Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Flicker of Light

It was just a flicker. At his prime time July 22 news conference on health care reform,one of the corporate media stage props pre-selected to ask questions asked President Obama how close to 100% health insurance coverage would be enough to satisfy the “guidelines” he has given Congress. Obama replied that the only way to insure 100% coverage would be with a single-payer system that provides health care for everyone as a matter of right. Then he launched into his usual answer – about how he proposes to get close but not all the way there. Thus, briefly, a flicker of light shone through. It was then immediately quashed by the unforgiving steamroller that is Obama’s “pragmatism.”

How much more salutary it would have been had Obama gone on, for just a few more seconds, to say what he clearly knows to be the case: that a single-payer system is unthinkable – notwithstanding the plain fact that its superiority over the alternatives (including the left-most version of Obama’s still vague plan) is indisputable. It is unthinkable because health care profiteers in the private insurance industry, Big Pharma and the for-profit health delivery system own Congress. So, Obama might then have said, “we might as well just get on with seeing what we can accomplish within that constraint.” If only Obama had dared say this, he would have done more to advance public deliberation and debate than anything any President has done in decades.

It’s a familiar syndrome. Everyone, Obama included, knows that the only feasible way to bring a semblance of peace and justice to Israel/Palestine is to establish a Palestinian state on all or nearly all the territory Israel has occupied illegally since 1967. But, of course, this is unthinkable given the Israel lobby’s control over Congress and the White House. Thus Obama babbles on about a two state solution and halting settlement growth (he doesn’t dare talk of dismantling settlements!). His babble may be enough to unnerve the right-wing politicians who run Israel, but everyone understands that it’s just words. Because American legislators are bought and paid for, the obviously right solution is unthinkable.

Or again: everyone with the sense they were born with – including Obama most emphatically -- also knows that continuing the occupation of Iraq and ratcheting up the war in Afghanistan is all but guaranteed to make “the homeland” less, not more, secure – and also to squander public monies needed urgently for constructive purposes (including health care). But “cut and run” is an unthinkable option. After all, it would prove the empire vulnerable – and the many interests who also own Congress, not just the military-industrial complex narrowly defined, can’t have that. Thus perpetual war has become the norm. Since Obama has become president, hardly anyone even notices anymore.

Ditto for turning the economy over to “the malefactors of great wealth,” as earlier generations of Progressives called them; the people who brought the economy to the brink of collapse, and who continue to do so, as they enrich themselves egregiously. In these matters too Obama, along with nearly everyone else, knows better. But with bought and paid for Democrats (and Republicans), doing otherwise is unthinkable. It is hardly even mentionable in policy debates.

The problem is not just Obama’s “pragmatism” (which comes to nothing more than unprincipled and ultimately self-defeating tactical flexibility). It’s that who pays the piper calls the tune. Back in the darkest days of the Cheney/Bush administration, it was easy enough for “liberals” to see how wrong-headed everything was, and how the country was headed for disaster upon disaster. Not so anymore. Instead, in Obama’s Washington, the who-pays-the-piper phenomenon has reached almost totalitarian levels. The obvious, the known to be obvious, has become unthinkable, with only the occasional and easily quashed flicker of light showing through.

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