Saturday, December 15, 2007

Barack Obama's Lack of Progressive Values

As the holiday season kicks into high gear and the days until the first primaries dwindle rapidly coverage of the candidates has become even more omnipresent and often, despite the seeming impossibility, more superficial as well.

The rhetoric and barbs bandied about among the competitors within their own camps have also become increasingly vitriolic. This is always a disappointing, if inevitable, development. Barack Obama has taken to not only attacking his Democratic rivals from the right but has decided to go after columnist Paul Krugman as well, in doing so has belied his progressive values and exposed himself as a smooth but empty campaigner, interested in nothing more than becoming president.

While much has already been said on this point, it bears repeating. In summation Mr. Obama's health care proposal lacks a mandate requiring everyone to carry insurance while his leading competitors include such mandates in their proposals. Mr. Krugman and others pointed out this weakness in Mr. Obama's plan, but said that it was otherwise 'smart and serious.' Since announcing his proposal and having this critical difference pointed out, Mr. Obama has chosen to attack his detractors from the right by borrowing Republican talking points about the socialistic boogey man.

In the end a health care plan that does not require everyone to participate fails to provide universal coverage and falls far short of meeting the desires of many if not most Americans.

Mr. Krugman has already explained this issue fully on several occaisions:

So there’s a lot to commend the Obama plan. In fact, it would have been considered daring if it had been announced last year.

Now for the bad news. Although Mr. Obama says he has a plan for universal health care, he actually doesn’t — a point Mr. Edwards made in last night’s debate. The Obama plan doesn’t mandate insurance for adults. So some people would take their chances — and then end up receiving treatment at other people’s expense when they ended up in emergency rooms. In that regard it’s actually weaker than the Schwarzenegger plan.

I asked David Cutler, a Harvard economist who helped put together the Obama plan, about this omission. His answer was that Mr. Obama is reluctant to impose a mandate that might not be enforceable, and that he hopes — based, to be fair, on some estimates by Mr. Cutler and others — that a combination of subsidies and outreach can get all but a tiny fraction of the population insured without a mandate. Call it the timidity of hope.

On the whole, the Obama plan is better than I feared but not as comprehensive as I would have liked. It doesn’t quell my worries that Mr. Obama’s dislike of “bitter and partisan” politics makes him too cautious. But at least he’s come out with a plan.

Mr. Krugman has also described the dangers of a Democrat attacking his own party with Republican talking points:

My main concern right now is with Mr. Obama’s rhetoric: by echoing the talking points of those who oppose any form of universal health care, he’s making the task of any future president who tries to deliver universal care considerably more difficult.

I’d add, however, a further concern: the debate over mandates has reinforced the uncomfortable sense among some health reformers that Mr. Obama just isn’t that serious about achieving universal care — that he introduced a plan because he had to, but that every time there’s a hard choice to be made he comes down on the side of doing less.


And I was prepared to leave it at that — Obama’s plan was weaker than his rivals’ because it wasn’t universal, but I hoped that he would fix that in practice.

But then Obama started attacking his rivals from the right, denouncing their proposals using exactly the same false claims that conservatives will use to try to derail reform in the future.

And now, having been caught out on the facts, the Obama people respond with a personal attack, lifting quotes out of context to pretend that I never had problems with the plan. Something is very wrong here.

As Ezra Klein and others have pointed out, why would a serious Democratic and progressive candidate attack Mr. Krugman, the loudest and often only voice of reason to be heard in the morass that is today's mainstream media?

Going all the way back to a New Yorker profile of Mr. Obama in May titled The Conciliator there has been a persistent question of whether he will take a stand for any issue, whether he believes in anything that strongly besides his desire to be president:

Sometimes, of course, there is no possibility of convergence—a question must be answered yes or no. In such a case, Obama may stand up for what he believes in, or he may not.

“He’s always wanted to be President,” Valerie Jarrett, who has been a family friend for years, ever since she hired Michelle Obama to work in Mayor Daley’s office, says. (Michelle Obama is now an executive at the University of Chicago Hospitals.) “He didn’t always admit it, but oh, absolutely. The first time he said it to me, he said, ‘I just think I have some special qualities and wouldn’t it be a shame to waste them.’ I think it was during the early part of his U.S. senatorial campaign. He said, ‘You know, I just think I have something.’ ”

One other old story with fresh legs is Mr. Obama's disturbing habit of voting 'present' as an Illinois State Senator. The details are not really the issue here, rather Mr. Obama's actions speak to his desire for cover and compromise and conciliation, all of which continue to lead the current Democratically controlled Congress to capitulation.

The preponderance of the evidence indicates that Mr. Obama sincerely wants to be president and that he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the post. As such he is a candidate without substance, one who cannot offer true solutions or even proposals for his fear of disturbing someone somewhere. A desire to please all of the people all of the time does not qualify one to be President, much less indicate that Mr. Obama would do the job well.

Is this really the type of person you want as your President?

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