09/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Newsweek 's Alter Accuses the "Angry" Left Of Forsaking The "Moral Core" Of Health Care Reform

As the New York Times's Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse report, President Barack Obama on Wednesday injected a new talking point into the health care reform debate, casting the effort as "a core ethical and moral obligation." Today, on MSNBC, the notion of "moral obligation" was offered both as a central driving principle behind reform -- and as a brickbat against the "angry" left, and their pursuit of a public option.

This all went down during a panel discussion between MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. Mitchell asked Alter to assess whether or not President Obama would "survive this politically" if he had to alter the health care bill to "satisfy the left part of the [Democratic] party." Alter gave the following response:

ALTER: The left is really angry right now, Andrea, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that there be a bill and then by next year, a lot of these details will have fallen away. Where the left has been kind of off-kilter lately is that they're not focused on the moral core of this bill, which is ending discrimination against people who have been or might, in the future, be sick. This is a critical, critical component of the bill, ending discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. So the debate has been dominated by the public option and these other things. The left has lost sight of what the core of this is. That will remain intact as long as he gets that through and universal coverage, he'll be okay politically.

It's worth pointing out that what Alter is losing sight of is that the "public option," as outlined by the president himself, is the compromise accepted by progressive members of the Democratic caucus to appease the centrist wing of the party. Left up to progressives, the health care reform would more likely resemble a single-payer system, or a government-administered system like Britain's National Health Service. Those options, naturally, address what Alter now suddenly asserts as "the moral core" of health care reform, ending "discrimination" by ensuring universal access to health care.

As it stands, I'm all but certain that "the left" holds fast to the public option precisely because it would address the "moral core" of health care reform. But, really, Alter's statement will serve his purpose: If you call out a group of people on their lack of morality, it's likely to irk them, and then -- VOILA! -- you have the "angry left!" The system works.

Meanwhile, what goes unasked is how the whole notion of a health care reform bill containing both a public option, and the means by which "discrimination" ends has managed to entirely elude Alter. And one wonders by what mechanism does the health care reform of Alter's imaginings achieve fulfillment of the "moral core" of the bill. Alter either doesn't know, or won't say, but what really matters in the end to Newsweek is that Obama will be "okay politically." Asinine.

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