Obama’s Health Care Speech or Why Progressives Irk Me

Today I am listening to, and reading about, a lot of people size up Obama’s health care speech.  Something strikes me as peculiar about this whole thing, and that is the degree to which people are conflating two very separate, and somewhat unrelated, issues: (1) the speech as a speech and as a political tool for getting health care legislation passed, and (2) actually accomplishing some form of positive health care reform.  If affecting actual change were just a function of good rhetoric and pure intention, then Obama is most certainly our man.   I firmly believe that Obama is quite capable and quite dedicated to “fixing” the health care system; however, I also believe that ability and dedication are often tangential to the overwhelming force of unintended consequence.

All that being said, health care legislation will either pass, or it will not pass.  I have nothing more enlightened to say on that topic.  I do want to say a few things about the speech as a speech.  Whenever I hear Obama speak, I am usually reminded as to why I am not a progressive.  Those reasons always have to do with a legitimate disagreement about specific policy options, but they also have to do with some not so specific disagreements in world view.  I have picked out a few quotes to illustrate what I mean:

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.

Does Obama really believe that he can be the last President to take up the cause of health insurance?  Progressives often like to think of society as some string of static problems that can be “fixed”.  Unfortunately, the world does not really work that way.

We are the only advanced democracy on Earth – the only wealthy nation – that allows such hardships for millions of its people.

This is one of my favorites: the “why can’t we be like those enlightened Europeans?” argument.  I am sure three were people who made this same argument at the founding of our democracy as we contemplated government without a heriditary monarchy or a permanent class of aristocrats to keep the rabble in line.  There are any number of reasons why we are not like Denmark, and the conversation about whether we should or should not try to change that is a long and complex one.  It is a shame that conversation often gets boiled down to “they have it.  why can’t we?”

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.

This is perhaps the most infuriating thing about the Obama administration; the way they dismiss opposing viewpoints with a handwave and a reference to “silly stuff” or “games”. 

There are those presidents who, by virtue of their leadership in particularly trying times, earned the weight and some claim to moral authority that might make such language bearable.   George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR come to mind.  Obama does not.  I have every confidence that we can expect four-to-eight years of very competent and able governance, but that alone should not elevate Obama to the role of “Great White Father” in Washington.


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