I don’t know what the president is going to say tonight in his joint address to Congress. But after the “summer of crazy,” in which the president and his team lost the communications battle against a lunatic smorgasbord of charges, from death panels to socialism, and with an administration that even up to yesterday, was still lamely talking “bipartisanship,” I’m not what you’d call hopeful.
Ted Kennedy has passed on, and the White House has yet to utter a word about the bill he essentially wrote for the Senate HELP committee. The public option is “a great tool” but not essential to the final product according to Robert Gibbs (both in his press conference yesterday and on NPR this morning.) And Gibbs insists that the president tonight will not “focus on the negative” by issuing veto threats. Instead, says Gibbs, he’ll talk about positive stuff most people can agree on. Well isn’t that nice.
Well I didn’t get a chance to sign that petition of Obama staffers, donors and volunteers (I was on staff for less than a month toward the end of the campaign,) but I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments in it. If the president tonight stands before a joint session of Congress and the American people, and repeats the now tired (and ineffective) litany of well worn phrases that have characterized his team’s attempts to explain healthcare reform (“if you like your healthcare, you can keep it … insurance companies won’t deny pre-existing conditions … we want a bipartisan bill … blah blah blah…) I think I’m going to turn off the TV, because that’s not change I can believe in.
And far be it from me to grant any legitimacy to the tea party nutjobs, but I think there’s one thing that the Paulites and I agree on: the idea of the federal government ordering me to purchase health insurance is not just objectionable, it’s a deal breaker. Now my objection is different from the tea party crowd’s. Unlike them, I want this president to succeed. In fact, I think that his success is vital to the country’s. They on the other hand, are channeling the vitriol and insanity of people like Glenn Beck and the man he’s quickly eclipsing: Rush Limbaugh. And they simply don’t want government involved in healthcare delivery at all. In fact, peel away the layers of dishonesty and their dishonorable red-baiting of the president and Democrats on the issue, and you’ll soon discover that these people also would like to do away with Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Not so with me. I like “socialized medicine.” It seems to work quite nicely at the VA, and for senior citizens (who during this debate are clinging to the Medicare like it’s running away.) What I don’t want is for the federal government ordering me to purchase the product of privately-owned, under-regulated corporations whose historic proclivity has been to rip people off, deny them coverage, and scrimp on their care when they need it most. Insurance is, to me, the biggest scam ever invented. You pay them a fee, and if nothing bad happens to you, they keep your money. If something bad does happen to you, they use every bureaucratic trick in the book to find ways of not paying you. Strengthening such a system by feeding another 50 million people into the existing insurance industry sink hole is not exactly what I’d call reform. Rather, such a scheme sounds like a massive government subsidy — to insurance companies.
It’s bad enough that I can be fined for not having private auto insurance if pulled over by the police. But at least there, not having insurance doesn’t just potentially harm me, it potentially harms another driver. In the case of health insurance, if I’m going to be forced to buy it, at the threat of fines, I damned well better have the option of giving my money to an entity I own — in other words, a “public” insurance company owned by me and other taxpayers. Then, at least, I would feel that I’m parting with my limited resources for the common good, and feeding those reources into an entity whose only motivation is healthcare, rather than the enormous profits health insurance companies earn off the sick and the dying. I ought to have that choice. Others, who prefer to give their money to Aetna or Blue Cross, or United Healthcare, can choose to spend their money there.
That’s why it’s called an option.
So Mr. President, I say no more pussyfooting. You’re either for real reform or you’re not; you’re either with us (the American people) or with the insurance companies. All of the “smart people” in the Washington press corps insist that a public option cannot and will not pass. Fine. Then I hope that the progressive caucus in the House of Representatives will use the nuclear option — vote against any bill at all and kill the whole thing. Yes, such a move would hand the president a stinging defeat. Yes, right wingers and tea baggers would rejoice. But in the end, the White House would be forced to re-evaluate its priorities, and if it still wants healthcare reform, it would have to do so though the actual exercise of power, rather than through desperate negotiation with legislatively irrelevant Republicans who at the end of the day, are never — ever — going to negotiate with this president in good faith. It’s time for President Obama to wake up, shake off this bipartisan nonsense, get control of the quisling moderates in his party and start governing like he means it. Jettison the GOP and push through real reform — the reform that was promised last fall.
Otherwise, I vote we deep six the whole damned thing.
Cross-posted at Open Salon.