THE BLOG
10/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Retreat and Surrender

Make no mistake about it, health care reform and the public option are the turning point for Obama and this country. Today's New York Times is reporting that factions in the White House are arguing about what compromises they will make in order to get health care reform passed. They did not have to have this argument. If Obama had organized his cohorts and gone on the offensive and stayed on the offensive from the beginning, he would be winning this battle, not losing it. That he did not do so speaks ill of his readiness to govern. If he yields now, then not only was he not ready to govern, he will not be able to govern. He will have knuckled under to the Republicans' bullying, and he will gain neither their cooperation nor their respect. They will know that they have him surrounded, and they will simply ignore and demean him for the rest of his term.

And he will have lost his progressive allies and well-wishers, who will have found that he cares very little for their support. The result will be a Republican return to power on a whole new footing -- even stupider, crazier, and more ruthless. Remember 2000, when the Republicans overran the recount in Florida, then stole the election, and then gloated and sneered about it? Those Republicans are going to look easygoing compared to the 2012 Republicans.

The public option is ground zero in the fight for America's future. It is the only way to actually control and rein in the insurance companies, as was shown when insurance stocks rose on rumors that the public option might be killed. But the public option is also a symbol. It symbolizes who is in power -- the people, who want the public option -- or the corporations, who don't. It's that simple.

If the public option falls out of health care reform, then it will mean either that Obama is too corrupt to fight for it, and never cared that much about health care in the first place, or it will mean that he is too weak, even with a majority in both houses and a decided victory in an election against clearly flawed opponents. His weakness will not have been in his mandate, but in his character. Neither of these is the lesser of two evils -- both are equally evil. If Obama is simply corrupt, then that means that there is no hope because the entire ruling class has been bought and paid for, and the government is just a sham, a front organization for wealthy corporations. If Obama is a well-meaning weakling, then that means there is no hope because Obama's unnecessary collapse before the curdling and shrinking right-wing will only empower them now that they are at their worst. And we are not talking about empowering Dwight Eisenhower here. We are talking about empowering Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck -- people who use stupidity and hatred as a standard for rallying support.

Make no mistake about it -- this is it. No public option, no turning back. No public option, and bullying and ignorance carry the day. Oh, and corporate profits and gun-toting, the only two remaining symbols of the American Way.