With the end of 2010 here, let me wish you all very happy holidays and an excellent new year. My lesson of the old year is simply this: politics, happiness and life are a matter of outlook. Reality is reality, and how we choose to view and interpret events colors our ability to suffer or succeed, to appreciate partial validation versus total failure. Like it or not, this is America, where diversity and dissension rule. What did you expect?
President Obama has had an historic two years in office. The stimulus package prevented a national and international financial collapse. The automobile industry was rescued through government loans and is now showing significant signs of life. There are two new Supreme Court Justices on the bench who have great intellects and compassion. Our nation finally has the framework for health care for all of its citizens. The military will no longer require that gay soldiers hide their sexual orientation. We now have new programs in place that will offer consumer protection against unsavory financial practices, such as credit card usury. There has been significant student loan reform. Within the next few days, the START treaty between the U.S. and Russia just might pass, another major piece of legislation, thereby substantially reducing the world’s nuclear weapon caches. President Obama’s accomplishments go on and on.
However, all these landmark acts must be judged in degrees, not in absolutes. Just like life. The United States is just about evenly split down the middle in terms of national ideology and political loyalty; half of our people are Republicans and half are Democrats. Given that reality, no one is going to be totally thrilled with all of the legislation because compromise and pragmatism must occur for any new measures to pass at all. My gripe is the negativity expressed at what did not pass as opposed to the gratitude for that which did pass. As I said, it is all perspective.
Take health care reform, for example. Much was left out of the bill and the public option had to be sacrificed to get the bill through Congress. Now, a federal judge in Virginia has ruled (contrary to two other state’s federal judges’ rulings) against the bill’s statute requiring every citizen to carry health insurance or be subject to a penalty. Judge Henry Hudson used our interstate commerce laws as the foundation for his decision. I am not a legal scholar or constitutional expert, so you will see links to many articles cited on the merits of the constitutionality and other facets of HCR. You can make up your own minds. I think the idea has some legal merit, although ideologically I hate it.
Within the scope of American law, the conservatives may win this one. It obviously is headed to the Supreme Court with Justice Kennedy probably being the deciding hand. The more progressive faction might want to fight fire with fire on this issue. The ultimate precedent for making citizens pay for certain things as legislated by our Congress is the IRS code. Americans are mandated to pay their taxes or face penalties and punishment. The same scenario holds true for mandatory car insurance. Sure, people do not have to be insured. However, should they choose not to be insured, there is a hefty fee attached to their driver licenses that is comparable to the amount they would have paid for the insurance in the first place. What if a tax credit was given to offset the mandatory nature of health insurance? Wouldn’t that obviate the supposed violation of the interstate commerce provision? So let’s see what will happen with this new rebellion against health care reform. Should the courts declare mandatory insurance unconstitutional, will that be a ruling also on our obligation to pay taxes and have car insurance? Should that happen, things could get pretty messy here in our country that is fueled by our taxes.
Additionally, private and public hospitals are basically forced to treat sick people who show up at their doors, a nod to universal humane principles. The costs of treating these uninsured people are huge, the consequences dire. The GOP believes that the private sector should be responsible for this laissez-faire inequity, while the Democrats believe that government should step in and cover much of the costs. Either way, the patient will not receive cohesive, integrated care over and above the emergency treatment granted, and the institutions delivering that care face the prospect of financial ruin. Is this the basis for decent and fair health care? I very much doubt it. Everyone is screaming for comprehensive, affordable health care, but nobody wants to pay for it.
Thus, should mandatory health insurance be outlawed in this country, the end result will be what we wanted in the first place: universal, publicly-funded health care. We will have our single payer system. Once again, I emphasize the blatant reality that Obamacare is a work in progress, an initial framework that over decades, will flower into a viable program that is much-needed. Social security and Medicare started out in this way also, and over the many years since their inception, have been tweaked and re-designed to suit the needs as times and requirements change. That is called governing, which requires ongoing adjustments in thinking and policy formation.
President Obama has had a phenomenal two-year tenure. Half the country will like this fact and half will not. He has stuck to his guns on higher principles; whether ruled by his great intellect or ice in his veins, he has dedicated himself to rising above the partisan fray to do what he thinks is best for all Americans. Call it political game playing or call it altruism. Call it whatever you like. The fact remains that much headway has been made for the sake of the American people. Those on the right hate these successes because it bodes well for another Obama administration. The left hates these same successes because they deviate from the purist progressive philosophy.
In a purely nasty vein, one might say that the “hopey-changey thing” is really working, slowly but surely. No refudiation there.
I am proud of our President and think that he has outdone even his own promises. Who would have ever thought that the hateful DADT would be repealed, that (possibly) the START treaty to wean the U.S.’s and Russia’s nuclear arsenals would be enacted, and that the middle class would enjoy an extension of tax cuts, all under the auspices of a lame duck Congress and occurring in the last month of the year?
Mind you, there is always room for the “good fight.” Without the purists on both sides, we would not have any satisfactory legislation. We are still faced with a huge deficit, an unacceptably high unemployment rate, the top 2% of earners are not paying enough taxes, a corrupt financial industry and the ongoing battle for gender and sexual rights. Remember though, in a land as divided as ours, it is the baby steps, the incremental degrees of change, that begin to transform the larger process. However, this President, along with this dysfunctional 111th Congress, has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams in securing substantial and relevant laws during the last two years. All of this taking place while we are in the depths of a fierce recession is even more astonishing. Given any economic crisis, it is common for incumbent politicians to face harsh criticism. Yet, read their accomplishments and weep ….. or better yet, rejoice! Yes, allow yourselves a day or two to savor the victories.
The repeal of DADT was the most heartfelt act to affect me. It is another huge step for equal rights for all Americans. The repeal hit me in the core of my being, which was never under attack like the personhood of a gay individual. Yet, sure enough, there were those progressive people who, in under twelve hours of the repeal of DADT, were on the warpath against the President once again. Chill out. It is perfectly okay to delight in the successes, to avoid minimizing those issues that still need work. Just for a day or two.
2010 was a year of great adjustments. Most likely, that scenario will continue. Andrew Sullivan nailed our split nation perfectly. Can we revel in the good things that have come to fruition so far, or shall we wallow in what did not come to pass? Must the necessary adjustments always include misery? I think not. Remember: the Paul Krugmans, the Frank Riches and the Rachel Maddows of this world, while satisfying a great need for political balance in the media, are driven by newspaper and television sales. For each and every American, it really is acceptable to recognize and appreciate that which has come to pass benefits us all. Not perfect by a long shot, but nevertheless, momentous. Not the nth degree of fulfillment, but a great start —– no, much better than just a “start” —- a true effort at rebuilding and redesigning a nation that is screaming for worthy change. So my fellow Americans, on the right and on the left, suck it up, grow up, respect the slow hand of time in political decisions, forfeit a little of your overwhelming need for immediate gratification and be very grateful for what we have. Definitely continue to work for that which we do not yet have, but honestly, it is okay to celebrate a bit.
Kudos, Mr. President. Thank you for taking on the job. I am looking forward to your next two years with optimism, tempered by a large dose of realism. It is all a matter of outlook, and my outlook is upbeat.
I offer my utmost thanks to you, my friends, for your loyal readership. This website was founded to promote a greater good for the children. If we do not work toward making this world a better place for the kids, what the hell are we working for? To you and them, I wish a New Year filled with health, happiness and solvency.