In an about face from one of his campaign promises, President Obama has announced that he would be open to the possibility of legislation requiring people to maintain health insurance whether they want it or not, fining those who fail to do so and only exempting those who absolutely cannot afford the premiums (note that this last group would only include those whose income fell under a certain bar and it would have nothing to do with what you felt you could or could not afford). If that sentence doesn't send a chill through you then I have to wonder if you understand America at all.
During his presidential campaign, Obama assured everyone that no one would be required to have health insurance under his ideas of healthcare reform. He now says that his thinking has evolved because of persuasive arguments others have made that say bringing down the cost of healthcare may require such legislation. This would normally be the time when charges of flip-flopping get leveled (and such charges actually are already flying across the blogoshpere), but I'm not going to take that route. Personally, I have no trouble with evolved thinking. If you cannot change your mind in the face of new evidence then you have no business being in charge of anything and what is often charged as flip-flopping is, in reality, sound decision making in the face of new evidence. I don't believe this is a case of new evidence, though. President Obama has demonstrated himself to be too intelligent and too sharp on research to not have thought of this little problem a long time ago (whatever problems I have with Obama, the abilities of his mind are not on the list). I don't think there has been any new evidence and I don't think his thinking has evolved. I think he lied, plain and simple.
To say that healthcare reform would be a long and hard battle would be a championship level understatement. The subject hasn't even been seriously broached since the Clinton administration and then it went down in flames. Barack Obama certainly knew this when he made healthcare reform a central part of his campaign. He knew what kind of fight he would have on his hands and he knew that he had to temper things accordingly.
No matter how sheep-like the American public becomes (and believe me, I expect some people to start grazing any day now), most people still feel their hackles rise when you start saying "mandatory" to anything that has never before been mandatory, especially when it means telling people they have to pay for something. For many people, it's different if you just take it in taxes. Then they never actually see the money to fret over having to spend it and they're not smart enough to fully realize they still spent it. (Think I'm being too harsh here? Witness how many people insist on calling single-payer healthcare "free" despite the fact that this is exactly how it is paid for.) There are too many of us, however, who would see through this scam and would scream bloody murder. If you start taxing for healthcare then you are wide open for the claims of socialism that most proponents of reform are trying to avoid. So, we're in a bind if we know that lowering costs is going to require people paying for health insurance they don't actually use to buoy up the influx of people who aren't really paying (being subsidized by other people's taxes) but are using the healthcare system every chance they get. If we tell people up front that we're going to make them pay for something they don't want, even some healthcare reform supporters are going to get mad and drop support. If we tell people we're going to add a huge healthcare tax ... Well, telling people they're about to get taxed even further usually results in not getting elected. So how do we address this?
It's pretty easy, actually, and a community organizer would know exactly how to do it. You get people completely and totally pumped about what they want first and then, only after they have built up a good head of steam, you break the bad news in such a way that the over-excited mob now sees it as a challenge to overcome, instead of something that would have stopped them cold before they got pumped. If you have ever been part of a charity organization, a high school football team, or a basic training platoon then you know exactly what I mean. It's done all the time and it's done in almost the exact same way this about face has been done.
What will President Obama's thinking evolve about next? He is already changing the wording of a promise he made just last week, that no one who liked their doctor or coverage would have to change under his plans. He's hedging his bets on that one before the news is even old. If I were a betting man, I would wager that whatever plan finally emerges, it will have little to no resemblance to what has been discussed so far.
Just wait and see.