Last night I participated in a small rally in Jersey City's Journal Square that MoveOn.org organized on behalf of health care reform, one of hundreds of such efforts across the country. The rally and accompanying candlelight vigil's aim was to sure that whatever bills President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress cobble together, the final version, which will be signed into law, include a robust public health insurance option. To that end we attendees, initially numbering about 40 or so and finally rising to about double that number, heard from a New York physician, a handful of people who'd experienced nightmares with the health care system, other healthcare advocates, and local MoveOn.org representatives who excerpts of Teddy Kennedy's speeches.
The gathering was heartening, especially by evening's end when people passing by decided to hang around, listen to the speakers, and sign up for future MoveOn.org activities, but I still am very worried about what the White House and the Congress are up to and what will come from their efforts. We've gotten all sorts of doubletalk from the White House, waffling in one direction or the other, after they'd already taken single-payer universal health insurance, which would surely drive down costs and provide health care for everyone, off the table before they even began.
The President, like a weathervane, has allowed the hot and toxic air emanating from the right and enabled by the mainstream corporate media, increasingly to set the terms of the discussion. Instead of laying out clear principles and selling them nonstop, with Democratic support, he has gone silent for long stretches, failed to actively and enthusiastically challenge the lies and misstatements about the bill, and refused to publicize and humanize the issue. One minute he is for the public option, the next he and his surrogates suggest he isn't (or--Rahm Emanuel--might not be). One minute he is admitting that he (Rahm Emanuel) cut a deal with Big Pharma, laying out the odious terms, the next minute he says he didn't do so.
Health care in the US is in crisis; doing nothing about it is not an option. But throwing together a crappy bill that does nothing to transform the current situation, just to have something to sign also isn't and cannot be an option.
The same has been true of the Congress, whose leaders, especially in the Senate, continue to be too pusillanimous despite now having close to an absolute majority to pass legislation. The three House bills include forms of public health insurance, as does Kennedy's HELP panel's bill, but the key Senate Finance bill, from Max Baucus (written by him and sextet of moderate and conservative Democrats and Republicans), is unclear. Baucus's original guidelines for a bill, from last year, sounded pretty progressive, but his just released sketch of a bill sounds like a disaster, with reduced subsidies for poor and working-class people and no public option.
Are Baucus's newest set of guidelines a sop for his health care industry funders, a ploy to placate the GOP and Democratic fiscal whiners who were silent when George W. Bush dynamited the deficit open with tax cuts and war spending, a skeleton to be fleshed out with the House's more liberal plans in conference, or something else?
None of this came up at the rally. In fact the faith that people there appeared to have that the President and the Congress would do the right thing was strong, by my observation. I hate to be more cynical, but as in 1992, on the big issues this administration has represented one disappointment after another. I am hoping--and will do my part to ensure that--this extremely important effort will not turn out to be yet one more to be added to the list.
Participants in the MoveOn.org health care reform rally and vigil
Participants at the rally and vigil
Participants at the rally and vigil
A participant with a flyer
Our local newsperson, Mike Gilliam of Channel 9 News; he aired a very sympathetic and thoughtful piece on the rally