I doubt you’ll read this blog post. Let’s face it, it’s not like this is the Daily Kos or The Huffington Post, and with your busy schedule I don’t know that you’d even have time to read either of those more popular sites on the Web. But regardless, I feel the need to express some concerns.
I know you’ve been trying to get your progressive agenda across. During the campaign, you expressed many progressive ideas, and stuck to your guns despite attacks from your opponents and nearly everyone with a mouthpiece on the right. You handled them well, didn’t capitulate, and earned my family’s support and the support of millions throughout the country and worldwide. I embraced your candidacy early on, recognizing your intellect, commitment, and the promise of being what Colin Powell referred to as a “transformational leader.” Since your election, you’ve been faced with a major economic recession, two wars, the Bush/Cheney legacy, Iran, Israel/Palestine and of course the ongoing threat from al Qaeda. It’s never easy to be president. It’s even tougher when your predecessor spent eight years really messing up the nation and the world.
But if you don’t have time to read any further, here’s the take-home message I’d like to impart: try harder. Way harder.
You speak very well. Your intentions are good. I applauded your speech to the Muslim world. On my iPhone, I still have your speech on race that you delivered so well in Philadelphia during the campaign. I was happy when you pursued a more even-handed policy towards the Middle East. I was hopeful when you signaled your intent to close Guantánamo Bay and also when you officially banned torture. And when you aggressively started the process of healthcare reform, seemingly based on the notion of universal health care, I was deeply impressed and excited.
But something happened between January 20th and today; you dropped the ball. Your “tough love“ treatment of Israel was more ”love“ than ”tough“ and peace talks have stalled indefinitely. Guantánamo remains open. We still practice rendition. The covert prison at Bagram in Afghanistan remains open and out of reach of your presidential directives against torture. We’re getting out of Iraq at some point, but escalating the war in Afghanistan with inconsistent information as to when, and whether, we finally withdraw. Last time I checked, despite your continued promises to the gay, lesbian and transgendered community, both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act remain in force.
And now health care. You dropped the ball. I understood why you wanted to try to avoid some of the missteps of Bill and Hillary by empowering Congress to draft the bill. And in an earlier time, that might have worked out mostly okay. But this is a different world. It’s a time when your election has brought out the haters in our society, who never really went away but who at least knew to stay in their rat holes underground and out of sight. It gave a sense of urgency to racists in every state, and to those fringe Libertarian folks who hate the notion of government and who are too ”out there“ even for the Republican Party. Hence the ”teabaggers“ who are working to either take over the GOP or create an alternative party to make the GOP even more irrelevant than it is today.We still have folks like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others on the airwaves and on the Web who virulently hate you and who will never provide any balanced view or opinion on anything you do. Face it, the right-wing is united against you in a way that is far more organized, insidious and, regrettably, effective than any of the progressive groups were during the Bush/Cheney era.
Have you spoken with Bill Clinton about his lovely time as president? At that time, I thought I had never seen such voracious attacks on any president. And that was true, until your ascent to the presidency. What’s going on now makes Whitewater and Travelgate seem like trivial events. Clinton’s impeachment was nothing compared to the hate-mongering that has been directed against you since 1/20/09. I don’t recall Clinton being called a socialist fascist communist racist. Nor did I ever see signs depicting Bill as a Nazi, nor was there ever any racial overtones to the attacks against him. After all was said and done, as much as the Right hated Clinton, he was still a white Southern boy. Too smart for his own good (he is brilliant, after all), and corrupted by a Northeastern and Oxford education. But Bill was still one of them in terms of background and race.
For all intents and purposes, President Obama, you might as well be an alien to folks like Sarah Palin and most of the Republicans in Congress. Many of them still think you’re not a natural-born American citizen, and think it’s perfectly fine to raise questions about your birth just as they find it socially acceptable to question evolution. Hell, a lot of them still fear you’re a Muslim. What you really should do is come out as a Jew-deep down, many of these people don’t like us any more than the Muslims, when push comes to shove.
Anyway, it’s a very difficult, negative and backbiting world we live in. And you had a great idea-let’s do something to reform health insurance and health care delivery in this country. Few can argue, and none successfully, that such reform is necessary. We have tens of millions without insurance. We spend more in GDP in healthcare than any other major nation, yet our clinical outcomes lag far behind countries we generally don’t view as comparable.
Most experts indicate that a single-payor system provides cost-effective care with better outcomes. I’m not going to argue that all single-payor systems are wonderful. Canada has its issues, for example, although I know a lot of Canadian gynecologists and they all seem pretty happy. And their clinical outcomes are not worse than ours. The NHS in the UK, the health system in France, the system in Israel are all single-payor, government-run health care and outcomes are great, costs are controlled, and the citizens are generally happy with their health plans. I have a friend who moved from this country to France specifically because of their health care system, and he’s doing quite fine as an expat.
You know this. Your clinical and economic advisors know this. You also are an attorney and I’m sure have a good idea of what negotiation involves. Yet from the start, single-payor health care was off the table. It was never even raised for discussion. Instead, you moved quickly to have Congress draft a bill involving a public option. And it was all downhill from there. Despite your political capital and urging that this be accomplished quickly, we saw delays, obfuscation by the Republicans, and the ugly spectacle of town hall debates taken over by a group of rabble rousers reminiscent of the worst in our society. The message shifted. The health care plan grew more complex, and frankly, was never really consistent from week to week. One day we had a public option. Then an ”exchange.“ Then an ”opt-out“ public option. Then Medicare for 55 and up as a for-purchase option with no public option (which was probably okay as by then, the public option had been so watered down as to be inconsequential). Interspersed were arguments about fictional ”death panels,“ government bureaucrats coming between doctors and patients, lack of payment for preventative screening tests such as mammography, etc.
You spoke to a joint session of Congress. I’m sure you remember-that was the night some lunatic expressed his free speech rights by calling you a liar on the floor of the Capitol. They didn’t even do that to poor Bill.
But good for you. It looked like you were finally taking charge after ceding control to Congress on a very important issue.
So what happened? You let it run out of control again. Sure, the Republicans were a thorn in your side. But they’re in the minority. A tiny minority. You have a majority in the House and Senate. Even better, there is what was heralded as a ”fillibuster-proof 60-vote majority“ in the Senate. You could do whatever you wanted to, right?
Well of course not. That ”60-vote majority“ is a figment of some correspondent’s imagination. There never was a safe majority because there aren’t 60 progressives in the Senate. Instead, you have folks like Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman who are about as Democratic as Ronald Reagan. Sure, diversity is a good thing, and I’d love to think the Democratic Party can be a big tent (and in many ways, it really is, unlike the Republicans). But these folks can’t even agree to vote for cloture, let alone for the current health care reform legislation. And you allowed Lieberman, who’s as trusty as the Lion King’s uncle in that Disney movie, to take control and derail reform. He’s still doing it, and will continue to do it. And even if he decided to play nice (which he won’t), you still have major problems in terms of the irreconcilable divide relating to abortion. Good luck solving that one now that Stupak and Pitts opened that can of worms.
So what can you do now? In all honesty, I have no definitive answers. But directing the Democratic leadership in Congress to play along with Joe Lieberman, Olympia Snowe and everyone else trying to muscle in and control the news of the day around health reform makes you look weak, indecisive, and even (and I really hate this word after it was so abused by that war criminal Dick Cheney) ”dithering.”
With all due respect, you made the wrong decision in Afghanistan. But at least you made a decision, and I can respect that. The entire point of the Bhagavad-gita is that action is better than non-action. In the case of health care reform, you started by being decisive, but then failed to act. And you’re still acting, at best, in half measures. You need to think to yourself “What would Ronald Reagan do?“ Or JFK. Or Harry Truman. Or even LBJ (no one dared screw around with him). Despite all the forces allied against you, it is within your power to take the lead and control the arguments on health care. Giving a speech to Congress isn’t enough. You and I both have spent time in Chicago and I’m sure you know very well how it’s done-you have to become the alpha dog and even bust some heads to get somewhere. But sometimes the ends justify the means. You still have good favorability ratings. Far better than W during his last days. Use your capital-take control already. Push Lieberman aside. If you want to embrace the minimal sense of bipartisanship, sure, try to get Olympia Snowe to sign on. But do it from a position of strength, not weakness. Right now, Snowe and Lieberman have the power. Snatch it back. Threaten them in a subtle fashion. Bill Clinton would have done it in a heartbeat. You can have Lieberman lose his chairmanship in the Senate. I’m sure there’s some potential pound of flesh you could exact from Snowe to make her go along. But so far you’ve been caving in.
I get it-it’s great when everyone gets along. I’d love it if the world could work that way. But it doesn’t. Remember the story of the scorpion and the frog? Well, right now, you’re the frog. There are a lot of scorpions out there, unfortunately.
I’m disappointed, and so are many others who have supported you. Rather than go after Howard Dean, go after Joe Lieberman. Howard is right-this bill is pretty bad and really should be allowed to die in the hopes that something better could be salvaged and adopted by a 51-vote majority.
More importantly, what happened to the Obama we elected? The Obama we went door-to-door for, who my wife and daughter worked phone banks for? I understand there is a great void between running for office and running a nation. But even so, your first year has been marked by capitulation after capitulation without much of anything to show for it. It’s still possible to rebound; you have three more years, after all. Bill Clinton made some missteps during his first year as well, and he did well by the country even with his roving penis. You have a much better moral grounding. Now you need to channel some of Clinton’s and even W’s feistiness and even ruthlessness. Like I said, there are many scorpions out there. You can’t keep being the frog.