Bold action needed from Obama
Since his inauguration in January, President Barack Obama has been contending with a number of crucial issues that continue to affect virtually all Americans. Among the most pressing of these is health care reform. It is necessary to note here that, according to an ongoing Gallup trend poll, a sizeable majority — about 60 percent — of the public still sees the floundering economy as the nation's "most important problem." This figure has dropped steadily from a peak of 86 percent since the beginning of the year, while the number of Americans citing health care as their foremost concern has risen from 4 percent to 25 percent during the same time span. This trend is not at all surprising: As more and more Americans lose their jobs — and, concurrently, their health insurance — the demand for a publicly-funded alternative has increased. To be sure, the president has taken several steps in the right direction, bypassing Washington's infernal political bickering and taking his party's case directly to the people and addressing their concerns in a series of town hall meetings across the country over the course of the summer. But his actions, along with and those of the Democratic leadership in congress, have not as of yet gone far enough toward achieving the goal of universal health care.
Addressing the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations during the organization's annual Labor Day picnic on Monday, Obama said, "I see reform where Americans and small businesses that are shut out of health insurance today will be able to purchase coverage at a price they can afford … Where they'll be able to shop and compare in a new health insurance exchange — a marketplace where competition and choice will continue to hold down cost and help deliver them a better deal." While the president has readily and repeatedly stressed the need for an overhaul of how health care in the United States is operated, he seems reluctant to definitively state his support for a public option, having been continually put on the defensive by the generally outrageous and untenable criticisms of such a plan being made by the American right. Steve Hildebrand, one of Obama's former campaign advisers, stated recently that the president "needs to be more bold in his leadership." Like many Americans, Hildebrand is "frustrated" with the lack of assertiveness the administration has shown thus far: "I gave up a lot to elect Democrats, and I expect them to give it up for me."
Thus far, I have not seen a more pragmatic assessment of the situation Americans face regarding health care than Johann Hari's comments in a recent piece for The Independent: "The US is the only major industrialised [sic] country that does not provide regular health care to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves — and 50 million people can't afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die every year needlessly, because they can't access the care they require. That's equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year. Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending healthcare of being ‘killers' — and they have successfully managed to put them on the defensive. The Republicans want to defend the existing system … [b]ut they can't do so honestly: some 70 percent of Americans say it is ‘immoral' to retain a medical system that doesn't cover all citizens. So they have to invent lies to make any life-saving extension of health care sound depraved."
One of the most incessant of these lies is the right's assertion that the implementation of a public option will negatively affect the quality of care patients receive, but a recent Gallup analysis of historical data "finds only a slight difference in how Americans with Medicaid or Medicare versus those with private insurance plans rate the quality of care they receive, and no difference in how the two groups rate their coverage." Many of the other falsehoods being repeated by opponents of a public option (e.g., that Obama and the Democrats wants to set up "death panels") are so transparently ridiculous that they should require no response. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to a well-funded media campaign spawned by a number of large private insurance companies, a formidable proportion of Americans believe such rubbish, forcing progressive Democrats to waste their time and energy painstakingly clarifying that, in fact, they are not in favor of indiscriminately killing the elderly and the disabled.
This is a crucial juncture in our history, and our only options are capitulation or persistence. We elected Obama and then Democratic majorities in Congress last November because they promised us change. It is their duty to overcome the roadblocks to progress being erected by the GOP, and it is our paramount civic responsibility to hold them to their promises and demand the reform our nation so desperately needs.
Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column, "Zeitgeist," runs on alternate Wednesdays. He is also a contributing writer for the Johnsonville Press.