OPINION: Time For Obama To Get Tough On Healthcare (Us Too)

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If the ruckus over healthcare reform has taught us one thing, it is that bipartisanship is a dream that never will be fulfilled.  And so what if it isn’t?

We must admit, President Obama gave it his best.  He went to Washington with an olive branch, with a desire to find common ground with people of different political persuasions, to include everyone in the process.  But what he has learned, hopefully, is that bipartisanship is but a means to an end.  And in the end, you cannot broker or negotiate with people who have no intent to negotiate, and who really aim to bring you down and destroy you.

Such is the case with healthcare reform, the jewel in the crown for the Obama administration.  The president made this the centerpiece of his agenda of change and bold leadership.  If done the right way, the nation would succeed in putting the health insurance companies in check, cut the cost of healthcare dramatically, and make healthcare a universal right, like all of those “socialist” countries (the rest of the industrialized world, that is).  If the American system of healthcare delivery is so great, why do we have 47 million uninsured people?  Why does the U.S. have a higher rate of infant mortality than 28 other countries?  Why did 1,500 people recently wait in long lines in Los Angeles for free dental care, eye exams and medical exams?

Of course, the best way of achieving insurance reform is a single-payer system, which would eliminate the intermediary insurance companies entirely.  This measure would save the country around $400 billion per year in administrative costs, in other words, all the money they’ve been stealing from us.  If you don’t do that right away, the next best thing is a public option, which would allow for a cheaper government-run health plan that people could choose instead of costly private insurance.

Now, when you propose to stop the thieves from stealing your money, the thieves will do whatever they can to maintain their ability to steal.  This is natural and expected.  The Republican Party and the health insurance industry (with the help of right-wing media) have utilized the militias, the Patriots, the Birthers and the other Obama-haters in order to stop the train of reform.  These are the people who have disrupted healthcare town hall meetings-and in some cases brought pistols and semiautomatic assault rifles to presidential events-because they hate government and they want their country back (translated: no more Black presidents).

The response from the Obama administration has been all-too gentlemanly at best, naïve at worst, as if we’re all just playing a friendly game of dominoes at the family cookout.  Obama was far too willing to compromise too early, to sell the house to try to gain a few Republican votes that never would materialize.  The GOP and their allies have no interest in bipartisanship.  Their only goal is to bring down any healthcare reform legislation, and bring down the Obama presidency with it.  Of course, it doesn’t help any when you have moderate and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats standing in the way, their only distinction being that they took more of the insurance lobbyist money than other Democrats.

With Democratic control of the House, the Senate and the White House, exactly when would we achieve universal healthcare, if not now?  This moment is important not only because of the immediate matter at hand, but because it will define the rest of this administration, and its ability to get anything done.  You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, and you don’t bring pork chops to a knife fight.

Obama must succeed.  If he loses this battle, we all lose.  He is poised to become one of the great presidents, and already has achieved more than many of them.  But if he cannot succeed on his cornerstone issue of national healthcare-or at best ends up with a phony reform package with no teeth- he will be unable to achieve much else.  He will do what average presidents do, such as give medals to boy scouts or something, host Easter egg hunts on the White House lawn, and receive foreign heads of state for photo ops.  And that is not what millions of people voted for in November 2008.

At the same time, if we’ve learned anything else, it is that politics is not a spectator sport.  Government requires active participation from the public, and vocal demands that certain things get done.  The election should have provided more than enough evidence that people want change.  But in a nation that is used to pimping whatever it can to make a buck, change is hard to get.  It looks like it is time to take to the streets.  Obama must get tough, but supporters of a progressive agenda must do so as well.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service, among others. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson. His blog is davidalove.com.

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