(O'Rourke) The View From the Couch: Public Options

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President Obama's rhetorical skills have been failing him lately. First, of course, was the Cambridge police acting "stupidly" (the kettle calling the pot white, given the idiotic beer summit) and recently denigrating Post Office employees as he tried to draw parallels to Fed Ex and the Post Office as an example of how the "public option" would work. It's not a bad parallel, given that Fed Ex serves one segment of the market (the higher end) and the PO serves everyone else. But Obama, in New Hampshire, said, "UPS and Fed Ex are doing just fine. It's the Post Office that's always having problems." Again, you would think after the beer summit he would know better than to criticize public sector workers. But Obama's rhetorical style on the Town Hall circuit has not served him well. He gets a question, filled with emotion and inaccuracy, and instead of saying immediately, No, that's false, he launches into a long explanation or aside that finally makes the point a handful of sentences later.

Other than the often cited 1000 page House bill, which, with the exception of the "death panel" discussion, no single part of it has reached actual public debate. The term "public option" has been uttered thousands of times in the general media, but no one in my hearing or reading, or seeing, has actually described what it might be. The closest is "like Medicare." Obama, or anyone sufficiently public, has yet to describe a public option that would make sense to the public, the public that elected him and gave him such high approval ratings the first months of his term. Obama could say, instead of saying it will compete with private insurance, that the public option would be a safety net, catastrophic care. It would cover, as I have already proposed, young people up to age 18, then it would be a safety net, catastrophic care, with a system of VA-like clinics for primary care, then Medicare eligibility would be dropped to age 60. Those in between get the basic plan. Again, Obama would have to stress the safety net aspect, that this is coverage for those who can't get or afford private coverage. The so-called Seniors with money all have supplemental private plans to go along with Medicare. That doesn't seem to bother the private insurance world. The public option plan would be bare bones care; those who could afford more would doubtless get it. If Obama began to actually describe a realistic plan that covered the uninsured and those who can't afford care, it wouldn't, shouldn't, scare the private insurance world. Though, of course, it is against any true reform. They like the status quo. But it wouldn't scare the public, which is what matters. But it's the way the public option is being sold that isn't making the sale. It's never really described.

The media still continues its us v. them coverage, elevating absolute loons to prominence, as if their ideas are worth the fifty percent of time they are given. So we get the lady who doesn't want to wait in toilet paper lines. Why would the bitter birther movement be given so much time if the us v. them structure wasn't so entrenched? And in all that coverage there is no mention that John McCain was the only presidential candidate in the last election who wasn't born in any of the United States of America. But that's left out and the birther "debate" is elevated as if it is deserving. It's similar to all the coverage of Michael Vick's return to football. Dogs tortured, bad. But I have yet to see the pictures, the tape, of Vick's brother Marcus stomping on an opposing player while that player is down on the ground. It's lucky football exists for Vick to take out some of his rage and energy and general brutal feelings. If there wasn't professional football and the joke of scholar-athlete college football (Go Virginia Tech!) Vick would likely have been in prison long ago and not for killing dogs. The press used to be our public option, but it isn't serving the public well.

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