The New York Times, as Glenn Greenwald recently commented, has editorially taken President Obama to task for the disparity between his words as a candidate, and his actions as the chief executive. Although progressives have long been disappointed and perplexed by the extent to which Obama seems indifferent to the difference between his rhetoric and his actions, the acknowledgement of that circumstance by the august Times is both remarkable and sobering. The mainstream media has generally been loath to challenge the high minded idealism of the President, accepting the premise that his difficulties are the consequence of the difficult political environment he finds himself in as he tries to bring change to the cynical and sullied legacy of the Republican Bush administration.
A case in point is the hand wringing over the gratuitous activities of ex-Democrat, "independent" Joe Lieberman, who has now assumed the mantle of Olympia Snow, as the political personage most willing to hold meaningful health care reform hostage to irrational objection. After supporting Republican John McCain's opposition to Obama with such intensity that, it was widely speculated, he was probably McCain's first choice for a running mate, Lieberman's punishment by the Democrats for his political apostasy was to welcome the renegade back into the Democratic caucus, and, courtesy of majority leader Reid, to give him a prestigious committee chairmanship.
With timing designed, successfully, to instantly undercut Reid's announcement that the proposed health care bill would include an "opt out" public option provision, Lieberman announced that he would support bringing the matter to the floor, but, preemptively also announced that he would join the Republicans in preventing an up or down vote on the bill, when the time came, if any public option were included. Reid's response to this was tepid at most. Describing Lieberman as an experienced legislator, Reid said he welcomed his participation in the process and predicted that it would be helpful.
Given the traditional interpretation of such a sequence of actions, the mainstream media portrays the President as, once again, prevented from doing what he wants by an obdurate opposition, the worse since both Senator's Snowe and Lieberman were given such extraordinary deference by the Democrats, considering their marginal significance as principled legislators.
But here is a different scenario: suppose that Obama and his administration do not, in fact, want a public option of any kind. Suppose they have made the political decision that they have more to gain from pandering to the concerns of big pharma and the insurance companies. Suppose that an industry-friendly bill will be passed in exchange for muted criticism from the health industry, and probably significant financial support, a health care bill that mandates by law a huge increase in enrollment for insurance companies and an understanding that the cost of medicines will not be negotiated at the expense of the drug companies. In this scenario, the diffident participation of the President in steering the development of a definitive health care bill becomes understandable. As has been pointed out, the rhetorical objectives of health care reform, universal coverage and cost control, would best use as a starting place the existent health care program called Medicare, with its single payer format and negotiated drug prices. As Jane Hamsher has long since pointed out, the public option was the compromise with critics of single payer. If we are now to have the pyrrhic victory of a health care reform bill that does not constrain costs nor improve the efficiency of health care distribution, in defiance of an electorate which has signified its strong desire for reform, what's the point?
History will determine whether Obama and Lieberman are adversaries or cohorts.