In the latest signal that he will not echo voter pleas for a robust "public option," President Obama used his Weekly Address to draw attention away from the one issue that has galvanized the most ardent supporters of health insurance reform in America.
Emphasizing that the main goal of his reform initiative is "consumer protections," President Obama then went on to say that much of the " fears about government-run health care" were a result of "confusion over what’s called the public option"
Contrary to President Obama's argument, however, there is mounting evidence that the passionate demand for a "public option" has finally produced a clear, symbolic focus with the potential to rally widespread support for a healthcare bill amongst the majority of the President's supporters. In this perspective, the problem in the health care reform debate is not public fears stemming from a focus on the "public option," but the vague, evolving language used by the Obama administration in its attempt to rally support for health insurance reform from the health insurance industry itself.
The new effort to switch focus away from the public option comes at a time when grassroots organizations are leading the public in a highly visible, fast growing movement to make the public option the essential element of any health care reform bill.
Part of the reason why these outcries have reshaped the debate in favor of reform is the nature of the phrase "public option" itself.
Whereas the Obama administration has repeatedly pushed the language of economics and accounting in its attempt to rally support for "consumer protections," advocates for the "public option" have invoked a much broader narrative about health as a moral good. The phrase "public option," thus, is gaining ground as the most straightforward and sensible solution to the unethical business practices of insurance companies that cause harm to individuals when they are most vulnerable.
Obama's decision to fend off the cries for a robust public option, rather than join them, suggests that the White House is reluctant to embrace the political risk of treating healthcare reform as a popular movement, choosing instead to approach it as an exercise in legislative negotiation.
For many Obama supporters who supported President Obama's candidacy because they believed he would rally the public to pass a reform agenda, the White House focus on legislative chess in the healthcare debate has resulting in grumbling about whether or not President Obama is the President they voted for. Fairly or unfairly, Obama now faces a rising tide of doubt in his administration from the very supporters who have backed him most steadfastly since the election.
Many of these supporters are now using internet tools and small donations to signal that their support of healthcare reform anchored in a robust public option would be stronger than their support for an Obama administration willing to negotiate away or weaken a public option.
Thus, weeks before any final bill has actually been written, the healthcare debate has already brought about the most significant change in the American political landscape since Obama won the Iowa caucus to become the leading contender for the Democratic nomination.
The idealists who elected the President are siding with their ideals rather than their candidate.