When I’m not sure about someone, I generally tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, in life as well as politics. I was extremely happy that Barack Obama won the election last year, beating out his conservative opponents John McCain in the general contest and Hillary Clinton (yes, she’s a conservative) in the primaries. The most liberal candidate, it seemed, had finally won. A Washington outsider who was not beholden to big special interests but merely to the millions of people who had donated to and supported his campaign. He ran on two basic messages: hope and change, and when he won I put aside my cynicism and let myself hope that real change was finally coming.
As time went on my cynicism began to re-emerge as hope faded little by little with each of Obama’s less-than-liberal decisions, but I haven’t yet given up on him completely. The first indication that he might be less serious about change than he let on was when he signed an order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay but kept the prison in Bagram Air Force Base open. Okay, I figured, it’s not a complete reversal of Bush but at least it’s a start.
He supported repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell but wouldn’t issue an executive order to stop kicking gays out of the military. Well, okay, he’s a new president who doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes and DADT can only be repealed in Congress anyway.
He spent more taxpayer money to bail-out AIG and the other financial giants who destroyed the economy in the first place. That certainly irks the shit out of me but I’m no economist and it’s at least conceivable that the bail-outs are in fact necessary to prevent society from a complete collapse, and he may yet get to imposing stricter regulations on the banks once the economy is back on solid ground.
He might go after CIA officials who went beyond what was written in the torture memos, but he won’t go after Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the people who initiated the torture program in the first place. That really pisses me off, but I can at least understand that the president has a lot more to worry about than the crimes of the previous administration and if he wants to get anything positive done he can’t get his whole administration bogged down in trying to right previous wrongs. In particular, if he went after the torturers he might not be able to pass health care reform.
But now it looks like that even with all of those aforementioned compromises and capitulations, he might not even get real health care reform passed anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% certain that some kind of bill will pass, that democrats will all pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other for a job well done, but if the bill that passes doesn’t include a public option to compete with private insurance companies, it will be worse than no reform at all.
Private health insurance companies are one of the most downright immoral and repugnant businesses on the face of the planet. They make their profits by literally letting people die. The stick themselves between the doctor and the patient and take a piece of the action from every transaction that goes on, just like the mafia. They take a significant chunk of your money every month by providing absolutely nothing in return other than the peace of mind of believing that if you get sick, at least it won’t bankrupt you. But if you do get sick, they’ll search your medical records to try and find any excuse whatsoever not to pay, and even if they agree to pay they’ll still make you pay about a quarter of the cost, which is still enough to bankrupt most citizens. They are a blight on society and ought to be utterly abolished from the face of the earth.
The surest way to do this would be through a single-payer system like they have in Britain and Canada, where every citizen pays taxes to pay for the health and well-being of every other citizen. It’s like a tribe all pitching in together to take care of its fellow tribe members. The American system is like a tribe in which it’s every-man-for-himself, and if the girl in the hut next door gets sick then why should I have to lift a finger to help? Not my hut, not my problem. That’s the American attitude, and that’s why so many people are more concerned about whether these health insurance companies will be able to compete with a public option than whether these insurance companies even have a right to exist in the first place. It’s the free market. Commoditize everything you can and profit off everything from which you can possibly profit—including human suffering and death.
It’s this American attitude that Obama was up against from the beginning in trying to reform our health care system, and he made his biggest mistake by taking single-payer off the table from the start in order to ease the concerns of those Free Market Fundamentalists who would sooner speak out on behalf of the rights of insurance companies to earn obscene profits than the rights of human beings to get medical care. He began the whole debate from an already-compromised position: the “public-option” which would leave private insurance companies to their business but offer an alternative for those people who didn’t feel like getting fucked in the ass by these companies. If private insurers wanted to stay in business they’d have to start being a little less evil.
If Obama had begun the process by advocating for single-payer, or at the very least letting advocates of single-payer have a voice at the table, then perhaps when all was said and done we would have arrived at the compromise of a public option. But he already began from a position of compromise, and has been sending signals all along the way that he might even be willing to compromise even further from his original position, perhaps dropping the public option altogether. It’s as though he wanted to buy something for $100, and instead of starting out with an offer of $80, to which the seller would then ask for $120 and they’d eventually haggle it down to $100, Obama started by offering $100. The seller made a counter offer of $150, and Obama came back with an offer of $120. But the republicans aren’t interested in selling at all, so when Obama offers $120 they simply raise their price to $170, and the more he offers the more they demand. Eventually he could end up paying $200 or more for a $100 deal.
Metaphors aside, there is simply no reason to compromise with the republicans. Everyone who knows anything about politics knows that there’s no way in hell any republican is going to vote for any kind of Obama health-care bill. If he drops the public option, it might make Max Baucus happy, but it won’t win him a single republican vote. They’ll just demand he make even more compromises.
Obama is not an idiot, and neither are the people who work for him. They know that this bipartisanship bullshit is pure bullshit but they keep pretending like they can all reach some sort of agreement that will make everybody happy. But republicans will never be happy, and the more they capitulate to them, the less likely it will be that any liberals will be happy either. This could kill his presidency. If he drops the public option I know I will sure as hell abandon my support of him, and millions of others like me will do the same. His presidency will be over less than a year into his first term. All this seems so obvious, so it makes no sense why Obama isn’t drawing the same line in the sand that his constituents have drawn, which is no health-care reform without a public option.
As far as I can tell there are two possible explanations. The first is that he’s just a big pussy, a little naïve, and still unsure of what he’s doing. He might have really thought that with an issue as important as health care the republicans would want to get on board and pass legislation that would really make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. If he thought that he’s a fool, as it was obvious from the moment Rush Limaugh declared that the goal of the right is nothing more or less than the destruction of Obama’s presidency. Not making the country better—just destroying Obama, even if they have to take the country down with him. When Bush was in power the republicans didn’t give a shit about democrats and didn’t lift a finger to compromise at all on any of their climate-killing, civil-liberties restricting, power-consolidating legislation, so why are Obama and the democrats so focused on making their republican enemies happy? If it’s all out of some genuine bullshit ideal of the spirit of working together and reaching consensus across the aisle, then Obama is a pussy. He should know that you can’t work with people whose only goal is to destroy you.
But there’s another explanation which is beginning to look more and more likely. As Matt Taibbi is suggesting in columns and interviews, Obama may have made a behind-closed-doors agreement with the health insurance companies from the very beginning. In exchange for continuing campaign donations to democrats for the 2010 mid-terms, and an agreement not to exclusively fund republicans, the health insurance companies may have secured Obama’s promise not to fight too hard for the public option, and to let it drop from the final legislation when all was said and done. In that case, according to Obama’s alleged thinking, everybody is happy—if by “everybody” you mean democrats and health insurance companies, certainly not the American people. The democrats get to pat themselves on the back for passing some kind of bill, the private health insurance companies get to keep on doing their evil business, and the American people get the same old shitty treatment. If Obama’s refusal to aggressively push for a public option is part of a deal with the insurance companies, then he’s far worse than a pussy—he’s a sell-out.
There are those who might defend Obama by saying that he is advocating a public option—that he’s consistently supported this proposal. I’d say that if he really wanted a public option he could have one. 77% of the American people are in favor of a choice between public and private insurance. He could be out there making the moral argument, telling a few of the tens of thousands of personal horror stories of people suffering at the hands of private insurance. He could have defined this battle as a moral imperative from the very beginning and been out there every day talking about what this legislation needs to accomplish and why it’s so important that it pass. Instead he’s out there repeating platitudes about costs and competition which don’t excite anyone. In his most recent public appearance, the health care reform bill was a “belt” and the public option its “suspenders”. Yeah, the public option isn’t the means by which our country can finally rise to the moral standing of every other modern nation that guarantees health care to all its citizens—it’s just a pair of suspenders. And if you’ve already got a belt, the suspenders aren’t necessary.
What the fuck, Obama? I thought you were supposed to be the most inspirational political speaker in a generation. You fired up millions of people and got them to go door to door, make phone calls, send e-mails, make donations, and do everything they possibly could to get you elected. But when it comes to actually passing legislation that would actually deliver on the change you promised, you’re out there talking about belts and suspenders! Yeah, that’ll fire ‘em up, all right. That’ll really get those progressives out there putting pressure on their congressmen. I can hear the chants already: “Yes We Can Wear Suspenders!” “Yes We Can Wear Suspenders!”
Of course, I’ll still give Obama the benefit of the doubt until the public option actually is dead and buried, as I expect it will be by the time the bill gets passed. But I am open to the possibility that Obama is just this brilliant chess-player who is ten steps ahead of the rest of us and this is all part of some slick ‘say-one-thing-and-do-another’ strategy that will eventually get real, solid health care reform with a public option passed at the end of the day. If Obama gets that done I’ll take back all my words and hop back on the bandwagon, because establishing public health insurance in the United States of America is a victory no matter how you look at it.
But what is far more likely is the worst-case scenario, and the reason why reform without a public option would be worse than no reform at all: individual mandates with no public option means every American will be forced to buy insurance from private companies. That’s the health insurance company’s dream-come-true, and one which Obama may be in cahoots with them to try and bring about. Sure, there may be some aesthetically pleasing regulations that make it harder for these companies to deny care or exclude people with pre-existing conditions, but these companies will find a way around them and just like Wall Street it will be back to business as usual, only now with a lot more business. Americans, who are now at least permitted to opt out of private health insurance on moral grounds (i.e. I’d rather take the risk of death or bankruptcy than let these blood-sucking corporations have a single nickel of my hard-earned money) would have no choice but to fork over the cash and make these evil rich motherfuckers even richer.
It that happens, it’s over for Obama. He could end both wars and bring peace to the Middle East and would still never win back my support. If he’s just a pussy, there’s still time for him to grow a pair of balls and get this done. But if he’s a sell-out, I will never forgive the betrayal.