Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mr. Obama Reaches Out to Progressive Bloggers re: Health Care: Too Little, Too Late?

There’s much important discussion (e.g., here and here) right now in the blogosphere about President Obama’s recent confab with progressive bloggers, as he appeals for support for his initiative to reform health care. This outreach is essential, if this crucial social reform is to be enacted under Obama’s presidency.

It’s essential because the Republican party intends to do all it can to stop health care reform in its tracks. The GOP knows that if this one reform is pushed through by the new administration, the fate of the party of angry old white men will be sealed: health care reform will consolidate the Democratic hold on the White House and Congress for the foreseeable future. And so the Republicans are willing to block health care coverage for millions of needy American citizens, even as they argue that they represent the moral high road and defend Christian values in the public square.

It is particularly disappointing to see a Catholic, African-American leader like Michael Steele try to block health coverage for all Americans, when his own religious community strongly supports the need for health coverage for all citizens, and laments the lack of health coverage for the neediest among us. Because poverty affects African Americans in the U.S. disproportionately, a significant percentage of African-American citizens lack access to good health care.

I applaud the president’s outreach to the progressive blogging community, re: the health care issue. At the same time, I’m of the opinion that this outreach is too little and too late. As I have predicted in many previous postings about the president’s betrayal of progressive supporters, while Mr. Obama has dilly-dallied, tried to build futile bridges with the Republican party and the Christian right, and refused to commit himself to key aspects of the progressive platform on which he campaigned (e.g., immediate abolition of don’t ask, don’t tell), his poll numbers have begun to dip, and the forces of resistance to him have begun to recoup strength.

The honeymoon period is over, and having alienated his staunchest supporters—progressive ones, who include many members of the LGBT community—the president is now casting about for support for policies he should have been steadfastly pushing forward from the beginning of his administration, when his ratings were high and the power of the opposition was in decisive check. I wholeheartedly agree with Miles Mogulescu when he concludes that the president has shown a “paucity of audacity” in allowing himself to be led through the nose by key advisors who are nothing but pragmatist number crunchers tone-deaf to the ethical implications of leadership.

It is impossible to lead well while ignoring the ethical foundations of good leadership. In my view, the administration of Bill Clinton, which began with promise similar to that of the Obama administration, failed dismally when Mr. Clinton began to cut hard-nosed and ethically bankrupt deals regarding issues like gays in the military. Once he showed himself to be ethically compromised, it was easy for his many opponents to block important aspects of his platform including health care reform.

I had hoped that with President Obama, we would not be in for another round of spineless, morally obtuse Democratic “leadership” which treats the progressive wing of the Democratic party with contempt. Many indicators suggest that, after the considerable damage inflicted on all of us by the Bush administration, the nation as a whole has moved to the left in its expectations and would have strongly supported a wide range of progressive initiatives when the president took office.

The president’s advisors, however, have insisted on playing by the playbook of the early 1990s, and have chosen to ignore the mandate given to Mr. Obama in this election—along with the ardent hope of many Americans for substantive progressive changes to set the nation back on a democratic course following Bush-Cheney. As Pam Spaulding argues very persuasively in a posting yesterday (see the first link above) about Mr. Obama’s appeal to progressive bloggers to support his health care initiative, there has been a fundamental lack of consistency, of coherence, in how President Obama has pursued his progressive platform.

That lack of coherence, which began (just as in the Clinton administration) with a cynical betrayal of promises to the LGBT community and with a gleeful willingness to throw LGBT supporters under the bus, is now undermining the president’s ability to push through the crucial health care reforms many of us so strongly want. I predict—and I do so with great sadness—that Mr. Obama’s inability to articulate and decisively push forward the unambiguous progressive platform for which so many of us voted will undermine everything that he now seeks to do as president, and will succeed in re-empowering the Republican party and the religious right.