Was the President ever serious about meaningful health care reform?
By Ernest A. Canning on 8/18/2009, 4:28pm PT  

Guest Editorial by Ernest A. Canning

A number of comments, some posted here at The BRAD BLOG, others in media accounts, suggest that President Obama's willingness to abandon the "public option" was either a caving-in to "formidable opposition" or, as Howard Fineman speculated on MSNBC's Countdown, merely the case of the President's use of the "public option" as a "bargaining chip" which he played "way too early." T.J. Caswell described it as "throwing in the towel."

Other assessments have been less charitable. In a powerful video, journalist John Pilger argues that President Obama is nothing more than "a marketing creation"; that the American electorate was duped into believing the junior senator from Illinois was on the side of common men and women. Pilger portrays the President as a sort of Manchurian candidate for Wall Street, the corporate security state and Empire.

While perhaps not quite as harsh as Pilger's, Ralph Nader's assessment is just as devastating:

RALPH NADER: What is emerging here is what was being planned by the Obama White House all along, which is they would...only demand legislation that was accepted by the big drug companies and the big health insurance companies.

You can see this emerging over the last few months. President Obama has met with the heads of the drug companies and the health insurance companies. Some executives have met with President Obama four to five times in the White House in the last few months. He has never met with the longtime leaders of the “Full Medicare for Everybody” movement...

Not much of a dialogue over health care when those representing a reform --- single-payer --- favored by 60% of the American electorate can't even get an audience with the President...

The people who voted for Obama, and that was a decisive majority, were not looking for capitulation to the Bush agenda. They were certainly not seeking bi-partisanship at any price. To the contrary, people expected Obama's deeds to match his soaring campaign rhetoric. But what we've received, so far, is the very thing Obama pinned on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) --- "more of the same."

The "formidable opposition" argument ignores the true power of the Presidency as a bully pulpit.

Nader spelled out what Obama could have done if he truly desired to do what was right.

The big mistake that the Obama administration made was they did not have continual public congressional hearings documenting the greed, the fraud, the $250 billion in billing fraud and abuse alone that the GAO years ago has documented. They didn’t document the $350 billion of waste, the overhead of Aetna and UnitedHealthcare and other health insurance companies with their massive executive salaries and bureaucracies. They did not document the deaths, the injuries, the sickness that hundreds of thousands of Americans go through every year because they can’t afford health care. And by not doing that, by playing this behind-the-scenes game with these executives from the big health-industrial complex, they were vulnerable to the split in their own party….

Had Obama chosen to use the bully pulpit to advance what 60% of the American electorate already supported --- single-payer --- had he taken the opportunity to expose the true "opposition" to be but a few greedy insurance carrier CEOs and their Wall Street investors; had he painted the full and honest picture of the corrupt, dysfunctional, and deadly multi-payer system as one that places profits over the health and very lives of our people, the "formidable opposition" would have disbursed, searching for a good place to hide.

The fundamental mistake so many have made is to assume that Obama actually desired what is best for the American people. If that were the case, he would have pressed for what he favored when he was an Illinois state senator --- single-payer, which, even now, Obama concedes is the only system that would provide full coverage for every American.

In deciding to run for President, the highly articulate Barack Obama realized that, by advancing single-payer during the campaign, he would have shut the door to the massive corporate campaign contributions, which have become a vital component for coverage by the corporate-owned, mainstream media.

As I pointed out in "Single-Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit,'" candidates who do not play the corporate contribution game, amassing millions of dollars to spend on 30-second, deceptive spot TV ads, are marginalized by the corporate media. As part of a self-fulfilling prophesy, the corporate media justify non-coverage, claiming the candidate is "not viable." In truth, it is the failure of the corporate media to cover the substantive issues candidates like Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) represent that renders them not viable.

Case in point: the August 2007 "blind-poll" Internet survey which set forth the policy positions of Democratic candidates for President but did not include their names. Obama, the charismatic “change” candidate whose soaring rhetoric is second to none, received a meager 3%; Clinton, 3.6%. Kucinich was the choice of “a phenomenal 53%.”

Kucinich's position on health care reform was straightforward. He was and is a co-sponsor of H.R. 676 --- single-payer "Medicare for All." Candidate Obama, by contrast, chose to play it fast and loose with a vague "universal coverage" plan that could involve an undefined "public option" --- an option which, Nader and Pilger forcefully argue, Obama was prepared to abandon from day one.

As I noted in my most recent article, "the effort to satisfy both corporate greed and the health care needs of our people is a fool's errand." Such an effort, even if sincere, is destined to fail.

Pilger's astute analysis, the access and back-room deals given to both the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and the exclusion of single-payer advocates suggest that the effort was never sincere.

UPDATE 08/18/09: I just received an e-mail from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH):

The masquerade is over! The "public option" is ... dead.

Health care reform is now a private option: WHICH FOR PROFIT INSURANCE COMPANY DO YOU WANT?...

The Administration plan requires that everyone must have health insurance, so it is delivering tens of millions of new "customers" to the insurance companies. Health care? Not really. Insurance care! Absolutely. Cost controls? No chance.

You will next hear talk about "co-ops." The truth is that insurance company campaign contributions have co-opted the public interest.

I need your help to spread the word and rally the nation around true health care reform which covers everyone and maintains fiscal integrity without breaking our nation's bank!

Those who wish to contribute to that effort can link right here.

UPDATE 08/19/09: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) will appear today on MSNBC's The Ed Show with Ed Schultz at 6:30 p.m. EDT to discuss the status of the health care reform proposals.

UPDATE 08/19/09: While not directly pertaining to health care, the newly posted "Barack Obama: Change We can Deceive In" by Lori Price, the Managing Editor of Citizens For Legitimate Government is worthy of note.

She contends Obama has out-Bushed Bush, including, amongst many examples:

War funding we can believe in: Obama seeks $205 billion for Iraq, Afghan wars

Occupations we can believe in: 50,000 US troops to remain in Iraq under Obama 'withdrawal' plan

Bagram black hole we can believe in: Obama denies terror suspects right to trial

Extraordinary rendition we can believe in: Obama Administration Maintains Bush Position on 'Extraordinary Rendition' Lawsuit

State secrets we can believe in: Obama Administration Backs Bush Secrecy Policy in Terror Case

Mercenaries we can believe in: KBR Awarded Convoy Support Center Contract by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Torture architects we can believe in: Obama lawyers set to defend Yoo

Eavesdropping we can believe in: Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case.

I'm sure readers could come up with many more examples, such as continued retention of the murderous Blackwater fanatics.


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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