The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform ... This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.- President Obama, Aug. 17
The NY Times reported yesterday that Obama may drop his (ever tepid) request for a "public option" in the US health care reform initiative. My immediate reaction to the article was to mouth the name of a slender rodent. I have long anticipated that Obama might well try to weasel-out of backing the public option, but I did not expect him to pull up his tail and retreat quite this fast.
Paul Krugman says the emphasis Democrats put on preserving the "public option" in the health care debate speaks far more to progressives' lack of trust in Obama than to the merits of the public option. Krugman notes that the case of Switzerland proves it is possible to have universal coverage in a country in which people are covered by private insurance. But because American lobby groups end up making a mockery of Congressional attempts to regulate industry -- a particular worry under President Obama -- liberals have demanded that Obama deliver a public option. Krugman blogs:
If progressives had real trust in Obama’s commitment to doing the right thing, the administration would have broad leeway to do deals. But the president doesn’t command that kind of trust.As I have blogged, one big problem with the approach Obama has taken is that many supporters of health care reform cannot be bothered to get behind a president who is not straight with them about his true priorities. Why bother, when you have good reason to suspect you are being led by a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Partly it’s a matter of style — as many people have noted, he has been weirdly reluctant to make the moral case for universal care, weirdly unable to show passion on the issue, weirdly diffident even about the blatant lies from the right. Partly it’s a spillover from his other policies: by appointing an economic team that’s Rubin redux, by taking such a kindly attitude to the banks, he has squandered a lot of progressive enthusiasm . . . .
So progressives have their backs up over one provision in health care reform that’s easy to monitor. The public option has become not so much a symbol as a signal, a test of whether Obama is really the progressive activists thought they were backing.
And the bizarre thing is that the administration doesn’t seem to get that.
The right's long-time objection to Obama is gradually coming to be shared by the left. That is, people on both ends of the political spectrum in the US are coming to the conclusion that Obama cannot be trusted. The way things are going, any candidate who can channel the "trust" theme -- whether Republican, Independent, or Democrat -- ought to be able to defeat Obama in 2012.