After his brilliant beginning, the president suddenly looks weak and unreliable. That will be the common interpretation around Washington of the president’s abrupt retreat on substantive heathcare reform. Give Barack Obama a hard shove, they will say, rough him up a bit and he folds. A few weeks back, the president was touting a “public option” health plan as an essential element in reform. Now he says, take it or leave it. Whatever Congress does, he’s okay with that.
The White House quickly added confusion to the outrage by insisting the president didn’t really say anything new. He’s just being flexible. He still wants what most Democrats want–a government plan that gives people a real escape from the profit-driven clutches of the insurance companies. But serious power players will not be fooled by the nimble spinners. Obama choked. He raised the white flag, even before the fight got underway in Congress.
He hands the insurance industry a huge victory. He rewards the right-wing frothers who have been calling him Adolph Hitler or Dr. Death. He caves to the conservative bias of the major media who insist only bipartisan consensus is acceptable for big reform (a standard they never invoked during the Bush years). Obama is deluded if he thinks this will win him any peace or respect or Republican votes. Weakness does not lead to consensus in Washington. It leads to more weakness. The Party of No intends to bring him down and will pile on. Obama has inadvertently demonstrated their strategy of vicious invective seems to be working.
Barack Obama mainly did this to himself. To avoid the accusation of socialized medicine, he intentionally shrouded his objectives in bureaucratic euphemisms like “public option.” What the hell does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. The vagueness allowed anyone to fill in the blanks and anxious people did so in apocalyptic ways. The original idea, after all, was making something similar to Medicare available to anyone between childhood and old age who was either shut out by high prices or abused by insurance companies policing the system. This approach–call it Medicare Basic–would in theory give government the greater leverage needed to control the price inflation and reshape the system in positive ways. If you told people “public option” was a Medicare equivalent, the polls would demonstrate the popularity. Instead, that objective is now at risk. The right still calls Obama a covert socialist.