You really have to hand it to President Obama. This guy gives a great speech. So good, in fact, that he almost makes you forget the total disconnect between his rhetorical ability to point out the problems facing our nation and his unwillingness or lack of cojones to try and solve them. We saw his amazing oratory skills on display last week in his speech on health care reform to Congress, as well as a follow-up at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh and one today at the University of Maryland. You can't help but get swept away and feel all "fired up," but almost nine months into President Obama's term, what do we progressives have to celebrate? No doubt he's done some good work, but he's far too comfortable with status quo policy ideas for my taste. It's not like I expected him to govern like Dennis Kucinich once he got into office, but I was hoping these troubled times would push him into bold, new, progressive ideas and away from the failed policy's of the last thirty years. Instead we get Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers. But I digress...
Many of my liberal friends interpreted Obama's speech to Congress the other night differently than I did. I didn't see a call to arms, I saw a wink to Congress to proceed without the public option. Whether the Obama administration likes it or not, the public option has become the line in the sand for the progressive agenda. If he's not willing to fight for it then we should be. I don't want to be all doom and gloom -- there were some great moments in his speech. He finally clearly articulated the moral component of the argument for health care reform. Health care, after all, should be thought of as a basic human right and part of the struggle for social justice. That's one of the reasons why this fight is so important to the left.
Why are progressives made out to be the rigid ideologues in this debate? After all, we wanted Medicare for All or single payer so a public option that only covers an estimated 5% of our population was already a huge compromise. Maybe this explains the anemic response thus far from the left. After all, why would we be "fired up" to rally the troops for a handful of new regulations and a government mandate? We haven't done anything that's caught the attention of the main-stream media on par with the far-right disruptions of Democratic representatives town halls and the 9/12 March this past weekend.
The good news this week is that the long awaited Baucus bill was finally unveiled and in a rare, truly bi-partisan moment was roundly panned by Republicans and Democrats. In a failed attempt to garner a few Republican votes, Senator Baucus even strengthened the language in the bill against allowing illegal immigrants to purchase insurance and exclude federal funds from paying for abortions -- an obvious capitulation to Republican lies about things that weren't even in the bill to begin with! Let's hope that whatever the Senate finally passes bears little resemblance to this milquetoast payout to the insurance industry. Will the Progressive Caucus in the House have the courage to block a bill without a public option? If they did they would no doubt be smeared as the radicals that ruined health care reform. Senator Harkin recently said that the final bill will "have a strong public option" so hopefully we won't have to find that out.
Outside of all the obvious moral and economic reasons for having a robust public option as part of the health care bill, and in light of the fact that the Federal Government is the go-to boogie man for Republican scare tactics -- doesn't it seem like incredibly bad strategy for the Dems to pass legislation with a government mandate to buy health insurance from private insurance companies? If the corporatist Democrats are more interested in consolidating power and winning elections than the common good of the American people this seems like a short sighted way of achieving that goal. Also, regardless of what certain polling data suggests, I don't believe for a second that most Americans like their health insurance companies any more than they like their phone companies, the bank that holds their mortgage or any other massive corporation they have to deal with. People like their doctors, so as long as a reform bill didn't disrupt that then I can't imagine there would be any uproar over changing the logo on the insurance card.
What a strange summer it was with the ongoing spectacle of angry, mostly-white Americans protesting (often with guns!) a president and his policies that would in all likelihood improve their quality of life. It's interesting to see all these apparently reformed fiscal conservatives out there because I don't remember any conservative uproar when W. was cutting taxes for the rich and sending us into war on false pretenses -- both of which dwarf the cost of health care reform. For all of Obama's desires to be post-partisan and above the fray there is a segment of our society that will never accept him or his ideas. Let's not worry about them. Facts and reason hold no sway with these people. They scream things like "get your government hands off my Medicare." They are dangerous and silly people, but the powerful interests that stir these folks up are incredibly skilled at getting headlines and maintaining more than their fair share of the media spotlight. Anyway, we shouldn't be trying to change the minds of the Republican opposition or a wingnut minority of our population, we should be trying to get the attention of the corporatist Democrats who are actually blocking reform.
I understand that our side has been outmaneuvered so far in this debate, but I don't understand why it's taking so long for us to show up. What have progressives been waiting for? Where is our movement? We need to take to the streets, make the main-stream media pay attention and prove to the Democrats in Congress, as well as Obama, that we want real health care reform in this country now, and we'll support the politicians that support us.
I noticed that there are going to be some big rallies next week around the country organized by MoveOn.org and Health Care For America Now. Let's all get out there and show our support. The time is overdue for our movement to get moving.