Obama, The Right And Healthcare

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - September 16, 2009
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In the past few weeks, I’ve heard a former Honolulu health clinic director argue for a single-payer, national healthcare system; a physician who heads the Hawaii chapter of the American Medical Association explain why - this time - the nation’s largest organization of physicians supports reform; and a representative of the largest healthcare organization in the state say that “pay-for-service” doctoring appeared doomed in any serious reform measure.

I’ve heard the head of a local hospital admit that, if nothing was done soon, the country’s healthcare system might well implode, and the president of the Hawaii chapter of AARP explain why, in the face of a predicted doubling of per-person healthcare costs over the next decade, his organization stood behind reform.

Throughout Congress’s August recess I listened to the Republican right wing - which seems to be all that remains of a once grand old party - denounce the Democrats’ proposed “death squads” and “socialized medicine.”

Last Wednesday afternoon I listened to Barack Obama address a joint session of Congress on the issue of healthcare. As usual, Obama had the best lines.

“I am not,” he said, “the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” And he sounded to all in his hearing as if he meant it.

Obama praised the members of the congressional committees that had completed their work on the health-reform bills and estimated that agreement existed “on 80 percent of what needs to be done.”

But the president chastised those who had spread misinformation about the proposed reforms, notably that his administration planned “to set up panels of bureaucrats with power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.”

A moment later South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson shouted that Obama was a liar when the president denied that the Democrats’ reform measure would insure illegal immigrants. Obama frowned at him; after the speech, Wilson apologized.

Obama put a 10-year price tag of $900 billion on his proposed reforms, but promised that they would be covered without adding “one dime to our deficits.” To Republicans sitting on their hands during most of the address, he added: “Part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for - from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make the same mistake with healthcare.”

Obama came back to chide the Republicans about their spendthrift ways, pointing out that his $900 billion program was “less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.”

Then Obama invoked the memory of Ted Kennedy, quoting a letter written by the late senator before his death. In it, Kennedy called healthcare reform “that great unfinished business of our society ... What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.’”

Obama reminded Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch, John McCain and Chuck Grassley that Kennedy had demonstrated his character in compromising with them to provide health insurance for children, a Patient’s Bill of Rights and health-care for children with disabilities.

“That large-heartedness - that concern and regard for the plight of others - is not a partisan feeling,” said Obama. “It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character: our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand.”

” ... I understand that the politically safe move would be ... to defer reform one more year, or one more election or one more term.

“But that’s not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe that we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test. Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.”

A great speech and a noble sentiment, but I wonder.

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