I haven't been weighing in that much on the health care debate since so many others have been blogging so effectively about it these past weeks. I thoroughly support universal health care, and like every sane person, realize that the Republicans are opposing it just because it was Obama's idea - and of course to curry favor with their corporate sponsors. If Obama were against it, they'd be for it.
There is no middle ground here - the Republicans will find fault with any proposal the President comes up with. It's time for Obama to give up on his Bi-Partisan Dream and face reality. The Republicans are not going to support his middle ground, they will not respect his wish for civility and honest discourse, and it has become clear that no real change will occur in a bi-partisan way, on any issue whatsoever.
There were several interesting articles in the news recently that make this clear. In yesterday's New York Times, Jean Edward Smith writes,
"President Obama's apparent readiness to backtrack on the public insurance option in his health care package is not just a concession to his political opponents — this fixation on securing bipartisan support for health care reform suggests that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead."...
...and then goes on to compare this attitude to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who never made an effort to be bi-partisan in pushing through the legislation that was the foundation of the New Deal. In fact, according to Smith, Roosevelt felt that "majority rule did not require his opponents' permission."
Smith points out that Roosevelt successfully promoted regulatory legislation and other key programs over howls of protest from his opponents and corporate interests. As Smith writes,
"Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him — and he profited from their hatred. 'Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,' he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. 'They are unanimous in their hatred for me — and I welcome their hatred.'"
President Obama is in a very similar situation to Roosevelt during the Depression. His party is the majority, he was elected with a solid majority of the votes, and the country is ready for a change after eight long years of Republican rule that left the country in a mess. But he hasn't grabbed the opportunity the way Roosevelt did, and this Congress hasn't risen to the occasion as that Congress did.
Many may claim that the so-called "grass roots" protests at the health care forums around the nation are signs that the population is not in favor of the President's proposal to provide universal health care. But as E.J. Dionne points out, the media have not been covering the forums where there was civil discourse and support for health care reform.
"There is an overwhelming case that the electronic media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and from television's point of view "boring") encounters between elected representatives and their constituents.
It's also clear that the anger that got so much attention largely reflects a fringe right-wing view opposed to all sorts of government programs most Americans support. Much as the far left of the antiwar movement commanded wide coverage during the Vietnam years, so now are extremists on the right hogging the media stage -- with the media's complicity."
So, if it turns out that in reality the public isn't against health care reform and is hungering for real facts, then the President's reluctance to tilt against the forces opposing him are doing that public a disservice.
In Edward Kennedy's upcoming memoir, True Compass, he discusses his feelings about President Jimmy Carter. According to the Times,
"Some of his most critical words are directed against Jimmy Carter.
He said that while they had found common cause on a few issues, their relationship had broken down over health care. He accused Mr. Carter of timidity that had doomed any chance of meaningful health insurance reform...."
Perhaps this "timidity" was due partly to President Carter's deep religious convictions, that he did not want to promote anger and dissent. Similarly, it may not be that President Obama wants everyone to like him, as some have said, but that he truly is trying to "turn the other cheek" and follow his Christian beliefs. But to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, "extremism in the defense of universal health care is no vice." While Obama's efforts toward bi-partisanship and civility are admirable, they don't get legislation passed and don't effect the real change that he was elected to provide.
The President would do well to remember that, while Jesus said "turn the other cheek," he also got angry and threw the moneylenders out of the temple. It's time Obama did the same. Sometimes no matter what your good intentions for peace, you have to fight. Edward Kennedy understood that.
I hope that the President's speech to the joint session of Congress next week is successful in getting his proposals on health care on track and wresting his message away from the GOP and back under his own control. This will be his last chance to push through meaningful reform. He cannot fail on this issue.