by Barack Obama published in The New Yorker
Read original on The New Yorker's website
Obama reflects on the most influential piece of le...Show description
Posted 858 days ago
In 2020, it's a breath of fresh air to read a piece by President Barack Obama. It seems like a different world altogether now; maybe I was too young at the time or maybe it is nostalgia that makes me remember a different time. Regardless of whether or not I agreed with the Recovery Act coming out of the 2008 Global Financial Crises or other centrist policies, it's impossible to deny his intellect and moral leadership.
Publishing a piece on the passage of the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a global pandemic is timely to say the least. While some may praise his efforts and others may believe he conceeded too much, that piece of legislation provided millions of Americans with good health insurance. And families like mine, that struggled to afford our insurance before the act, could shift the thousands of dollars a year that we dished out to massive insurance companies towards other resources like education and housing (contributing much more to our local economy that payout out health insurance). Better yet, there was a feeling that the government was looking out for the working-class, something it had seemed to forget about for far too long.
This is interesting coming from a political centrist. Contrary to the accusation of the right, Obama was deeply concerned with the existing structures of the economy and how his legislation would affect them. He is certainly not a conservative, but I believe that the wealthy/centrist base of the Democratic Party found an ally. But that's also somewhat expected in a party that contains ex-executives of insurance companies, like "Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, who announced shorty before Thanksgiving that under no circumstances would he vote for a package containing a public option." Obama is certainly not a conservative himself, but to get his legislation through he would certainly need to gain the support of this faction of his party. He is a realist and is well aware of history.
Rather than challenging private insurance head on, progressives shifted their energy to helping those populations the marketplace had left behind...During the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, this patchwork system functioned well enough, with roughly eighty per cent of Americans covered through either their jobs or [Medicare and Medicaid].
So while he is trying to implement some reform, he has his own party pushing him to the right and the vast majorities of Americans worried that any shuffling up of their current insurance could cause serious problems. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, tells him:
"People may hate the way things work in general, but most of them have insurance. They don't really think about the flaws in the system until somebody in their own family gets sick. They like their doctor. They don't trust Washington to fix anything. And, even if they think you're sincere, they worry that any changes you make will cost them money and help somebody else."
This made me think that maybe Obama was more progressive than I had previously thought on this issue, but he ocassionally comes in with passages like the following:
Across the country, insurance companies were major employers, and local hopitals served as the economic anchor for many small towns and counties. People had good reasons - life-and-death reasons - to worry about how any change would affect them.
This should never have happened and to assume it's just the way things are by some truth of nature is part of the reason why we cannot win the battle against the health industry. Workers - carpenters, factory workers, local shop owners - should be the backbone of local economies. National companies that have offices in local communities in which profits run away from the local community should not be their backbone. Part of reform should address this problem, which seems difficult inside a party whose powerful members made their lives and careers on it.