Tonight, the Obama went before a joint session of congress to try to sell his version of health care reform. His speech had some good moments, as speeches go, and if being President of the United States required little more than giving speeches, I have no doubt the Obama would be remembered as one of the greats.
Unfortunately for the Obama, the job requires something a great deal more than words, and tonight's speech is primarily of interest as a monument to how very little the Obama seems to have learned in his time in office.
The thrust of the Obama's speech is, as usual, the same Rodney King-ism ye humble editor spends so much time excoriating on this blog. Instead of solidly embracing a liberal policy and fighting for it, the Obama is once again stuck on "Can't we all just get along?" He's still trying to find compromise with those who don't want any reform, cooperation with those who have spent weeks accusing him of wanting to allow federal bureaucrats to kill the elderly, the infirm, the "unproductive," still looking for some mythical common ground, the warm-and-fuzzy concept so beloved of the pundit class, "bipartisanship."
The Obama was elected in a landslide that also brought a large majority for his party in the House of Representatives and a fillibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. What part of that suggests to him a public mandate for "bipartisanship" I can't even imagine. Time and time again, though, that's where he goes, and it's where he went tonight, throwing in a heaping helping of the vile triangulation of Bill Clinton, a tactic which draws a false equivalence between the liberals and the conservatives and rhetorically marginalizes both.
Given this, a few moments stood out. It was actually refreshing to see the Obama finally take on the "death panels" charge that has been leveled at health care reform for weeks. With a candor almost entirely absent from politicians at such events, he skipped any euphemism and called it exactly what it is: a lie. The Democratic members in the chamber erupted into applause at that moment. The Republicans, who have always known the charge was a lie, sat on their hands and looked as disgusted as if they'd just been served a shit sandwich. Immediately after that, when the Obama correctly pointed out that the health care bill didn't, as so many of its opponents had alleged, cover illegal aliens, Republicans, who knew what the Obama said was the truth, began to bark objections, and Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican and first-rate scumbag from South Carolina, loudly shouted "You lie!"
These moments made for quite a contrast. The Obama calls, at great length, for cooperation and bipartisanship; those in the other party sit on their hands looking disgusted when he calls a vicious lie what it is, then call him a liar for telling what every one of them knew to be the truth. It makes Republicans look bad. It makes the Obama look even worse.
To handle the Republican response, the Republicans chose Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana. Boustany was appropriate for a number of reasons. First, he is, like most Republicans now, a crackpot who dabbles in "birther" conspiracy theories about the Obama not even being a U.S. citizen. Next, he's an exceedingly stupid man, who had apparently written his "response" before having read the Obama speech; what little of his rambling that was comprehensible was nonsensical, and the entirety of it was badly read, in a monotone, from a cue card the congressman seemed barely able to read. Boustany rolled out the tired Republican mantra of malpractice tort "reform," and that's the other part of what made him a perfect messenger for the Republicans--before coming to congress, Boustany had been a surgeon, and had been repeatedly sued for malpractice. His patients/victims had won millions.
One expects this sort of thing from conservative Republicans.
One doesn't expect it from more responsible elected officials, though, and that's why the Obama's can't-we-all-just-get-along call, in his own speech, for allowing states to begin experimenting with malpractice tort "reform"--measures aimed at preventing us from suing butchers like Boustany--was particularly depressing.
As all two or three of my regular readers have probably guessed, I'm quite tired of this administration. I've been tired of it since before it took office, actually. I really do think Obama had a spark within him, a little glowing ember that could have flared up into his becoming something akin to a great president, as such things are usually judged. It has always been there. I even saw it in parts of his speech tonight. He's wasted his chance, though. He wasted it before he was even sworn in. Barring some horrendous catastrophe or scandal in the years ahead, he's limited his place in the history books to being the first person elected to the presidency who wasn't entirely white. A few centuries from now, that won't be impressive enough to make him more than a footnote. His complete failure to seize the opportunity open to him is a genuine tragedy. Probably not one that should seem unexpected in this day and age, but a tragedy no less.
 And his plan has gotten worse. Tonight, he pooh-poohs the importance of the "public option," while embracing the idea of a legal mandate that everyone carry health insurance (a notion he'd previously rejected).
 Malpractice suits account for only between 0.46% and 2% of total health outlays--completely eliminating all malpractice suits would do nothing to reduce health care costs. Attacking our ability to sue serves only the conservative interest in creating an overclass that is impervious to any public accountability.
UPDATE (10 Sept., 2009) -- "Bipartisanship"--the thing the Obama seems to worship above all other things--requires two parties. The conservative base position is opposition to any real health care reform, anything that curbs the prerogatives of their corporate paymasters. Multiply anything by zero, and you still end up with zero. You can’t “compromise” with people who will not compromise. Obama has made a big, grand speech where he’s all about compromise, cooperation, bipartisanship, and the response of the other side was to sit on their hands and look absolutely disgusted when he called the “death panels” lie what it was, then to actually call him a liar for telling the truth about the health plan not applying to illegal immigrants.
Obama began the health care debate with his usual massive concessions to the other side--in an attempt to curry favor with the conservatives, he threw out the single-payer approach favored by the liberals (and the sane) in favor of yet another byzantine plan that preserves the failed private insurance industry. And after that HUGE concession, he comes to the liberals again and says “you have to compromise more.” The conservatives call him a liar, tell the public he wants to kill old people, don’t give up a damn thing, or even indicate that they’re willing to give up anything, and he’s telling the liberals “you have to give more,” and even engages in vile Clintonian triangulation in order to marginalize them, the very people who elected him.
It’s a crock. Obama wasn’t elected to behave like this. The public didn’t elect a candidate on a liberal ticket and huge majorities for his party in both houses of congress so conservative Republicans could continue to run everything.
It’s also worth noting--indeed, it’s a matter of critical importance to this discussion--that, if the goal of health care reform is to come up with something that works, the idea that this sort of continual compromise is what will produce that result (particularly when it’s only being done by one side) is an entirely fallacious assumption. All health care reform ideas are NOT equal. The status quo is unsustainable. That can be documented with hard numbers. The conservative preference for maintaining the status quo with very few real changes--their “reform” idea--merely continues an unsustainable course. Stitching bad ideas to good ones only makes the good ones less good.
That could be seen as an argument against any effort at compromise, but that isn't why I offer it. I offer it because it's worth a thought, in light of the political reality on the ground (as I've just outlined). Attenuating a great idea until it's just a good one (or merely a workable one) can be justified if the compromise will work, and if embracing it will build a broad base of support for it. In my view, there's no indication that either is the case, here.