic for nearly four years. While there have been numerous corporate and supplier contributions to this campaign, the rank-and-file practitioners (except for a handful) have literally ignored the ongoing pleas for small individual contributions. Yet the profession laments, gripes and complains that there is limited press coverage of chiropractic.

These are just a few of the incongruities that plague our everyday lives. The battles that need to be fought can be impacted by a small effort by a large number of practitioners, but cannot be impacted by the actions of only a few. So, as I look at the often confusing, sometimes amusing, seemingly relentless national race for the White House, it causes serious reflection. The bitter and divisive battles of black vs. white, young vs. old, male vs. female, experience vs. inexperience, establishment vs. maverick, conservative vs. liberal, and a host of other individual differentiations seem to have no end in sight.

But our 113-year-old and still-fledging profession, facing enormous challenges each of us experience every day, simply cannot afford the luxury of being so divided. Our internal battles sap our energy, our limited resources and our desire to advance. The end result is the terminal apathy we see in evidence today. As a profession, we face the challenges of inclusion and exclusion at the same time. We are facing integration and isolation, professional uniqueness and generalized competition all at once. If we do not provide enough thoughtful reflection on the internal changes and challenges we our faced with, we will be forced to endure the serious consequences of neglect.

The solution to this dilemma is not about what our organizations or colleges can do, or about what "others" should do, but rather about what we, each and every one of us, choose to do about our individual and collective plight. No one can cure terminal apathy by any external method. We can only cure this insidious disease by taking individual action for the common good. It will not be very long before the effects of our individual action(s) are apparent.

Perhaps we can learn a valuable lesson from the 2008 presidential race and observe how internal divisiveness or collective positive action(s) will change the course of history. Time will tell. There are vast differences and huge opposition to each and every challenge that chiropractors face. Perhaps we can learn a valuable lesson - that we are simply too small to be divided. What divides us is relatively small compared to what unites us as a profession. Perhaps it is time to simply let go of whatever issues we have and make a collective contribution to our organizations, allowing them to be strong and prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow. Perhaps it is time to consider the fact that we will destroy ourselves from within quicker than any opponent can from the outside.

Click here for previous articles by Louis Sportelli, DC.

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