Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You Can't Spell Obama Without A Big "O" (Part 2)

I am blogging while watching the debate in Ohio.

The candidates debated health insurance for 17 minutes. They would have gone longer, but Brian Williams cut them off. I’m not sure why.

Senator Clinton keeps raising the point that you can’t have universal health care without forcing everyone to participate. If, as the more liberal party, you don’t start with universal health care, you won’t get the support you need. Senator Clinton said what if FDR had called social security “voluntary”. What if President Johnson made Medicare “voluntary”.

Senator Obama said you can’t impose insurance on people who can’t afford it. In Massachusetts, the Senator says, people are fined for not having insurance. So they pay the fine, and still don’t have insurance.

Senator Clinton then said that the people who did not get insurance were young, and thought they were invincible.

Senator Obama said that under his plan, young, invincible people were covered by their parents until they were 25.

There has been a variation of this exchange in all the debates I have watched. (I have not watched them all.)


I think the entire campaign is in this exchange, and in one other comment that Obama made during an interview.

Obama said that Reagan was a transforming President and Bill Clinton was not.


I’m 49 years old. I sort of remember LBJ being President. I remember watching some of the VietnamWar on television. I lived in a section of New York City with an extreme 1960s-type racial tension.

I certainly don’t remember the details about who said what during the Medicare debate.

So how old do you have to be to respond to Hillary Clinton’s reference to LBJ, let alone her reference to FDR?

How young do you have to be to think, as Barack Obama does, that 25 year olds are no longer young? How young do you have to be to be grateful that Senator Obama is not going to make you support the health insurance pool until the day of your first catastrophic accident?

The notion that Social Security and Medicare were somehow the subject of a nation-wide debate, and that the people in favor of expansive government services won the debate, is inconceivable to anyone whose memory starts with Ronald Reagan. The fact that these systems have basically worked – Social Security for 70 years and Medicare for 40 years -- is seen as something out of Harry Potter, and not the day-to-day reality of the situation. And like all magic, not only can it be gone tomorrow, but you have to plan on it being gone tomorrow. At least that’s what Obama has basically said about both issues.


In the post-Reagan world, government is smaller and smaller – a throwback to 18th and 19th century Europe – where the sole point of government was to protect the powerful few from the powerless many. Under this model, government is so incompetent that even the things that we all agree it should do – like fight wars or keep the levies working – needs to be contracted out to private companies. And when those private companies loot and steal from the people with both hands, and leave a shoddy product behind – well, everyone has to make a profit.

One of the primary things that I see in Obama’s support is a whole generation – anyone who thinks of Reagan or the Bushes or Clinton as their first President -- that takes this limited view of a crippled, incompetent government for granted.


When Hillary talks about change, she is looking at the triumph of liberalism in the 50s and the 60s, and the 40-year struggle to preserve those victories. Hillary’s notion of what it is possible for government to do is extremely optimistic. She is trying to get the government back to where it once was, and maybe we can continue from there.

When Obama talks about change -- and getting away from the battles of the past – it is Obama, and not Hillary, who is saying “get real” – not just to Hillary, but to all of us graying Boomers -- admit that the heyday of the government helping people is over. Reagan won, and we liberals still have refused to get the word – and it’s already 28 years later. Our delusions of grandeur are gumming up the works.

Senator Obama is saying that we have to let go of the stalemate being caused by the dreams of Hillary Clinton – and the people who think like her – the dream of getting back to the 1960s. Then, maybe if the people can start the discussion - not by trying to resurrect FDR and LBJ, but simply by seeking to answer Reagan and Bush -- we can get somewhere -- not very far -- but somewhere.

After all these years of stalemate, Obama offers these little steps up as change.

And Obama is right to do so.