Commentary by Caroline Baum:
Aug. 19, 09 (Bloomberg)
When the political winds shift — when a party is voted out of power or a policy is panned by the public — Washington turns to its favorite pastime: the blame game.
And so it is with President Barack Obama, who tripped on his sprint to the health-care-reform finish line. Voters, it seems, want to understand a little more about what ObamaCare will mean …for them, what it will do to the doctor-patient relationship, and what it will cost future generations in higher taxes and, yes, rationed supply.
Rather than examine the public’s concerns, the plans’ inconsistencies or the sheer irresponsibility of trying to ram something this big and complicated through Congress without a small-scale trial, the Obama administration is pointing fingers. Lots of them. Most of the targets are just plain silly.
1. Conservative groups
When liberal activists, including trade unions, Acorn and MoveOn.org, protested against anything and everything President George W. Bush said or did, it was called grassroots democracy.
When conservative groups encourage supporters to attend town hall meetings and make their sentiments known to their congressmen, it’s un-American, disruptive and the work of right- wing extremists.
Where was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, when President George W. Bush was being compared to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis? She was a “fan of disrupters” in those days, as she told anti-war protesters at a January 2006 town hall meeting in San Francisco. Pelosi only developed a thin skin (too much plastic surgery?) when the Democrats took control of the executive and legislative branches of government.
The effort to blame right-wing groups is transparent. If my feedback on a recent column is indicative of the political persuasion and demographic distribution of the protesters, these are ordinary Americans energized by the debate, frustrated at not having a voice and motivated to exercise their right of free speech. Attempts to smear opponents and shut down debate are, well, un-American.
2. Insurance Companies
Garnering support for health-insurance reform by demonizing insurance companies is a cheap shot, albeit one that resonates with the public. After all, these are the faceless bureaucrats who deny or pay claims in a seemingly arbitrary manner and refuse or cancel coverage if you cost them too much money.
Facts are stubborn things, this White House is quick to remind us. And in this case, the facts don’t support the vilification.
If insurance companies were gouging the public, the evidence would show up in one of two places, according to Graef Crystal, a compensation expert in Santa Rosa, California, and occasional Bloomberg News columnist: excessive executive pay or excessive returns to shareholders.
His analysis of five major health insurers shows just the opposite: below-market pay and below-market shareholder returns.
“There’s no case here for undue enrichment of shareholders” or over-compensating CEOs, Crystal finds.
Health care needs a major overhaul, but that’s no reason to make scapegoats out of insurance companies.
3. The Media
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Obama point the finger at the media at his town hall meeting last week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The president, defending the White House’s fishing expedition for “fishy” e-mails on health-insurance reform (suspended this week by popular demand), blamed the media for “distorting what’s taken place.”
Is this the same media that was in the pocket for candidate Obama and waltzed us through the honeymoon? If Bush had been as reliant on his teleprompter as Obama, or said “Cinco de Cuatro” when he meant “Cuatro de Mayo,” the press would have been all over him for being inept.
Sorry, Mr. President, you have no idea what it means for the media to distort what’s taken place. The long-gone Bush administration is getting more negative press than you are.
4. Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin, the recently retired governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate and Democrat’s favorite whipping boy (or girl), created a stir with a reference to death panels on Facebook. Palin said she didn’t want her parents or Down-Syndrome baby to “have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide” what kind of medical care should be allocated to these less productive members of society.
Blame the Democrats
This is the same Sarah Palin whose foreign policy experience was summed up during the campaign by her ability “to see Russia from land here in Alaska.” This is the same Sarah Palin credited with changing the terms of the debate? C’mon. That’s too laughable to address.
Besides, there’s a kernel of truth in what she said. Like all goods and services, medical care is a scarce resource that must be rationed. The only question is how: by the market (price) or by government mandate.
If government is doing the rationing, what exactly will bureaucrats use to determine who gets what care and who doesn’t?
Opposition to fast-track health-insurance reform is coming from Obama’s own party. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and one of six Finance Committee members involved in bipartisan negotiations, said on Fox News Sunday that the goal is to “get this right,” not meet some “specific timetable.”
He said the Senate lacks enough votes to pass a bill with a public option. “To continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.”
There’s always room for one more — the Democrats — on Obama’s blame-game list.
(Caroline Baum, author of “Just What I Said,” is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Caroline Baum in New York at email@example.com.