I voted for Barack Obama in November not as a misty-eyed True Believer, but as someone convinced this country needed substantive change we weren’t going to get from John McCain. Obama’s record to this point has inspired mixed emotions. I think he understands the social and fiscal problems before us. The added deficit worries me, but it is probably a necessary evil to make up for years of fiscal malfeasance. His decisions about what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners and the Bush Administration’s legacy of illegal searches and torture are woefully inadequate.
The most surprising and disappointing aspect of the still young Obama presidency is his unwillingness to stand up for what he seems to believe in. For example, he has spoken out eloquently on more than one occasion for the need for a public option for health care. During yesterday’s (June 23) press conference, he responded to the question, “Wouldn't [a public option] drive private insurance out of business?” with the following comment:
Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.
He’s right: it’s not a logical argument, and this should be brought to bear on anyone who argues against a public option. Unfortunately, today he undercut his own position:
We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. Those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”
Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman summed it up best in his blog:
My big fear about Obama has always been not that he doesn’t understand the issues, but that his urge to compromise — his vision of himself as a politician who transcends the old partisan divisions — will lead him to negotiate with himself, and give away far too much.
Obama’s post-partisan goals are admirable, but they should not obscure the message of the last election. Americans made a dramatic change in government, producing a Democratic president and sizable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Bi-partisan support for any legislation must include an acknowledgement of the people’s will for those laws to be worth anything. Extend a hand, but if the minority doesn’t want to take it and work with you—which many Republicans still refuse to do—then let’s remember who has the votes, and how they got them.