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Talking with Todd Gitlin about President Obama and the Health Care Crisis

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I have with me Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology and Chair of the Ph. D. Program in Communications at Columbia University. After President Obama's health care speech last Wednesday before the joint Houses of Congress, Gitlin wrote Insurance Companies: By the Numbers about the "major reason why a sensible health system has been throttled for decades."

Welcome to OpEdNews, Todd. So, what do you have to say about President Obama's speech and his new leadership role on the health care legislative front?

OK, for a start: Obama, as is his wont, spoke like an adult. That's a very fine start, don't you think? Here is what I wrote right after the speech. I'd add only that he's boxed the Republicans in, thrown them on the defensive, and turned up the heat on the Blue Dogs. Whether he had to throw in the $900 billion figure to accomplish the latter--some smart people think he conceded too much--I'm not sure. But Republican incoherence, plain nastiness, and negativity are now amply on display, and the momentum is back with reform.

I agree about Republicans looking bad, although their spin machines are always ready to reframe any issue. Obama, when he chooses to, knows how to put together a moving speech. But his leadership and a clear message have been missing from the debate, for the most part, up until now. What were you hoping for, in terms of health care legislation?

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I have been hoping for something very close to universal coverage; for a public component to knock down the profiteering and bloated administrative costs that accrue to the insurance companies; for subsidies to the least able to afford health insurance; for progressive taxation that would enable the latter; and in the longer run, some honest debate about how to cut the crazy costs of the American health-care system.

Well, I think we can agree that the proposals are nowhere near that. And the president, in his speech Wednesday evening, backed off his former support for public option by saying it was a means to an end and that anything that accomplished that goal would be acceptable. As of last Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rescinded her former strong support for the public option (Harry Reid, too). Immediately after CNN covered her announcement, journalist David Sirota reported that an email blast was sent out for a Pelosi fundraiser. It will take place on September 24th at the home of Steve Elmendorf, a registered lobbyist for UnitedHealth. It's hard not to see this as a clear quid pro quo, and this legislation as just another bailout enriching the health care industry and screwing the American public. Can you offer an alternative explanation?

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I did see the story about the Pelosi fundraiser. Can she really be so crude as to manage a direct quid pro quo? How will this go over in her district? Meanwhile, there are contrary developments. See Matt Yglesias [at ThinkProgress.org]. Two weeks ago, [AFL-CIO's] Rich Trumka said that "lawmakers would pay a political price if they abandon a government-run option in any health care overhaul." So, I guess it comes down to whether wobbly Dem members of Congress are more afraid of the AFL-CIO or of Pelosi. There's a lot still in play.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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