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April 28, 2010

Obama's health care

Reuel S. Amdur

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Barack Obama finally managed to get a health insurance package through Congress. It is a weak-- if voluminous-- law, with many benefits only available in 2014.

It also guarantees obscene profits to the fat cat insurance companies.  Millions will still remain uncovered.  As well, the insurance leaves patients with the necessity of coughing up a co-payment for treatment. 

Yet, Obama accomplished something that escaped efforts by Truman, Nixon, and Clinton.

Let’s give Obama a muted two cheers for his victory, but he should have done better. 

He counted too much on his charisma, but his 70% rating after the election fell to less than 50% by last December.  He also tried to negotiate and compromise with his opponents.  In that effort, he grossly miscalculated.

Members of Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) are elected as individuals.  Often, party labels matter little, as Canadian-style party responsibility is absent.  A government does not fall if its program is defeated, and congressmen and senators vote as they see fit, regardless of party label. 

Thus, it was truly amazing that, in spite of the President’s aggressive charm campaign, he got not a single Republican vote for the final bill.  Such unanimity by the opposition is virtually unknown in American politics.

Obama made useless concessions to the Republicans and then ended up having to make additional ones to members of his own party, some of whom had received substantial campaign contributions from insurance companies.

Compromise, compromise, compromise, and all he got was a lousy tee shirt—and a watered down health plan. 

Being utterly reasonable and moderate, Obama’s strategy included town hall meetings to explain the proposal. 

Great idea, but the Tea Party types infiltrated the meetings and raised such a racket that the meetings could not proceed.  The Tea Party movement is a right-wing populist movement against taxes and “big government,” taking its theme from the time just preceding the American Revolution, when Boston colonials tossed a shipment of tea from Britain into Boston Harbor, in protest against a tax on the tea—“No taxation without representation!”

For the new tea party types, it is a matter of “no taxation,” period, and anything to do with a government program is automatically described as socialism. 

So what should Obama have done? 

When, early on, it became clear to anyone who was even vaguely following how the struggle was unwinding, compromise should have gone out the window.  Obama should have gone on the attack.

Obama worked in Chicago for a time as a community organizer.  Undoubtedly, he would have known about Saul Alinsky, the organizer of the Back of the Yards organization and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals.  How would Alinsky have approached the problem?  “Rub raw the sores of discontent,” he said.  Here is an Alinsky style scenario.

The first step is to identify Republicans who were elected in a close contest.  Then, hold controlled information sessions, perhaps in union halls. 

Have burly truck driver types there to keep order and to eject trouble-makers.  Perhaps hire security guards.  The sessions should lean heavily on local people who were suffering under the then-current medical system.  A person who lost his job and his employment-based coverage and who now faces bankruptcy because his child has cancer, and he cannot pay for the medicine and hospital treatment.  Another with insurance that does not cover the expensive treatments she requires.  Cases in which insurance companies have canceled the coverage of vulnerable individuals.

After a few of these sessions aimed at Republicans, the next step would be to target some of the recalcitrant Democrats. 

At the same time the President could use his bully pulpit to tell the world about the extravagant salaries and bonuses paid to company executives and to highlight some of the striking cases brought to light in the well controlled town hall meetings. 

A health care campaign like that might have produced a better law. 

It could also serve as a template for promotion of other progressive legislation. 

Face it, the Republican Party is now under the control of extremists  who are inciting elements even more extreme, people who threaten Congressional health care supporters with violence and death. 

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