An Open Letter
To Barack Obama
Dear President Obama -
Thanks for your note on the Health Care bill.
I am sorry to say I can't agree that this travesty, eviscerated and deformed by the process you call compromise, but which I think can more accurately be described as capitulation to special interests, is any sort of "victory," except perhaps for the very forces that arrayed themselves against your candidacy.
You spoke, in your campaign speeches, of our nation's ability, under your leadership, to make meaningful "change" in our priorities - but you have not followed through on that promise, except in weak, mostly symbolic ways. Those baby steps are valuable - and better than continuing on the course on which the previous eight years had placed us - but they are still sorely disappointing.
I'll stick with the Health Care bill for the moment.
You promised in your speeches, that the US would provide for its citizens what every other industrialized nation - whether "rich" or "poor" - has already been providing - in many cases for decades: effective, affordable, freely-available healthcare for all. You said we would invent our own system - but you also promised it would provide a robust public option.
The bill you are now championing does none of that - it still leaves millions of Americans without health-care and it continues to allow a handful of health-care providers to control delivery and prices. It makes no attempt to rein in skyrocketing costs, and leaves the American people at the mercy of the very Insurance Companies who have shown themselves callous and profit driven - the very companies who engineered the failed system under which we've been suffering for decades.
While other countries have experimented with various options (all eventually arriving, as the best outcome of their experiments, with some public system or public/private mix) we have been in thrall to a system that lets many die or suffer without the health-care they need because they "can't afford it." This, in a nation that likes to call itself "the richest nation on earth," that can afford to spend trillions of dollars "fighting" the phantom menace of "terrorism," and can bail out private corporations to the extent of hundreds of billions of dollars of public money.
It is shameful. You tapped into that sense of shame in your speeches, but you have failed to live up to your rhetoric. I don't fault you for having failed, but for having failed to stand up for your principles - those you publicly expressed during the campaign - and fight hard for what you seemed to know was right.
You let those minions of private interests in the Legislature craft the bill, rather than offering your own strong, concrete proposal. Then you failed to critique their weak, sad excuse for "reform;" failed to take a stand on any of the issues which you had previously so eloquently (and rightly) championed as the center pieces of real reform: universal coverage; cost controls; public option.
As President, you have a lot of leverage you can apply. Yet as far as I can see, you have failed to use it appropriately. You have the bully pulpit of your office - used so effectively by FDR to show people the wisdom of the social reforms he managed to guide through an often hostile Legislature, laced with the same kind of corruption as ours. You have the "veto-pen" which you can use to steer the legislative process. You have the prestige of the Presidency which you can use to support legislators and prospective legislators in their careers. You have (had?) your enormous popularity in direct appeal to the American people when they believed that you really did represent "change."
Your failure to stand up strongly for what you claimed to believe can lead one to only three possible conclusions:
1) that you were a sham all along, using your intelligence, oratorical skills and clever public manipulation to deceive the American people, promising them "change" while always intending to give them more of the same old exploitation; that you are a spineless opportunist and a stalking horse for the highest bidders, like our last Democratic President, Bill "The Man from Hope" Clinton.
2) that you are an inept Executive, without the understanding of the process or the managerial skills to lead effectively. That what you are doing is - pitifully - "the best you can."
I saw Jimmy Carter - perhaps the smartest, most principled President in my lifetime - manipulated, cheated and betrayed, but he still stood up for what he believed, and still managed to get many of his most innovative, creative programs passed into law (notwithstanding the fact that later administrations dismantled them). I believe the same interests that worked so hard to torpedo Carter oppose many of the plans you outlined as a candidate.
Unlike Carter, you haven't shown yourself to have the courage or principle to stand up for yourself and fight to keep your promises to the American people. That argues the possibility that you don't understand the situation, and/or that you are not smart enough to figure out - even having the example of Carter before you - how to learn from past mistakes and not fall victim to the same traps.
3) That you are a man of principle, but have surrounded yourself with a group of sycophants and villains who are encouraging you in the self-delusion that you are living up to your promises; that you really believe that the sick, sad pandering to the Insurance and Health-care Industries this bill represents can be described in some meaningful way as "Change" simply because some few, mostly minor, elements of the system will be a little bit different.
Which ever conclusion I reach - they're almost equally unpalatable - I can't begin to express the depths of my disappointment in your performance as President, and in you personally.
I believed (and still believe) the things you said on the campaign trail - that this nation can live up to its ideals, that it can call upon what is best in all its citizens and become once again a beacon to the world. Your behavior makes it clear that you don't.
Your behavior in the case of this Health-care bill indicates that you don't believe America can stand up to the oligarchs and plutocrats into whose hands Bush &Co (with the complicity of previous administrations of both Parties) delivered it.
Your surrender to "compromise" with some of the most corrupt and debased elements in our government over some of the most fundamental principles that would insure a fair, affordable, effective Health-care system, indicates a lack of both real dedication to principle and the courage that goes with such dedication.
Your acceptance of the fact that this disgusting hodge-podge of a bill is the "best" to which America can aspire speaks to a cynical contempt for our nation and its people that is the diametric opposite of what you expressed in the slogan "Yes, we can."
I'd like to imagine that there's a fourth possibility beyond those I specified above, that might redeem the process I'm watching unfold with horror, but you make that difficult. You have let me, personally, down, sir, as you have the millions of Americans who supported your candidacy.
In deep concern for our nation and mourning for the promise you made and have betrayed, I am