Archive for February, 2010

Not with a Bang… Seminar Signals End of Administration’s Headlock on Healthcare

February 27, 2010

Upfront, the Skeptic needs to admit, that rather than watch the health care seminar held February 25 at the White House, the Skeptic elected to watch the semi-finals of women’s curling at the Vancouver Olympics. You know – curling – that somewhat more obscure and less exciting version of shuffleboard where a “stone” is slid upon the ice and then directed by “sweepers,” who melt the ice in the desired direction of travel. After reviewing the actual text and proceedings of the White House meeting, the Skeptic is now prepared to defend his choice of women’s curling as the more productive use of his time. 

 However, that is not to say that the outcome of the meeting is not historic – it is.  It marks the end of Phase I of the Administration’s health care reform effort – the big omnibus comprehensive all-Government approach.   Unlike other critics, I am not going to bash Mr. Obama’s performance – not too much anyway.  In fact, compared to his other outings (such as the embarrassingly bad speech to the joint session of Congress last Summer) this time, Mr. Obama betrayed some slight knowledge of the subject matter at hand.  His fellow Democrats, however, were generally ham-handed in their presentations and detracted from the discussion.   The anecdotal tales of health care tragedies were particularly ineffective – whenever Mr. Obama criticized the Republicans for using “talking points,”  one could not help but be struck that the Democratic use of tales of personal tragedies  to infer large scale systemic failure of the American health care system was by far the most egregious example of the overuse of talking points by either side. 

But none of this truly explains the dynamic of what took place for the Republicans, and what did not take place for the Democrats at this meeting.  In a nutshell, the Democratic presentation was simply not news – we have heard it all literally dozens of times before.  The Republican position was news – unless you are a follower of blogs or alternative media, you had simply never heard the Republican position before, and were not aware of the plans for bills that had been submitted to Mr. Obama by various Republican Senators and Congressmen.  In fact, when Mr. Obama admitted to having read these plans, he effectively silenced one of the big lies being promulgated by his Administration – that those opposed to the Senate and House bills have no ideas or plan of their own. 

In fact, after the summit was complete, commentator after commentator focused on the Republican presentation and expressed surprise at its cogency.  Why?  because they are focusing on the NEWS value out of this summit.   Basically, the Administration made a huge miscalculation in not understanding that both the Public and the news media are now immune to the stock, droning, half-truths that have been endlessly spouted by one Administration official after another – mainly by the Spouter-in-Chief, himself!!

(to be continued)

Health Care Process vs. Policy: Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi

February 2, 2010

Recently,  Mr. Obama was asked by Diane Sawyer about his failure to live up to his repeated campaign promises to put  Health Care Negotiations on CSPAN for all to see.  Mr. Obama’s response was that this was just an example of  his Administration being so busy during the past year “getting the policy right”, that they did not pay sufficient attention to the “process.”  Furthermore, he proceeded to throw Congress under the bus by saying that it was not he, or his Administration, that had made those disgusting backroom deals, but Congress,  and that he only regretted that he had not been able to make Congress work better through this process. 

Not only is the latter statement untrue  (the Administration has done nothing but cut secret deals with special interest groups – Drug Companies, AARP, Hospital Associations, Labor Unions etc etc from the very beginning of this “process”), but the statement about “process” vs. “policy”  is especially telling.  In Mr. Obama’s world, clearly “policy” is “gotten right” (i.e. determined and dictated) by the Government, and “process” is mere window dressing to reassure the Public that this dictation is taking place under some legitimate Constitutional authority.  In his answer to Ms. Sawyer, the President is merely restating  the classic apology that laudable “ends” (policy objectives) justify shabby “means” (process)!  To someone who thinks like this,  the (democratic) “process” has no inherent importance and must, sometimes, regrettably,  be sacrificed to accomplish “policy” objectives.  Does this surprise anyone?  Don’t we all know by now that this is exactly who Mr. Obama is, at heart?  

If you want to understand the Massachusetts election result, this is the heart of it:   The Public disagrees with the President – the Public doesn’t like the idea of surrendering their lives and well-being  to the single-payer intentions of ideologues like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and  Jacob Hacker, who inform the Administration’s allegedly compassionate health care policy via a grim assortment of cost curves.  To the Public, the “process” is not mere window dressing – it is their chance to have a say IN DETERMINING THE POLICY!!!  This is universally true for all proposals that make drastic changes in areas that strongly affect people’s lives.  People are stressed by major change, and they need to be involved in the “process” upfront.  The Public wants its Government to listen to their legitimate concerns, AND THEN TO ADJUST THE POLICY TO ADDRESS THESE CONCERNS!! 

This is why Mr. Obama’s promise of CSPAN coverage resonated so well with American voters – they thought that, even though they weren’t a drug company or a labor union, they might have a virtual “seat” at the table, and at least be able to see clearly what was being devised for them so they could react to it and have input to the process through their Congressional representatives.  Instead, huge bills were written behind closed doors by lobbyists and staffers.  The bills were so long and the language and references to other bills were so confusing that even members of Congress could not understand the contents. 

As a result, there was a flood of conflicting representations about what was in the reform measures – to the extent that the average citizen could not discern the truth. For example, Mr. Obama continually insisted that “you will be able to keep your doctor and your insurance,”  while those of us who had read the House bill, and disagreed with the President’s statements, were characterized as fear-mongering tools of the insurance companies.  We felt like we had gone through the looking glass – into some “true-is-false” world –  it was just that clear that the President was not being truthful.   Sure enough, on January 30,  2010, Mr. Obama finally admitted that some provisions had indeed “got snuck in” the bills that would “violate that pledge” (aka his “lie”) re: keeping “your doctor and insurance.”  This initial and continuing flood of misinformation (on both sides admittedly) was accompanied by the President’s impatient and persistent insistence on an immediate end to the debate!  How could anyone reasonably expect the Public to trust this “process?”

Any management team knows that major reorganizations require obtaining buy-in from stakeholders.  This is just management 101.  And Obama himself, although totally lacking in management experience, originally seemed to instinctively understand that transparency would be a good idea.  So what happened?   I believe that, once elected, our “New, young President” began to believe that he was so very popular that he could take the electorate for granted and bypass both “process” and “policy” checkdowns by using his charismatic appeal.  He believed that the only stakeholders he needed to buy off were the large associations of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, unions etc. as mentioned above.  (Memo to Prez for future consideration:  This “charm factor” doesn’t work for issues of vital personal concern to ordinary folks that don’t enjoy the same vast resources and exemptions from Public Laws that you do). It was a classic case of overreaching and of misreading his own electoral mandate.  Now Mr. Obama is trying to blame everyone else, from Insurance Companies to the Congress to the Public themselves, for his own failure to (a) understand the political realities of the process, (b)  listen to opposing voices and alternate solutions from both professionals and from the Public (c) get involved in devising the actual bills, (d) keep Congressional pork and Executive Branch bureaucracy to a minimum, (e) maintain transparency as to what will be required of citizens, what they will get, and what it will cost (no accounting tricks or leveraging of hidden costs onto states or individuals) and (f) put away ideological purity, and put together something practical that might actually have a chance of working at a reasonable cost.  In short, he failed to manage health care reform in even a minimally competent manner.  

An example of the Presidential  incompetence?  I can still remember President Obama arrogantly declaring upon his return from one of his innumerable trips last Summer, that he noticed that while he was gone there had been ” a lot of Chatter out there about health care.”  This is how the President characterized legitimate Public concern and dissent about an issue that touches not only their pocketbook, but also their very flesh and blood – as “Chatter”!  What a disastrous attitude!   And what a misreading of Public sentiment!  Throughout the process I think that Mr. Obama has consistently been “dismissive, even derisive” of the Public will on the issue of health care. ( However, the Skeptic is extremely doubtful that the American Public will ever get the same kind of apology that Mr. Obama has given the rest of the world for America’s alleged “derisiveness”.)  In fact, I believe the origins of the Public outcry regarding health care can be traced to Mr. Obama’s attitude and actions, not to Congress.  President Obama has fumbled the handling of “the health care debate” from the very beginning.  As a result, “ObamaCare” is now less popular than “HillaryCare” – a fact for which, Mr. Obama has only himself to blame. 

And now he seeks to distract us from the pain, suffering, and corruption embodied in the health care bills by belatedly focusing on the issue of “jobs.”  Just how stupid does he think the Public is?  Well, let me remind everyone once again about the lesson of Massachusetts, which reverberates long, long after the health care debate was supposed to have been settled.  It turns out that we, the Public, are not that stupid after all.  And we are not going to forget either the President’s object – to dictate every aspect of health care through regulation, guideline, or bureacratic fiat – nor his attitude – that we disagree with him simply because we are uninformed, or, perhaps, just plain stupid.  What a losing combination!  This guy is dragging Democratic members of Congress straight down to electoral hell.  The only question is how far will they follow him on this journey?

Now for Speaker Pelosi – a relatively minor Jester in the King’s court.  Recently, in fulfillment of her role as Jester, Ms. Pelosi was heard to utter the following pearls of wisdom regarding the health care legislative process:

“We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in.”

Yes, on the face of it, and considering the limited intellectual powers of the source (can anyone say “moron?”), this is quite amusing. A lot has been made of the incongruity of the physical image of Rep. Pelosi pole vaulting, perhaps over the dark gate of Mordor, (erected by evil Insurance Companies, no doubt) into the promised land of Universal Health Care.

The Skeptic, however, is extremely disconcerted by the Speaker’s statement. Surely, the “gate” and the “fence” are metaphors for obstacles to passage of the health care bills. The main such obstacle is, in fact, not some insurance company cabal, but rather the legitimate objections of the American Public to Government-mandated health care. Then certainly, the vaulting “pole” and the “parachute” represent ways to get around this obstacle – parliamentary gimmicks such as reconciliation or disassembly/reassembly tactics whose sole object is to circumvent the normal democratic “process” and to nullify Public opinion on this issue.

 Here we have the “process” vs “policy” dichotomy taken to its extreme. While the President seemed somewhat regretful about “process” failures in his Sawyer interview, the Speaker is unabashedly enthusiastic in promoting anti-democratic “means” to accomplish her liberal, (and therefore totally virtuous) “ends.” I find the Speaker’s mindset more myopic and frightening than the often dredged-up bogeyman of Conservative religious fervor, because her righteous crusade is accepted by many as “progressive” and “forward-thinking.”  In fact, it represents a huge step backwards to a time when we lacked a Constitution that holds the promise of a Nation of Laws, not Men.

In my opinion, elected officials like Nancy Pelosi represent a real danger to the democratic Institutions that we rely upon and cherish as the source of our Strength and Liberty. Mr. Obama is not that far behind her. Fortunately, the citizens of this Country are growing aware of this danger and, as evidenced by the Massachusetts election, are prepared to defend our great traditions of Democracy and self-determination at the ballot box!

Yes, Mr. President, Ms. Pelosi, “let us be clear!” – we are indeed going to do health care reform!  But we are going to do it our way – legally – doing the process correctly – not by creating false villains like doctors and insurance companies to confuse the Public and thus lead them to betray their own best interests.  And not by empowering a huge bureacracy and an array of special interests, vastly more powerful than any insurance company, to enrich their coffers while we lose our right to choose our coverage, our doctors, our treatment, and our end-of-life.

Take heart! Thanks to the People, there is still hope!

The Skeptic


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