JANUARY 11, 2010 8:19PM

Acknowledging Obama's Perfidy: If not now, when?

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As a candidate, Obama insisted that any health care reform would require a public option to contain insurance costs. As we all know, he has not only broken this promise, abandoned this position, but has done so in a particularly mendacious fashion--by abandoning the legislative body that supported him on this plank, in favor of the house that refused, and by abandoning dozens of legislators with legitimate claims to being democrats in good standing in favor of one man in particular, Lieberman, with virtually no such claim.

 Now I'd like to separate two elements of this violation of political faith. 

First, his reiteration over time of his defence of the public option and its outright necessity. I don't want hear about how people imagined Obama was more progressive than he in fact is or presented himself to be; I don't want to hear about he was an empty slate on which people projected their own desires and ideals. Not in this case. In this case, we have a very specific policy position advanced and defended over and over. However progressive Obama may have seemed on this narrow issue was a direct effect of his own analyses and avowals. Any one who took his words on the public option to implicate a more far reaching progressivism has only themselves to blame. But Obama himself is responsible, and solely responsible, for the impression he deliberately created concerning the public option itself. Obama in this instance was not the merely the fortunate vehicle of others' illusions, he was and is a LIAR.

Second, and more importantly, Obama did not espouse the public option for its own sake, nor as the expression of a broadly communitarian, dare I say socialist philosophy. No, he esoused the public option because some instrument was needed to lower costs. The public option was to intervene and recalibrate the health care marketplace, to the effect of lowering the cost structure the insurance companies could impose.

Without the public option, Obama needs some other instrument, and he is now fighting for his alternative: an excise tax on "cadillac" plans for health insurance. The phrase cadillac plan itself seems to have been coined to give the impression that if the democrats no longer have the stomach to take on corporate america, they will instead target their agents and clients, the super-rich. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that this excise tax will fall heavily, one might even say disproportionately on union households and middle class households. Oh the irony. Obama  not only abandons the public option, and what is left of his own integrity, but in so doing he transfers the social costs of his health plan form their original target, big insurance to...wait for it...WORKING PEOPLE. Really!

On the one hand, this gives the lie once and for all to the right wing canard that Obama is some sort of crypto-socialist: from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, he looks rather like a calss enemy.  On the other, it begs the question why anyone, right or left, is still supporting him. Having defied the conservative mandate of no tax hikes (which in the midst of a quasi-depression would also be a liberal, Keynesian mandate as well), he targets his new "health" tax on labor rather than ownership.

There came a point in George Bush's presidency when I could no longer understand how even partisan Republicans could continue to support him, so devoid was he of both basic competence and a fidelity to bedrock democratic principles. I have reached a similar point with Obama: so devoid is he of fidelity to basic Democratic principles--not to mention fidelity as such--that the attempts to rationalize his massive failure, under such rubrics as "change takes time," come off as merely embarrassing and more than a little pathetic. His health care bill will garner the votes of exactly zero republicans; it will frustrate the will, the intent, the desires and the values of most democrats, including, if his campaign speeches are credited, the president himself. A new, entirely negative form of bipartisanship has been achieved, and it demands the ouster, in the 2012 democratic primaries, of its lead architect.


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Something for you to consider: Socialism must direct its impact on working people. There are not enough rich people to pay for everything. So, the really big lie is that Obama is a standard socialist who promises something "progressive" to working people and then levels income by lowering everybody's, not just the rich. Then, it becomes a slow downward cycle of promising more and taking more, promising more, taking more.
libertarius, I'm not really with you on this, and here's why.

Obama's early platform had no word of the public option. He added this with pressure from edwards supporters, but never stood behind it very strongly. Anyway, I think we all knew public option was a way worse alternative to single payer.

But I still don't see why the left needs its politicians to be boyscouts when the right so clearly does not. Obama is a politician. he's the only politician we have for at least three years or so. How can we pressure him to enact policies we like, whether or not we like him personally?
"Obama in this instance was not the merely the fortunate vehicle of others' illusions, he was and is a LIAR."

Exactly so. Here's an excerpt from a post I did recently:

"It comes down to this; there were two possible ways the president could have approached the goal of health care reform:

1. He could have taken a case to the American people that a single payer system, or at least one which had a strong public option, was in their interests. He's the president; no one has a stronger bully pulpit from which to speak, and he could have used it to great advantage, going over the heads of corporate interests to convince the public, who wanted real reform anyway, that serious change was necessary and desirable and possible. This is the route that would have gotten us meaningful reform, and which I at first expected him to go.

2. He could go the route favored by Rahm Emanuel and his corporate sponsors, the route of never even putting single payer on the table, and of only paying lip service to the notion of a public option, thus ensuring the support of the corporate sector, of insurance companies and big pharma and the like.

The latter route, though it guaranteed a shitty bill with no real reform in it, is the one Barack Obama chose. Why should any progressive, or any working American who's going to get stiffed as a result of this bill, call it a good thing? It is not a good thing, nor is it a victory; it's a sell out, plain and simple."

And now we get this so-called "Cadillac tax" which, as you point out, amounts to a tax on the middle class. They chose to go that route rather than raising the money from a tax on the top 0.3 percent wealthiest Americans, which tells you who's interests Obama is working for. If he's a socialist of any stripe, or has any concern at all for the well-being of regular citiziens, then I'm Mother Theresa.

Yes, we do disagree. I saw Obama address the question of the public option on several occasions, and whether or not he backed the option at the outset, he gave it repeated, quite robust endorsements later on. But the fact that Obama broke his promise, failed to be a boyscout in your terms, is not really the point. However insincere Obama may have been about the public option, his advocacy was principled, i.e. based on the principle that costs needed to be contained. He has held to that principle, but has chosen to enact it through a working/middle class tax hike. In so doing, he has not just lied to his supporters--all politicians may be said to do that--but he has done so in the betrayal of their interests. He has proven to be a big government corporatist, or to put it another way a true-blue neo-liberal, and I think it will take an increasingly streenuous effort of denial to imagine he can be cajoled into enacting policies friendly to ordinary people, be they workers or small entrepeneurs.

Take your general point. Not sure that it applies to public option, however, which seeks to control costs through competition rather than tax increases. Would it have entailed tax increases to operate? Maybe. But I think that's something that could only have been decided with reality testing.

but maybe my problem is in the phrase "obama's perfidy." The perfidy you describe is bigger than obama. it's the direction the democratic party has chosen over basically the whole course of my lifetime. I saw all three of the major democratic candidates as corporatists...do you think that Hillary or john edwards would have fought for the public option more than obama has?

I'm not sure whether they would have or not. Elizabeth Edwards, if we had elected her, is the only person who was high up who I ever believed her when she said she gave a damn....

I guess the word perfidy doesn't do much for me because it sounds like a religious term to me. I'm wondering why the left (during my lifetime) seems so eager to wash its hands of its leadership so quickly....whereas the base of the republican party seems to know how to organize itself to pressure the leadership, whether or not they like the president in any way on a personal level.

Or, I guess I still don't see where personally washing our hands of obama puts us (who politically want him to move to the left) in a better position (or even a different position) than not washing our hands of him. Or it puts us in a worse position if it means that we're going to leave the party and let a sarah palin or someone like her be elected (and as much as obama hasn't been a perfect president, there is no part of my being that believes that letting sarah palin get elected is going to make the country a better place. ) Or if you're talking about electing someone more liberal (or honest etc.) than obama--who is there? Who can actually be elected?

Obama was elected in part because people could see him as electable. It's the same vicious cycle no matter who it is that we put in a position of power right now.

So, what it seems like to me is that the left needs to look to leadership that isn't just the president...we need to be building up more organizations like they have on the right that can pressure the president (whoever it is) in ways that, as individuals, we just don't have. Also, looking at the democratic party and asking hard questions: why is the democratic party making the decisions it is in regard to health care? we have a majority in congress and still this is the most that we can get done?

Obama hasn't done as much as he could have for health care, but have we? I haven't organized in my community. I haven't tried to get the public option passed.

There are many to blame. I'm not trying to excuse obama, I'm just saying that we have to work with the reality we have. If we condemn obama--that's well and good, but what is it that comes after that, politically? What comes next?

That's my biggest question.
here's another post on the same topic...