by Bob Maschi
August 2009

Obama made several major mistakes while promoting an overhaul of this country's health-care system. It seems that he didn't understand his own political system, even though he'd been able to game it enough to become president. Nor did he seem very enthusiastic about actually confronting the medical industry. Though the process continues, I predict that the end result will have lost most of its pro-consumer aspects and simply be a giveaway to corporate interests. Something that George W Bush would have been proud to sign.

While legislation originates in congress, Obama made some of his health-care guidelines well known. Politically, this starting point was his first major mistake. Simply put, he began with a general proposal that he wanted to end with. It was almost as if he'd never bought or sold a car in a capitalist economy. When selling a car, most people ask for more than they are willing to accept while the buyer counters with less than they are willing to pay. After some back and forth, the two meet somewhere in the middle.

Obama's starting point left no room for him and the other corporate Democrats to bargain. As negotiations went back and forth, the proposals became weaker and weaker. Instead, if Obama had pushed the Democrats to propose a Single Payer system (one similar to what many other industrial countries have) he would have garnered a lot of support from the left and liberals - a large and passionate group that has have enough influence to shift popular opinion in their directions. Though many still backed these proposals (the term knee-jerk is appropriate here), it wasn't a very enthusiastic effort. And a lot more good lefties dropped out of the debate entirely.

From the start, Obama helped to neutralize the left, leading to its near absence from this important debate.

Another of Obama's mistakes was thinking that the media was on his side.

They'd been with him through the primaries, gushing over his every word and move. The same through the election. As usual, the new president got a honeymoon period with the press. But Obama didn't seem to understand that the media behaved this way because it was profitable. The moment more ad space could be sold by mocking him, they would.

As the process continued, polls favoring health care reform continued to drop. But those polls usually lumped together those who didn't think the plan was going far enough (the left) with those who thought it was going too far (the right)! But to listen to the corporate media one would get the impression that everyone opposed to Obama's health care efforts were opposed to any revision to the existing system. That was absolutely not the case. A good hunk of us are for a Single Payer, Universal Health Care, Socialized Medicine system (whatever you want to call it). We see Obama's efforts as prescribing aspirin when radical surgery is required.

A good example came with recent headlines that claimed Obama's own doctor was against his proposals. Forbes led: "Obama's Doctor Knocks ObamaCare" and the Chicago Tribune chimed "Obama's doc slams health-care reform plans." CNN leapt in with "Obama's Doctor Opposes Health Care Plan." If you read only these headlines you couldn't be faulted for thinking that this doctor (David Scheiner) felt that Obama's plan was way too far to the left. But no! Obama's doctor actually advocates for a single payer type system - 'Medicare for all.'

Obama's third big mistake was to head toward the smoky back room while conservatives headed directly to their public.

Obama was afraid that his goal would meet the same fate as the Clintons' proposals had back in the early 1990's. So he met with a lot of the same people who had helped dash 'Hillarycare' namely, the corporate powers (and their shills) that make a ton of profit off the current system. Obama seemed satisfied that he'd covered his rear, but all that these discussions accomplished was to weaken his proposals and allowed opposition (conservatives, libertarians and assorted fascists) the time to organize more efficiently.

Watching events unfold, it was clear that Obama was shocked at the growing opposition and that shock kept him from confronting it effectively. At the same time that he underestimated corporate support for reform, he overestimated the support from the US public. It seems like he thought that the public understood the current state of the health-care industry. That they agreed rising health care costs threatened the entire economy and that they were inclined to think of the issue in moral terms rather than political terms.

While Obama was making nice with the insurance companies, the ridiculous right was marshalling their ugly forces to oppose him. They would have done this anyway. But by watering down his proposals from the start Obama discouraged the left from countering - through the airwaves, online or in the streets.

The right's disinformation campaign has been very effective and has actually turned the debate, as mimicked in the media, completely around. To them, and growing numbers of others, health care reform is not about saving lives or restoring the economy; it is about killing people and wrecking the economy. It isn't about insurance companies coming in between doctors and patients; it's about the government doing that. In this debate, lies now outweigh facts. Fantasy trumps reality.

In the New York Times, Paul Krugman reported an incident where a group of right wingers appeared to protest an educational forum on health care: "An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they 'oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.' Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands."

Of course, Medicare is a government-run health-care program. But the facts no longer run this debate.

As the saying goes, Obama brought a knife to a gun fight. Even worse, he showed up late, allowing himself to be ambushed by angry and elderly mobs denouncing their own Medicare coverage. All we'll probably get out of this is a bill designed to save the Democrats some face. One where both Democrat and Republican leadership can claim victory. One that screws the rest of us out of the health-care reform we really need. Probably the best that citizens really could have hoped for from this administration was legislation that imposed strong, pro-consumer regulations on the health-care industry, lowered overall costs and provided a public option to compete against private health insurance and care. But with the novice antics of the Obama administration, we probably won't get any of those.
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