Obama’s still standing

Obama’s still standing

Health care reform opponents have tried everything imaginable, but they're running out of steam

Here's an old law school aphorism that's been used before in this space: "When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. And when neither is on your side…pound on the table."

By all appearances this little bit of tongue-in-cheek advice has become the actual, real world game plan of the defenders of the health care status quo. As each of their main arguments has fallen by the wayside, reform opponents have been forced to resort to irrational screaming and shouting, threats of violence, and the promotion of absurd – no, make that insane – rumors and slander.

First came the, for lack of a better word, "substantive" claims. You've heard some of these:

  • Reformers want to effect a "government takeover" and "ration" care.
  • They want to decimate Medicare.
  • They even want to establish "death panels" that would euthanize seniors.

More recently we've been witness to the truly mad and bizarre claims of the loony tunes and/or racist right-wing:

  • Obama is a socialist.
  • Obama is a Nazi (always good for a hoot – what's next, that he's a Klan member?)
  • And, of course, Obama is a non-citizen.

Still to come:

  • Reformers are involved in a secret conspiracy with the Chinese government to harvest body parts from unsuspecting seniors.
  • Health care reform is actually part of a secret plot to take away people's guns and to "sap and impurify all of [their] precious bodily fluids."
  • Obama is a secret agent from the planet Zool sent here to prepare the way for an alien invasion.

The source for the insanity

A few moments' reflection makes the origin of all of this nonsense pretty clear: Nothing else was working! Like a boxer who finds the end of the fight drawing near even as he has landed scarcely a blow on his opponent, the status quo defenders have started throwing wild haymakers;  desperate "Hail Mary's" in hopes of pulling off a miracle, come-from-behind victory.

Think about it for a minute: can you name even a single, sober, semi-rational argument advanced by health care reform opponents that has truly resonated and/or thrown the reform advocates off their game?

  • That the current situation is fine and sustainable? Hardly. No one is seriously arguing this.
  • That the answer to our problems is the adoption of "health savings accounts" in which all of us would save up and shop around for the best anesthesiologists and endocrinologists? Come on, give us a break.
  • That reform is about a "government takeover" of health care (the argument that Richard Burr has resorted to)? Heck, a majority of people polled by the right-wing Pope Civitas Institute here in Raleigh say they favor that idea and it isn't even on the table.
  • That reform will be too costly and bring about expensive tax increases? This one may have garnered some temporary traction, but it's lost all coherence when held up to the light of day – i.e. the reality that the current system is bankrupting the country, the fact that the added costs of covering the uninsured amount to a tiny fraction of the cost of doing nothing and the fact that President Obama has kept his promise to cut taxes on the vast majority of Americans.

No, the truth of the matter is that the opponents of health care reform are desperate. They've thrown everything they have at the President and his team to little avail. Now, with the reality that reform is going to pass becoming clearer and even most of the vested interests playing nice, the lunatic fringe has stepped in to fill the void.

Only a speed bump

One doesn't have to look too far back into the past to find an ironically parallel set of circumstances in American politics. It happened almost exactly one year ago when Senator John McCain's campaign found itself faltering in the general election contest. The Hail Mary at that time: selecting Sarah Palin as the candidate's running mate, of course.

Faced with almost certain defeat, McCain tried for a miracle that he hoped would energize his base and lure those who hadn't been paying close attention. And for a few weeks, it seemed to work as McCain rode the brief national infatuation with Palin to a short-lived rise in the polls that had progressives gnashing their teeth and wondering about the sanity of their fellow citizens.

But, of course, that rose soon wilted under the glare of the national spotlight. And so it is today with the latest wild rants in opposition to health care reform.

Just as with Palin a year ago, a closer look at the opposition arguments quickly reveals that there's less there (and fewer people) than meets the eye. And just like last year, when millions of serious conservatives ultimately abandoned the Republican standard bearer because of their belief that he had placed an incompetent neophyte within dangerous proximity of the White House, so events seem to be breaking now as many serious and responsible conservatives have begun to distance themselves from the screamers and others on the fringe.

Here's former Bush Administration staffer and conservative analyst, David Frum explaining why:

"Nobody has been hurt so far. We can all hope that nobody will be. But firearms and politics never mix well. They mix especially badly with a third ingredient: the increasingly angry tone of incitement being heard from right-of-center broadcasters.

The Nazi comparisons from Rush Limbaugh; broadcaster Mark Levin asserting that President Obama is ‘literally at war with the American people'; former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claiming that the president was planning ‘death panels' to extirpate the aged and disabled; the charges that the president is a fascist, a socialist, a Marxist, an illegitimate Kenyan fraud, that he ‘harbors a deep resentment of America,' that he feels a ‘deep-seated hatred of white people,' that his government is preparing concentration camps, that it is operating snitch lines, that it is ‘planning to wipe away American liberties': All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence….It's not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric."

Reality Check

In other words, the fate of the most important American domestic policy issue in decades should not and will not be determined by the delusional fringe. More and more responsible conservatives and moderates understand this. And while they have real differences with the some of the President's ideas, they too understand that merely preserving the status quo is not realistic and that mere pounding on the table will not be enough to dissuade the national appetite for change.

No one can say exactly what the final health care package will look like. President Obama has been smart enough to preserve some flexibility on this. But more and more, meaningful reform looks inevitable.

Like a champion boxer, the President has taken everyone's best punch – even the wild haymakers of the fringe – and he's still standing in the center of the ring.          

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.