We Want the Public Option

Obama must retain a 'public option' for healthcare reform or he risks a massive backlash from the Democratic grassroots

When Barack Obama speaks before Congress on healthcare tonight, he'll either mention a public option
or he won't. The calculus involved in making that decision will have
nothing to do the politics of healthcare - sadly, the public option was
an early casualty
in the battle for control of K Street lobbying money. As far as the
administration is concerned, it's just a matter of who breaks the bad
news to grandma.

The neoliberal White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel,
the architect of Nafta, auctioned off most everything of value in a
healthcare reform package long ago. Hospital profits, doctors' profits,
pharmaceutical profits, insurance company profits, all guaranteed to go
up, up, up for the next decade - so long as their lobbying money stayed
in Democratic coffers.

And who gets stuck with the bill? Well,
that would be the middle class consumers, forced to buy junk health
insurance they can't afford to use. Dreams of a second New Deal reduced
to a massive transfer of wealth to the private insurance industry, with
nary a cost control in sight.

Whether it goes down as the White House plans is another matter entirely.

President Obama took office, his charm and confidence have allowed him
to successfully put lipstick on one neoliberal pig after another: the
bank bailout, the big coal bailout, the IMF bailout, escalation of the
war in Afghanistan, expansion of the defence budget. All done in the
name of "bipartisanship," which is popular in theory with the public
but hardly necessary with a strong Democratic majority. It's largely
been used as an excuse to backtrack on promises made to the
progressives who put him in office, who continue to be held in curious
contempt by the White House.

Through all these disappointments and failures, the president's popularity has held. But that may be coming to an end.

Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, he truly did awaken a hope inside
of people. They voted for "change" in 2008, and that really meant
something to them. It is independent of Obama himself, and can't easily
be so easily manipulated as cynical DC operators suppose. His
supporters gave him a pass on the bank bailouts and the betrayal of
labour and his failure to close Guantanamo Bay, not because they were
easily flim-flammed but because they were holding out hope for health
care reform.

While the impact of the bank bailout was remote for
most, an abstract outrage, health care is immediate. The only people
who think they have good insurance in America are the people who
haven't used it. The UnitedHealth chief executive has $700m in
unexercised stock options specifically because the company turned down
some kid for the transplant of some vital body part. Everyone hates the
insurance industry. Everyone wants delivery from their banal,
bloodless, bureaucratic evil that manifests itself in the life of
someone they know.

The White House game plan for managing public
disenchantment has relied on two PR strategies: the memory hole and the
yo-yo. In the first, the public gets upset about something - say, the
enormous AIG bonuses paid by taxpayers. The President says something
stirring about clawing them back, the House does its Mr Deeds Goes to Washington
number and passes something populist, and by the time it dies in the
Senate the public has forgotten about it - swept down the memory hole.

the yo-yo, some anonymous administration official says that military
tribunals will continue - the Democratic base goes nuts, and the
President reassures everyone that he still intends to put a stop to
them. Just as the public is catching its breath, three anonymous
administration officials tell the Washington Post that the commissions
will continue, they'll just be "new and improved." The base goes nuts
again, and then some cabinet secretary tells the New York Times else
that it isn't true. Finally, when the public tumbles to the fact that
it's been a done deal for a while, everyone is exhausted and the White
House calls it "old news," sparing themselves the impact of an
unpopular announcement.

I'd say we're mid-yo right now. The lack
of direction, the strategic gaffs and the scrambling evident in the
White House are probably happening because they are coming to grips
with the fact that they don't have a clear shot at the memory hole.
Nobody is going to forget this one, ever. So they're going to try and
bank it off the Republicans
again. Obama will continue to express his "support" for a public option
while stressing the virtues of whatever Rahm Emanuel didn't auction off
to Wellpoint. Then they'll all blow on the dice, blame the GOP and hope
that their luck holds one more time.

Spoiler alert: it won't
hold. It was Obama who promised his supporters delivery from the
tyranny of private insurance companies, and it is Obama who will bear
the burden of the public disappointment when "health care reform" turns
into a massive bailout of the private insurance industry.

the President mentions the public option tonight is moot. More
important is whether he realises he's on the road to a one-term
presidency and decides to change course before it's too late.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Guardian