July 20, 2009

Barack's Ideological Straitjacket

I sometimes read blogs myself, of course; while there isn't much investigative work behind most blogging, reading blogs at least gives you the benefit of someone else's take on the same issues you're reading about. The real investigation is still done by reporters, that endangered species. I was reminded of that recently while reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter, about the years he spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, usually in great danger. As I expected, someone actually there, talking to Iraqis, Afghans and Americans, comes away with a far more complicated view than the simplifications of liberal or conservative blogs. In Iraq, for example, it's simultaneously true that they really appreciate our efforts in ousting Saddam Hussein, who was an insanely cruel and evil dictator who turned his country into a "mental institution," as Filkins writes; and also true that they really resent our being there and want us gone as soon as possible. How could it be otherwise?

For me the question has always been whether the United States really ought to be spending its lives and treasure on such imperial adventures and rescue operations, especially in a time of great economic strain in this country. Lots of liberal bloggers, of course, don't find this argument out there enough. They need to find ways to argue that the war itself actually makes the Iraqis worse off than under Saddam, which, though I sometimes hate to admit it, goes a little far. Conservatives like to argue that the war is self-evidently the right thing to do: a big muscular America leads the world and intervenes preemptively whenever it needs to, damn the cost. That strikes me as grotesquely naive and uninformed, and it will indeed lead to the Forever War.

It has to be admitted that the conservative viewpoint in this country, even with the big gains in Congressional seats by the Democrats (not to mention the White House), remains basically in control. This is why we're still in Afghanistan and Iraq spending money we either borrow or print. It is like the narcissist who refuses to trade in his Jaguar or sell his 10,000 square foot home even though they're bankrupting him. He can't stand the loss of face, and for a long time the supreme narcissist of countries, the United States, was the "indispensable nation," the country that called the world's tune, and Congressional bodies such as the Senate are full to the rafters with very old white men who have never adjusted their thinking to any other way of looking at things. So we stay and fight in Afghanistan, even though it is the graveyard of empire, where every country that tries to subdue it winds up destroying itself.

Barack Obama's attempts to reform the medical care system, his touchstone issue, are burdened by the same outmoded thinking. Our ideological limitations are such that as soon as something can be called "Socialist" [or: Socialist!], it's doomed as an idea. So the idea then becomes how to graft on a government program to private enterprise (the for-profit medical system) because we can't imagine doing the one thing that would actually make a difference: socializing medicine and bringing its costs under the direct control of the people. With variations, this is essentially the formula used by every other civilized country that recognizes health care should simply not be a business. Call it Single Payer, call it the Canadian or French system, but the idea is that the system becomes socialized as to basic medical care. It's a human right, provided by the government. And once the government controls the flow of money for healthcare, it will tell the providers how much they will get paid. Or they can go into some other line of work, like becoming unemployed. This madness going on with hospital chains agreeing to 10-year cost reduction goals, and thousands of pages devoted to arranging the shotgun wedding between the federal government and private enterprise (including health insurers) is going to wind up like Hillary Clinton's "managed care" fiasco, and destined for the dumper.

It's because Congress, under the influence of Big Money, will not venture that far "left." And Barack, bless his heart, is a gifted orator at times but seems to lack that vision or thirst for combat that so characterized the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., who specifically chose his battlegrounds so the worst badasses would be on the other side: George Wallace, Bull Conner, Birmingham, Montgomery. His targets guaranteed high visibility and maximum drama, but you have to be made of that kind of stuff. So Barack, telling Congress it's Single Payer or nothing, don't bother me with half-hearted compromises, and then taking the fight to the streets - one way or another, he would win. Just pound away and don't worry about "offending" these soulless inhabitants under the Capitol Dome.

And he won't do that, of course. Maybe we'll have a "public option" that kicks in around 2013, maybe it will get left behind. It won't matter very much. The reforms will be meaningless, done to placate rather than solve. What, really, is possible anymore?

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