Eyal Press is a Nation contributing editor and the author of Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times and Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict That Divided America. He is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.
So it appears that Democrats, with control of the White House, the Senate and House, with a mandate that far exceeds anything George W. Bush could ever claim, with a popular leader who trounced his opponent in the 2008 election, facing a rudderless opposition that has never looked weaker, can't bring themselves to rally behind the idea of health-care reform with a direct government role, i.e. a public option.
Some Democrats, that is. Howard Dean, a former doctor, is rightly calling a direct government role "the entirety of health care reform." Representative Anthony Weiner says, "leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of health care is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief."
But the White House is wavering – no, caving. Obama called the public option "one sliver" of health-care reform at a town hall meeting over the weekend; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius added that it was "not the essential element of reform." Does that sound like an administration taking a principled stand?