Daily Archives: August 31, 2009

Okay Then: Health Care

So, I’ve been avoiding talking about the health care thing all August long, but let’s go ahead and talk about it a bit, just so that decades from now my biographers (i.e., the great-great grandniece assigned to do a high school project about that ancestor of hers who wrote those spaceship books — how funny!) will know what I thought about all of it.

I know a number of people on the left have been beating their head against the wall wondering why Obama et al haven’t been aggressively hammering down the idjits on the right who are screaming about socialist death panels murdering grandma by slapping her to death with the president’s uncircumcised penis which proves that he’s not from America by the way, but I have to say personally that I’m somewhat more sanguine about it.

Maybe Obama and the Democrats are indeed so disorganized that they’ll be defeated by a bunch of froth-flecked ignorami, but I think it’s also entirely possible that they recognize that the best way to deal with these people is not to yank on their chain but to give them enough rope to hang themselves. August has been a long enough time for it to sink in that many of the people screaming about the proposed health care changes in town halls are, to put it charitably, crazier than a river-bound bag of cats, and know nothing that wasn’t read to them (slowly) by people who are perfectly happy to lie to them for the purpose of ratings and/or counting political coup. Even people who have reservations about the proposed changes in heath care come away not wanting to be associated with anything those people are yammering on about; it’s embarrassing to be lumped with people who scream about keeping the government out of Medicare.

And this is where Obama comes along and does his thing, because in fact he’s not a socialist grandma-killer, he’s the dude who doesn’t get excited or flustered and focuses on threading the needle and getting most of what he wants done. After crazy, foamy August, Obama’s September will feel like a cool breeze of sanity, and I suspect people will come around. Why do I believe this? Because if you can harken your memory back to last year, he’s done this act before, in around the same time frame. Obama, whether you like him or not, doesn’t strike me as someone who wastes much energy; he’s saving his effort for when it matters, i.e., when Congress is back in session and when the right has revealed itself to be insensibly nuts on the issue to a large chunk of moderate Americans.

But I think there’s more to Obama lying relatively low in August than just letting the right embarrass itself in front of thoughtful, non-ignorant people who actually want solutions to health care issues. If you read lefty blogs at all, then you know that at this moment they like Obama only slightly more than the right does. They feel the man is too inclined to compromise, too slow to address issues they feel should be addressed right now, not forceful enough in directing the Democrats in Congress and so on and so on. Essentially, they fault him for not doing what they hated the Bush administration for doing, which is using a majority in Congress to ramrod through partisan policies.

Leaving aside the fact that Obama did in fact score a number of very quick legislative victories, there are two things going on here. First, anyone who at this point doesn’t realize that Obama’s plan is to actually lead from the center, with just a hint of a tilt to the left, is an idiot. That’s where he’s been since he left the primaries last year, because that’s where most Americans are, and that’s who Obama sees himself as the steward of: a huge chunk of center-ish people who nonetheless have three decades of rightward-sloping inertia.

News flash, lefties: The right is still better at political guerrilla warfare, and most voters are still vaguely worried about “big government” and see such a thing as a lefty construct even though the right has done excellently well at the big government thing over the last 30 years. The fact that Obama’s popularity dropped by double digits through the right’s use of lies and absolutely insane rhetoric regarding heath care suggests that people still default vaguely right, and need time to recognize that the talking points there are too wacky to deal with before swimming back toward the center. I think Obama understands what he has to work with and also gets that there’s only so much he can tackle.

Second, I think Obama and his pals also used August to remind the left of the salient fact that the right did not in fact roll over and die when he got elected, and that given the opportunity, will be more than happy to stab the Democrats and other liberals right through the eye, so what the left really needs to do at this juncture is just STFU and get with the program, which is what Obama says it is. The folks on the left, bless their hearts, are not like the folks on the right: They are incapable of walking in step until and unless they think zomg the world is going to end and we’re all going to die. This was not where they were at earlier this summer when it came to the health care debate but may be where they are now, having had a full month to watch the right spew and kick and gain mindshare. I think it’s a little bit sad that the left has to get to that point in order to function as a unit, but, well, that’s part of being on the left, isn’t it.

Again, I could be wrong about all of this: Obama and company may in fact be flailing about and I’m just constructing a neat alternate reality in which they actually know what they’re doing. But until and unless health care fails despite Obama having majorities in both the House and Senate, I’m going to go with the idea the dude knows what he’s doing with all of this.

The other thing I think Obama knows that lots of people on the left seem to be clueless about is that the goal here for Obama is not creating the US equivalent of the UK’s National Health Service, or even any other specific program — it is codifying into the laws of this country the proposition that every American must have access to basic and comprehensive health care. If he gets that — however he gets that — then essentially it’s game over, and everything from that point forward is just haggling over details.

Certainly those on the right understands this; it’s why they’ve spent so much time trying to terrify people who would very likely benefit from changes in the way health care is run in the US into thinking that this is the worst thing since 9/11. The right needs to kill the entire concept to have a win scenario, because it knows that once people get used to the idea that health care is effectively a right, they’re never going to give back that right. I’m continually confused by why the left can’t seem to grasp that this round of the battle is about the big idea of universal health care rather substantially more than it is about the specifics of said care. The specifics can always change, once the big idea gets accepted.

As for where I stand on it, well, you know. From the point of view of a productive and well-functioning society, I think everybody in it needs to be healthy, and as a taxpayer, I would rather spend money on preventative care, which is relatively cheap, then on emergency room care, which is always expensive. Personally, if I were in charge of health care, I would mandate universal care for every American under 18 and over 70, and make everyone in between purchase their health care from insurance companies who then turned over a certain percentage of their revenue to subsidize basic, comprehensive health care for Americans who could not otherwise afford it. Off the top of my head, it seems like a reasonable middle ground between the governmental interest in a basically healthy society, and the good old fashioned American belief in the primacy of private profit and the right to fine tune what one is willing to pay for, in terms of health benefits. I have no doubt someone could pop holes in this particular plan of mine, but, hey, it’s a paragraph long.

The point here is that, morally and competitively, I believe the United States is better when its people are healthy; I also believe as a citizen it does me no harm and in fact does me good, to subsidize, either through taxes or though my insurance payments, those fellow citizens who have no health care. Better to find a way to keep them healthy, than to wait for them to become ill and deal with the mess then. How we do this I’m cheerfully agnostic about, which is why I’m not exactly losing my mind if, say, the “public option” doesn’t pan out. But at the end of the day I want people to be well, because that’s one less national crisis to have.

I do suspect most people are more or less where I am on this, which is why when the smoke clears I think we’ll see that we have some sort of national plan on the books. I don’t imagine those on the right will be at all pleased; I equally imagine a large number on the left will be annoyed by what the plan doesn’t have. But in the center I suspect we’ll have a feeling of, well, let’s see how this works for us. I think that’s a reasonable place to be.