"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"
It was a long hot summer for members of the House and Senate heading back to town hall meetings on healthcare reform. They were met by crowds of angry know-nothings organized by corporate front groups aiming to kill reform in its cradle. Though the connections between the impassioned throngs and Big Pharma and other corporate health insurance interests were widely documented in the press, the national Republican party has largely refused to acknowledge this, disingenuously echoing their baseless paranoia about "Obamacare" and its menacing intent to put grandma's golden years in the hands of a government "death panel." Some of the more amusing dissent came from geriatric crowds railing against the impending government take over of Medicare. Uglier assaults came in the form of racist caricatures of the President, a swastika painted on the office of a black Georgia Congressman, and multiple death threats phoned in to the Capitol. Perhaps the most common thread was that Obama was bringing in Socialism (just like Hitler!!!). The "birthers," rabid right-wing talk show hosts, and assorted other wing nuts were "taking back America" and saving the constitution from the President's evil Muslim communist health care conspiracy.
Apparently the right wing political operatives learned a valuable lesson during the Bush Administration's campaign to launch the war in Iraq: hysterical lying works, fear works. So if you don't have the facts on your side, scare the hell out of people. The fact is that Obama's position is a disappointment for those on the left who would have preferred a single payer system more comparable to what many Europeans have. What he has stated support for is a "public option" that would keep the private insurance companies honest and help drive down costs. No one who wants to keep their present healthcare would have to lose it. The president is also, quite reasonably, in favor of moving toward universal coverage so that no one is denied health care for having a "preexisting condition" and the poor are not relegated to emergency rooms as a last resort. This is a very rational middle ground, the mobs of August aside, but Obama has been waffling of late.
What we fear about Obama (and the national Democratic Party as a whole) is that they will let the hysterical noise and, more importantly, the corporate lobbying, move them toward a much weaker version of reform-a co-op, or some other incremental measure that keeps our broken health care system largely intact. As Frank Rich recently wrote in the New York Times, "It's a measure of how out of touch G.O.P leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are that they keep trying to scare voters by calling Obama a socialist. They have it backward. The larger fear is that Obama may be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be for the common guy." The latest news that the Obama administration has called the public option not "essential" would seem support Rich's contention.
What to do? Don't let the know nothings drown out your voice. President Obama has stated support for a public option and HR 3200 delivers this. Make the Democrats and the President stand by their word.
Contact the White House, your Senators, and Congresspersons and let them know you support a public option. This is the best chance we've had for universal health care since the Truman Administration. As Obama said during the campaign, "this is our moment. This is our time." If we don't give our leaders a reason to have a spine, they'll cave and we probably won't see significant health care reform in our lifetimes.
Seize the day and fight for universal health care today! Go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/HCreform060809 to email a letter to your legislator, or call them at 1-877-264-4226, or call the White House at: (202) 456-1111 and tell President Obama to continue to support the public option!
Jim Miller, Political Action Coordinator
AFT Guild, Local 1931