By Matthew Rothschild on March 03, 2010

When Barack Obama gave his “this is it” speech on health care reform on March 3, he once again swerved out of his way to hit advocates of a single-payer system.

He said: “On one end of the spectrum, there are some who have suggested scrapping our system of private insurance and replacing it with government-run health care. Though many other countries have such a system, in America it would be neither practical nor realistic.”

You can argue about whether it is realistic politically but there should be no question whatsoever that it’s practical in the sense of being functional. It works well in other countries, including Canada, and there is no reason it can’t work well here. Canada’s health outcomes, and the health outcomes of every other advanced industrial country with government-run systems, are superior to ours.

Maybe Obama was using the “neither, nor” construction to try to strengthen his weak and illogical opposition to single-payer and even to a robust public option like Medicare for all who want it—and 65 percent of the American people do want that kind of a public option.

There is not that much difference between “practical” and “realistic” if by both he meant to say politically possible. I suppose he could have really stretched the sentence out by saying “government-run health care . . . would be neither practical nor realistic nor feasible nor possible nor doable nor achievable nor viable.” But it would all mean the same thing. At bottom, he didn’t want to expend any political capital for it, or even for the robust public option.

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Instead, he exploited advocates of a single-payer system as a foil to say, in not so many words, “I’m not an extremist like they are.”

He juxtaposed them with Republicans who want to “loosen regulations on the insurances companies.” And he did so in order to try to claim the middle ground, on the false and facile assumption that the middle ground is always the best ground.

Here’s how he put it: “I don't believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America.”

By damning “government bureaucrats,” Obama played right into the hands of the anti-government crowd and made any durable expansion of health care coverage all the more difficult. He also insulted every single federal employee in the Medicare and Medicaid and VA and Indian health programs.

This was reprehensible rhetoric.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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