I can’t focus on the New York Times Book Review on a historic weekend like this one.
I am glad the health care reform bill has passed, for the following simple reasons:
• The insurance industry is as rotten as every other sector of high finance, and needs reform badly.
• Health insurance is ridiculously expensive.
• I’m not worried about socialism, Marxism or Maoism in America. I believe the most dangerous ‘ism’ in American government is militarism.
• I find it hard to believe Republicans are suddenly worried about deficit spending when they didn’t mind spending a trillion dollars to let George W. Bush play war hero in Iraq. (See above, “the most dangerous ‘ism’ in America is militarism”).
I’m definitely caught up in the political “game” right now, but I would like to take a moment to rise above my partisan point of view and look critically at the whole process that is about to culminate in Barack Obama’s signing of the bill, a process that began the day Barack Obama got elected in November 2008.
Instead of reviewing the Book Review today, let’s review the health care debate. I’d like to talk about seven different politicians and journalists who played a big role in the public discussion of health care reform, and examine how each of them performed. I’d also like to hear (in the comments) what you think.
Two television journalists closely embodied the partisan points of view in this yearlong public discussion: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC on the pro-bill side and Glenn Beck of Fox News on the anti-bill side. Both of these energetic television personalities are still fresh faces on the news scene — a new generation filling the roles that Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly played during the Bush administration.
I always love Rachel Maddow, but I was very disappointed that her coverage of the health care battle never focused on the real villains in the story: the corrupt financial executives and wizards (it’s the same crowd, basically, that crashed the banking economy two years ago) who have turned health insurance into a cash machine while denying coverage to the people who need it most. Where, Rachel, was the investigative reporting on insurance company practices? Rachel Maddow wields sharp weapons, but all too often in the past year her villains were Republican politicians (from Alaska and elsewhere) and Fox News journalists. By reacting so often to Republican/conservative provocations, she allowed the bill’s opposition to play offense while her news show played defense. In general, MSNBC (as, let’s face it, the “liberal cable network”) missed a big opportunity to get the American public enraged about the real obscenities of our current health care system.
Over at the “conservative cable network”, Glenn Beck entertained America night after night. If Rachel Maddow was playing defense, this is the guy who was constantly moving the ball (when he could wrest it from Sarah Palin’s hands, at least). I disagree with just about everything Glenn Beck stands for, but I was impressed by the way he defined and dominated the public debate about health care, getting himself on the news every night and getting other news shows to spend their time talking about him (see above, Rachel Maddow). This shows how clever Glenn Beck really is, and I wish my fellow liberals would stop playing into his game by mistaking him for a clown. He’s no clown. Glenn Beck’s whole trick is this: he’s smarter than he looks.
Paul Krugman recently compared Glenn Beck to Abbie Hoffman, and this comparison is exactly right. Like Abbie Hoffman, Beck uses street theater techniques to get attention, and he knows how to disarm opponents with indirect humor. Glenn Beck also knows quite a bit about history, and in fact I wish there were any liberal news anchor who would spend so much time discussing, say, the legacy of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, or why Woodrow Wilson couldn’t get Congress to approve membership in the League of Nations.
Even though I’m a “progressive” (Glenn shudders with fear), I have to admit that I watched Glenn Beck’s show more than any other this year when I wanted to get a quick pulse on the health care debate. Often, Glenn Beck was the pulse. In the end, he got his ass kicked (and he looked terrible on this Friday’s show, once it finally sunk in that Obamacare was going to pass). And I enjoyed watching him get his ass kicked. But let’s give it up to him for being the scrappiest player on the field.
Next, the chief politicians: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid championing the bill through the House and the Senate, and John Boehner and Mitch McConnell running the opposition in these chambers. My favorite of the four is Nancy Pelosi, who appears to have been a bar of steel through this whole debate. I don’t understand why people speak the name “Nancy Pelosi” as if it were an insult. Does it have something to do with her being a woman? I think we’ll be seeing statues of Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC in the future, so I wish her contemporaries would treat this very skilled and determined Speaker of the House with more respect.
As far as popular appeal goes, all four of the chamber chiefs lack charisma. Is that a requirement for the job? John Boehner is always crabby and has an absurd fluorescent tan (can it really be that sunny in Ohio?). Mitch McConnell has all the charm of an insurance accountant (hmmm …). Harry Reid occasionally tries to crack a joke before thinking better of it (but we wish the Reid family the very best since his wife and daughter were injured in a car accident last week, and we hope they’re recovering well).
In summary judgement, I found Pelosi and Reid’s performances to be perfect (I’d feel differently, of course, if they hadn’t prevailed). And I wouldn’t buy a used car from John Boehner on a prayer.
Finally, I am impressed as hell by Mr. Barack Obama (who, to be fair, I’ve always liked). Obama’s most brilliant moment in this long process came a month ago, after the Scott Brown election doomed his Senate vote. Obama waited a couple of weeks before formulating his next move, then called for a health care summit meeting, forcing John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the other opponents to come and sit in a room together and talk in the same language to the American people on TV. The self-control, patience and generosity Barack Obama exhibited on that day reassured the American people about his leadership and his principles. It’s hilarious that some of the coverage after that summit claimed it hadn’t been a win for Obama. It was the first play of the final drive.
This must be the most praise I have ever given an American president: at one or two moments during the last few weeks, Barack Obama’s generosity and graciousness towards his opponents reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi. That’s about the highest praise I could ever give anybody.
It’s because I admire this President so much that I took a day off from work on Friday to catch him in person at the last health care bill reform rally, in Fairfax, Virginia. Thousands of us gathered in a basketball stadium on a college campus. I saw a few college students and people of all ages protesting against Obama and I saw many, many more college students and people of all ages eager to support him. He delivered an exciting speech.
It’s not hard to judge this year-long debate. At many points, it seemed like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would lose, and the opposition put up a hell of a spirited fight. I think they lied and exaggerated a bit, but this isn’t the first time that’s happened in Washington DC. I hope we all learned something from this long debate.
And now I think we’re all going to gradually start getting some better health care at more reasonable rates, and I’m looking forward to that. What do you all think about the bill that is about to pass? Please post a comment and let’s talk about it.