Professor Obama: The Presidential School of Bipartisan Education.

You may have thought the summit President Obama presided over today was all about health care reform.  It wasn’t.  Health Care Reform was the topic, but the subject was a six-plus hour seminar in front of a national audience on how to  be bipartisan led by the professor-in-chief, Barack Obama, J.D.   The pundits and bloggers, well, like, me are pounding away at their computers trying to wring every bit of meaning and nuance from the day’s-long exchange.

Health Care Reform was the topic, but the subject was a six-plus hour seminar in front of a national audience on how to  be bipartisan led by the professor-in-chief, Barack Obama, J.D.

Let’s get one thing out of the way.  How do I grade the debate on health care reform?  I give the Democrats a C, and that’s generous.  Their acting like they are close to the Republicans in the substance of the bill was stretching credulity nearly to the breaking point.  But I give the Republicans a D- and that is because they went out of their way to avoid any semblance comprehension what the summit was really about.  Just a whole day of props and talking points without as much as a single original thought.

Sorry, Mitch, John, Lamar and Eric, starting over isn’t an option.  It wasn’t about how many minutes each side gets to speak, Mitch (that has to be one of the most sophomoric gaffs of your career). You know as well as I do that it is empty rhetoric.  It’s impossible to start with a clean sheet.  The sheets in the health care debate are not paper.  They are hospital bed sheets and have over a half a century of political grime ground into them.  There are no clean sheets.  You can’t rewind history.  The perpetuation and dissemination of ideas follows the one-way arrow of time.  Health care reform does not exist in a bubble undisturbed by the flow of reality in the present environment of human medical needs.

Republicans: It’s time for you to step out of the way and let we Americans have access to medical care that meets our needs, covers us without regard for preexisting conditions, and sets the stage for a era of wellness through preventing those medical conditions that can be prevented.  Your ideas won’t work because your plan has an inherent stinginess to it that is, well, just incomprehensible in a nation  that thrives on being generous.

Republicans: Your ideas won’t work because your plan has an inherent stinginess to it that is, well, just incomprehensible in a nation  that thrives on being generous.

Now, on to the real subject of the summit today.  Prof. Obama led the seminar in bipartisanship.  Neither political party really figured that out, however.  They have over the past year (two? three? twenty?) been overwhelmed by the drumbeat of talking points drilling themselves so deeply into the daily consciousness of our congressional representatives, that it appears almost as if they have lost the capacity to speak in any other manner or with any independence of thought.

Prof. Obama conducted a very well run seminar in what can easily be described as a highly-charged setting.  The representatives of the two parties, both Senators and Congressional Representatives have been sniping at each other, saying  some of the most outrageous things ever entered into the Congressional Register, attacking with a ferocity just shy of out and out fisticuffs.  It’s a good thing the debates in the wells of both Houses are not near windows.  The amount of acrimonious bile spewed at each other could have led to the defenestration of any number of the members in the tradition of the Bohemians in Prague, first in the 1400s and again in the 1600s.

It’s a good thing the debates in the wells of both Houses are not near windows.  The amount of acrimonious bile spewed at each other could have led to the defenestration of any number of the members in the tradition of the Bohemians in Prague, first in the 1400s and again in the 1600s.

But neither side got it.  At least neither side wanted to be the first to admit that they got it.  As soon as they walked out of Blair House and across the street back to the Capitol, the auditory hallucinations of hyperpartisanship appear to have kicked in like throwing the main breaker on a mental trash compactor.

Regarding health care reform, the lack of substance was arguably all that could be expected.  Regarding reestablishing a beneficial and productive dialogue between the two parties, it was right there for all America to see.  The professor, behaving at his presidential best, conducted an exercise in statesmanship.  The comments, although, at times impassioned, were respectful and under the watchful eye of the Professor-in-Chief. The two sides were able to carry on a debate that did not devolve into shouting or irrational charge and counter-charges.  The summit was a demonstration of political civility on the TV screens or computer monitors for all America to see.

So, now we will see how the introduction of statesmanship into this debate will be able to work its way through the consciousness of both our elected leaders and the American people.  Will it grow over time; were seeds planted that will germinate and change the landscape of the national political scene?

Health care reform, just a few weeks ago declared dead on arrival after the Massachusetts election, has survived.  Is it healthy?  That remains to be seen.  But the recovery of  reform is proceeding in ways that could be best compared to an intensive rehabilitation program.

He left no doubt that his skills as President of the United States have grown and matured in ways that give great encouragement to his supporters and equal concern to his opponents.

The summit today, however, was historical for what it may have saved for American politics, more than the result of the final disposition of health care reform.

Professor-in-Chief Obama is undoubtedly exhausted after today’s intensive experience and exercise in democracy.  But one thing is certain.  He left no doubt that his skills as President of the United States have grown and matured in ways that give great encouragement to his supporters and equal concern to his opponents.  I have said on several occasions that America would have to get used to a very smart president.  Today, we just saw one reason why.

We All Deserve Health Care

Amputating the Finger to Save the Ring

There are many ways to do things wrong.  A couple of weeks ago I woke up with my left hand seriously swollen.  It was a reasonably good reproduction of the hand of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Boy.  I headed to the Urgent Care Center to have it looked at.  The first thing out of the nurse’s mouth was, “We’re going to have to cut off your wedding ring.  If it cuts off the circulation anymore, you could lose your finger.”

Cutting off my wedding ring had not been part of the plan.  Although it was very tight, my ring finger didn’t hurt, and I just assumed the doctor would give me something to get rid of the swelling, my hand would return to its normal size, and I’d go my merry way.  Besides, having been married some thirty-two years, I’d guess that easily around twenty years had gone by since I’d even been able to get the ring off.

The decision actually was pretty easy to make.  Gold rings can be repaired and dead fingers can’t.  Within minutes, the nurse and her CNA were sawing away at my ring with a special device designed to cut the metal and not my finger.

Once the ring was sliced through, then came the hard part. Pulling the ring over my hyper-sized fleshy knuckle proved to be the painful part of the process.  As they say, see illustration below:

David's Swollen Hand and Ring Finger

David's Swollen Hand and Ring Finger

Within a few hours, my hand returned to its normal size and I retain a healthy ring finger.  My wedding ring can be repaired, as well.

But as I said in my lede, there are wrong ways to do things.  That happened today in the Senate Finance Committee when two different amendments for a public health plan, supported strongly by at least 65% of Americans according to recent national NYT/CBS poll, were defeated by a combination of Republicans (who have spent zillions of dollars as well as bazillions of hours trying to either wound to kill health care reform) and a group of Democrats (who, in the Senate, are referred to I think as Donkey Blue Dung Beetles).

Here’s my analogy.  The public option is the “ring finger” in the health care reform hand.  It is essential since people hands have had five fingers for a long time.  The ring finger, however, has become controlled by Big Medicine, and they have come up with this outrageous lie that their ring is soooooooo important and big, that the public plan ring finger should be amputated.  See illustration below:

Gigantic Engagement Ring. Credit: www.lovetoknow.com

Gigantic Engagement Ring. Credit: http://www.lovetoknow.com

Yep, save the ring; amputate the finger.  We won’t be able to  wear it on the hand, so we’ll just have to wear it like a crown, to remind us daily that Big Medicine is King/Queen of American Health Care.

Thanks, Max.  You’re doin’ a heckava job there making sure the American health care disaster is complete success.  Heckava job.

Rebellion For or Rebellion Against? The Republican Party Puts America on the Knife Edge

The knife edge between the rhetoric of rebellion and inciting rebellion is sharp, ragged,  and stained with the blood of the innocent; the severing blow comes all too often from a hand unexpected and beyond the control of those speaking as the Advocates for that Rebellion’s Agenda.

Read this interview exchange between Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who is the Republican Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and Jeffrey Brown, of PBS’s The News Hour on September 17, 2009:

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think — you’ve heard me over the last several months make it clear that we want Americans to involve themselves in this discussion, but it ought to be civil. And, by and large, almost all of it is. Oh, there’s going to be someone now and then who’s going to get out of control or yell, but we are in the middle of a modern-day political rebellion in America.

JEFFREY BROWN: Rebellion?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Rebellion. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve been around the country in a number of members’ districts, and I’ve been watching this grassfire grow all year.

And the American people, they’re concerned about what their government is doing. They know that these trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see, this is not sustainable. And they’re concerned that government here in Washington is getting too big, getting too much control, and they’re making their opposition to it known. And all of my colleagues have encountered their citizens more engaged than they’ve ever seen them.

Now, I went to a tea party in West Chester, Ohio, on September 5th, Labor Day weekend, along with some of my colleagues; 18,000 people were there. And there were some Democrats there and some Republicans there. But three-fourths of the people there were people — average Americans who’d never been engaged in the political process, really didn’t know much about it, except that they were concerned about where our country was going.

And so this conversation that’s underway is healthy for our democracy. It was Thomas Jefferson 220 years ago who said, “A little rebellion now and then is good for our democracy.”

Are Rep. Boehner, and the Republicans who advocate this language, rebelling for something or against something?  Are they fanning the flames of anxiety by the use of such words to what end?  I honestly can’t tell.  They cry “Give us back our country!” but what do they cite as evidence the country has been lost?  They cry “Don’t take away our guns!” and make threatening inferences, “We came unarmed…This time.”  They cry “Our constitutional rights are being squashed!” but I cannot remember a time when our constitutional rights were more protected.

What is the rebellion?  What is truly the word “rebellion” being used to communicate?

John Boehner, will you tell us the truth why you are using the word “rebellion?”

And here is why I make this demand:  The Declaration of Independence sets the standard for initiating rebellion against tyranny.  Rebellion is a just cause when a people are under the yoke of a government that deprives them of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The advocacy of rebellion for any other reason cannot meet that standard.

The advocacy of rebellion as a political means to bring down a legally and constitutionally elected president and government, because you refuse to abide by either the law or the Constitution as the Loyal Opposition, is not justifiable by the standard set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America.

That is not rebellion, Mr. Boehner, that is revolution.  I pray that is not your true agenda.  For that you cannot control, and it will exact a cost you and all who follow you cannot pay.

There Will Never Be Another Tax Cut

Huh??  What do you mean there will never be another tax cut? Congress can vote to cut taxes anytime it wants.  Have you lost your mind, Waggoner?

Consider this statement:

Using tax levels consistent with the past half century in America, then subtracting entitlement payments as currently promised for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, The Heritage Foundation (another conservative think tank) estimates that sometime just before 2020, there won’t be enough money in the federal treasury for anything but the entitlement programs.

It was written by Bruce Brattain, owner of Wisdom River Partners, who, among his many talents, is an elder care consultant.  Now, don’t roll your eyes over the word “consultant.”  Start reading a few of the pieces in his blog, aninconvenientbruce, and you’ll instantly realize, this is one very astute observer who has his finger on the pulse of a number of national issues.

And, just to entice you more to go read the entire article from which this quote was taken; it’s not what you think it is.

Now.  Please. Go read what Bruce has to say.  Oh, and be prepared to not only to have your assumptions challenged in a classic Extreme Thinkover manner, get ready to be entertained by a guy with one wicked wit!  Click here.

Then come back to my post for this:

Post Script:  I just watched PBS’s The News Hour:

In an ongoing series of conversations on health reform, Jeffrey Brown speaks with Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive and skeptic of a public insurance option.

Laszewski, in this interview, lays out the manifesto for Big Medicine’s opposition to health care reform.  He is articulate, clearly believes in his cause, and goes over their case against the public plan point by point.

And proves the argument for implementing a public option in the health care reform legislation so beautifully, I almost jumped up from the couch to give him a standing ovation.

Huh?   Two times in one post?  Read the interview of Robert Laszewski, former insurance executive and Big Medicine consultant by Jeffrey Brown.  Click Here.

How the Texas Long Horns and the TCU Horned Frogs Saved Health Care Reform

I just finished watching clips from NBC’s Meet the Press, which featured Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) discussing the status of the “public option” in the health care reform debate. It wasn’t much of a debate, despite host David Gregory’s best effort to provoke something other than party-line blather from either senator.  He wasn’t having much success.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sen. Schumer made a comment that snapped my attention to full alert. He compared the public plan competing against private health insurers with public and private colleges and universities.  (If you watch the clip, it comes right at 2:00 minutes.)  I had to back it up and watch it again to confirm I actually had heard him correctly.  Gregory didn’t catch it, which he should have; Sen. Hatch, if he caught the comment, either had no response, or was so close to dozing off, he just kept mumbling the same old script.  I couldn’t really tell.

Schumer’s statement was a new characterization; I hadn’t heard it before. I’m not sure he even recognized the significance of it.  But it is an intriguing way to look at the public option. And since my PhD is in Higher Education, this is something I actually know something about.

Every state in the country has private and public universities.  Take Texas, for example, where the idea of the public option is more anathema than the Long Horns losing to Oklahoma.  The University of Texas in Austin is a public university.  Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft Worth, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree, is a private university.

Hook 'em Horns.  University of Texas Football

Hook 'em Horns. University of Texas Football

According to the prevailing dogma of Republican and Free Market devotees, the government should never be allowed to compete against free enterprise and the private market, because the government will always do it worse, waste vast amounts of money in the process and destroy competition, thereby threatening the American Way of Life.

Does the public university “system” in the country drive out the private schools by being too competitive for them to survive? They could in theory, because student tuition in the state schools is subsidized by taxpayer dollars (although that has been shrinking dramatically over the past twenty years–the states all too often are short on cash), attracting more students than the private schools. For example, UT is a lot bigger than TCU (50,000 vs 9,000!). But private colleges, which were the original American academic institutions (Harvard was founded in 1636), continue to compete and flourish, despite the apparent advantage the public schools have. The typical model for what we think of as a state college or university did not come into being until after 1862 with the passage of The Morrill Act.

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

There are a lot of reasons, but the one relevant to our discussion about health care is that federal financial aid creates portability and allows students to choose (in concept) to attend any school in the country. I have two degrees from private schools and two degrees from a public school. Why did I choose those schools? Because in each instance it offered the academic program I wanted to pursue. Federally funded financial aid guaranteed that I had a choice. That is higher education’s equivalent of a “public option.” (now this isn’t the place to argue about the issues in financial aid such as student loan debt, etc–it is beside the point for this discussion).

We come up with this formula, thanks to Sen. Schumer’s insight:

Federal F/A= Choice + Access + Desired University (public or private) + Academic Degree

So when we look at America’s higher education system, a combination of private and public institutions that arguably is the best in the world (granting it has its own imperfections and needs for reforms), which allow the schools to provide their services in a competitive but mutually beneficial market, and provides students (as consumers) a huge amount of choice, both in program and in cost, it is just plain wrong to say that “government” can’t do anything right and to assume that a public option would destroy competition in the health care market.  The success of higher education contradicts the assumption and renders it null.

We Horned Frogs are justifiably proud of our private Texas Christian University. But if I was a bettin’ man, I wouldn’t place a red-cent on a wager that a University of Texas grad, dead-set against the public plan in health care, would admit that his/her “government education” was inferior in any way, shape or form!

Therefore, applied to the Public Option, the formula becomes:

Federal Public Option= Choice + Access + Desired Coverage (public or private) + Appropriate Medical Care

Responses anyone?

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

Go Frogs!

The Public Plan–Is Obama Capitulating or is This a Feint?

The media is all a-twitter (pun intended) over touting the demise of the Public Option in the Health Care Reform legislation, as if it were sliding toward the edge of the negotiating table ready to dribble over like a melted popcicle.  On the news I must have seen the clip where the President calls the plan just a “sliver” of the whole reform effort a dozen times.  Pundits are in full obituary mode.  Even the New York Times, a staunch supporter of the Public Option, is grief stricken.  Bob Herbert, in his column for August 18th, wrote,

The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)

It’s over.  The insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank.  The clink of expensive brandy snifters raised in countless boardroom toasts is reverberating across the country.  The corporate jets are warming up on the  tarmac, ’cause it’s fiesta time for Big Medicine!

Have you heard Rep. John Boehner or Sen. Mitch McConnell whine about anything significant this week?  Have the shout-down disrupters in the Town Hall meetings gotten more strident?  Are the “experts” on Fox and CNN actually agreeing?  I even heard a PBS contributor use the term “panic” when referring to the president’s health care strategy.  Is Tom DeLay going to be on Dancing with the Stars?  I mean, if Tom DeLay “The Hammer” who almost certainly has been consulting with his Republican clients about how to kill the Public Option, has time to, well, uh, trip the light fantastic  on national TV, can there be any hope?  UPDATE: Chris Matthews, host of  “Hardball”  just named DeLay, “Twinkle Toes.”  I’m not kidding–check the transcript on MSNBC  for 8/18.

Hmm.   Well, I’m suspicious.  You see, in the days before the election (when Extreme Thinkover was still in its infancy) I posted a blog stating one of the most difficult things Americans would have to come to terms with, if Barack Obama won, would be the presence of a very smart president as president:

Make no mistake, this will be a shock to Americans if Barack Obama is elected, not because he is African-American, a Democrat, a liberal, or in the eyes of some, the Anti-Christ, but because he is smart.  That’s right, I said it plain and simple.  Barack Obama is a smart person, well educated, and has an intrinsic capacity for deep analytical thinking.

Now, I knew this would be a shock to Republicans, who had basked in George Bush’s inability to compose a coherent sentence, and Dick Cheney’s ability to snarl his victims into stone-like fear for the past eight years.  I, however, underestimated how much of a shock this would be to Democrats, who voted for Obama.  But I admit now that the Democrats in Congress are as much in shock.  They can’t seem to figure out to do with their success, AND a president that thinks complex thoughts and speaks, well, college-level English.

Back to health care reform.  I’m just thinking.  Why would a really smart politician like Barack Obama just waffle around on one of the key ideas of his health care plan?  Yes, I know, he can’t control all the political variables, and having majorities in both houses of Congress takes a while to get the kinks worked out.

So, is the dust-up over the Public Option the result of an inexperienced president, a disorganized president, a whatever president–panicked, sold out, capitulating?

Like John Stewart said, “I can’t tell if you’re a Jedi and ten steps ahead of this thing?”

Or maybe is this president well aware of this game of chess played on a shifting, multi-dimensional board, with changing rules and players, and working out his strategies many moves in advance, letting the different gambits and forays play themselves out, knowing full well what his end game will be and when to pull that trigger?

Capitulation or a calculated feint by a very smart man, who happens to hold the highest office in the land and is determined to get what he wants?

My take: Jedi Master and the Public Option: Yes.