vendredi 21 août 2009

My point, illustrated

Last evening -- yesterday afternoon for everyone in the US -- I watched President Obama's Health Care Forum on Organizing for America's (the old site transformed from campaign mode to netroots legislative support tool) website.

He took questions, screened by the OFA organization and entirely from people with on-the-ground volunteer roles with OFA, or as precinct captains and neighborhood team leaders for the Obama campaign. In other words, no unfriendly questions.

All questions were deemed by the President as good or excellent questions, and to be fair some were particularly good, like the woman talking to her community who comes up time and time again against the question "Am I going to get pushed by my employer into the public option if it exists?" (no, there will be a firewall preventing employers who offer good health insurance from doing that, which no one would need with a single-payer system, but never mind), or the man who asked what will happen to those who can't afford even the public option (there will be exemptions for hardship cases -- one had the impression that President Obama decided that on the spot, extemporizing).

He was truly a fine communicator. Likable, clear, amusing, serious, tough but accessible. If I were living in Washington, I'd be pretty excited about Michelle's farmer's market outside the White House. What a great use of a condemned public street. Anyway.

He told us, and I paraphrase, "Look, we haven't been perfect or played a perfect game, I won't claim that. Yeah, we messed up a little on the Public Option thing. Listen, yes, I am for the public option (he stopped short of saying that no bill without it would be vetoed, but I'm supposing he's leaving that to the House Dems to take care of), but what you've got to understand is that my words were misconstrued, or I wasn't really clear enough. What I meant when I said the Public Option is only a sliver of the pie is that this is really also about reforming the insurance industry."

Here's the thing, single-payer, as practiced throughout the industrialized, capitalist world -- last time I checked, there were financial markets in Paris, London, Frankfurt and Tokyo and plenty of luxury cars waiting in Knightsbridge outside Harrods, on the rue Georges V outside the Hôtel Georges V, or on the Place de la Concorde outside Le Crion, next to the American Embassy, and Tokyo! Have those worried about socialist creep in countries with government-run health care systems noticed the scores of well-dressed, impeccably behaved Japanese tourists all over the world with money to spend in restaurants, hotels and luxury boutiques? Just check out the line at Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Elysées, with Paris (in socialist -- gasp! -- France) still considered the luxury goods capitol of the world -- doesn't require the bulk of the president's or campaigner's remarks to be about reforming the private insurance industry because its role is reduced to supplemental coverage above the national health care system, or for those snobbish and deluded enough to believe that the more medicine costs them, the better it is.

Speaking from firsthand experience, I can tell you this is false. Where shall I commit the tales to pixels or paper? But I digress into support for single-payer again (Weiner... Kucinich...).

But, concerning a public option, he said it. He spoke to those tuned in, his supporters, and he told them in no uncertain terms "I continue to support a public option." This supporter instantly posted it to Facebook, tweeted it and committed it to pixels here in her political scrapbook and journal. Nancy Pelosi backed him up from the House, saying "There's no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option."

Wait, does that really mean "There's no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives"?

This morning, I opened my email from the New York Times with the day's headlines and tracked to the article by Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse, "Obama Insists Health Plan Will Pass". Ten paragraphs into the article discussing the bipartisan chances of this bill, the public option is finally mentioned:
"As the bipartisan Finance Committee negotiators prepared to discuss a bill that almost certainly would not include a public insurance plan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters in San Francisco on Thursday that legislation without such a public plan could not win House approval."

Four more paragraphs of discussion on the chances of bipartisan support in the Senate resting on the requirement that "any legislation produced would have to be scaled back from measures that have cleared other committees in the House and the Senate."

Forget it. It's all shadow theater when Senator Grassley (and he is not alone, nor are there no Democrats with him, read Jeff Sharlet's The Family; you might not enjoy it, but you'll recognize the sick feeling that know you already knew about this movement in the darkest corner of your conscious self), with his ties to C Street, those "followers of Christ" bearing their swords to fight against "Godless" socialism in the name of the Lord's own free market, his chosen to lead, like King David and Genghis Kahn, who are not to be judged or to judge one another, and hold power in the world and at home. Ronald Reagan was their poster boy, their greatest spokesman, nearly destined to become their most influential president.

Everyone is required to attend their National Prayer Breakfasts to play the game, from the United States president to the PM of Great Britain, US UN proxies like Benin and Ecuador and congressional staffers.

Addressing the National Prayer Breakfast held annually at the Washington Hilton on February 5, President Obama said:
“I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington," the president said at the annual event, held the first Thursday in February since 1953. "Faith has always been a guiding force in our family’s life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.”

However, he sent another signal when he canceled the National Day of Prayer service at the White house, held every first Thursday of May since President Reagan made the occasion, signed by President Truman in the National Day of Prayer proclamation, a permanent fixture of the White House calendar. According to the LA Times, under President George W. Bush the day was "a political event, confirming a conviction that religion was a core tenet of Republican politics."

This year, the President would sign a proclamation to recognize the day, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained that "Prayer is something that the president does every day... I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays."

A missive sent straight to the heart of the brand of religious fundamentalism practiced by America's political elite, establishing that some news rules had been written into the play book of the role of religion in American business and politics.

How would all this play out on the legislative stands the President would take with representatives proud to call themselves "Followers of Christ", their personal Jesus -- a Christ who is unrecognizable to the Christians I know and to the priests who have celebrated the masses I have attended, a Christ who would surely be leading the effort to establish health care reform alongside Howard Dean, and more happily still with Anthony Weiner and Dennis Kucinich --, in the unabashed quest for power and wealth and intimate with their Brothers inside the insurance industry? Could a President change the rules by which legislation is made and separate the conservative from the Follower of Christ conservative? Is such a distinction still in existence today? You'd have to believe so, as much as you hoped so, from the number of self-labeled conservatives who switched sides and voted for Obama.

It's also easier to understand, to place in some context that makes some sort of sense these placard-carrying right-wingers, screaming against Obama the Socialist and Socialized Medicine when you see them for what they are: martyrs to their image of Christ, ready to play their role to further the Glory of their chosen leaders, who will take them to the Lord after this life.

Listen to Johann Hari, who writes in his article for the UK's The Independent August 19, "Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason: How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality":

Up to now, Obama has not responded well to this onslaught of unreason. He has had a two-pronged strategy: conciliate the elite economic interests, and joke about the fanatical fringe they are stirring up. He has (shamefully) assured the pharmaceutical companies that an expanded healthcare system will not use the power of government as a purchaser to bargain down drug prices, while wryly saying in public that he "doesn't want to kill Grandma". Rather than challenging these hard interests and bizarre fantasies aggressively, he has tried to flatter and soothe them.

This kind of mania can't be co-opted: it can only be overruled. Sometimes in politics you will have enemies, and they must be democratically defeated. The political system cannot be gummed up by a need to reach out to the maddest people or the greediest constituencies.

Maybe he's playing too fine a game with a blunt opponent? Watch...

Asking "WTF?" yourself? Having a hard time accepting this? Then check out TPM:

Americans for Prosperity Compares Health Care Reform To Holocaust, Tells Protesters To Put 'Fear Of God' In Members Of Congress

Yeah, they're gonna' write their representatives and put the fear of God in them. You heard the man these people listen to.

So, then, the Smerconish interview, very possibly one of those conservatives, the ones to whom President Obama is talking when he speaks of hope for bipartisan agreement. Senator Olympia Snow being another. 16 paragraphs into an article largely dealing the odds of achieving bipartisan support, which President Obama signaled in both the Smerconish interview and the OFA Health Care Forum that he thinks is unlikely, and the Republicans reasons for dragging their feet (no, they say, this is not a repeat of the Gingrich strategy in 1994, our concerns with the bill are legitimate; I believe some said that in '94, too), the President's position on the public option appears:
"The president took a handful of questions Thursday on the radio talk show, which originated from the White House and was hosted by Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia. Mr. Obama renewed his support for a public insurance option, seeking to quell the uproar among some Democrats that he was abandoning his position to make the plan more acceptable to moderates...

“'The press got excited, and some folks on the left got a little excited,' Mr. Obama said, referring to the news reports this week that the administration was leaning toward health care cooperatives as an alternative to a government-run program to compete with private insurers."
Great news! It took 16 paragraphs for someone wishing to know the answer to this question who is not following as closely as some of us news hounds, but the President does still support a public option. He does not use language to indicate that he requries it, but he has said that he still "supports" it.

This has been the question of the day among those of us who supported him and continue to do so, if not somewhat more tentatively until he is very clear on the subject of the public option, but who are feeling just a tiny bit nervous, asking ourselves, as Frank Rich put it, "Is Obama punking us?".

It's actually a little more than a little bit. We were pretty upset when Rahm Emanuel -- with the support of the Oval Office (read President Obama) -- told the vocal progressive groups running ads to put pressure on centrist Democrats happy to exercise the power of a swing vote to stop them. According to POLITICO:

"Some on the left believe administration officials are making such statements only as a favor to Democratic legislators whose votes they’ll ultimately need.

But the White House indicates to POLITICO that it truly believe the ads aimed at Democrats are counter-productive and largely ineffectual. There is no winking and nodding when Obama and Emanuel deliver their message, say West Wing officials."

Read more:

Can you blame us? It wasn't very nice. We feel strongly about our position, and we choose to let them know, otherwise it's business as usual (just look at the lists of campaign donors to the Blue Dogs, and you know you have to speak up and work for serious campaign finance reform) and they just might think we aren't interested and let important pieces of legislation drop for "lack of support", when in reality it suits the lobbyists at the door and the pols' ability to finance their next campaign. An inconvenient truth, Mr. President, but a chance we can't afford to take when every intelligent commentator and analyst agrees that without a public option, there is no reform, just rules requiring the insurance industry to insure everybody, without making it possible for everyone to afford it.

So, we tuned in to listen very carefully to what he would say, and what he wouldn't say. We waited for the question, or, in the absence of the question, his voluntary renewal of his support for the Public Option, and it came from a man attending the forum, but the NYT writes:
"no such concerns were expressed on Thursday as Mr. Obama delivered a pep talk to the group in a meeting at the Democratic National Committee that was broadcast on its Web site."

Now, I agree that it was a pep talk. It was a really good one, too; the President does them very, very well. However, he was specifically asked by one questioner to say whether he supports the public option, and if not, what he proposes to replace it. It is true that it was as unagressive a way as anyone could imagine to ask for his stand on the public option, but it was included, and the President said:
"I continue to support a public option."

He didn't say which one. Let's hope it's the public option that has been described, but c'mon NYT, don't say that we members of OFA and other "liberal groups" did not challenge him on it.

The forum was a meticulously prepared, carefully screened platform designed to help his supporters understand what he stands for and how to get that message across to those among the 23% who don't already support inclusion of the choice of a public option (pretty good numbers for those of us who favor it) and those among the 49% or 47% (depending upon the poll consulted, NBC or Survey USA) who do not yet "favor his approach" when read a statement of his health care plan, but might once their questions are answered honestly.

As for some unknown percentage of the others, don't worry about them. They have their own personal Jesus.

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