Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

Big Day for Democrats

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The final votes hadn’t even been counted last night when CNN’s GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos was already attempting to throw cold water on Democrat Mark Critz’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

The win means very little, Castellanos argued, given that Critz campaigned against Obama’s health care bill.

Talk about some desperate spin.

First off, Critz isn’t exactly anti-health care reform. While he says there are shortcomings in the recently-passed bill, he wants to fix them, rather than repeal the bill and start over. Much to the consternation of Republicans. Read more here.

The election to replace Democratic icon John Murtha in Pennsylvania was the only head-to-head race yesterday. It’s a district that McCain carried over Obama. As the Washington Post notes, it’s the archetypical swing district, a “must win” for Republicans hoping to win back the House in the fall:

The [National Republican Congressional Committee] has spent $958,897 — one tenth of their cash on hand — and nine (9) shady outside groups have spent more than $445,000 to defeat Democrat Mark Critz. Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele guaranteed victory for Republican Tim Burns.

PA-12 is the only district in the country that Senator Kerry won and President Obama lost. According to non-partisan political independent analysts, PA-12 is exactly the type of district that House Republicans need to win this cycle.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s independent analyst Charlie Cook:

Republicans have no excuse to lose this race. The fundamentals of this district, including voters’ attitudes towards Obama and Pelosi, are awful for Democrats.

And here’s National Journal’s Amy Walters:

If [Republicans] can’t win the only district in the country that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain, what does it say about their ability to win other GOP-tilting seats this fall?

Republicans predicting a GOP tidal wave in the midterm elections have in fact now lost the last two special Congressional elections, in Pennsylvania and Upstate New York.

Critz won, as the LA Times reports, not just by presenting himself as an outsider, but by focusing on creating jobs, jobs, jobs, and on stopping the out-sourcing of American jobs. His opponent, Republican Tim Burns, lost because he tried to nationalize the election — to make it an anti-Pelosi vote — instead of focusing on the district’s woes. (Read more from Politico, which asks this morning: “Where’s the wave?”)

Meanwhile, also in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak outflanked Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter from the left. Sestak, a consistently reliable liberal who among other things favors gun control (Specter tried to make an issue of Sestak’s support for an assault weapons ban), won, as E.J. Dionne notes this morning, by knitting together an impressive left-right coalition.

To get a sense of Sestak’s sweep, consider that he carried all but three of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. He carried Obama strongholds – he got 63 percent in Lancaster County, for example – but also swept through smaller counties in the central and western parts of the state that had supported Clinton.

My cousin Nate, who works for the Sestak campaign, believed Sestak could upend Specter, a three-decade titan of the Senate, back when Sestak was down 20-points in the polls. “We’re gonna do it!” Nate texted me yesterday, as he worked in and around Philadelphia to get out the vote. Kudos to Nate — and all those who worked hard to elect Sestak.

There is much hard work ahead for Democrats, who surely have uphill battles across the country with unemployment hovering near 10 percent. But let’s also learn something from Pennsylvania 12, and from Nate’s commitment and irreducible optimism: we can win, in the fall, even in places where our opponents guarantee we can’t; our message and values still resonate.

There’s only one thing left now to do. In the immortal words of Philadelphia heroine Adrian Balboa: Win.

Breaking the Heart of Hope

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Gary Wills, professor emeritus of history at Northwestern, reviews David Remnick’s new book about Obama in the New York Times today. Here are his final four lines:

Continuity easily turns into inertia, as we found when Obama wasted the first year of his term, the optimum time for getting things done. He may have drunk his own Kool-Aid — believing that his election could of itself usher in a post-racial, post-partisan, post-red-state and blue-state era. That is a change no one should ever have believed in. The price of winningness can be losing; and that, in this scary time, is enough to break the heart of hope.

This summation feels way too pat to me — especially for a history professor. Inertia? All Obama tried to do in his first term was to pass a politically-unpopular stimulus bill because it was the best thing to do to right the faltered economy, and then pass a health care bill, to insure 30 million un-insured. (And why are these times more scary than others? 1980? 1967? 1963? 1947? 1939-1944? 1917 … 1861-1865? …)

Obama still believes he can work across party lines. Maybe Wills would call this naive.

I’d call it something else.

The most insightful lines in the book review come near the beginning. Obama, Wills writes:

is a bit of a chameleon or shape-shifter, but he does not come across as insincere — that is the importance of his famous “cool.” He does not have the hot eagerness of the con man.

That is — he’s authentic. I’d argue that for Obama, the price of winningness is sincerity. I think voters see that. Even voters who don’t like him.

Over time, authenticity in politics carries the day.

The Hitler Parade Continues

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

For awhile, I’ve been doing my best to keep the health care debate in perspective. We are extremely fortunate to live in a time and place where the debate over health care is our most serious, inflaming issue. Most of us in this country have some measure of personal security. We are not hungry. We have access to good medicine. Bombs are not shredding our public squares.

Last week, I blogged about how the Republicans are being hypocritical by not forcefully responding to those comparing Obama to Hitler. (And some in the GOP are actually making these comparisons, themselves.)

Well, the Hitler parade continues.

In this video, a man praising the Israeli national health care system is interrupted by a woman shouting “Heil Hitler.” Watch the video. It’s one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen in a very long time.

In this video, Rep. Barney Frank, a Jew, confronts a woman at a town hall who, toting a picture of Obama defaced to look like Hitler, demands to know why Frank supports Obama’s “Nazi” policies. (“Ma’am,” Frank says, “trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table.  I have no interest in doing it.”)

In an article in the News-Record of Greensboro, Rabbi Fred Guttman writes of confronting a man at a health care rally who carried a sign reading: “ObamaCare = NationalSocialism” (aka Naziism).

Where is the Republican outrage as this wave of ugliness washes over our Democracy? Where is the demand that Rush Limbaugh cease and desist his ugly comparisons between Obama’s administration and the Nazis? Where are the brave Republicans who — like the brave Israeli in the video, and Barney Frank, and Rabbi Guttman — have the guts to get in the face of these despicable hatemongers and shout: Enough!

Really, lady castigating Barney Frank at the mic? Obama is Hitler?

Rabbi Guttman writes:

When I lived in Israel, I had the opportunity to meet on several occasions with a woman named Ruth Eliaz, an Auschwitz survivor.

Most pregnant women and women with young children were sent directly to the gas chambers as soon as the cattle car transports arrived at Auschwitz. Ruth, pregnant at the time, wasn’t showing and was selected to be a worker. As her pregnancy continued, she tried her best to cover her stomach, knowing that if she were to be discovered, she would be sent directly to the gas chamber. Eventually the pregnancy could not be hidden any longer. Ruth was taken to the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele.

In Auschwitz, Mengele conducted horrific experiments on Jews. Mengele told Ruth that he had something special in mind for her and that he would allow her to continue the pregnancy to term. After Ruth gave birth to a baby boy, she began to breast-feed the child. Mengele had her brought to him, whereupon he strapped her to a gurney and injected her breasts with poison so she would not be able to feed her baby. The purpose of this “experiment” was to see how long a newborn baby could live without being fed. After several days of seeing her child suffer, Ruth could stand it no longer and smothered her own child.

I am starting to believe this debate over health care is no longer a “luxury” — a national conversation that we are lucky to be having, regardless of how it turns out. I am starting to see this as a new fight for the very soul of our country.

Is ours a nation where Republicans and their supporters can tacitly sanction widespread comparison between Obama and the regime that injected poison into a new mother’s breasts, forcing her to murder he own child?

Hate health care. Shout all you want about why you think government run insurance amounts to Socialism. Scream and bellow and stomp your feet. But do not, in willful ignorance, cheapen the memory of the 6 million who died. And don’t stand idly by, out of fear or embarassment or political expediencey, and let it proceed.

Jose Saramago, the Nobel Laureate, wrote a book about this kind of thinking. It’s called “Blindness,” and it does not end well.

“Do we have enough strength for the task, asked the girl with dark glasses,” Saramago writes, “The question is not whether we have enough strength, the question is whether we can allow ourselves to leave this woman here, Certainly not, said the doctor, Then the strength must be found.”

‘Be Bold in the Pursuit of Knowlege’

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The other day, I wrote a post, asking if Obama’s supporters were really content to cede the debate over health care to the shouting, Fox News loving, anti-government Americans.

Maureen Dowd, in her column today, puts a finer point on it.

The young grass-roots army that swept Obama into office has yet to mobilize now that the fight is about something complicated rather than a charismatic hope-monger. No, they can’t?

Instead of a multicultural tableau of beaming young idealists on screen, we see ugly scenes of mostly older and white malcontents, disrupting forums where others have come to actually learn something. Instead of hope, we get swastikas, death threats and T-shirts proclaiming “Proud Member of the Mob.”

She’s on to something. Pardon the pun, but health care is not black and white. The topic of health care is vast, dense, and absurdly complicated. I myself have doubts about the wisdom of a public option, just as I have doubts about the wisdom of a private health care coop — or just about any other alternative.

The administration says that under all circumstances, individuals will be able to keep their current health care arrangement if they want to. Here’s Obama, to the American Medical Association in June:

“If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

But that’s aspirational, according to the NY Times. Obama’s assurances “may not be literally true or enforceable.”

Which leaves me in the uncomfortable position of supporting health care reform — I’m certain that the status quote is unsustainable; that it’s morally wrong to have nearly 50 million people with no health insurance, and to have insurance companies drop coverage when people need it most — without knowing for sure the best way to go about it.

It’s hard to get people to storm the barricades for something like the House bill, which, as the Times reports, sets detailed standards for ‘acceptable health care coverage,’ that would define ‘essential benefits’ and permissible co-payments.


In my post the other day, I suggested — partly out of pique — that proponents of reform need to shout louder than the proud members of the mob.

On reflection, I think that would be unwise. But we do need to try and educate ourselves. At Obama’s New Hampshire town hall yesterday, one anti-Obama protestor quite literally showed up armed — legally — with a 9 mm pistol strapped to his leg. I suggest that the best thing proponents of reform can do, at this point, is to arm ourselves with knowledge — so we can contribute to this critical debate in constructive ways. 

The gun-toting protestor in New Hampshire also had a placard, “It is time to water the tree of liberty” — a reference to a Thomas Jefferson aphorism, that the tree of liberty needs to be watered with the blood of patriots.


But Jefferson also famously said that he was “bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led.”

We might start here.

Louise: ‘We Can Get the Job Done This Time’

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Louise Caire Clark, better known as just “Louise,” starred in the “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill Bill Clinton’s health care reform in 1994.

Remember her?

Louise, it turns out, is going Robert McNamara on us. In an interview with Judith Warner of the NY Times, Louise says she “always wanted reform” and “felt bad it didn’t happen.” She’s actually a fan of socialized medicine, and had campaigned door-to-door for Clinton in 1992. In 1993, she was a single mother of two, trying to finish college, and living in fear of losing her health care insurance, when she showed up and read the script for the anti-health reform ad. She very nearly walked off the set.

“I was in a very bad mood,” she recalled. “I was going to make as much as it would cost to pay a baby sitter for the day. I got a script and said, ‘Whoa, Houston, we have a problem.’ I had to stop production to have the director explain to me who was funding it and what they were trying to do.”

The director was the political consultant Ben Goddard. He told Clark that the ads were being paid for by the Health Insurance Association of America. But, he said, the insurance lobby’s goal was merely to “open communications with the White House, to bring everyone in,” she recalls.

“He said, ‘It’s just one ad, and everybody knows there’s going to be health reform.”

She needed the money, apparently. So she played the part. And played it well. So well, in fact, that it killed her acting career — she became too widely recognized as the face of the anti-reform effort. (She did wind up marrying the director; every thorn has its rose, I guess.)

She’s in a new ad this time around, “Get the Job Done,” sponsored by a trade group representing drug makers and a nonprofit advocating affordable medical care.

In the new ad, Harry drops a newspaper in front of Louise, sitting at the kitchen table, and says: “Well, it looks like we may finally get health care reform.”

“It’s about time,” Louise answers. At the end, she concludes: “A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time.”

I think it would have been more effective, frankly, if, instead of having Harry and Louise act out a new tableau, the actors had done a confessional, explaining that they erred in doing the ads against reform 15 years ago, they regretted their role, and were now fighting for President Obama’s reform effort.

When I went to YouTube to watch the ad, though, it immediately became clear that it had gotten under the skin of one viewer, who wrote:

What the fuck do these two oldsters know about anything? When the fuck is this whole goddamned “Big Chill”? generation gonna fuck off and die??? Let two young people talk about how IT IS NOT UP TO THEIR NEIGHBORS TO PAY FOR THEIR HEALTH CARE!!! FUCK YOU, HARRY AND LOUISE!!!!! JUST SAY NO TO BIG GOVERNMENT!!!!!!

I don’t know who the poster was, but it’s safe to assume it was not Paul Krugman, the nobel prize winning economist, who began his column this morning:

It seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.

So why don’t we all just say no to people who put their heads in the sand, blinding themselves to reality.

Take it from Louise Caire Clark — it doesn’t end well.

UPDATE: Cash for Clunkers Looking Good

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The AP is reporting at this hour that the Senate has reached a deal to extend cash for clunkers. A vote is scheduled for Thursday to pump $2 billion more into the program, meaning consumers could get rebates on fuel efficient cars through Labor Day.

Following lengthy negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats and Republicans had agreed to vote on the plan Thursday, along with a series of potential changes to the bill, which was passed by the House last week. Reid has said Democrats have enough votes to approve the measure and reject any changes that would cause an interruption in the rebates of up to $4,500.

Apparently, this means the bill has enough Republican support to ward off a threatened filibuster.

[Republican] Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky concurred that the matter would be settled soon. And objectors conceded they do not have the votes to force all of the changes they want, or to block the House version of the bill.

This is terrific news, for all the reasons I blogged about yesterday. And this:

If the Senate approves the additional money, it’s likely to lead automakers to increase production and bring back laid-off workers. Many automakers reported low inventories due to increased sales from the program at the end of July. Already Hyundai Motor Co. has added a day of production to its Montgomery, Ala., plant, and Ford is considering increases.

It’s a great start to a critical month in which Democrats will be barnstorming the country, making the case for health care reform, asking Americans to trust their government.

POSTSCRIPT: On a 60-37 vote, the Senate approved $2 billion more for cash for clunkers today. The AP reports:

The legislation had its share of critics, though, most of them Republicans.

“What we’re doing is creating debt. … The bill to pay for those cars is going to come due on our children and grandchildren,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

Really? This, from the same Judd Gregg who didn’t bat an eyelash over the past eight years as George Bush racked up 4 trillion dollars worth of debt? More debt than any president in U.S. history?

I think what we are doing is creating jobs, selling cars, helping the environment, and spurring consumer confidence — all of which could hasten the end of this recession and actually help lower the national debt, over the long term.

But, hey, that’s just me.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

As I write this, the AP is reporting “Deal with ‘Blue Dogs’ sets up health care vote.”

The gist is that in the House, liberal Democrats and centrist Blue Dog Democrats are close to  a compromise agreement that would provide health insurance to millions, while slowing skyrocketing health costs. At the same time, Democrats and Republicans on the all-important Senate Finance Committee are nearing a bipartisan deal that would extend coverage to 95 percent of Americans without raising federal deficits.

“We’re on the edge, we’re almost there,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican involved in the secretive talks

This is great news, to a point. To reach consensus, Democrats are likely to drop a public insurance option, as well as a provision forcing businesses to offer insurance to their workers — both key components of the Obama plan.

Still, if lawmakers could reach a agreement before the House recess begins Friday — regardless of the shape and scope of the bill — it would be a huge lift for Obama, considering that just days ago, health care seemed DOA.

Now, the bad news. Obama’s poll numbers are slipping, along with his political muscle. A new NY Times poll finds that Obama is losing his clout on health care, just as people’s concerns ratchet up.

Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray his overhaul plan as a government takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to choose their doctors and course of treatment. …

Reflecting a problem that has hindered efforts to bring major changes to health care for decades, Americans expressed considerable unease about what the end result would mean for them individually.

Republicans no doubt sense blood in the water.

“Although some members of a coalition of conservative Democrats announced a breakthrough in negotiations Wednesday,” reports, “a final deal on the legislation could be a long way off, meaning August could stand as a key month before the potentially dramatic finale in the fall.”

The House will wait until September to bring the bill to the floor — so that members can spend August combing through the massive bill and listening to the concerns of their constituents. 

The month of August now takes on out-sized importance.

Remember, just a few days ago, South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim De Mint declared: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

We are going to see and hear a steady drumbeat of negativity from Republicans, many of whom, like De Mint, are determined to kibosh health care not on the merits, but as a way to undermine Obama on his signature issue, thereby pulling the rug out from under the new administration.

Which is why anybody who cares about Obama’s broader progressive agenda — from passing a cap and trade bill that would stem global warming, to closing Guantanamo Bay and restoring America’s image in the world, to actively working to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians — needs to take action in the next four weeks to support health care.

Call or write your congressmen. Liberal or conservative, they need to hear from constituents who want a bill.  If you don’t know who your congressman is, check out  It’s a terrific grassroots organization, supported by Obama, that can help you call your congressman, download print materials to hand out to neighbors and friends, or find a local group to volunteer with. If you’d rather make a small donation, or buy a Health Care For America Now! shirt, you can do that, too.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, demanding health care reform. If you do nothing else this August, forward this post to a friend, or send out your own email.

It’s four weeks that will shape the next four years.