Monday, September 07, 2009

What's at stake on Wednesday

Marta Evry, a filmmaker who worked full-time on the Obama campaign in 2008, gives a good description of the political and emotional stakes riding on Obama's health care speech before a Joint Session of Congress this coming Wednesday in The Public Option: A Promise Kept or a Promise Broken. There is a major policy issue at stake. The health care reform package being debated isn't about tinkering at the edges with our health care problems. It's about a strategic change in the American approach to financing health care to bring our system up to the standards of performance of the other wealthy countries of the world.

The Republicans and the Blue Dogs are playing this strategically. They know if they block meaningful health care reform, it will not only be a body blow to the Obama administration, it will also make it likely that the United States will go another 10, 20, 50 years with an increasingly costly and increasingly unaffordable health care system. While other countries with similar economies have much more efficient systems providing comparable or better care at lower average costs and covering all their citizens. Passing a flawed "reform" aimed at enriching the insurance companies further while allowing them to jack up prices even further will make the actual program instantly unpopular among the people who should see the most immediate benefit from a real reform. And it could conceivably even reduce accessibility. It would create the political environment for the Republicans and Blue Dog to abolish whatever patient-friendly elements remain in the bill in just a year or two.

Evry focuses on the stakes for pro-labor and progressive reform generally riding on the health care debate:

Next Wednesday night, President Obama will give what's been described as the most important speech of his career. Not because health care reform hangs in the balance. Not because of policy. But because Wednesday night will be about promises kept or promises broken. Because Wednesday night, we will know the emotional truth.
Obama has already fallen in my estimation considerably by his timid approach to health care, begging the other side for "bipartisanship" when apparently everyone outside the Beltway Village bubble can see the Republicans have no intention of being "bipartisan" on health care.

He made another tepid statement of support for the public option in his Labor Day speech: "And I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs." At least he's expressing support for the public option. But with so much riding on it, it was a pretty weak endorsement.

Joan Walsh commented on Twitter about the Labor Day speech, "THIS is the guy I voted for. I sure hope he shows up Wednesday night." I'll feel a lot more inspired by his speeches when I see him get health care reform with a robust public option through.

The administration's letting Van Jones go down in front of Glenn Beck's attacks is also a very discouraging sign. Maybe I'm being too kind even there. It looked to me like a purge of a guy who the rightwing was attacking and the administration didn't have the moxie to defend. It's an example of the radically different standards that prevail by general agreement of the two parties. Obama's people made a big mistake not backing him up. Beyond all Republican hypocrisy (hypocrisy doesn't begin to describe the screaming contradictions in the the Republicans' behavior) and relative skill in political hissy fits (the Dems don't even try to compete there) is the basic fact that Republicans fight for their Party positions with an intensity the Democratic leadership as a whole just doesn't. Nancy Pelosi comes the closest among the most senior ones right now. The difference is not primarily in public support: Republican positions on most issues are chronically more unpopular. The difference is the willingness of the leaders to fight for the demands of their respective bases.

I'd have to qualify that a bit. To the extent that financial corporations, including insurance, are part of the Democratic base, the Democratic leadership has been willing this year to fight for them.

Dave Neiwert comments on the Van Jones purge in Van Jones' resignation: Glenn Beck gets a scalp, Obama gets a white feather Crooks and Liars 09/04/09

The blogger Aimai credits her 10-year-old daughter with coming up with a slogan for a sign on health care, "We Voted For You/Now You Vote For Us." That's what it's down to on the health care debate. With Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

Aimai (who is I.F. Stone's granddaughter) has been on a roll at No More Mister Nice Blog on the topic of the perilous risk into which Obama has put the reform movement generally. For instance:

I don't understand why Obama and his staff don't get it--they are falling between two stools in their attempt to appeal to a mushy middle. People don't want a peacemaker, at this point. They either want him out, or they want vengeance, or they want help. If I were Obama and his team I'd pick a side, any side, but I'd prefer he'd "dance with the ones that brung him" and grasp that you can't please everyone so you might as well please your friends. [my emphasis]

... even when Obama was pretending to draw back from the negotiations he was, or should have understood himself to be, at the center of the negotiations. And because the Republican side was really using the entire debate as a form of refighting the election campaign he (and his advisors) should have realized it was a zero sum game. If the President and his plan wins the Republicans have to be understood to have lost. If the Republicans win--on any level, no matter how small (van Jones?) the Democrats lose. They lose face, and they lose their historic chance to fix the broken system.

Obama may have figured this out too late. Frankly, I doubt he's figured it out at all. ... But whether or not Obama has figured out that "face" and "authority" are not things you can delegate to Congress the moment is fast approaching when reality hits face. And its not going to be pretty. [my emphasis]
And also on the risks of a fatally flawed health reform:

Yes, without a Robust Public Option we are indeed heading into a destructive death spiral in which the poor, the unemployed, the working class are forced to pay large sums they don't have to insurance companies for "junk insurance" with high deductibles. In addition, the taxpayer will be socked with the task of a) monitoring and punishing the bewildered newly mandated insurance payer, b) paying the minimal subsidies, and c) debating how much care poor people should be entitled to. This has been a simple answer to simple question. This is why "the left" has been so fussy about the Public Option. This is why we are so angry that Obama allowed the Public Discussion to fall so far from real life and real language. People need health care. They need air. And they need water. It must be accessible, or it must be provided. Failure to do so kills people.
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