“I have not the least expectation that the plan will be adopted. In South Carolina there is less enterprise, less public spirit, than in any other state; and that, Heaven knows, reduces it low enough.”
Theodosia Burr* was writing (to her father) about prison reform, not health care reform, and there were fewer states in 1808, but it would seem that certain proud Sothrun traditions change slowly if at all.
Although, if you’re feeling indignant enough, here is a site where you can contribute to Wrong Joe Wilson’s opponent.
As for last night’s speech, it should always be remembered: President Obama started his career as a community organizer. Which means he is used to (and most excellently skilled at) running an organization by “working for consensus”, a set of skills quite different from the ones needed for running the more usual top-down business/military/GOP organizations. In an authoritarian organization, for better or worse, at the end of the day what the Big Kahuna says goes is what goes. Even if he’s the best, most open-minded Big Kahuna in the universe, heading up a team of uniquely gifted & prickly talents – he can ask for input, he can get input he hasn’t asked for, but when hammer meets nail it’s the Big Kahuna’s hammer that gets to choose the nail. And the other members of the team are always aware of this reality; barring things get so bad that grenades get rolled into the colonel’s tent, no private in the army forgets for long that the colonel is the one setting the agenda.
In a consensus-driven organization, on the other hand, everybody must have a chance to give an opinion… even when their opinion is stupid, crazy, laughable, and wrong. Being a successful community organizer means knowing that the local Mr. Tinfoil or Ms. Crystal-Bunny will show up at every godsdamned meeting and waste everybody else’s time ranting about black helicopters or the necessity for regular high colonics. A large part of the job of being a successful community organizer is ensuring that the resident nutball gets a respectful hearing without being permitted to permanently derail the meeting. Because, sad as it may seem, the rest of us skittish flaky primates want to know (even when we don’t articulate it) that “our guy” will take our ideas seriously, even when we’re not sure our ideas are worth taking seriously. When Obama stands up before Congress and explains that his health care reform proposals will involve neither death panels or government-paid abortions (unfortunately, IMO), he is reassuring the 80% of his audience who have no strong feelings about either topic that he will, at another time, be open to their opinions, however formless and/or gormless. This is important, even when it means that the meetings keep running into overtime and that us sane people have to listen to an awful lot of extremely random crap.
After eight years of the Cheney Regency’s “My way or the Gitmo highway” authoritarianism, anything less forceful than sloganeering and explicit threats seems like pretty weak sauce to those of us who’ve been paying attention. The question, of course, is whether President Obama’s target audience — the vast quivering voting-eligible majority that isn’t ideologically wed to either Invisible-Hand-of-the-Marketplace-Uber-Alles or Medicare-for-All-Americans-Immediately — considers his speech, and his administration’s work over the next few weeks and months, as sensible compromise or timid obfuscation. Perhaps we’d get better proposals and a more useful final bill if President Obama would channel his Inner Authoritarian a little more, but his gift for seeking consensus seems to be why Obama is President and certain other people are not. Maybe all the histronics are simply a necessary part of the process of committing democracy.
*Nancy Isenberg, FALLEN FOUNDER: The Life of Aaron Burr (2007) ISBN 978-0-14-311371-3