The fiasco of Barack Obama’s health care reform calls for an emergency doctor. Is the body politic going through a crisis, or does one have to search for the reason of the false promises in the person of the president?
The biggest topic on the Sunday talk shows on Nov. 17 was the fiasco of President Obama’s health care reform. Even liberal mainstream media were bringing up the comparison with his predecessor Bush’s reaction to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought in and around New Orleans. Management errors in the logistics of emergency aid gave the impression of incompetence in the person in charge, which wasn’t to go away. One cannot help but notice an ideological explanation of this inactivity; there were people in the government who were generally skeptical toward the activity of the administration — and suddenly, when the state went into turmoil and they had to partake in this activity, they couldn’t.
Obama and the specialists to whom he entrusted the implementation of his health care reform can be excused from this psychological blockade of action. It’s not too farfetched to attribute the latest case of technical failure in the administration to a complimentary ideological reason: Are the president and his most faithful supporters not allowed to tend toward overestimation of the possibilities for nationalized behavior control? A case can be made that the rash promises of the president and the sacrifice of a website for in-depth tests, which for all Americans is the portal to health care, will be kept as evidence of hubris in the memory of the population — like Bush’s premature praise for the chief of the overwhelmed emergency services authorities, which Martha Raddatz replayed again on ABC’s “This Week.” Again the real danger for the reputation of the government lies in the underestimation of the public’s excitability.
Obama has apologized for his misleading advertising slogan — and had to appoint an agent, whose activity is always under question, because the outraged people must see the sorry-faced self-incrimination. It is still difficult to explain how Obama could even fall into the trap of giving the guarantee that everyone who wanted to would keep their existing insurance policy — when the whole principle of Obamacare is statutory insurance. Indeed, the lawful obligation to end any insurance policy has not been explicitly stated. Whoever doesn’t get insured will be fined and remain “free” in this respect, bearing the cost of no insurance instead of the cost of insurance — just like someone who was to visit a restaurant in a busy downtown area would factor a parking ticket into the price of the meal. This argument was important for the Supreme Court, of which five out of nine judges were of the opinion that the federal government was not allowed to obligate its citizens to purchase a certain service.
However, this normative nitpicking must remain academic, if the economic model of the new national health system is to function: The government and the insurance industry are dependent on the underinsured being consulted on cost-sharing. The Republican leaders in Congress, who were recently assigned the majority of the blame by the public for the temporary insolvency of the federal administration still, at this point in time, endeavor to avoid the rhetoric of burning bridges. They don’t talk like Liz Cheney, who, on “Fox News Sunday” accused the president of lying about the content of the Affordable Care Act. It would have been a foolish attempt at deception, which would have had to have been exposed with the deadline for the implementation of the new regulations.
The daughter of the former vice president wants to be become Wyoming’s senator and has to beat an incumbent in the primary, in order to present herself as an ideal vote to the conservative lobbyist organizations. Liz Cheney conducts herself in line with the tea party rebellion’s handbook: She denounces Obama as a fraudster in order to collaborate with the president’s enemies, like Senator Mike Enzi. The radical Republicans are once again talking themselves into an impeachment campaign.
But if Obama didn’t want to tell the truth about the health program which has evolved with his name, how does he make sense of its poor performance? Was the untenable promise only a slip of the tongue? This is suggested in a leading article in The New York Times: “Mr. Obama clearly misspoke.” The ombudswoman for the paper criticized this phrasing — a speaker would hardly make the same mistake in every speech. In the president’s favor, one would like to assume that his belief in the perfection of the law prompted his imprudent words. He could confidently make the promise of the option of retaining one’s old insurance policy; he was convinced that hardly anyone would cash in on it. Similarly, the trade industry calculated its exchange and refund guarantees.
The new promise made by Obama on Thursday, that the entry into force of the minimum standard will be deferred, a minimum standard which many existing contracts don’t satisfy, postpones the problem for a year. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Senator John Barrasso, Mike Enzi’s colleague and party friend from Wyoming, used the image of a “political Band-aid” in contrast to a “lasting cure.” In Greece, politics jelled itself as a neighboring discipline to medical science. Wilhelm Hennis, the Freiburg political scientist who died last year, fondly remembered that Thucydides, the historian who wanted to identify the basic principles of statecraft, was a pupil of Hippocrates. Also the word “crisis” has a medical background. When a health reform puts a president in difficulty, the body politic as a whole will become the object of anxious investigation.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire evoked a principle of the doctor's code: The first requirement of any therapy is that you are not allowed to harm the patient. Health politicians should also take this to heart. A notable variant of the motif of politicians as general practitioners and emergency doctors was brought into play by Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker for the House of Representatives, during the same program. “What I love about health care professionals is that they're calm. We must remain calm when we talk about the health of our country.” One associates sympathy, affection and quality of care with doctors. Mrs. Pelosi appears to identify more with the administrators of the hospitals and health insurance companies — it doesn’t scare her to become known as a career politician.
Does she not offer this advice, not to talk in fury, a bit too calmly? The only robust defense of the aims and means of the president this Sunday was offered by Jim Clyburn, the black Congressional member from South Carolina and No. 3 House Democrat. Sarcastically, he said that what is now being presented as the catastrophe of Obamacare is nothing new for his constituents: A pink slip from the insurance company. Every illness, even pregnancy, qualifies as grounds for the termination of the contract. It is precisely this deficiency of private compulsory insurance that the new system shall eradicate.
The other Democratic speakers had nothing more than wishful thinking to offer to the question asked by every news reader: whether the president could win back the lost trust. Clyburn expressed his opinion that the agitation was fictitious with a literary quote: “Paradise lost, paradise regained.” What is lost can, by definition, be found again. The title of both epics by John Milton, more or less, gives a translation of Herbert Wehner’s primal law of democratic politics: “Who goes out must also come back in.” The belly of the people is rumbling. Clyburn expects the resentment to settle itself down again and prescribes the president composure.
Edited by Anita Dixon