Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obama's Health Care Dilemma

Yesterday reader BD left the following comment concerning this quote about President Obama's health care reform plan being conflated by the right with programs from Nazi Germany:

Amen. I am concerned that Obama has lost control of the health care conversation which will result in no new legislation. I'm not burying myself into the details enough to speak super intelligently as to the actual plan details, but the right is accomplishing what they wanted: major FUD...I get it that both sides of the aisle have their faults, but the right just does some crazy shit and turns a blind eye to some crazy shit - unfortunately they've become pretty good at it. That, or the American public's ability to smell shit has lessened. Probably both factors at work. Sad.
At this time I'm afraid I have to agree with his assessment of Obama's handling of this issue. As I've said before, health care is hardly my area of expertise (or even an area of personal interest, aside from having a need for it) so I've never really understood why the White House abdicated so much of the responsibility for crafting legislation to Congress in the first place. Many say that it was to keep from making the same mistakes as the Clinton administration in 1993 or that it was intended to help foster a bipartisan solution with Republicans and they're probably correct on either or both counts. Regardless of his reasons though, Obama should nevertheless have recognized that a legislative body as large and diverse as Congress would need a fair amount of guidance to successfully implement a plan as vast and complex as the one he asked for, and his failure to provide that guidance thus far has cost him both valuable time and political capital.

Any chance of creating a single-payer plan for the nation was already dead from the start while the public option is quickly losing support and is being watered down more and more with every compromise put forth by Congress. And despite Obama's recent explanatory speeches and town hall meetings the White House still has yet to frame the issue completely in a way that can be adequately understood by the average citizen. The senators and congressmen who support the legislation have done a piss poor job of explaining and supporting the various policy proposals while the resistance of the supposedly fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats has only aided Republican obstructionism in both houses. And that's not even mentioning any likely behind the scenes problems caused by the glaringly obvious conflicts of interest for dozens of lawmakers who continue to receive generous campaign contributions from the very same insurance and pharmaceutical industries they're attempting to regulate.

Speaking of Republican obstructionism, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) certainly sums up this fairly successful strategy quite accurately. Not only is national health care reform a monumentally ambitious political undertaking but with its effects on so many industries and aspects of American society it is also intricately complex, consisting mostly of confusing medical terms and procedures coupled with extraordinarily dry actuarial tables and financing programs. Republicans, the aptly named "Party of No" on this issue, recognized these complications quite early in the debate and instead of wasting time crafting any actual legislation of their own capitalized on them by making callous yet simplistic appeals to people's innate worries and worst fears. And they have indeed become pretty good at it, using rhetorical obfuscation and outright lies to force the Democrats to back off passing any meaningful legislation until after the autumn recess.

Having said all that though I hope I can allay BD's and anyone else's concerns about no new legislation getting passed on this issue. Although whatever eventually does make it out of committee for a vote on the floor may be a somewhat diluted version of President Obama's original vision it will still be of paramount importance to ultimately get something substantial onto his desk and I believe that his insistence on moving as quickly as possible from the outset is a clear indication that he understands this much better than Clinton ever did. Creating a near-universal right to health care coverage (and despite right-wing protestations to the contrary I do consider health care to be a human right) is a necessary first step in building the political will for true cost controls on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries along with substantial reform of our entire system.

As for the American public's lessening ability to smell shit, it is indeed sad but while I blame the average citizen's intellectual laziness coupled with a general anathema to partisan politics for this failure they are not the only ones at fault here. One expects the unthinking hordes that comprise the hardcore base of the Republican party to buy into and repeat the outrageous lies about creeping socialism and governmental death panels being propagated by FOX News and AM radio as a matter of course but for the rest of the corporate-owned media to have lent these untruths such legitimacy over the past few months is truly disheartening.

Now of course the quest for ratings (read: advertising dollars) largely drives how the media covers political issues so obviously creating a narrative of conflict by pitting left vs. right is and always will be preferable to fostering honest debate, and as a society we've come to expect this to some degree from for-profit journalistic outlets. However most Americans don't have the time to wade through the complexities of the various aspects of health care reform legislation themselves and they should be able to rely on news organizations to at least have enough journalistic integrity to present them with unbiased coverage and accurate information as they report on such important and complex issues. Shit definitely becomes a lot harder to smell when it's coming from a supposedly nonpartisan news organization that gives it the same amount of airtime and legitimacy as they do the literal truth; a "fake balance" as it were.

So while I do fault the American people for buying so much of the right-wing propaganda about Obama's health care reform the blame also lies with the corporate media and news outlets that have been willfully selling it to them. And while I fully expect Obama to eventually get some version of reform passed into law I also have several real concerns about just how substantial those reforms will be and what form they will ultimately take. He warned us that these would be hard times with very few easy solutions and I take those warnings just as seriously now as I ever have. By taking on so many problems and adversaries at once he's been playing a very complicated and dangerous game, but then real change always is.


Leslie Parsley said...

We've all heard that change is threatening - even to the well in- formed and to those who voted for it.

The Dems have indeed done a lousy job of selling their package. Maybe they were a little too complacent, if not arrogant. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience for them but I'm afraid it's too little too late for HC.

The media? In their quest for the almighty dollar they have, quite simply, prostitued themselves and demonstrated a total lack of responsibility to the public.

BD said...

You bring up an excellent point about the media loving the ratings that a back and forth fight bring. O'Reilly v. Olbermann proves that. And we've all been witness to the degradation of public discourse that has coincided with the "information age." So now I wonder what the future is. I mean I like that we have differing views (I actually watch Hannity pretty often, cuz I like 'em good 'n crazy) but we've created political gridlock. Compromise is now just another word for losing (or epic failure as American Power would say).

The way so many American's latched on to Obama's campaign message tells me we don't want it this way, but the powers that be (politicians, industry and the media) hold the keys and they're not letting go. It sucks.

James, I hope you're right about some sort of health care bill getting passed. It is a *human* right. Amazing how people characterize caring for your fellow citizens as socialism. But you're 1/3 socialist, so maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree there. :)

JBW said...

This is true BD but it's only the bottom third. From mid-thigh up I'm libertarian (except the genitals, they're communist: everyone gets a piece).

Leslie Parsley said...

"Compromise is now just another word for losing (or epic failure as American Power would say)."

I think there's more to this and James alluded to it in an earlier post. These people are just plain angry, not only that they lost the election but they lost to a black man. They're not interested in discourse and they don't support the notion of majority rule.

I can tell you one thing. If these people had been protesting the Vietnam War, they would have been tear gassed, clubbed, cuffed and hauled off to jail by now.

Good post, James.

JBW said...

Thanks, Leslie. Health care reform is the new outrage du jour and the right doesn't mind scaring the shit out of seniors while venting their anger.