As I watched and listened to the process I was being told to view as “history being made” and the “defining moment of Obama’s presidency,” I found myself feeling hollow. I am not so much a skeptic—pinky-swear—yet, yet the reform part of health care reform, in my mind, meant something different. I think reform meant that the assumption of responsibility for health care moved from each of us to all of us. Far as I could tell, that did not happen (Thom Hartmann on his radio show called changes made that mean more people will receive health care “nice.” He added, “There’s no single player, there’s not even a public option. It isn’t reform.”)
The abortion for health care equation frustrated me from the start. Stephanie Poggi, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds issued a statement after the vote. She writes: “As a nation, we demanded that health care reform address the inherent inequality and unfairness in our existing system. But with the stroke of his pen, President Obama expanded the Hyde Amendment's guarantee of inequality and unfairness. By singling out abortion care, Congress and our President have betrayed their obligation to protect the interests of all people living in this country, not only those who already have every advantage.”
There are so many reasons the changes made represent a marked improvement from what exists. Reform, perhaps, seems a stretch. So much of the status quo has not changed (the Dow did not plummet; insurance companies must have felt they won—and even if you dispute the changes as a win for them, no major loss at the very least). Still, the Teddy Kennedy camp saw victory. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), the late Senator’s youngest son, visited his father’s gravesite on Monday morning and left a hand-written note that read: "Dad, the unfinished business is done." It is?
Meantime, as numerous news stories reported, during the weekend of voting and this week, threats against Democratic members of Congress have been made repeatedly, from racial and homophobic taunting outside on Capitol Hill by protestors to health care reform to off-color remarks on the House floor (“baby-killer,” implications that fellow representatives should die in order to stop these changes from happening) to phone and Internet threats, rocks through windows and on. Bob Herbert wrote about the need for zero tolerance for this kind of behavior in his column this week, entitled An Absence of Class: “It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.”
You’d almost think, from the vitriol seen, that something like reform has actually happened.
I see in myself that when a much longed for change seems potentially within reach, rather than become more patient, I become more impatient, because I let myself want it. I think that could describe my personal experience of the Obama administration to a ‘T.” I thought reform would look different and better. I thought I’d be riding high. I am in my own muck, not cursing, not threatening and certainly not feeling transcendent.
A friend who supports Jill Stein’s bid for Governor in Massachusetts keeps urging me to support her, too, pointing out that so many of her stands more closely match my own views (single payer, for starters). I can’t say I am dazzled by Governor Deval Patrick’s performance thus far. And yet, I’m pretty sure I’m a team player, on the Democratic team that cannot deliver upon my expectations or my hopes. There’s a long view buried somewhere in here, perhaps. There’s at least a pragmatist view that change can be agitated for from outside the system but will only be codified from within. I’m probably going to be somewhat cranky, a disgruntled Democrat. And as for health care reform, I’m going to keep the air quotes—for now.