ObamaCare: Bad Press, Bad Policy, Bad Politics
ObamaCare: Bad Press, Bad Policy, Bad Politics
By Tony Palmeri
Make no mistake: corporate media coverage of healthcare reform ranges from shallow to shameful. Need examples? How about the treatment of the proudly witless Sarah Palin as a serious critic of reform proposals? Or reporting on town hall chaos with a journalistic curiosity that has more in common with World Wrestling Entertainment than the late Mr. Cronkite? Or the sickening way in which mainstream media minimize or flat out ignore the fact that health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies have literally bought the key congressional committees charged with enacting reform legislation?
Let’s x-ray that lobbying point for a moment. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chair of the all powerful Senate Finance Committee, according to the Center For Responsive Politics raised $3 million from the insurance and health sectors from 2003-2008. The National Journal reported that protesters outside Baucus 10th annual “Camp Baucus” three day dude ranch fundraiser held up signs saying “Buy Back Baucus.” Most heavy Congressional hitters in the healthcare debate could and should face similar protests. Why is that not a repeated front page story or editorial topic?
And why do mainstream talking heads refuse to provide clear explanations of health reform proposals under Congressional consideration? As I write in mid-August, five different proposals circulate in the House and Senate, yet if you relied exclusively on corporate media for news, you’d know little to nothing about each. What you would know about are the bogus “death panels,” a product of Palinesque wingnut distortion and demagoguery. Maybe you’d know that the “blue dog” (i.e. corporate) Democrats, who never met an insurance or pharmaceutical company they couldn’t play lapdog for, somehow represent “moderation” on healthcare. You’d certainly know that congresspersons accustomed to spewing unfettered propaganda at town hall meetings are now getting shouted down by opponents from right to left. But would you know about the content of any plans, especially HR 676 (the single-payer option)? Methinks not.
But as bad as the media (non)coverage of health care reform has been, President Obama’s major problem isn’t bad press. Rather, he’s chosen to get behind a very bad policy prescription for healthcare reform. Similar to President Clinton’s failed approach to reform in 1993, Obama starts with the presumption that a single-payer, truly national health insurance plan just isn’t possible in the United States. No, we just can’t have Medicare For All. Instead we need a “uniquely American” solution to healthcare; code for “reform legislation written by and for the private insurance lobby.”
The President doesn’t even talk about healthcare reform anymore. Rather, he argues for health “insurance” reform, a linguistic shift that’s part and parcel of what progressive journalist Norman Solomon calls “the incredible shrinking healthcare reform.” Instead of guaranteed access to healthcare for all Americans, Obama appears to be leaning toward a national model of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts nightmare: force everyone to purchase health insurance, with subsidies in place to help the poor buy into an inferior “public option.”
Some believe Obama’s a pragmatic politician who understands that even a weak public option would establish some competition for the private insurance companies and lead to their eventual demise. But as of mid-August, it’s become clear that Obama won’t even fight for the meager public option. Somewhat disgustingly, he’s begun to employ a Clintonesque “triangulation” to justify abandoning the public option. Triangulation is a rhetorical strategy of framing the Left and Right as loonies so as to make policies hostile to Main St. but friendly to Wall St. sound “centrist” or “moderate.” Here’s what the president told a Colorado audience: "The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform. This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else."
I suppose it’s not surprising that Obama won’t fight for real healthcare reform. In our corrupt political establishment, by the time a Democrat or Republican gets to be a serious presidential contender, he or she has sold out so many times that when they assume office we are left having to pray for the best but always be ready for the worst. Obama still strikes huge numbers of Americans as something different; as a person who actually experiences pangs of conscience that might make him stand up and struggle for socially just policies in the letter and spirit of his heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve got to believe that somewhere in his being Barack Obama knows that HR 676 (the Medicare For All bill) is the most moral, most workable, and the most cost effective proposal on the table. His handlers probably think it’s just bad politics. But is it? Listening to public radio today, I heard an Obama voter named Paul talk about his disenchantment with the president’s healthcare plan. Said Paul, “I need something to fight for. Mr. Obama, God bless his soul, he needs to give us something that’s solid.”
Paul’s touching on the right prescription: we need a solid presidential proposal, an engaged populace, and a responsible media. Go to www.hr676.org/ to help support the movement for real reform.