Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Obama's Greek Tragedy

If he signs a health care bill into law this month, in his heart of hearts, the President will be haunted by the ancient plaint of King Pyrrhus, "Another such victory, and I am undone."

How did 21st century America fall into Greek tragedy while fighting to spread the benefits of civilization to its people? How did rational debate deteriorate into the ancient ritual of a blood feud?

Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's designated voice of reason, writes in an OpEd today, "Should the Democrats' health-care train wreck make it to the president's desk, it will be a pyrrhic victory, and its devastating consequences will take their toll on our health-care system, our budget and our economy."

His argument that the new law is mainly "a range of job-killing tax hikes and controls on all Americans--to fund this new entitlement and to penalize employers and individuals who don't play by Washington's new rules" is as simplistic and misleading as White House claims that the bloated, bargain-marred thing will be an historic achievement for fairness and decency.

Pasting Ryan's handsome young face and wonkish voice over a year of monolithic know-nothing Republican obstruction is undermined by Minority Leader John Boehner's vow to "make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill."

But blaming Republicans is too easy, another way of avoiding responsibility by playing their us-against-them game. Democrats would do well to recall a Shakespearian take on the human condition, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

That kind of thinking led Romans to conspire against their Caesar just as today's Congressional underlings are threatening to undo their leader with squabbles about abortion and other side issues that will profit them politically.

Yet, with all the good will in the world for his pragmatic idealism, it's hard not to fault Barack Obama for getting himself into this pyrrhic mess.

Instead on analyzing the red-meat issue and formulating a comprehensible plan to deal with its major components, the President stepped back and tossed it into the Congressional boneyard where it could be shredded into scraps.

Instead of emphasizing how the current system is threatening to bankrupt the middle class, Obama chose to reassure them that they could keep their current coverage while appealing to their sense of fairness in bringing 30 million uninsured into it, opening the way for selfish Tea Party demagoguery about socialism.

Instead of recognizing that health insurer "cooperation" was a sham, the President naively embraced it only to find they would be back lobbying against reform at crunch time.

Instead of accepting the hard truth that cost containment was a complex tangle of provider greed and unbridled patient sense of entitlement, Obama persisted in hazy formulations about bending the cost curve.

Now, he is faced with the choice of a pyrrhic victory or an unthinkable defeat while the rest of us find no catharsis in what has become a classic tragedy.

3 comments:

jf said...

If the bill doesn't pass, the Republicans will own the health care status quo.

Anonymous said...

Instead of recognizing that health insurer "cooperation" was a sham, the President naively embraced it only to find they would be back lobbying against reform at crunch time.
If you believe Obama was "naive" you are being naive.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Stunningly gorgeous post. *sigh*

Between the press, on both sides, acting like a deranged Greek Chorus and the "Slaughter solution" and "reconciliation" being offered alternately as incredibly bad deus ex machina, we can indeed draw parallels to Greek tragedy. Maybe it's time to reread Euripides' The Bacchae . . .