Radical Past

One of the advantages enjoyed by President Barack Obama when running last year for president was his deliberately opaque past. The electorate wanted “change,” and Obama’s pleasant and moderate demeanor allowed people to project whatever qualities they wanted on the young senator. Senator McCain had a long political record that was right-of-center, but often (too often for Conservatives) crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats. Obama’s political associations in Chicago, by contrast, had been far Left, but neither the polity or the media much cared. Indeed, to ask the question seemed mean-spirited.

Now that the country is considering an overhaul — perhaps radical overhaul — of the US health care delivery system, some of Obama’s radical past may be coming back to haunt him. One key issue in the present health care (now the Administration has decide to call it “health insurance”) debate surrounds the “public option.”

The public option is the provision of a separate, government-run health insurance. The theory is that the government will provide competition to private insurance companies, driving down costs. The fear among Conservatives is that a subsidized pubic option will drive out private insurance options and create a Canadian-style, “single-payer” system.  Ultimately, choice will be effectively eliminated. Liberal House member Barney Frank produced evidence supporting this fear view by publicly promising exactly that outcome as an outgrowth of a public option.

New suspicions are growing about Obama’s intentions in this regard. A 2003 video of Barack Obama as an Illinois State Senator saying, to cheers, that he supported a single payer option has emerged. A later video has Obama explaining that it make take many years, but he want to move toward elimination of employer-provided insurance.  It does, therefore,  seem reasonable to question the intentions of Liberals supporting a public option as a Trojan Horse.

It is possible the Obama has changed his mind on the health-care system since he claimed support for a single-payer system, or that he was carried away while speaking to labor groups. Changing one’s mind is not a failing, and can indicate intellectual growth.

If Obama wants a single-payer system, like he publicly claimed in 2003, he should admit as much and explain to us his reasons for such a plan. If he doesn’t he should explain why he changed his mind. What has he learned in the interim? However, the Administration is not owning up to Obama’s previous positions. If the Administration does not recognize and explain the change, if there has been one, in Obama’s position, it will serve to undermine public trust.

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