Let's hope the rumors aren't true. Let's hope the insiders have it wrong, and that Wednesday night's health care speech is not what some here in DC fear most: that Obama is ready to cave on health care, abandoning or backing off on the public option.
But if they are right, and if the President does step back, instead of stepping up, then my reading of The Audacity of Hope two years ago will have proven to be right on target.
I read the book after the very bright woman who was then acting as president of my university (part of the SUNY system) convened a discussion about it. That was still in the days when Hillary Clinton (our own U.S. Senator in New York) seemed a shoe-in for the nomination. Obama was a curiosity. Not a terribly seriously option.
Reading the first few chapters of the book, I was wowed. I remember telling my husband I thought the guy was incredible. A great writer, a refreshingly honest politician, a man with an extraordinarily ambitious vision. As the product of a multi-racial partnership, he could see a way to bridge the many gaping divisions between and among Americans of all ages and races and classes and geographic and economic positions.
By the time I'd finished the book, however, I'd shifted my position. Maybe I was getting tired of what started to feel like his slick rhetorical gift. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by skepticism. In the end, it seemed to me that anybody who could so fully embrace opposing points of view might not be willing to do what was necessary as President: stand up and show true leadership by taking a strong position and running with it.
Well, so, I wasn't an Obama man, at least for a while. I was too suspicious. I didn't think when the going got tough, that he would be the President willing to do what he should do.
As his candidacy grew more and more popular, I had to let go. I finally saw the inevitability of the Obama movement, and like others, wanted to believe that in him, we had a brand new kind of leader. A President like Lincoln, FDR or Johnson who could remake America. A President to carve a way into the 21st century. Like so many Americans, I became excited that this man had a mission. And a bold vision. And real guts and honest determination to seize a historical moment and make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people.
But now, what? Now I fear that he might actually be the waffler I thought he was when I read the book. The man who wants to please everybody, but in the end, pleases no one. He appears at this moment to be losing support, and instead of standing up and saying, we are going to stay the course, because it's the right thing to do, he backs down. Retreats and gives in to right-wing fear-mongering and finagling.
Tragically, it's almost as though he and his handlers don't get it. They don't see what we saw as he was swept into office on a groundswell of grass roots support in January 2009. They don't truly understand why everybody was so wildly enthusiastic about his up-from-nowhere candidacy.
Over and over again this year, we have heard him say "we need the public option because it's the only way to keep the insurance industry honest." Exactly. Without that option, then what are we left with? What kind of health care reform do we have? To many of us, the reform ends up looking like another corporate giveaway. Sure, millions more Americans will be insured. And who stands to profit from those millions of new premium payers?
WellPoint and United Health and Cigna and Aetna.
Apparently, Mr. President, you think you can cave on health care, and still hold onto your base. I respectfully suggest that might be a dangerous miscalculation. You will lose so many of your staunchest supporters with a speech that backs away from the public option. There are millions of us out here who will be enraged if you have the audacity to take us, and our support, and our votes, for granted.
Please, Mr. Obama. Please don't.