By Matthew Rothschild on June 24, 2009

Two things bother me about Obama’s press conference performance on Tuesday.

And they concern two big issues: health care and the economy.

He’s backsliding on both.

On health care, he was pressed by reporters who followed up on each others’ questions—a good, new journalistic skill that evidently fell from the sky after Bush left office.

What they were pressing him on was whether his public option for health care was non-negotiable.

After hedging, he basically said no. “We have not drawn lines in the sand,” he said, “other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.”

What a concession! A public plan is the best way to provide that relief, and 72 percent of the public says it wants a public option. But Obama seems prepared to sell them down the river.

On the economy, when asked directly whether he thinks we “need a second stimulus package” since unemployment is likely to top 10 percent soon, he said, nonchalantly, “Well, not yet.”

What’s he waiting for?

The rate to hit 10.5 percent? 11 percent? 12 percent?

He even said when he was drawing up the first stimulus plan that “nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like.”

Well, that’s not true. A lot of good, progressive economists did, like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dean Baker. They predicted unemployment above 10 percent. That’s why they pushed for a stimulus that was twice as big as the one Obama settled for.

It’s disingenuous for Obama to hide behind the Condoleezza Rice construct that “nobody” could have imagined what then happened.

And it’s deeply troubling to see Obama acting so timorously on the major issues that he himself has identified.

I keep waiting for him to go to the mat on something, to put his foot down, and say, I’m not going to stand for higher unemployment so we must pass another stimulus bill, or I’m not going to sign a health care reform bill that doesn’t have a public option.

But never puts his foot down. It’s always in the air.

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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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