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The Sting Teaches a Good Political Lesson, Too

July 20, 2009

In the 1973 Academy Award winning movie The Sting there’s a poignant scene where small-time crook Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) searches out veteran con-man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to help him seek revenge on a big-time Chicago crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) for the murder of one of their gang members.

Hooker is a penny-ante thief who doesn’t know how to proceed with the next step - so he presses Gondorff to organize and set up a big con against Lonnegan. Hooker insists, "I want to play the big con - I want to get Lonnegan."

This worries Gondorff because he knows that level heads must prevail - even in the underworld - and that it will take the professional execution of a complicated plot to get the revenge Hooker wants against a crime lord such as Lonnegan.

In the movie Gondorff gives Hooker - whom he considers at this point to be a bit of a hot-head - some advice that is still at the very heart of a successful con: "You have to keep his con even after you take his money. He can’t ever know you took him," Gondorff says.

This theory has been at the heart of every political campaign since the early 1960's as political strategists from both parties continue to target their opponents - and their positions - with the same intensity pulled off by Newman and Redford in The Sting.

From the Democratic perspective the latest target is President Barrack Obama’s health-care reform legislation which is now under assault from Republicans and their affiliated organizations.

Critics say the President’s plan will add considerably to the national deficit and will not slow the cost of health care. Republicans say small businesses will be hurt through increased taxes and this could be devastating to an already precarious employment situation.

The attacks are coming from all fronts - the Chairman of the National Republican Party Michael Steele stepped up his rhetoric against the President’s health care plan calling it a "risky experiment" and "socialism."

Republicans are also embarking on a series of television commercials tying a government run health-care system to the financial bailout of the banks and auto industry which the ad calls "the biggest spending spree in our history."

President Obama’s team, however, is defending his plan and wants to make sure everyone understands that the details of the plan have yet to be written. The President wants privately held insurance companies in competition with the government and says he does not favor a government run health-care system.

The President says his health-care plan will be revenue neutral through tax increases on the super wealthy (families making over $350,000 per year and individuals making over $280,000 per year), as well as savings that he believes will be incurred through various efficiencies added to the system.

The President says there are 46 million people without health care coverage and that his plan will enable about 37 million to pick up coverage through government subsidies and a government health care plan. He says there is a growing number who are under insured and in some cities health care coverage cannot be accessed due to disincentives for doctors in those cities to care for those most in need.

The President believes the current system works better for drug companies and insurance companies then it does for the people they are to serve. He says Congress must act now or nothing will change and the country will continue to waste hundreds of billions of dollars without making us any healthier.

The latest polling numbers indicate the public is nervous about the President’s health-care plan - mostly because of its staggering cost and a general fear about the government interfering with family health-care decisions.

No one knows what the final outcome will be - whether in the end a government health-care plan will work or just be a "big con" as some predict.

In The Sting there were numerous double-crosses and a great surprise ending - yet still - no one knew they were being conned.

The same thing could happen with health care.