CSMS Magazine Staff Writers
Six months ago, it would have been unthinkable to believe that Barack Obama would have any problem filtering through any legislation he deemed necessary for the country. He had just been reelected, and his popularity had reached its zenith. The republicans were in hibernation and appeared to be in disarray. All seemed plausible for progressive changes in America. Little did anyone know that Obama would face such opposition to his quest to engineer much needed reform in the country’s healthcare system—almost 9 months later. What seemed a sure-win initiative to be conceived with “bi-partisan” approval is now on life-support, thanks to Obama’s hollow approach to sell something he himself claimed to be deeply rooted in his heart.
Playing the politic of fear and backed by a large sector of the healthcare industry, rightwing activists have been able to mount a ferocious attack on the Obama administration healthcare plan. These reactionary activists, in many instances organized and coordinated by groups tied to the Republican Party, have managed to fight their way through town hall meetings across the country in order to preempt the message of reform, even if the messenger is Obama himself or his Democratic allies in Congress, as it was the case of congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who was forced to stop his speech during a town hall meeting to respond to a group of rightwing activists who carried pictures of president Obama crafted under Hitler’s mustache.
Leading this rightwing assault is former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who claims that the Obama plan offers a legal venue for euthanasia and that it will be a “death penalty” for millions of seniors, who will have to decide whether paying for their healthcare was warranted based on their “level of productivity in society.” This distortion lies way further from the truth. What Palin and her groups are referring to is Section 1323, which is one version of legislation already approved by one committee in the House of Representatives. The provision in question barely makes reference to Medicare. But the anti healthcare reform movement, to strengthen its claim, has seized on a small passage within the legislation that states Medicare will now reimburse doctors who hold end-of-life counseling sessions for beneficiaries who want to know their options on hospice care, living wills, and similar services. Since July 26, when she resigned as governor of Alaska in order to further her ambitions on a national level, Palin has been carefully courting the most reactionary elements of the US society, namely the Christian Right, the very people “who mobilized around the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005,” wrote Patrick Martin on WSWS.
Rightwing elements: Not all to blame
It would be an unjust act of intellectual probity to lay all Obama’a setbacks on the Republican Right. By all account, this is just a fraction of what is contributing to Obama’s dilemma. Let’s not forget that the Obama presidency has invested its prestige a great deal on healthcare reform, arguing that the restructuring of our healthcare system is quintessential to controlling and reducing the high cost the federal government is paying for this current state of our healthcare system. In other words, bringing these cost down is a sine qua non to the revival process of the U.S. economy.
If this argument holds true, it also sends a suspicious message to millions of Americans, who believe that they may be the direct target, for if our healthcare system at its current state is proven to be too expensive, so the conventional wisdom is that healthcare is paying too much for a fraction of society. So, in the absence of a clear knowledge of that fraction, millions of Americans feel they might be the ones being targeted.
Instead of un-camouflaging murky provisions in the Obama plan that keep fuelling the opposition with ammunitions, Obama and his Democratic allies have been using the rightwing uproar in order to discredit and roll back all opposition to the healthcare plan. This has backfired, as some recent poll numbers have demonstrated. Fifty three percent of Americans now believe they would be worse off or no better than before under the Obama plan, confirmed one recent poll published last month. The fanatical elements, which represent a tiny fraction of the electorate, are by no means the true representative of these new poll numbers—a devastating reversal for the White House, considering 70 percent of Americans supported the plan 6 months ago.
One can accuse Obama of political blundering, but the truth is the president can ill afford an open warfare with the insurance industry of which he and many of his Democratic allies—especially the conservative Blue Dog Democrats—are financially beholden to. This is something Keith Ellison, Democratic congressman from Minnesota whole heartedly agreed to. “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party need to support the public option as the last resort should this first initiative fail,” he declared on CNN Sunday night. And he went on to say that it is “the conservative Democrats and their Republican counterparts have an interest in opposing it because they owe part of their campaign finance to the insurance industry.”
So, as the debate drags on, the strife within the Democratic Party has flared right into the open, putting the Obama administration into a serious political defensive, forcing many observers of the Healthcare debate to believe that Obama must change his tactics if he hopes to pass a healthcare legislation at the end of the day. That is why many in the liberal media are calling for Obama to give up trying to achieve a bi-partisan Healthcare legislation and opt for a public option, a kind of socialized healthcare where the federal government will be the insurer. Although this issue occupied the airwaves during the Sunday morning talk shows, Obama chief advisers like David Axelrod have quickly moved swiftly to disapprove of the rumors out of fear that the Dogs within the Party, chief among them former senator Tom Daschle who is himself an Obama adviser, would not go for it.
Business Week magazine had it right when it detailed last month how UnitedHealthGroup, the largest health insurance company in the US, has its grip on conservative Blue Dog Democrats and “Obama advisers like former senator Tom Daschle [is one of their point men], to effectively dictate the parameters of the healthcare legislation moving through Congress……The industry has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business,” BusinessWeek wrote. And the magazine went on to write that UnitedHealthCare, Aetna and Wellpoint have “also achieved a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry.”
In the face of mounting opposition and dwindling poll numbers, the Administration has sought to change tactics, but not the strategy. This week is going to be a BIG one for the president. He emerged on Monday from his latest vacation with a “fired-up” speech in Cincinnati, Ohio—a speech that resembled to that of his stump speeches during his campaign last Fall. Sleeve rolled up and without a necktie, Obama looked like a warrior on an eleventh-hour mission. All roads, of course, lead to Rome, and Rome here is healthcare. Standing before a crowd of thousands of fired-up supporters and AFL-CIO members desperate to see a speedy recovery of the economy, he told them exactly what they wanted to hear. “We have never been this close,” Obama said. “We have never had this broad an agreement on what needs to be done,” he continued while accusing vested interests of trying to thwart it. Many union members distributed posters with slogans “Health Care Can’t Wait” written on them. Sounding like the astray son who had just walked home, the venue was truly his, and he surely used it to appease concerns from some sectors within the labor movement that have been frustrated with Obama, because some key items such as legislation making it easier for people to join unions has languished in Congress. He promised to make a much bigger push for the legislation while reminding them that the first bill he signed into law was one guaranteeing equal pay for equal work.
Obama, then, went on a long lecture, lecturing the audience on the virtues of the union movement. “We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women. They had to be won….They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. They stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work…Many risked their lives. Some gave their lives. Some made it a cause of their lives — like Sen. Ted Kennedy, who we remember today.” Yes, the passing of Ted Kennedy has become a rallying point to force uncompromising Republican legislators to come to term with the signing of a bi-partisan agreement on healthcare. But that has already failed. Republicans in Congress, while expressing their “deep” sorrow for the death of Ted Kennedy, have made it clear that it will NOT be the catalyst for bi-partisan agreement, and they will not yield to pressure from liberal Democrats. Of course, why rushing on board a plan that seems on life support? Especially, if the passing of a healthcare legislation will be interpreted as a —a big win—for a president who has made healthcare the cornerstone of his presidency. Obama is determined to succeed where many of his predecessors have failed over the last fifty years.
A speech on education is set for Tuesday, although this has already been under a blistering attack from the Christian Right. However, Tuesday’s speech will constitute a prelude to a well anticipated a nationwide address on Healthcare on Wednesday. This opération de charme is designed to regain the initiative. Will it work?