Stick with me, baby

“Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now.”

Bob Dylan, “Mississippi”

Busy being born

“… he not busy being born is busy dying …”

Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

I am not alone

FWIW, I see that Kevin Drum agrees with me. First he quotes Jeremy Scahill:

Let’s be clear here:  This is a complete and total sellout to the interests of the insurance lobby by the Obama administration. This is, as Michael Moore has said, a complete victory for the ultra-capitalists.

Drum disagrees. In his opinion, the bill is

not only an enormous first step forward, but the only way to make that first step. A government-run single-payer solution was never even remotely politically plausible, and anyone who insisted on jettisoning our current framework of private insurers as a condition of reforming healthcare would never get any serious reform passed. End of story.


As for the private insurance industry, I’ll make a prediction:  within 20 years it will be gone in all but name. Either the federal government will fund the vast majority of health insurance, or else private insurers will essentially be regulated utilities, as they are in Germany or the Netherlands. This bill is the beginning of the end for all of them.

On the latter point:  Jonathan Bernstein agrees that the Affordable Care Act is merely a first step. The public option that Aaron argued for in the comment section of my previous post? It may arrive in the near future:

I think the public option is going to be a major plank of future (including 2010) Democratic campaigns, and is likely to become law in the not-distant future. Short version of the argument:  liberals really love it, it polls well [as Aaron pointed out] and so candidates are unlikely to believe that it will hurt them, and it can be passed through a future reconciliation bill (and it scores well, so it can be used to “pay” for higher subsidy levels, or unrelated items, or even deficit reduction).

I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure from liberals to add a public option through reconciliation in the next Congress, if Democrats still have the majority, and if it doesn’t happen then I do think Obama is likely to campaign for it in 2012.

President Obama? Would he really campaign on the public option?

According to xpostfactoid, President Obama is an incremental reformer with a comprehensive soul. Again:  fundamental change by degrees is what he’s after. xpostfactoid quotes the President:

The ship of state is an ocean liner; it’s not a speed boat. And so the way we are constantly thinking about this issue of how to bring about the changes that the American people need is to — is to say, if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, we may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, our kids will be able to look back and say that was when we started getting serious about clean energy, that’s when health care started to become more efficient and affordable, that’s when we became serious about raising our standards in education.

Barack Obama makes history … again

I’m breaking my blog silence to celebrate a historic achievement by President Obama and the Democratic Party. I refer, of course, to the passage of a health care reform bill:  first in the Senate and, tonight, in the House of Representatives.

I understand why some individuals who supported Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign have been disappointed in his performance to date. In particular, I concede that civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald have legitimate cause for concern (i.e., over government infringement of the rights of individual citizens).

But President Obama staked his credibility on the issue of health care reform, which was one of the key planks in the Democrats’ 2008 election platform. Accordingly, I have refused to join the rush to judgement. After all, the President assumed office only 14 months ago!

I have bided my time, waiting to see whether the President would succeed or fail on this extraordinarily important matter.

President Obama pursued health care reform as a legislative priority despite a terrifying economic crisis. He pursued it despite a cynical misinformation campaign on the part of Republicans. (Which succeeded insofar as a majority of Americans expressed disapproval of the Democrats’ bill, based on widespread ignorance of what the bill actually would do.) President Obama pursued this priority when many of his supporters — i.e., activists on the left of the political spectrum — called for the defeat of the bill. Those supporters were disappointed that bill was not more radical — even as Republicans and Tea Party “patriots” condemned the initiative as socialism, totalitarianism, or worse.

And the President continued to pursue health care reform after the Democrats lost a special election in Massachusetts in January, which led many observers to conclude that health care reform was dead.

Tonight, against long odds, President Obama has succeeded where several presidents before him, both Democrats and Republicans, have tried and failed. Political observers have questioned whether Democrats could govern; whether they would lose courage and flee the field of battle, demoralized and confounded. Instead, it is the Republican Party which has suffered a monumental political defeat.

Americans will soon experience what health care reform means for them and their loved ones. And when they experience it, they will like it. The Republican misinformation campaign will be exposed as the hollow sham it always was.

In my opinion, President Obama has been vindicated by tonight’s events. His critics — at least, those on the left — ought to change their tune, and acknowledge that the President has delivered the goods on a key, perennial Democratic priority.

Health care reform is the most significant legislative achievement in nearly 50 years. Tonight, Barack Obama has made history — again.
Obama over the top 2(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Convicting words

Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, comments, “It is impossible to underestimate the significance of the rule of law in a modern society”:

It is a profoundly inclusive concept. One that subordinates all social, economic, political, and individual behaviour to an agreed set of codes and regulations. To have meaning, these rules must not be the exclusive preserve of a privileged few. They must be the common property of all citizens. They must be clear to everyone, taught to everyone and applied to everyone in a uniform way.

No one can be above the law. And no one can be forgotten by the law or denied its protection.

That’s a quote from the Prime Minister’s speech in Shanghai last week (hat tip, Paul Wells).

The remarks were intended as an exhortation to the Chinese government, to clean up its act. How sad that the words are equally convicting when applied to the government of the United States of America.

“No one is above the law.” Except for the President, who can flout the U.S. Constitution any time he claims he is acting in the interests of national security.

“No one can be forgotten by the law or denied its protection.” Except for any person who is accused of terrorism, in whose case there is no presumption of innocence, and no right of habæus corpus. Such individuals can be held in prison indefinitely without ever proceeding to trial, or even being formally accused of a crime.

When I say, “How sad …”, I mean that phrase quite literally. The ethical degeneration of the U.S.A. in the aftermath of 9/11 is arguably the saddest geo-political development of my lifetime.

I remain hopeful that President Obama will undo the offenses against human rights committed by his predecessor in the office. Obama has made progress, but only on certain fronts. He has a long way to go yet, to undo the damage and blot out the stain on the U.S.A.’s reputation as a civilized, just nation.

Individual evil and the goodness of the masses

Here’s another excerpt from Edward Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass. It constitutes a kind of case study of the grieving process — i.e., Bobby’s grief after the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

The excerpt also offers an insight into human beings at their best:

I think often of Bobby’s grief over the loss of Jack. It veered close to being a tragedy within the tragedy. […]

He delayed returning to his duties as attorney general; he found it difficult to concentrate on anything or do substantive work. Hope seemed to have died within him, and there followed months of unrelenting melancholia. He went through the motions of everyday life, but he carried the burden of his grief with him always. […]

In mid-January 1964, while Bobby was still attorney general and before he made up his mind to resign and run for the Senate from New York, President Johnson asked him to visit the Far East to negotiate a cease-fire between Indonesia and Malaysia. He was to meet in Japan with Sukarno, the enlightened but volatile Indonesian president […].

Bobby’s official mission was to act as peacemaker; but Johnson also hoped that the assignment would lift his spirits.

Johnson, so often perceived by Bobby as an adversary, had on this occasion performed a valuable act of compassion. In Japan, Bobby and Ethel witnessed a tumultuous outpouring of friendship from the people, who wanted to show their respect and love for John Kennedy through Bobby’s presence.

I believe that the reception restored his faith that life was worth living after all.

(pp. 210-11)

I have grieved the loss of both a brother and a sister. I can relate to Bobby’s inability to concentrate, his loss of motivation, and that melancholia which spirals downward, at intervals, into darkest despair.

I learned to ride the tiger:  to let it carry me where it would; to be patient with myself when I would break down in tears for very little provocation; to wait out the process until it had exhausted itself, like Muhammad Ali rope-a-doping George Foreman.

If there is any antidote for grief, it is the mere passage of time. That plus the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.

At Gethsemane, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. In the grieving process, the flesh proves surprisingly strong:  bodily functions persist even while the spirit is utterly impotent. One day, you discover the unsuspected truth of that facile saying, “Life goes on.” Then your spirit may revive:  you may return, by stages, to the ordinary business of living — partly in spite of yourself.

One morning I woke up and I knew
     You were really gone
A new day, a new way, and new eyes
     To see the dawn.
Go your way, I’ll go mine and
     Carry on.

The sky is clearing and the night
     Has cried enough
The sun, he come, the world
     to soften up
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but
     To carry on.

(Stephen Stills, “Carry On”)

I don’t know about the “rejoice, rejoice” part, but the rest of that line is true — “We have no choice but to carry on.”

There’s another lesson to be found in the story of Bobby Kennedy’s recovery from grief. It has to do with human nature:  that unseemly amalgam of terrible evil and inspiring goodness.

Paying the political price

I have been reading Edward Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, in my free time. It’s a lively read:  rather strange insofar as it centres on the peculiarly privileged Kennedy family, but fascinating insofar as the Kennedy family has been at the centre of many epochal events (the Cuban Missile Crisis, the civil rights movement, the assassination of both JFK and Bobby Kennedy).

In the next few days, I plan to share a couple of excerpts that stand out for me. First up:  the passage of civil rights legislation, originally championed by JFK — and the political price the Democrats paid for doing the right thing.

The bill was passed into law just seven months after JFK’s assassination.

On June 19, 1964, a year to the day after my brother sent his civil rights bill to Congress, it passed into law on a vote of seventy-three to twenty-seven.

We knew that the Democratic Party would pay a price for this achievement. [President] Lyndon Johnson himself put it most succinctly when he remarked, “We may win this legislation, but we’re going to lose the South for a generation.” And he was right; this marked the onset of the transformation of the region from Democratic to Republican.

Other Democratic leaders foresaw this as well, yet they acted to pass the bill nonetheless. I’m convinced that they acted, as had my brother in his speech, beyond political calculus:  this was simply the right thing to do.

(pp. 217-18)

Today, the Democrats — who won the election in 2008, decisively — are struggling to pass legislation which would reform the health care system in the USA. They face opposition from both Republicans and certain conservative Democrats.

Sometimes the opposition is grounded in legitimate concerns (Is the cost sustainable?) and sometimes it is grounded in an utterly cynical political calculation (If Republicans defeat health care reform, we will have dealt President Obama a crippling blow.)

I quote Kennedy’s memoir to make this simple point:  politicians have been known to put the public interest ahead of personal or partisan political interests.

What would happen if Republicans voted in favour of health care? They would assist President Obama in realizing a historic achievement.

They would also perform a great public service. Literally tens of millions of Americans would benefit hugely as a direct result. The question is, are Republicans (and the aforementioned conservative Democrats) willing to pay a political price, as the Democrats did in passing a civil rights act in 1964?

It is abundantly clear that the answer is No. Grasping power matters more than the public good, to this generation of Republicans.

Of course, there shouldn’t be any negative political consequences for passing legislation that will benefit tens of millions of Americans. Unfortunately public debate has been poisoned by persistent, pernicious distortions and outright lies about what health care reform would entail.

That, of course, is a deliberate strategy on the part of those for whom the public good is an incidental concern.

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