Why The Public Option Is Critical For Progressive Support


Opinion by Ole Ole Olson, Blogger

Barack Obama was elected with a strong mandate for change. Despite unprecedented conservative attacks and obstructionism, with the executive and legislative branch under Democratic control, the progressive movement that brought them to power needs to see some tangible results. The fight for health care reform is a test to see if any real change is possible against the establishment and corporate power. If the bare minimum of a public option fails, the results could be devastating.

I am proud to be a part of the movement for change that started following the disastrous reelection of King George W Bush in 2004. At that time, there seemed to be a collective awakening of progressives that inaction and having faith that there would be no way this master of disaster could possibly win. Millions of people realized that simply their vote was not enough, they needed to volunteer, donate, organize, and speak out on important issues publicly. The result was turning of the tide in the 2006 elections, and the big win in 2008, where a black man with a funny sounding name defied all the odds and became our president.

Then the attacks started. These were not the typical partisan attacks, these were intense, outrageous, inflammatory, and completely unfounded. Obama is a communist, Obama is a fascist, Obama is an Islamist with a secret agenda to give Iran nukes so it can destroy Israel, etc. The magnitude of this slander was off the charts.

Health Care Scale

The diminishing GOP carried these attacks through to new levels of shame in the US Congress too by engaging in delaying tactics on literally everything that came up, from nominations to legislation. In the 6 short months that they have been out of power, the Republicans have done a record number of filibusters. The RNC fueled endless frivolous lawsuits to deprive the state of Minnesota from its second US Senator, simply to deprive the Democrats of 1 more vote.

I understand why the conservatives are doing this. They are trying to poison the well to force the voters to a new trough in 2010, hoping to retake congress and hamstring Obama, the exact thing they did to Clinton in 1993-1994. However, this time, the Democratic party has a majority who favor change in both the House and Senate, a president who is actively seeking positive solutions, and a base network of energized progressives willing to support these important reforms.

In a genuine effort at bipartisanship, Obama has reached across the aisle and compromised on a number of issues. In the words of a disappointed liberal on Digg.com:

“Obama and the Dems are just burnin me. Here he got elected on a mandate for change and we’re just getting mild modifications of the status quo. We’re in Iraq, we’ve rolled back Americans civil liberties, Guantanamo is still open, gays can’t marry, the rich still pay a smaller tax rate than they have since Ford, our school’s suck, and we’re going to get a watered down health bill that means we are less likely to get one that really represents a change for the better for that much longer. It’s all very disappointing.”

I understand how difficult it is to take on an established and thoroughly entrenched system, so I have always advocated patience and accepting incremental changes. The hope has always been to steer things in the right direction and increasing make things better for an 8 year stretch. However, there are certain minimums that must be met at each stage to keep the ball rolling. In the health care debate, that bare minimum is the public option.

Every other country in the developed world has universal health care for its people. The United States is the sole hold out from this. In an ideal world, the US would model itself after the fully socialized health care systems in the Scandinavian countries. They are very cost effective, provide world class care, and reward their citizens with some of the longest life expectancies on the planet.

The problem is there’s that dirty word: socialism, and the red-scare tactics of the conservatives since Sarah Palin came into the picture make this a tough sell to a majority of Americans, despite the inherent advantages of a socialized system.

The next best scenario, and something that would work well in the US is a single payer system. Costs would be slashed by 31% by eliminating administrative overhead, and would provide near-universal coverage. The public is already familiar with this approach, because of Medicare, so this would be the best solution that we can realistically expect at this time in the US.

Unfortunately, this was almost immediately taken off the table by the Democrats as a way of ‘compromising’ with the giant health insurance corporations who have strategically donated $187 million to the campaign coffers of mostly Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans in key committees.

The final stage of real reform would dwell within the realm of a public option. This would ensure coverage of 97% of Americans, ensure they could keep their current doctor and plan if they chose to, but finally provide some competition to the consolidated health insurance industry that has destroyed competition and drove prices through the roof while raking in record profits.

With 50 million uninsured Americans, spiraling costs, dramatic increases in the number of uninsured folks, and medical emergencies resulting in record numbers of bankruptcies and home foreclosures, there is no doubt reform is needed. The public option would solve all of these critical issues.

Anything less than this, like co-ops or allowing the status quo with a few more regulations is not real change, it is the illusion of change and simply allows insurance giants to continue to exploit the American people. Anything less than the public option is admitting that money means more to power than people. Anything less than the public option is unacceptable. The public option is the bare minimum.

There was a good article on the Washington Post recently that outlined how Obama is taking a completely different approach than Bill Clinton during the attempt to fix the system in 1993. This includes taking a more hands off approach to the actual legislation, allowing congress to craft it. The inherent danger to this situation is that the campaign contributions and $1.4 million per day spent on high-powered lobbyists will be able to water down legislation until it is either meaningless or actually had hidden clauses that actually make the situation worse. This is not the Democrats vs. the Republicans, it’s a matter of the health insurance companies against the American people.

This is why Obama needs to exercise a veto if he is handed anything short of a public option. Failure to reject illusory change would be a demoralizing blow for every progressive group and individual who worked so hard for real change over the last few years. Failure to reject non-change, should it land on his desk would signal an end to the support network the president has enjoyed. Failure to veto anything that falls short of the public option could spell the end of the movement for change, and by consequence the Obama presidency.

This has more broad applications that health care reform however. There are at least a dozen incredibly important issues that need to be dealt with in the coming years. Next on the list is likely to be getting the Employee Free Choice Act and Immigration Reform passed. The former is likely to bring about a corporate lobbying effort even beyond what the health care debate demonstrated, and Immigration Reform is sure to waken xenophobic and ethnocentric sentiments from conservative groups.

Following this, other issues include green energy, improving education, decriminalizing marijuana, separating church and state, stopping climate change, LGBT civil rights, protecting our environment, etc. What chance will any of these have if the progressive support network has been de-energized? Who will fight for change then except the isolated groups that are most interested in those issues in the first place?

The health care debate is critical to delivering real change, as promised. Failure to be strong and lead the country to a brighter future on this issue could spell disaster for the Democrats, Obama, and the rare chance at reform that only rises once in a generation. To those congressmen in the trenches, to progressive activists everywhere, and most importantly, to our president, remember that leadership requires bravery in dark times.

“Fortune favors the bold”
-ancient Latin proverb


3 Responses to Why The Public Option Is Critical For Progressive Support

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Andrew T.
    July 31, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Bravo! I agree 100%! If we don’t get a strong public option, Mr. Obama should wipe his ass with whatever it is and send it back. This is not time for half measures and band-aids. It’s time this country started working for the people instead of special interests.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
      July 31, 2009 at 10:55 am

      Well said Mr. Mason!

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1jeremiah
    July 31, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Without a robust public option, there won’t be health care reform. It will be business as usual for the health insurance companies. The cost of health care in America will continue to go up. The main purpose of the public option is to drive down cost. The insurance companies and their republican friends will fill the airwaves this August to defeat American desire for reform. I don’t think the American people will be deceived again this time. A meaningful reform with a strong public option will pass this year. You can bet on it.