If you thought President Obama’s speech was about healthcare reform, you were wrong. It was about twin elephants in the room. The United States is literally tearing itself apart at the seams socially because the leader of the free world remains a black man and… its citizens seem incapable of concentrating longer than an 8-second sound byte on an issue bankrupting the nation.
It fell completely off the Twitter trending topic barometer less than three hours after while hot topics were the release of iTunes 9, Ellen Degeneres as the new American Idol judge and the incredibly stupid Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of SC (bet he wishes HE was hiking the Appalachian Trail tonight) who thought he was a UK House of Commons Tory backbencher shouting out “he lies!”
The US Right, still apoplectic over their election drubbing 10 months ago, has only one goal, destroy the man they think torpedoed their party last November. Mindless “no” and blatant lies are all they’ve got and for two months this summer it worked. The Internet echo chamber and talk radio kept ‘the crazy’ going while Democrats looked like deer caught in the glare of auto headlights.
Unable to lead out of the legislative morass, even with overwhelming majorities in both houses, they took the intellectual high ground and lost the message war.
That ended last night as President Obama drew a line in the sand and promised a swift, election campaign-style response to opposition “lies”. To borrow the words of television’s fictional West Wing President Josiah Bartlett, “break’s over.”
Would we be here if Kennedy, O’Neil, and Reagan were negotiating? They would have fought like cats and dogs behind closed doors. They would have negotiated and gotten the job done. Then, like two warring cricket or rugby sides on the field, would sit down and have a meal or drinks together. Both sides would hate the result (which meant it was a good effort and bill), would move forward and both would own it. And… the disagreements would stay on the field.
In this debate only hate is owned and spewed equally. It’s mean, mean spirited and angry. The right play to the lowest base instincts of racist fear. All summer long they said nothing – or worse, agreed, while lunatics hijacked their party. They thought they could sit back and wanly smile while “Birther” and “Deather” lunatics were given unlimited air time, brought guns to town hall rallies and bastardised a Jefferson quote about the “tree of liberty needing to be watered with the blood of patriots” (the same phrase used by Oklahoma City domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh during his bombing of the Federal Building), as a not-so-veiled threat on the life of this black President.
Lobbyist paid goon squads by the busload shouted down all dialogue at Town Hall meetings while Republicans sat on their hands and allowed the wingnut fringe to spread craziness.
And in this game, anything goes. Call the President a socialist who threatens death panels to “pull the plug on Grandma.” Pull your kids out of school to avoid his “indoctrination” speech. Obama’s going to take away your insurance and replace it with socialised medicine (gasp!) no lie was too crazy.
The US wishes it had a health system as good as the British National Health Service.
Hours before the speech, my son took a fall on our backyard trampoline jamming his knee. It swelled up. He could not bend it. So off to Casualty (the emergeny room) we headed at 6:55 pm. We arrived at 7:15 pm. We exited the hospital at 8:10 pm.
In those 55 minutes my son had a triage session with a doctor, an X-ray and two additional doctor consults before being sent home.
In a US hospital emergency room that would have been:
* endless form-filling just to be seen,
* ensuring that you can pay before getting past reception,
* a £1,000 bill minimum,
* extra tests, perhaps even a CT scan for fear of a medical malpractice suit and
* a minimum of five lost hours of time.
At Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, South Wales:
* no forms,
* no visit to the billing office (not even sure this hospital has one),
* no credit card emergency limit increase needed,
* no insurance card checked at the door (just address and date of birth),
* no deductible,
* no co-pay,
* no insurance company fight over coverage,
* no risk of bankruptcy had the injury been more serious,
* all of his records (including the X-rays) computerised and reviewed faster than we could return to the ER,
* our GP will have a copy of the attending physicians report on his system within 48 hours for their records and
* total visit cost £0,
The middle ground in the USA is a quicksand pit.
For 60-years both sides have been entrenched on this issue, special interests have won and 47 million US citizens have no coverage. The moral authority and imperative has always lost to powerful special interests. Max Baucus, a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) sent a copy of his bill to K Street lobbyists rather than the White House. The real game in Washington remains lobbyist money and power.
President Obama presented a strong hybrid speech last night. He reached out to Republicans who clearly will not vote for it, encouraged Democrats to grow a spine, and went back to his community organising sharp elbowed Chicago political style. The battle last night was for independents in Congress and their voters.
Despite his clarity, the Web was back to its usual game within minutes. The President spoke bipartisanism and his team will call out the death panel and other lies. There is a very small window, my guess is by the middle of next week that will slam shut and Democrats will go it alone. While Tip, Teddy and Ronnie spin in their graves; this is the way of the world in Washington this evening.
Time for change.
Denis Campbell publishes the e-magazine UKProgressive.co.uk, where this article first appeared.