During the Democratic primaries and after the presidential election, many commentators argued that President Obama would do a much better job advancing healthcare reform than Hillary Clinton, whose efforts failed miserably in the early 1990s. Many political observers argued that Obama's graceful style and "unifying" approach would guarantee favorable results. Today, with all of the emotional divisions over this issue, that discussion seems very dated.
While Clinton certainly made missteps during her healthcare initiative, I have always believed that if Obama had an easier time, this would happen because nearly two decades after Clinton's failure, the political landscape has changed significantly. Healthcare costs have continued to rise sharply, which has created the incentive for change among businesses and voters. Also, even though Clinton "failed," government sponsored healthcare expanded, in the form of new programs like SCHIP and the expansion of Medicare. Furthermore, even John McCain included healthcare reform in his political platform. Accordingly, passage of some type of reform seemed inevitable.
Nevertheless, I have also doubted much of the hoopla surrounding the supposed "new left" movement in the United States -- purportedly demonstrated by the election of Obama. On many important social issues, the country remains solidly centrist or center-right. Apparently, voters are divided on healthcare. Although many voters want reform, they are have different ideas about how these changes should look.
In Search of Real Debate
The public desperately needs real debate over these issues. The mainstream media, adhering to its obsession with sensationalism -- has offered utterly weak coverage. For some time now, most of the media coverage has primarily monitored public opinion and discord, rather than discussing the implications of various proposals. As usual, theatrics supplant substance.
I believe (and it seems rather obvious) that many members of the corporate media do not want a public plan option (and certainly not a single-payer provision). Their inability to get beyond this disagreement and engage in actual reporting on this subject has been tremendously disappointing. During the Democratic primaries, members of the media bashed Clinton as a policy wonk -- someone with immense knowledge and intellect but who was boring and uninspiring. Being an academic, I actually find facts, knowledge and intelligence inspiring, but apparently, that makes me an oddball.
The healthcare debates could really use a generous dose of facts and analysis. Instead, the nation's leaders are playing games with each other, and many people are engaging in loud and theatrical protests. I certainly believe in freedom of expression, but passionately expressing an idea does not guarantee that the idea has merit or that it contributes to a debate. It is time for real discussion.