Friday, September 11, 2009

The Obama Icon Stays... For The Moment

I'm very disappointed in Obama.

I'm particularly disappointed in Obama for doing the usual Democratic "centrist" thing of ignoring the progressive base after exploiting their time and energy in the campaign to get elected.

I'm disappointed in him for completely ignoring campaign promises he made to LGBTs, especially the promise to work to end the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that has made life so impossible for all soldiers, gay and straight, across the board. Now, all soldiers labor under a cloud of suspicion and the threat of dismissal.

I'm especially disappointed in his refusal to undo so many of the extralegal practices of the Bush Administration's War on Terror. I understand his reluctance to set a precedent for prosecuting his predecessor in office; but, the rule of law needs desperately to be restored. The previous administration felt no such reluctance about setting bad and dangerous precedents. I think the paranoia of the right may have a certain justification if some future President arbitrarily decided that his opponents were "terrorists" and outside the protection of the law. As we've seen so many times in history, tyrants love national emergencies. "Outside the law is tyranny," said Montesquieu in a quotation engraved over an entrance to the Department of Justice in Washington DC.

The health insurance reform that he proposes is a lot less than I would want. As I've always said, the best and simplest solution would be to make Medicare available to everyone. Obama's proposal is very conservative in the fullest sense of the word. He explicitly says that he intends to work with the system as it is, and not to build a whole new system from the ground up.

What he has proposed does have some very real and dramatic reforms to the current system, which is why I will support it. His proposal ends the insurance industry practice of "recission," arbitrarily cutting off coverage for people, especially those with serious and expensive illnesses, over the slightest policy infraction. The proposal prohibits the insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Illness and disability would no longer be a barrier to coverage. These 2 reforms by themselves could be the most far reaching regulatory reform since the creation of Medicare in 1965.
I'm not sure the public option is entirely dead, but he and the Congress must come up with a way to cover the uninsured and to make insurance available to the legions of people out there with declining incomes. We will all be mandated to have insurance in order to greatly expand the pool of risk and resources. That will mean nothing if the uninsured with low incomes are not provided with either a drastically discounted rate or some kind of real subsidy beyond some token tax credit to pay for it. Without some kind of assistance, the mandate will be nothing more than a huge new financial burden on low income folk, and a legally mandated bonanza for the insurance industry. We will be in the situation of states who require drivers to carry liability insurance, but provide no way to help out people who can't afford it. Making the uninsured illegal will not reduce their numbers or their impact on the rest of the system.

As I say, this is a lot less than I would want in health insurance reform, but it is a big step in the right direction. It must be. Why else would the right wingers be so frothing crazy. Why else would the industry lobbies spend millions every day to defeat this legislation?

I'm reluctant to dump on Obama for playing the cards he has been dealt instead of walking away from the game. I've always said that a little bit of something is always better than a lot of nothing. I'm not entirely confident that even this modest and conservative reform will pass. If it fails, then it's the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Leadership Council all over again. I wouldn't expect to see another major push for health insurance reform in my lifetime. If it passes, it could be the most important and far-reaching achievement in social legislation since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

Hang tough Mr. President.


June Butler said...

Doug, I agree with you.

Perhaps Voltaire was right: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Obama gives a fine speech.

Counterlight said...

I'm saving my outrage at Obama for Afghanistan and Financial Regulatory Reform. I'm expecting neither the good nor the perfect in his proposals for both.