Friday, August 21, 2009

Shame on Obama

Paul Krugman did an excellent column on President Obama’s failure to lead on health care in today’s New York Times, “Obama’s Trust Problem.” I can't be nearly that diplomatic or restrained. I am beyond disappointed with Obama, I’m ashamed of him.

We needed an FDR or an LBJ to lead and knock heads together and accomplish something; instead we got another Carter or Wilson – great intellectuals and humanitarians, but mediocre presidents.

Despite his campaign promises to reform health care and despite Democratic majorities in both houses, does Obama come out with a solid proposal? Does he set the terms of the debate and rally public support? Does he demand party discipline and line up the votes? Does he engage in bluff and threats and horse trading? No. He panders to the GOP. He sends mixed messages. He weaves and bobs and dithers, and pushes us further away from hope of any real health care reform for another generation.

What a way to waste a mandate! The highly organized and well-funded right smells weakness and, like all bullies, it will keep pounding and pounding and pounding. Liberal pundits are wrong to believe the debate is swinging back toward real reform. Although a reaction has indeed set in to the thuggish behavior of professional provocateurs and dupes at Congressional “listening” sessions, the resulting fatigue and alienation expressed by increasing numbers of Americans does not bode well. Doubt and division have been fueled with big lies and scare tactics, and neither the President nor the Democratic leadership has mounted any effective resistance.

Where is Obama’s heart? Does he feel passion for anything? Up to 50 million people without health insurance. Millions flooding overcrowded public health clinics. Thousands dying every year from undiagnosed and treatable illnesses. Frantic parents holding bake sales for their cancer-ridden kids. Untold personal tragedies. This is not a time for compromise. This is not a time for intellectual detachment. It is a time to humanize the issue and to mobilize a national campaign.

Throughout her presidential run last year, Hillary Clinton continually personalized the toll wrought by our cruel health care system. She told compelling stories. She spoke with passion about people around the country who were suffering financial ruin and emotional and physical collapse due to lack of health care. She spoke with the sense of moral outrage FDR invoked against the “malefactors of wealth” during the Great Depression. Obama is fond of quoting FDR, particularly FDR’s inaugural line: “This nation is calling for action, and action now.” But what has Obama done? On the stimulus bill, on rendition and detention without trial, on health care? He placates and panders.

He really hit bottom with his patronizing remarks to Organizing for America (his own campaign arm) in which he compared “health insurance reform” (not “health care reform”) to a belt, with suspenders being the public option that “can be” (not “will be”) the tool that supports insurance reform. His tone was that of talking down to some dimwitted old folks, teaching a lesson to Sasha and Malia when they were four years old or, better yet, raising his voice SO THE NICE DEAF PEOPLE CAN HEAR. You could see the boredom in his face, the sense that he was there because he had to mend fences with what the mainstream media ridiculously labeled “the left.” It was a disengaged, embarrassing performance, and did nothing to move the issue forward.

(It did result in a hilarious comment from Howard Fineman on MSNBC, who noted that with all the silly talk of pants and belts and suspenders, Obama should be careful not to be caught with his boxers exposed!)

The two most credible, consistent national leaders on health care reform in this country have been Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Kennedy is dying and Clinton is busy trying to quell international chaos (amid constant personal sniping by the media). But Teddy and Hillary are fighters, and I have more faith in them in their current debilitated and distracted states than in Obama. We’re rapidly approaching the time for a “Hail Mary” pass. I think Teddy should orchestrate a theatrical death bed appeal to Congress, and Hillary should slap Barak silly.

Passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Omnibus Health Care Reform Bill would be assured, President Obama would go down in history as a great reformer, and Hillary, of course, would be blamed for it all.

(Note: This blog was posted just days before Kennedy's death.)