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Obama's Primetime Speech a Result of Squandered Opportunity

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Tonight, Obama comes before a joint session of Congress to deliver a primetime speech that many hope will prevent health care reform from becoming a political and legislative train wreck. Unfortunately, it's already a political and legislative train wreck.

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For those asking how a party that dominated the election in last November has gotten to this point, the cold hard reality is that this administration has chosen to "go-it-alone" ever since the public push for reform began and as a result they have struggled to organize political support for reform by foolishly employing conventional wisdom.

Earlier this year, as the push for reform began, a base of progressives and independents who supported Obama in the election and turned his election into an overwhelming victory, the same people who gave him his mandate for hope and change, came out to provide help with the administration's campaign for health care reform.

But, before the campaign was even underway, ground rules declaring that single-payer health care would not be an option up for consideration were set by the administration. Activist groups like MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and groups involved in Health Care for America Now (HCAN) followed the administration's demands and limited their work to campaigns for "quality and affordable health care" reform.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), a man tasked with handling hearings on health care reform in May, a man who "has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate" refused to listen to single-payer advocates and hold a hearing on the prospects of a single-payer health care system.

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After months of fighting, finally in June supporters of single-payer earned a private meeting with Baucus. A prime supporter of a government-run health care system, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) participated in the meeting.

But, by then it was summertime and Democrats and the Obama White House had settled on working to pass a "public option," a proposal that seemed to be a watered-down version of a robust Medicare for All plan [HR 676].

As Democrats began to seriously work out bills in committees, the backlash from Republicans and tea party "astroturf" groups across America began to heat up.

July saw lies and myths about health care become part of the Republican argument against reform and August was a month of town hall meetings disrupted by angry right wingers shouting down congressmen discussing reform and yelling at Americans who were often crying as they explained the troubles this system was creating for them.

The discussion turned away from an honest debate about the future of health care into one about whether Americans would have a choice in what health benefits they receive, whether there would be no chemo for older Medicare patients, whether illegal immigrants would get free health insurance, whether death panels would decide who lives, whether government would set doctors' wages, whether a government plan would force taxpayers to fund abortions, and whether the government takeover would mean rationing of health care.

Democrats, despite the vitriolic sabotage and disinformation campaigns being waged by Republicans and teabaggers, constantly insisted they were still going to include the Republicans and pass bipartisan health care reform. (This as Chuck Grassley gave credence to Sarah Palin's belief that Obamacare would "pull the plug on grandma.")

Obama and Democrats constantly snubbed the progressives in Congress fighting to keep the "public option" alive while at the same time pretending that members of the Gang of Six working on a reform bill in Congress like Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) were not stalling or negatively impacting the push for reform.

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Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) began to predict that 100 Democrats would oppose a health care reform bill without a public option.

As it became more and more obvious over the summer that real health care reform was in danger, as Obama made the shift in rhetoric from a campaign for health care reform to a campaign for health insurance reform, and as it became less and less important that this have a plan that would be universal and cover all Americans, activist groups fueled by progressives put out commercials that targeted Blue Dogs who were especially reluctant to support a "public option."

Americans who thought they would be "helping" Obama and Democrats in Congress by doing this were wrong. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in a private meeting, said to progressives who were running ads against centrist and Blue Dog Democrats that they were "fucking stupid" and Barack Obama told advocates for a public option to "hush" while at the same time saying he hoped progressives will rally support that will "advance legislation."

As he told advocates to "hush", Obama did not suggest that the "public option" was crucial to any reform bill. So, it's no wonder that the "public option" became a bargaining chip that Obama and leaders of Congress began to use to win Republican support. [And, it's no wonder that hours before his speech it seems that the Democratic Party now only rhetorically supports the "public option.]

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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