Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Will health reform pass?

As I write, at the end of July 2009, the fate of Obama's health bill seems uncertain. Listening to public commentary, the most likely outcomes are either outright defeat of anything, or passage of something that just rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic. But quite possibly something better is being forged behind the scenes; we won't know until we see it.

If the result is a debacle, I believe that it will again illustrate a hard truth about popular democracy. Liberals, and intelligent conservatives, tend to look at trends, forecast future consequences, and advocate action to deal with those consequences. But most voters do not operate that way; their forward vision stops at the tip of the nose. Given the desire of vested interests to preserve the status quo that enriches them, and the persuasive power of propaganda, this voter orientation towards the immediate makes change very difficult. Change happens only when the problems with the present course of action hit home broadly and forcefully. That's why the villainous Bush and Cheney team got close enough to re-election in 2004 that Kerry's blunders put them over the top. While any thinking person could see how terribly they were governing, the robust stock market and high employment at the time kept their evils from hitting home broadly and forcefully enough.

In other words, if the health plan loses, it will not be due to Obama's errors. He has in fact proceeded with enormous care and skill, building on the brilliant Clinton White House's effort and correcting its errors. The loss, if it occurs, will be due to timing: the fact that not enough voters have suffered sufficiently from the present setup, so that they remain susceptible to the mendacious scaremongering of the Republicans and the special interests who wish to maintain the present lucrative system.

Perhaps the loss will politically cripple Obama. Whether it does or not, though, it will mean that health reform must wait a while longer: until more employers drop the coverage, more obese people lose their insurance, and more people are turned away from overwhelmed emergency rooms to die in the streets.

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