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The Nation

Why Is Barack Obama Writing GOP Talking Points?

If you want to know where conservatives in Congress get all their ridiculous talking points about how dysfunctional the federal government is, how incapable the public sector is when it comes to doing anything right and, above all, how worthless federal employees are, we've tracked down the source.

It's not Rush Limbaugh.

It's not Michael Steele.

It's Barack Obama.

The president, who was once an ardent advocate for repairing are broken health care system by developing a single-payer "Medicare for All" program, now rejects the wisdom he expressed before moving to Washington.

As recently as 2003, Obama told an AFL-CIO gathering in Illinois: "I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what (another speaker) is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out -- single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan."

Yet, after excluding single-payer advocates from his health care summit, the president explicitly rejected the option when he delivered a March 3 speech pressing for final action to enact some sort of health care reform.

Just as his speech dismissed "Party of No" Republicans who want to "loosen regulations on the insurance companies," Obama took a swipe at the real reformers with whom he once stood in solidarity.

"On one end of the spectrum, there are some who have suggested scrapping our system of private insurance and replacing it with government-run health care," the president declared. "Though many other countries have such a system, in America it would be neither practical nor realistic."

The president is wrong about what is practical or realistic.

Those "other countries" he mentions are industrialized democracies that budget analysts and physicians have long argued that, by expanding access to care while cutting costs, a "Medicare for All" plan would improve the competitive position of U.S. industries in global markets.

But the president is even more wrong to dismiss a single-payer response as unworkable because of some supposed flaw in the DNA of the public employees who would implement real reform.

"I don't believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America," declared Obama.

So the president is equating career civil servants - like the folks who organize the military's health care, services for veterans, the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Indian Health Services and the care provided for the president and his family - with insurance company profiteers who refuse coverage to people with preexisting conditions, discriminate against women and the elderly in establishing pricing structures and connive to deny care to Americans when they need it most.

My friend Matt Rothschild, the able editor of The Progressive magazine, describes Obama's statement as "reprehensible rhetoric." It is difficult to disagree.

But what Obama's flawed calculus does is even more damaging than his word choice.

By suggesting that "government bureaucrats" are no better than "insurance company bureaucrats," the president reinforces everything his Republican critics are saying. Republicans in the House and Senate argue that a "government takeover of health care" would not do a thing to expand quality of care or to reduce costs.

With his inept comparison, Obama says pretty much the same thing.

In effect, he is writing the GOP's talking points.

The U.S. needs a new health care system, to be sure.

But, even more urgently, Obama needs a new speechwriter.

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