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Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Defining Challenge for the Obama Administration: Ensuring the Facade of Reform does not Betray the Promise of True Health Care Reform

Since my last post, President Obama has begun to demonstrate how he can play a pivotal leadership role in the defining struggle over health care reform. His inspiring and reinvigorating speech to the nation and the Joint Session of Congress on September 9 emphasized the value and need for a public option to bring health care spending under control. For any Health Care Reform bill that fails to create the structures to deliver equitable health care access to all Americans, and to bring health care spending under control, will be a "Reform" bill in name only, and in reality a lie and betrayal of Reform.

If Congress and the President pass a "Reform" bill that fails to win equitable access to health care for all Americans, and to bring the rise in health care spending under control, such a passage will not only betray the promises and hope of health care Reform for a generation, but will be substituting a lie and the facade of Reform in place of true Reform for the American people. And the negative political, social, and economic consequences of substituting the facade of Reform for real Reform will not take long to manifest themselves. The anti-reform Republicans, and the institutional status quo will make sure of that.

While the Democratic-led Congress may feel that passing any Reform bill in 2009 is better than passing no bill at all, the consequences of bowing to anti-Reform pressures to pass a bill that substitutes the facade of Reform for the real thing will quickly turn around to haunt the Democrats in ways that will be even more negative for them than passing no bill at all would be.

This past week's failure of the Senate Finance Committee to include the public option in its recommended version of health reform policy, and the uncertain fate of the public option in this month's upcoming Senate debates, will require President Obama to demonstrate creative leadership not only to show he can shape an effective and forceful Congressional coalition for true Health Care Reform, but to show he can raise public and Congressional awareness and understanding of the essential need for a public option as a catalytic new force to drive institutional change of both the health care insurance and broader health care provisions industries.

This is a tall order, but the American people would not have elected Mr. Obama to be President if they had not believed he was capable of taking on this kind of challenge to become a truly transformative leader in this great transformative moment of both crisis and opportunity for our country.

The greatest leaders of our history, such as Presidents Lincoln and F.D. Roosevelt, rose to the tremendous challenges of their times not by thinking they could solve the country's greatest problems for the country, but by humbly recognizing and accepting that their greatest contribution would come from CLEARING AND OPENING THE WAY that would allow America's people to to go to work together in new ways to solve these problems for themselves.

In the past, as in the present, "opening the way" to change meant standing up against the seemingly overwhelming force of the political and institutional status quo in Washington, and fighting for the interests of the broad majority of America's people, instead of the minority of the powerful corporate elites who too often control the agendas of the political and institutional status quo of the nation.

For the sake of all Americans, and the future of the United States as a country and national community, we must all struggle to both challenge and support President Obama as he takes on this pivotal and defining challenge in the days ahead.

We must hope and pray that President Obama and our real leaders in Congress will not shy away from making this a consequential political struggle over the principles by which the future of this nation will be defined. Will it continue to become a nation of the corporate elite, controlled by inequitable powers that deny the right of all citizens of this nation to fair and humane health care? Or will this nation begin to live up to the promise and requirement of any humane 21st-century nation, that all its citizens be guaranteed fundamental rights to health and equitable care?

It has often seemed over the last months that too many Democratic leaders, including the President at times, have been far too timid in making clear the principles for which they are willing to fight, and for which they are willing to stake their claims to leadership. Are Democratic leaders now willing to make clear that they are fighting for a more equitable and just nation for all Americans through this struggle over health care, or will they show themselves continually willing to compromise these principles away, so that their leadership ends up standing for nothing more than their own petty interests?!

This challenge now needs to be issued to every Senator, as well as to the President and all the members of his administration, to encourage them to claim the strong democratic backbone of the principles of justice and equity for which this nation stands, and for which their leadership either stands, or fails to stand. And if they fail to stand for these principles, they fail to stand for the hopes and needs of the American people and our common country.

In this kind of defining struggle for the future of this country, there is no middle ground, no sitting on the fence over these fundamental principles of equity, fairness, and justice for all Americans.

Either the corporate interests of the status quo will win this political battle for the reform of health care and the future of the country, or the American people and their most representative leaders will win it. There will be no middle ground.

And if this battle cannot be won in the first round of struggle over the Health Care Reform bill in 2009, true democratic leaders will not compromise away these principles in order to declare a false victory and abandon the real struggle for these principles. They will continue to fight to bring this struggle to a head, so it can be clearly and truly fought out by all Americans, who will together decide their common fate in 2010, if not in 2009.

True Democratic political leaders will stand up for the principles and reality of real Reform, and will rather vote against a 2009 bill that offers only the facade of reform, than betray the promise of true reform.

And in this political struggle over real Reform and the future of our nation, we will all get the leaders we deserve: If we are not willing to struggle to engage each other and our elected leaders to challenge them to become the leaders we need on health care reform--leaders who will make it possible for us to work together to remake our nation into a just and equitable nation for all its citizens--then we will continue to end up with the same kinds of ineffective leaders we have had over the last several decades--"leaders" in name only who have been more engaged in feathering their own nests than in serving the true interests of the American people.

This month, and the months ahead, let us all not only hope, but fight to make sure it is possible for President Obama and our Senators to become the true leaders we need in this moment--for hope without action is a betrayal of not only the promises of change, but of our own positive potentials as citizens and a nation.

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