September 13, 2009

   Obama, the Democrats,
and the Public Option

Eight months into the presidency of Barak Obama and the honeymoon is long over. The right is waging all out war, even going as far as declaring that the president's health care bill will establish special death committees to pass sentences on senior citizens. The progressive and left wing of his own party are also up in arms, although not literally like some ultra right wing Obama haters who have demonstrated at presidential speech locations with loaded automatic weapons and assault rifles.

A Bad Moon on the Right . . . and the Left?
One might have expected war to be declared by the president's crazed Republican opponents and their extreme right wing base which thinks that Obama is the second coming of Adolf Hitler. But what do we make of the palpable unrest on the president's left?

Before going any further, let's define what we mean when we say "the left". Broadly speaking, the left can be described as Democrats in his own party who are to the left of Obama himself and his basically centrist political orientation. Add to this grouping anyone else with similar or more leftward leanings, including the organized left, and you have quite a healthy percentage of the electorate. We could venture a percentage guess but we'd be making things up as no one knows the actual numbers in a case like this.

While the right wing more or less walks in ideological lock step based on the poison kool aid fed to it by the usual suspects (the Republican National Committee, Fox News, and lately most other major media oulets), the so called left has many divergent ideologoical perspectives and rarely speaks in one voice on any issue. All of which seems to create for the left a sort of "Catch-22" situation in which a popular president they voted for is getting blasted from both sides of the political fence.

In recent weeks the issue of whether a public option (with or without "teeth") will be included in any proposed health care reform bill has approched critical mass. It comes as no surprise that the Republicans are fighting against it tooth, nail, and lately as just mentioned with AK-47s. In point of fact the Republicans would just as soon totally sink any health care reform bill, even one without a public option.

The depressing and dissapointing shocker in all this, however, has been the apparent shortage of sufficient support and votes for a public option in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

The depressing and dissapointing shocker in all this, however, has been the apparent shortage of sufficient support and votes for a public option in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress. Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat and key member of the "gang of six" Senatorial panel writing the Senate version of the health care bill as well as chair of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, is without question in the pockets of the health insurance companies. He represents a state that has more sheep than people.

As of this moment the public option could go either way. Of course, there's more to a good health care reform bill than a public option. As is always the case, the devil in any legislation is always in the last minute "tweaks" that can make or break a piece of legislation. It is entirely possible to have a bad bill passed WITH a public option if the PO is a weak one without teeth. And it is quite possible to have a decent bill WITHOUT one if enough of the right regulations are placed on the insurance industry.

The Obama administration has issued a series of confusing and conflicting statements on the necessity for including a PO. Earlier this year there seemed to be relatively strong support for it, but more recently they have backed away with a series of public statements that a PO was not essential, health care coops might be a workable substitute, etc. This upset many in the Democratic Party base, including but not limited to those in the party on the so-called left. Retracking a bit, Obama has recently made some luke warm statements in support of a PO and a great overall speech on the health care bill to the Congress, but nobody can really tell as this stage what is really happening behind the scenes.

The Afghan War and the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room
Adding to Obama's problems has been his choice to escalate the U.S. committment to achieve a military solution in Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban. Public support for this war has plumeted and it should not just be seen as a problem with the organized left and the anti-war/peace movement. The Afghan War is a morally questionable, unwinnable affair which has already cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Such a war bankrupted the then Soviet Union and can easly do the same for us.

It matters little whether you're mad at Obama, love him and think he has done a good job so far, are dissapointed with him, or believe he has "sold us out".

Obama's strong push to bail out failing financial institutions, while arguably saving us from a much worse melt-down, has also brought him little credit in the eyes of the average working person. With so many still out of work and with unemployment rising near 10% according to biased government statistics (and in reality closer much closer to 20%) this move was widely seen as helping the banks while not doing enough for those victimized by them. While this development was used to attack Obama by the Republican-friendly media, this in no way makes it a less important problem to consider.

Putting an End to Politics as Usual
Returning to the subject of health care reform, it's no secret as to how things work in Washington in the 21st Century. The corporatization of government is more than left wing/progressive rhetoric. It has been consolidated to a degree never before achieved in the past and it is solidly entrenched in the two party political system we live under. In the end, the type of health care bill we are likely to get depends on the balance of power between various corporate and insurance interests and the ability of the electorate to counter such influence through both mass public pressure and with pressure from within the Democratic Party structure itself.

It matters little whether you're mad at Obama, love him and think he has done a good job so far, are dissapointed with him, or believe he has "sold us out". What matters is the understanding that we cannot afford to be passive and sit back and allow our leaders to govern as usual. Obama promised change and a new direction. But that will only happen if you and I and millions of other people demand real solutions to our problems and a new direction for the future.

And yes, it is indeed a delicate balancing in how to approach criticizing President Obama in light of what his enemies on the right are attempting to do. The situation calls for aggressive but rational advocacy that avoids personal insults, angry rants, and name calling. Only in that way can we forge enough unity around the issues than concern us.

As the old saying goes, "The wheel that squeals gets the grease!"