11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The False Premise That Obama Wants A Public Option

This sentence, and this sentence alone, tells you what was the goal and end result of Obama's speech to Congress. The NY Times is reporting:

"The day after the nationally televised address, in which Mr. Obama signaled that he could accept an alternative to a government-run insurance plan, influential Democrats who previously seemed wedded to the public insurance option hinted that they, too, might be flexible."[emphasis added.]

Success! What an awesome speech that was, about transcendence, and moral imperatives. Lose one for Teddy!

The problem with the debate liberals are having over health care is simple, and yet that's what makes it so frustrating. Those who support a public option, but also give Obama the benefit of the doubt, are operating from a false premise. Namely, they assume that he actually wants a bill that contains a public option.

Why is anybody (or, more correctly, virtually everybody) assuming this to be the case? Because he says he does? Since when did taking elected officials at their word become a hallmark of the left? As the great Izzy Stone said, "all governments lie." Obama says he favors the public option, but what actions -- not rhetoric -- serve as evidence for this claim?

There are none. And, in fact, there is ample evidence to lead one to believe the opposite is true, that Obama is in fact getting exactly the bill he wants. Obama kowtowed to insurance and pharmaceutical companies; Rahm "the trigger" Emmanuel told progressive that they're "fucking stupid" for criticizing Blue Dogs. There has been no pressure on sex escort Max Baucus to produce a better bill, or to use the Democratic majority in the Senate to craft something better than what the "Gang of 6" will be capable of. And, financially speaking, the Democrats have now signaled to insurance and pharmaceutical companies that they can be trusted to maintain the status quo, and, in fact, actually deliver more business to those companies through individual mandates without a public option, so there is no danger of those companies scaling back any of their massive campaign funding during the next election cycle.

To assume that Obama wants the public option based only on rhetoric is the height of idiocy. Do we assume a husband loves his wife simply because he says he does, despite years of infidelity? No, we don't. We judge him or her by their actions, and any one who doesn't use that standard is rightly accused of being naive.

We have to remember that just because a politician gives the appearance of supporting a certain policy, in no way does that prove anything about what he or she may actually desire. That is not new or unique to Obama, it's just the nature of public service, which is why someone like Kucinich deserves praise -- because he said he's in favor of single payer, and then introduced a bill that would allow states on an individual basis to adopt that system if they so choose. That's what actual advocacy looks like.

If the last 8 years should have taught us anything, it's that placing trust in elected officials without sufficient evidence to do so is asking for catastrophe. If we as progressives truly want to understand what forces are driving the health care debate, then we must start by acknowledging the sad fact that, based on actions, not rhetoric, it appears that Obama may end up getting exactly what he wants.