Valerie Jarrett was at the Netroots Nation convention today. I went to go hear her speak and I left completely unconvinced. She is one of the top advisers to President Obama. She is a very good politico, for better and for worse. She is smart, composed and faux engaging and engaged. She seems to care but never really gives a straight answer. In a lot of ways, she's a lot like her boss.
I am not a doctrinaire. I understand the value of compromise, diplomacy, bipartisanship, etc. But if you compromise on everything, then what do you have left? It's a balancing act, of course. You have to know when to compromise and when to stand firm. So, that gets us to the question of the day? The central question of the Obama presidency.
Is Obama a Linconesque compromiser or is he just another politician who will sell out any principle just to get re-elected?
These days Abraham Lincoln is known for being the resolute leader that got us through the Civil War and freed the slaves. But you have to remember that he didn't free the slaves on day one (nor had he promised to), he didn't stand on principle on every issue and he was not some sort of mythical statue of a man that never budged. He slowly built to a place where he thought he had the political backing to free the slaves. So, I get that. And Obama might be doing just that on the issues we face today.
Or ... he's not building to a damn thing. If the New York Times is right about a story they ran on Thursday, then Obama is mainly dealing with the Finance Committee in the Senate and they have already agreed there will be no public option in the healthcare plan. That is a fundamental compromise that shows that you have no intention of actually challenging or changing the system. And that you are a run of the mill politician.
Why? Why is the public option so important? On the actual substance of the healthcare issue, the public option is critical in changing the insurance system we have now. If we don't use this to keep prices down through real competition, then the system will essentially be the same. Except with near universal coverage, taxes will of course go up (and private insurance companies will make even more money because we will subsidize more people to get insurance through them). And when the American people find out that taxes went up and their premiums did not go down, they'll be pissed.
And who do you think they'll be pissed at? The insurance industry and the Republican Party who killed the public option? Of course, not. They'll be mad at the people who did "healthcare reform." Then the industry and their wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party, will tell them that the reform pushed through by the Democrats led to higher taxes and higher premiums -- and real change will be made even harder, and maybe even impossible.
But that's still not the main reason why the public option is so important. It's because it is a standard bearer. It is a road sign. It tells you what Obama is all about. Is he willing to compromise something he knows is essential to get a deal done so that he can brag in the next election that he got "healthcare reform" passed? Or does he actually give a damn about policy and getting it right? That is the central question.
I don't know which way it's going to go, but right now the signs are not good. The New York Times story is very troubling because Obama is not going to spend all this time negotiating with the Senate Finance Committee and the industry players and then throw out the deal they worked on. And the industry and the Republican Party have been very clear -- if there is a public option, they're out. Obama is not go negotiate with them all this time if he did not already agree to that premise. That is very, very troubling.
And that brings us to Valerie Jarrett this morning. I was fine with all of her answers on other domestic and foreign policy issues and even on the issues I wholeheartedly disagreed with her on (and the issues she got heckled on). You're not going to get everything you want and you're certainly not going to get all of it instantly (meaning the first year of his term). But there is a bottom line. And as I have explained above, that bottom line is the public option.
So, here was her answer on that:
"Let me be very clear and I talked to the president yesterday about this, knowing I was coming here. The president wants the public option, he has made that clear everywhere he has gone."
That sounds clear, right? Wrong. No, she just said the president "wants" it. Big whoop dee doo. That doesn't mean a thing. It is political-speak for saying later, " We really wanted it, we fought hard for it but we just couldn't get it. But it is important to know that we got a great bill that is bipartisan, that everyone can live with and that will bring real change to America." And then you'll know that Obama was full of it.
There is all the difference in the world between "wanting" the public option and "insisting" on the public option. For example, the Republicans don't stutter. They say unequivocally that they will insist that there is no public option. Why must we always cave in to their demands? Especially when they are a statistically irrelevant minority (that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to them, but it does mean we should stop following their orders and dictates on the most important issues). Why can't we insist on something for a change? Why can't we insist on the most important part of the plan?
Well, if we don't, it is obviously because we did not have the political will to do so. And that is 100% on Obama. If he caves on this, then he is your typical gasbag politician who promises one thing and does another. On the flip side, if he gets real healthcare reform passed with a public option, then I will be impressed and energized. I will dare to believe again.
I still think it's an open question. And it's one only Obama can answer. What's it going to be Mr. President? Do you really believe in change? Do you really believe in what you said during the campaign? That campaign that got us all excited thinking that maybe, just maybe, if we supported the right guy he really could change the system.
Or are you going be just another politician?