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.

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Was Sotomayor’s Confirmation Really a Surprise?

It shouldn’t have been. The final vote was 68-31, hardly close by any measure. The media will lament the fact that only nine Republicans voted for her. So what? She’ll be sworn in Saturday, GOP support or not. I guess we should count our blessings nine Republican senators had sense enough to vote yes.

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Throughout Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation process, Republican opposition was overblown. People like Jeff Sessions and Mitch McConnell were paraded on the Sunday talk shows as if they had the power to stop or at least derail a process that seemed inevitable by the numbers. Now we know how that turned out.

Aside from the fact this was a victory for the White House, it should tell President Obama something as well. Bi-partisanship is overrated. Why should this president waste his own political capital on finding common ground with lawmakers who have a naked, partisan agenda? For every Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor of Sonia Sotomayor because it was the right thing to do, there’s a Jim DeMint, who sees Obama’s undoing behind his every initiative.

Beat ’em down, Mr. President. And that goes for Democrats who cross you as well. I say this knowing it’s not Barack Obama’s style to use a stick on his opposition. His nice guy approach worked well during the presidential campaign, but these people are playing for keeps. Not for nothing they’re saying if he can’t get healthcare reform passed, it means the end of his presidency.

Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation is metaphor for a new reality that Republicans are having trouble figuring out. They’re not the majority anymore. That’s why they’re sending out minions to disrupt town hall meetings on healthcare. That’s why the birthers won’t go away, no matter how bankrupt their cause. Since January 20th they’ve been looking for an opening, any opening to land a mortal blow on the Obama presidency.

Time will tell if healthcare is in fact that blow. But for now, the Sotomayor confirmation, plus the extension of “Cash for Clunkers” both represent incremental victories for President Obama. They should also represent abject lessons about the limits of a bi-partisan approach with this particular batch of Republicans.

To be fair, not all of them subscribe to the “party of no” doctrine that their leadership embraces. Not even all those who come down as opposed to some Obama policies are bad people. It’s going to be up to this president to separate the chaff from the wheat.

So, back to the original issue. Were you surprised by Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation, or by her margin of victory? You tell me.

We Lost Another Giant – Healthcare NOW advocate Marilyn Clement.

I’m fully aware that some of you do know, but longtime health care activist Marilyn Clement died Monday at the age of 74. Her list of accomplishments would take up this entire space, but suffice to say she was one of the nation’s greatest advocates for universal, single payer health care. This means she was talking about it a long time ago, before the current debate.

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Coretta Scott King and Marilyn Clement

And she spoke up for single payer, universal health care right up until her passing. Marilyn Clement was national co-ordinator for the organization Healthcare-NOW. Universal care was her passion. I consider it one of the missed opportunities of my career that I never had a chance to interview her. And yet, she shares a lot with many of the great people I’ve met in my life.

One word links them, selflessness. That is, to think of the greater good beyond what’s good for you. Marilyn Clement had this in abundance. Whether it was her work with the civil rights movement or helping fledgling organizations like Progressive Democrats of America, she did the work not for personal celebrity, but for regular, just plain folks.

Check out her speech at the Judson Memorial Church in New York back in June…

It was an event to honor her, but something struck me while watching it. Conservative groups that are trying to kill any type of health care reform (let alone single payer) constantly rally their troops. They send out e-mails that say keep up the fight, that progress is being made.

So it was with Marilyn Clement, though obviously in the opposite direction. She told that audience at Judson that we don’t have single payer yet, but eventually, we will. That the fight must be kept up, and so must the spirits of those waging the battle. She said those words knowing she wouldn’t live to see the result. To me, that’s the true definition of selflessness.

Let’s be clear. What passes the Congress and gets signed into law by President Obama won’t be single payer health care. Supporters like Cong. Henry Waxman say universal care could never pass the Congress. Still, because of the work of Marilyn Clement and those she inspired to get involve, universal, single payer care is closer than it’s been in my lifetime.

So, rest in peace, Marilyn Clement. I didn’t know you, but I am one of those who is grateful for all you did, and deeply mourn your passing. Your legacy is with those you’ve left behind to carry on your good work.

“Beer Summit”- Teachable Moment or Insult?

So was anything really accomplished at Thursday’s meeting between President Barack Obama, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley? Perhaps, in its own way, it was an amicable means of defusing what threatened to become a racial time bomb. The July 16th incident, and the president’s reaction to it, touched off a media firestorm only partly explained by the fact it’s summer, and media typically trolls for news about now.

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I have to admit, there’s a part of me that takes umbrage at the notion that this meeting represented a watershed event in US race relations. In fact, the idea of a “beer summit” insults the memories of people like Medgar Evers, the four little girls bombed to death in the basement of a Birmingham church, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. These were people who died so these three plus Vice President Joe Biden could share that beer at the White House.

A harsh assessment? Maybe. But in this age of media hype, there’s no other way to put it. Put simply, could Gates have chilled a bit when confronted by Crowley? Sure. Could Crowley have defused the situation instead of blowing it up by arresting Gates? Yep. Could Obama have chosen his words more carefully, so as not to stoke the media fire? Yes again. Yet none of these things rise to the level of scrutiny the incident has received.

Why all the fuss? Because by using the words “acted stupidly”, Barack Obama stepped out of his assigned role as America’s non racial black president. Suddenly, as far as the media was concerned, he became a spokesman for his race. You can almost hear people thinking, “Geez, we didn’t elect him to talk about racial injustice. Racial responsibility, fine. But not this”.

Which brings up the question, why not this? Why shouldn’t this president be as free to talk about race in  this context as, say, Bill Clinton was? Why hasn’t the issue of racial profiling moved beyond the occasional story in local media? Alas, Barack Obama learned he won’t be able to opine about these sorts of things in the future. Politically, the cost was too high.

When you’re trying to get health care reform passed, talking about race creates a problem. Barack Obama knows this, just as he knows knocking back a cold one with Crowley and Gates won’t change the attitude of that Boston cop who referred to Gates as a “jungle monkey”.

That actually takes work. So just what did Thursday’s beerfest actually accomplish? You tell me.

Beer for Obama…Will the Gates Story Ever End?

If you have any doubts about how central the issue of race remains in America, consider this. The Google News front page lists the major news stories of the day. Robert Gates is in Iraq.

There are 750 stories flagged about that.

Seven men were busted on terror conspiracy charges in North Carolina. There are 1166 articles about that. The health care debate warrants 733 articles. The continuing controversy over Henry Louis Gates, Barack Obama, and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge police? 2722 articles. Everyone, and I mean everyone is weighing in on both sides of the racial fault line.

Some dwell on President Obama’s “acted stupidly” comment. While truth might be an absolute defense under normal circumstances, the screaming and hollering that followed kept the story alive, and insured an Obama retraction, or “modification”, or however you want to describe it. Then the president, not “acting stupidly”, invites both Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley to the White House to share that most working class of liquid concoctions, a beer.

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Hopefully, some common ground can be found here. Like maybe Crowley’s actions weren’t smart, and neither were Gates’. Do they balance each other out? That largely depends on how you look at things. If you support the police, the scales are obviously on the side of Sgt. Crowley, a cop trying to do his job who was unfairly berated first by Gates, then by the President of the United States. If you’ve ever been the victim of racial profiling, or understand how prevalent a law enforcement tool it’s been, then Skip Gates’ anger is entirely justified, as is his belief that he was treated differently because of his race.

So what does it all boil down to? Is it, as ABC News reports, a question of what beer Obama chooses for this monumental event? Is it who speaks first, who says sorry, and whether or not they shake hands?

Trust me, that’s what you’ll get as “analysis” from even the most “reputable” media. Never mind the health care quagmire, that can wait. Robert Gates (no relation to Skip) in Iraq? Big deal. Better to spend time and effort on Skip Gates, Sarah Palin, the “birthers” movement, and God knows what else. Will somebody focus on what Obama wears to this meeting? Will Gates and Crowley come dressed casual or in suits and ties?

You get the picture. Race matters. A lot. There are those who believe that the election of Barack Obama signaled a turn toward the nation’s post-racial future. Not so fast. There’s real work to do.

What do you think? Is the media overplaying the Gates controversy?

Can Obama Win on Health Care?

barack-obama-healthcareThe president’s supporters have gotten nervous over poll slippage for his health care plan. That’s why he went on the offensive Wednesday, emphasizing the need to reform the current system. President Obama is fighting this battle on several fronts. Congressional Republicans want to see his plan go down, pure and simple. Jim DeMint isn’t the only one hoping this is Obama’s “Waterloo”. Despite their minority status, they’re pressing their opposition in part by playing the “Fear of the Unknown” card.

What we have is bad, their argument goes, but what Obama is proposing is worse. Plus, they have a couple of non partisan analyses that say his plan won’t save the money he says it will. Next on the list are so-called “Blue Dog Democrats”, who seem to willing to break ranks over issues of cost, and whether new taxes will have to be levied to pay for the plan.

Some of these folks represent constituents who are scared of government involvement in their health care decisions. President Obama tried to mollify them Wednesday, saying his plan won’t make Uncle Sam America’s doctor. To make matters worse, an awful lot of Americans don’t know the difference between the Obama health care plan, and the versions currently being taken up by the House and Senate. Even some of his congressional allies are saying he needs to trim his sails and accept a compromise solution.

I would argue differently. While Americans may be confused about the current competing plans, they do know what single payer means. And that’s the problem. Barack Obama missed a singular opportunity by not advocating for universal, single payer health coverage for all Americans. Telling the American people “If you’re sick, you’ll be treated, no matter what” would present a clear choice that most people can understand and support. Keep things as they are, and risk having to declare bankruptcy even with insurance, or move to a universal, single payer plan that while not perfect, is measurably better than what exists now.

Opponents would trot out their “socialized medicine” arguments. So what? President Obama could then point to the dramatically lower administrative costs associated with Medicaid and Medicare as opposed to the current system. They holler about Britain, and the supposed shortcomings of their system. I could tell them of one personal experience about that.

On a visit to London some time ago, my daughter was injured by a painting that fell on her head in our hotel room. My wife and I were panicked. What to do? Fortunately, we were staying down the street from a hospital. We took her there, and waited anxiously while she was examined and treated. It took about three hours. Never once were we asked for an insurance card, or for that matter, whether we were British citizens (my wife is). She received a number of stitches, but in the end they told us she’d be fine.

I asked how much this treatment would cost, preparing for the worst. To my utter amazement, the answer was “Nothing. The treatment is free”. It was my first, and to date only experience with universal health care.

What about you? Should the nation be arguing about health care reform, or should we take the giant leap to universal health care?

Will the Bronx Hear Obama’s Message?

President Obama always makes a big splash when he comes to New York City.

Thursday was no exception. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention, and brought the audience to its feet more than once. It was his most direct speech on issues of race since the campaign, and contained more than one reference to the need for black people to take individual responsibility for bettering our condition.

I spent part of Thursday in a part of New York City that’s not too far from the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan where the president spoke. Not too far, at least, as the crow flies.

In some ways, the  West Bronx is a world away from Midtown. Walk its streets and you experience hope and despair simultaneously. There’s the hopeful hum of road repair and new construction. Unlike “back in the day”, a good number of wearing the hard hats are people of color.

You look in wonder at a vest pocket community garden on Morris Ave. just below 181st St.

You hear the laughter of young children at a playground up the block. A couple of blocks away, the rumble of the elevated subway provides a tympani roll every five minutes or so. Whether walking or driving through the Bronx, you realize this place has a rhythm all its own. The smells of restaurant food from the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean come together to remind you it’s almost lunchtime.

Yes, warts and all, the Bronx is a beautiful place to me. Yet I know better than to try to romanticize it. As President Obama told the NAACP, much still needs to be done. On that note, a thought came to me as I digested the speech and my trip to the Bronx at the same time. While it’s fine for the president to talk about individual and family responsibility, what about the responsibility of politicians to better the conditions of poor, working people in places like the West Bronx?

Recent local developments could lead one to conclude some politicians are acting as irresponsibly as fathers who make babies and then abandon them. They build fiefdoms through providing needed services like health care, then pay themselves princely salaries in addition to what  they make as lawmakers. The recent gridlock in the New York State Senate, the inability of California lawmakers to work out a budget agreement, and other examples around the country seem to say the need for responsibility doesn’t stop at the doorstep of black America.

Maybe one day soon, President Obama will get to walk the streets of the Bronx?

He certainly walked the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, so he knows the pain of poverty and dashed expectations first hand. That’s why his message resonates with many in the black community. He needs to deliver that same message to greedy, avaricious politicians, even if they’re members of his political party.

You think it would make a difference?