Is Obama Sending Mixed Message on Public Option?

The answer is yes. Just a day after his Health and Human Services Secretary says the administration can live without a public option, other aides now say he hasn’t given up on it. And what exactly is involved with the health insurance co-ops that would take the public option’s place? Nobody seems to know.

All this is why, in a previous blog post, I argued that President Obama needed to start the health care reform debate with single payer, universal care.

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Those who oppose him couldn’t care less about the public option, co-ops, or anything else he comes up with. Their end game is, simply, nothing, no change at all. That’s why they spent so much time and energy packing town hall meetings with loudmouthed screamers, some of whom still can’t fathom the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States.

Now, progressives are crying foul, saying Obama is abandoning real reform in favor of a watered down alternative. It is, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accurately describes it, “like sending a peewee footballers against the Super Bowl champs” when it comes to co-ops vs. big insurance. So the question must be asked, why? Why is the administration making so many concessions?

Do they not see that for some of those who oppose healthcare reform, Obama himself is the issue? Maybe the president is having trouble digesting the ugliness that came out of so many of those town halls. But he doesn’t seem to understand that nothing will mollify that small segment of the American public. Nothing, that is, short of his resignation.

You can say it’s racial, you can say it’s generational, whatever. There is a loud minority in America who see “their country” slipping away from them. They see Barack Obama and his agenda as the cause of that slippage, and they don’t like it one bit. Ditching the public option gives emboldens them like nothing else could. It tells them, “we’re winning”.

Worse yet, big business is winning. They’re the ones bankrolling the politicians and in some cases the groups that are ¬†loudest in opposing reform. They’re the ones whose bottom lines will get fatter if costs aren’t controlled. And they’ll have a giant new pool of clients if everyone’s required to purchase insurance.

And what does the public get? Not a whole lot.

I for one understand politics well enough to know you don’t always get what you want, that compromise is part of the game, a necessary one if you talk to those who play it.

But at what price? You tell me.

Should the Episcopal Church Let Dissidents Leave?

It looks like the Episcopal Church, the church to which I proudly belong, will end its moratorium on the appointment of gay and lesbian bishops.

The bishops themselves voted Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to them, thus ending a three year “moratorium” that angered both sides in this divisive dispute. The resolution has been written in such a way that dioceses can now consider candidates to become bishops, but there’s no mandate forcing any diocese to do so.

This sounds to me an awful lot like free choice.

Not being naive, however, I know the forces in the church that oppose the consecration of gay bishops won’t be happy. They’ve been fighting this battle since Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003.

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Sad to say, some of those most vocally opposed to equality for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church are from Africa.

Here in the US, a number of dioceses have split off from the church over the issue. They’ve formed their own “Anglican Church in North America”. Many of the bishops opposed to rescinding the moratorium cited fears more dioceses will leave the fold. The central question facing the church now is whether to find another way to mollify the dissidents.

I must admit that at first, I saw all those opposed to the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy as little more than a bunch of throwback homophobes.

My initial reaction to the threat of breakaway dioceses was “Let ’em go! Who needs ’em?” It was this type of thinking that made me pull away from the church myself as a young man.

When discussing the issue with my former parish priest a few years ago, I was surprised by his calm approach to the problem. I expected him to be a fiery advocate for gay and lesbian clergy. After all, he is gay. Yet he counseled me not to overreact, not to condemn these folks as simple homophobes with whom no dialogue was possible. Instead, he expressed the belief that the two sides can find common ground. There may be some Episcopalians who would never accept gay clergy, he said, but eventually most would come to accept it.

I’m starting to think he was right. The fight for gay rights and equality has come further than I would have thought possible just a few years ago. In fact, some lay members of the church’s House of Deputies who voted three years ago in favor of the moratorium voted Sunday to rescind it. One woman who spoke to the New York Times cited the fact that no matter who decides to leave, inclusion is where the Episcopal Church is. Amen, indeed.

So it’s my personal hope that dialogue between these opposite sides will continue, and serve as an example to other Protestant denominations who look at this divide and wonder when it will come to their church.

What about you?  Should the Episcopal Church continue the conversation about the consecration of gay and lesbian bishops?