by Ben Cohen
While the President's speech was rousing, incredibly well delivered, and one of his best performances, substantially, it wasn't good enough. Not by a long way.
Obama basically attempted to give a little to everyone, while again refusing to stand up boldly for a public option. While Obama reiterated his support for a government run insurance program and laid out a philosophical defense of it, he completely undersold it and continued to use free market rhetoric as the underpinning argument. Most irritatingly, he said:
To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the
driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and
make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is
only a means to that end - and we should remain open to other ideas
that accomplish our ultimate goal.
No Mr. President, it isn't. The driving idea behind reform from the progressive perspective is to get rid of insurance companies, not just to stop their wanton abuse. Let's be clear: The public option is a compromise in itself. The main aim of progressives has been to build a single payer system that would overthrow the criminal insurance companies that play a completely unnecessary role in the nation's healthcare. Obama's plan is a halfway measure that would place some sort of system in place that could one day become the template for a single payer system. It wasn't great when Obama proposed it, and it isn't now. Any weaker version of the original plan is simply not acceptable, and it looks like that is what is now on the table. Obama said of a public option:
Let me be clear - it would only be an option for those who
don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would
not impact those of you who already have insurance.
I'm taking this to mean that anyone who can afford insurance would be not be eligible for the public plan. Personally, I would like to throw my private insurance in the trash, and I'd sign up for a medicare style plan immediately. Why? Because I don't want to give my money to an organization I consider to be a criminal entity. A public option that is available to 5% of the population (as Obama guestimated) isn't a public plan worth supporting. A public option that has no ability to negotiate better prices from drug companies doesn't mean anything, and without substantial investment, we may as well not have it at all.
Obama does deserve credit for the rest of his speech. It was a clarion call for civility, and a strong rebuke of the slash and burn, Rovian style politics spewed by the Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs of the Right. Obama warned the Republicans determined to destroy the healthcare bill that he would call them out, and he seemed serious. The President also outlined his plans to reform the insurance industry - a good thing no doubt, and certainly better than nothing.
Obama has a knack for striking the right tone and the right time, and broadly speaking, he did just that. But the right tone won't cut it this time around. Strong action will, and that includes robust support for a serious public option. Because without it, Progressives will no longer support Obama. And without Progressives, Obama will doom his Presidency.