Friday, September 4, 2009

Trial Balloons

Now that the president has decided to bet the future of his healthcare proposals on one address before a joint session of Congress next week, the airwaves, cables, internet, blogosphere, and even Facebook have been filled with speculation and all sorts of supposed insider scoops on what will come down from Capitol Hill next Wednesday night. I think it is probably safe to say that no one — not even the president — knows for certain exactly where we’ll be with the debate next Thursday morning, but all the pundits, who have nothing to lose no matter whether they’re right or wrong, are sure that this will redefine the Obama presidency and be the Most Important Thing he ever does. Or not.

Will he keep the public option or not? Will one senator from Maine become the decider over the future of 46 million people without health insurance? Will the Republicans win concessions because they screamed the loudest? Will the lunatic fringe keep pushing the limits of paranoia and gob-smacking blather? (The last one is pretty certain.)

As a lot of people, including pundits and bloggers, have pointed out, there’s a difference between compromise, concessions, and caving in. The president campaigned on and passionately spoke of making sure that every American had access to healthcare insurance, getting costs down, improving efficiency, and guaranteeing that the limits placed on insurance now — portability, coverage for pre-existing conditions, and arbitrary limits that stand in the way of the practice of medicine — go away. Now he has to deliver those in the face of some of the most vitriolic and baseless lies and distortions that have been perpetrated by a minority of interests, some of whom have made it very clear that their motivation has nothing whatsoever to do with healthcare; they see the debate and the circus as their shortcut to getting their hatred into the mix.

I don’t think the president has a whole lot of options, so to speak. He’s tried bipartisanship and gotten nothing for his efforts. He’s angered his own base for even attempting to work with Republicans, and he’s learned all too well that doing the opposite of what doomed the Clinton plan in 1993 — write the bill at the White House and try to ram it through Congress — doesn’t work either. And if he gives in to the screamers and the deathers and the lunatics, he will have proven that he can be rolled by infantile tantrums. You would think that as the father of two children, he would know better.

So what we’re seeing coming out of the White House and Capitol Hill between now and Wednesday will be a whole lot of trial balloons — public option or not; trigger or not; reconciliation or not — and at the end, we’ll all be watching. Perhaps that has been the idea all along.

For my part, I hope he takes to the podium, looks at the Republicans, smiles, and says, “Okay, you had your fun. This is what we’re doing: public option, coverage for all, regulation of health insurance companies within an inch of their lives, and anything else I can come up with that will drive you up the wall. We’ll ram it through by reconciliation the same way Bush put through his tax cuts and his war in Iraq, and if you don’t like it, try to imagine within your wildest dreams how much I care. You had your chance and you came up with nothing but fear, loathing, racist dog-whistles, and lies, all of which proved you haven’t the right to lead anything more than a goon squad. So sit down, shut up, and hold on.”