Congressional candidate Dr. Manan Trivedi seems to have a suspiciously fine-tuned resume: not only is he a war veteran in a nation at war, but a physician and health care policy wonk to boot. He's running for Congress in the 6th district of Pennsylvania. SAJA blogger Zeeshan Aleem spoke with him by phone about identity politics, serving in Iraq, and his mother's work for the Obama campaign.
Tell us about the history the your district you’re running in, and why you think a Democrat will be able to win it even though it's elected a Republican Congressman for the past four terms.
The district is a Democratic-leaning district -- it has at least 20,000 more Democrats registered than Republicans. The incumbent built up a moderate Republican base, and was a fairly decent campaigner, and would win by the skin of his teeth every year. He had some name recognition, and that’s why he won in a democratic district. Now he’s gone; he’s not running again.
It’s an open seat, and most pundits predict that this is going to go to the Democratic nominee. The shifting demographics of this district has a lot of younger, more progressive people moving in from the Philly region, the demographics are shifting more toward the blue side -- as is the entire north east
We are a nation at war, and we are a nation with an ailing health care system. You have served in the military, and you are a doctor. It’s likely that you have an intuitive grasp of two of the most important – and visceral – issues that dominate the American political landscape.I do feel I have a unique perspective on these two very pressing issues. Health care is something I’ve worked on passionately for the past 15 years, my entire professional career. And I am very much in favor of this health care reform legislation. Regardless of what happens with this attempt at reform, this is just the first step – we need to continue to fight to get a truly efficient, high quality, low-cost health care system in America …
I served in Iraq with the marines as part of the very first ground forces to enter Iraq in 2003; that experience was quite formative for me. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about my country, and a lot about what it really means to go to war. That experience made me determined that we need people in Congress to assure that we never take that decision lightly again, which I think we need in 2002-3, when we made the decision to go to war in Iraq. I don’t think we went in with the right incentives, we definitely didn’t go in with the right armor, and we didn’t go in there with the right intelligence either.
You have obviously demonstrated a commitment to public service, but were you always interested in running for office? Or did it just dawn on you one day fairly recently that you had an exceptional skill set for doing so in 2010?
I’ve always been driven to choosing a professional career in which I can serve or doing something that I felt was good for the greater community. I also wanted to pursue something where I felt intellectually stimulated, and had to do with problem solving. I like dealing with complex problems, and this was a natural fit. I’m also from this district, and I’m dedicated to democratic and progressive values. I’ve watched my district come so close so many times, but not get over that cusp to win. I think I can be the guy to get them over the hurdle.
You are an expert on public health and Veteran's health care, and you've served as a health policy adviser to Barack Obama's campaign for President. But what does that all mean if health reform is passed, as it might, before you are elected?
Well, the jury’s still out on whether it will pass, and what it will look like. Regardless, health reform begins with this legislation, it doesn’t end with it.
There’s a lot more that needs to be done that’s not in this legislation. We need to move from what we have now -- which is a disease care system -- to a true health care system. What I mean by that is we need to focus a lot more on wellness and prevention and health everyday, not just the days that you go to the doctor’s office or the hospital.
We need to incentivize and increase our primary care physicians in America. PCPs are the ones who really talk to the patients. Remember when doctors used to talk to patients? Unfortunately we have a significant shortage of PCPs in this country, and if we are to get really high quality low-cost efficient health care, it has to be through the primary care physician model.
We also need to stop paying physicians for quantity, and start paying them for quality. Right now physicians are paid to do something to you, but if they don’t do something, they don’t get paid, and often the right answer is to not do something. So these are just some of the next steps ...
If I’ve counted correctly, there are at least 5 South Asian Americans running for Congress as Democrats in the 2010 elections. Do you find this significant in any way? Are we experiencing a sea change in the American political consciousness, a sort of Obama/Jindal effect, where ethnic minorities have been imbued with great confidence that their race is no longer considered nearly as large of an obstacle?It may be that, or it may just be a coincidence. At the end of the day I long for the time when we it’s not even a story that a few Indians are running for Congress. For the time when it’s just people running for Congress. But Obama definitely showed us that a brown kid with a funny name could go places in America.
I read this anecdote about the difficulty your mother initially experienced when she was campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania in 2008. This campaigner claims that her initial difficulty in making phone calls involved her being cut short in conversation because people were xenophobic or people were put off by her accent.
Look I was very proud of my Mom and she made over five thousand calls for Barack Obama from the primaries through the elections … She signed up on board with the Obama campaign very early, and her getting cut off had less to do with accent, and more to do with the initial reaction to the Obama campaign. People would say ‘who are you talking about, and what are you calling me for?’ But later on in the campaign, people were very excited and very receptive.
She had a great experience and she is definitely helping me out in my campaign as well. She’s one of my number one volunteers, and I’m happy to have her.
So... you’re not paying her?
No, definitely not. Well she hasn’t asked for any – yet. (laughs)
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