Saturday, September 12, 2009


“The middle of the road
Is no private cul-de-sac
I can’t get from the cab to the curb
Without some little jerk on my back.

Chrissie Hynde

With all due respect to Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, Barack Obama would beg to differ … apparently. From what I can tell, he’s sitting right in the middle of the road, and he’s enjoying himself.

His speech on Wednesday night on health care reform was a clear attempt to triangulate – to play the role of the reasonable moderate, sandwiched between the ideological progressives on the left and the obstructionist wackos on the right. One of the wackos in Congress heckled the President during his speech. “You lie,” he said. The accusation was both false and ironic, given that some of his GOP colleagues have been making up stories about the Democratic proposals for months.

As for the progressives, the President and his backers would have us believe that those who are pining for the “public option or bust” are willing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory … and risk losing health care insurance for millions. Why would the progressives close their minds to compromise? Must be that they’re immature, right? Must be that they’re ideologues. Undisciplined. Non-serious. Unwilling to recognize what every “adult” knows – that politics is sausage making, and there’s no chance in this climate to make the brand of sausage known as a true public option.

That mantra didn’t sound so persuasive a week ago, at least not to this ideological progressive. But I will credit the President for changing the climate with his speech, and forcing everyone to believe that meaningful health care reform is a near certainty as long as we DON’T get greedy with our demands. This is one politician with a serious gift of gab. He even has some progressives on TV fawning all over him now, even though they seem destined to lose not only the single-payer option, but their public option compromise position.

So let’s say that we progressives give the President the benefit of the doubt on health care. Let’s say we assume he will be adamant about somehow finding a way to insure the uninsured, even if it takes longer than we’d like. Let’s say we ignore some of his pie-in-the-sky rhetoric about cost, and ignore our suspicions that reform could be cheaper if we disciplined the private sector with some serious public competition. Let’s even say that we forget the fact that the so-called Democratic legislators who’ve been causing all the commotion about the public option are the ones who – “coincidentally” – are taking the most money from the health care industry. Let’s say that the phrase “conflict of interest” doesn’t enter our vocabulary … and that we’re comfortable with half a loaf (or maybe even a quarter of a loaf) when it comes to healthcare.

That doesn’t mean that on every public policy issue, we need to find out where the left is and where the right is and then split the baby. At least I hope it doesn’t. But sometimes, with this Administration, I wonder if they agree.

Take, for example, our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The right would like to blow those places back to the dark ages. And the left would like to say buh, bye, and use the money (and the lives) we’re spending there back at home.

What is the Administration’s position? It appears to be to take the middle of the road option – and I mean that literally. It’s as if our troops are standing in no man’s land – or should I say, in the middle of a road.
I truly have no idea what they’re accomplishing or what they’re trying to accomplish.

So please, Mr. President. Tell us progressives what the hell we’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe we need another prime-time speech. At the risk of sounding like an ideologue, we place the burden of persuasion on any Administration that places our troops in harm’s way, particularly when they’re working for regimes that can’t even meet our own standards for a fair election. Believe me, that’s a low bar.

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