Friday, August 21, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 10 – The Scorpion and the President

President Obama has been in office exactly seven months. During that time he's accomplished a lot, particularly in terms of the stimulus program and the economy is clearly turning around.

But in his campaign Obama was very strong on health care reform, and basically bet on a "daily double" of the economy and health care. No one is quite sure why, but he seems to be faltering on the latter. Common sense to the contrary, the President and his advisors seem underestimated the ability of the Republican Right/Health Insurance/Big Pharma alliance to play dirty. Now we have the same folks who swift-boated John Kerry and who tried to sell the country that Obama is not a citizen trying to ensure that there is no reform.

And make no mistake: the issue is not the public option, or "death panels," or illegal aliens – it's reform itself. Not all Republicans, not all health insurance companies, and not all pharmaceutical companies are against all reform, but enough are, and they have enough money, that they are very close to owning the debate. As happened with Clinton, if Obama loses ownership of the debate, he loses the issue, and that would be tragic.

If you spend any time at all in the Middle East, you'll hear this story: a frog and a scorpion are escaping a grass fire. They come to a river, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across. The frog demurs, saying he's afraid the scorpion will sting him, but the scorpion points out that if he does that, they'll both die, so the frog agrees. Sure enough, halfway across the scorpion stings the frog and as they both go down the frog asks why. "It's my nature" replies the scorpion.

The point of that parable in this context is that the Left is very close to sharing responsibility with the Right for killing reform. We are starting to hear how disappointed they are, how it's the public option or nothing, and how Obama is proving to be "just another politician." And when they sting Obama, we'll all go down and they will say "it's our nature."

I am 100% for the public option, but I would rather have reform without it than no reform. A number of other countries have instituted universal access without a public option. I don't know if the "pools" is the right option, but nothing shuts down useful debate – debate that can come up with solutions that no one could have thought of before – like a "my way or the highway" approach.

My point is, give the guy a chance. You elected him because he made big, bold promises and he is clearly committed to keeping them. He's as far from "just a politician" as it gets, and he's learning that politics is an art of persuasion, collaboration, and, yes, compromise. With any luck he'll be in office for 96 months. It's been 7. Let's not sting the guy who could carry us to a better shore just because he's not doing it the way we think he should. It's not about the swim, it's about the shore.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 9: Whom the Gods Would Destroy

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad" is an adage the origin of which is lost in antiquity. For a saying to be around as long as this one has, there must be some truth in it, and the antics of today's right wing hopefully will bear it out.

That there is plenty of madness is indisputable; and with any luck at all it is a precursor to the destruction of the far right in this country.

To begin with we have the "birther" non-controversy, complete with a (badly) forged Kenyan birth certificate. WTF? I haven't seen people so impervious to reality since I worked in a state psychiatric hospital in the 1970's.

Then we have the pathological denial that anything about Obama's stimulus plan is working –economic growth, while not yet positive, has reversed and is headed in the right direction. Ditto for unemployment. The "cash for clunkers" program was so wildly successful in stimulating car sales, taking gas guzzlers off the road and putting more fuel-efficient cars on that it ran out of money and had to be re-funded. For the Right Wingnuts this is evidence of the program's failure!

They can't beat health care reform on the merits of their case so they are now invoking boogey men (boogey persons?) – reform will kill your grandmother! It will force you to have abortions! You'll wait in lines! It's the first step toward Communism! Obama is a Nazi (Rush Limbaugh)! And so to combat this spectre of home-grown naziism, let's use Nazi tactics and take over town hall meetings and don't let anyone speak but us. Kind of like the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

Oh, and let's call everyone racists – Sonia Sotomayor, Henry Louis Gates, and especially Barack Obama. And let's invoke integrity, "family values" and "what would Jesus do" while (a) resigning a public trust and getting divorced (Palin), (b) carrying on extramarital affairs (Ensign, Sanford, et al), (c) putting a mistress's son on the party payroll (Ensign), (d) lying through your teeth (RNCC staffers who claimed not to have known of Ensign's doings when they were discussing them in emails at the time; Limbaugh making up parallels between Hitler and Obama)

So the evidence of madness, whether from the gods or otherwise, abounds. Now let's see if this means that the far right is on the road to destruction. One can only hope.