Friday, February 26, 2010

Health of the Debate

The patient is resting uncomfortably, and the patience is wearing thin. And though opinions differ on the immediate effect of the the 7 hour healthcare session of members of Congress presided by the President, my reading of the reactions suggests that the President and the Democratic plan came out healthier, though the length of the process and the number of players probably diluted the kind of clear exposure of the GOPers bad faith, hypocrisy and game-playing that happened when President Obama met with House GOPers.

Still, even the New York Times' right-of-moderate columnist David Brooks--who appears not to favor the Obama plan--gave credit to the President. After admitting that the event was more meaningful than he expected, he wrote:

Most of the credit goes to President Obama. The man really knows how to lead a discussion. He stuck to specifics and tried to rein in people who were flying off into generalities. He picked out the core point in any comment. He tried to keep things going in a coherent direction. Moreover, he seemed to be trying to get a result. Republicans had their substantive criticism of the Democratic bills, but Obama kept pressing them for areas of agreement."

For other press/blog responses (with selections towards the positive) check the beginning of this blackwaterdog diary on Kos.

On substance, objective fact-checkers supported what President Obama said, and agreed that GOPers routinely distorted numbers and facts. So did Paul Krugman in his opinion piece, and then he pointed out:

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable."

As for "the Republican plan," Krugman translates the findings of the Congressional Budget Office: But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now."

Once again, the differences could not be more stark, and so you have to wonder what is really going on in the Zietgeist that makes these reforms controversial. On the face of it, there should be overwhelming public support, since the vast majority of Americans are paying exorbitant amounts for weak coverage that insurance companies can disappear at their whim, and are mostly paying for mega-corporations to establish monopolies through acquisitions and lobbying.

Against this, President Obama kept coming back to the stories of real people, who aren't among the income elite. And so did Rep. Louise Slaughter, one of those admirable public servants who voters have wisely sent back time and again, so she has institutional memory and can recite history that she has seen from the inside, like what happened with the Clinton attempts, and what the price has been for that failure in the 90s--especially in an area that no one talks much about, the economic burden on companies of health insurance, which has had a hand in making exporting products so expensive that they become uncompetitive--and so the American car manufacturing business was essentially disappeared to a large extent because of health care costs.

But Slaughter also told of a woman who was using her dead sister's dentures because she couldn't afford not to. How can this happen today in America? Slaughter asked, and that's the question that is answered by the Zeitgeist and what happens to this bill.

Krugman concludes:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right. But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform. "

David Brooks doesn't think it will happen, and no one is predicting an easy road. Apparently a lot will depend on conservative Dems and whether they believe they have enough political cover, which depends in part on whether they sense the public is behind this. That's probably why the GOPers kept talking up polls which they claim say Americans aren't. We could talk about courage and doing the right thing. It's not unknown in Congress, though it's hardly the rule. But some sense of justice in health care probably will depend on it, and maybe it should.

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