President Obama: YAY!!!

Posted on January 20, 2009
Filed Under Book Review, Deep Thoughts | 366 Comments

As you probably know, not everyone is celebrating today.  Many gays and lesbians have cancelled their innaugural parties.  Even after the announcement that openly gay bishop, Eugene Robinson, would be giving the invocation at yesterday’s pre-innaugural celebration.  Even after the Washington DC Gay Men’s Chorus performed at that event.  The reason for all this discontent is, of course, Mr. Obama’s decision to have Rick Warren give the invocation at today’s innauguration.

Why have so many LGBTs turned on Mr. Obama even before he takes office?  Because we are so used to getting thrown under the bus by politicians that we think it’s happening to us even when it isn’t.   I personally don’t think Barack Obama selected Rick Warren as a concsious slap in the face of LGBTs.  He did it in a spirit of inclusiveness, but he also underestimated our anger–particularly coming off the victory of the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California.

Now let us take a moment to pause and cogitate.  The selection of Rick Warren was a symbolic issue.  However you decode the symbols of this, you must objectively conclude that there is no substance here.  Let us not get distracted by phony symbolic issues.  Instead, let us stay focused on our real issues:  equal rights for LGBTs, hate crimes legislation, marriage rights, permitting gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and universal health care.  To quote Lyndon Johnson: “These are the stakes.”  Not Rick Warren.

The innauguration of Barack Obama today is a proud day for America.  I’m old enough to remember “whites only” drinking fountains and other such abominations.  I also remember the tremendous dignity displayed by Dr. King and so many other civil rights activists, including our gay brothers, Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin.  Barack Obama’s victory wasn’t just a victory for African-Americans; it was a victory for all Americans.  So go ahead:  Celebrate.

We can celebrate the fact that Mr. Obama is about one hundred times smarter than George W. Bush (remember him?).  And we can celebrate the fact that Mr. Obama is committed to reforming our health care system.  Health care is a queer issue.  And it’s also a universal issue.  That’s why we should also celebrate the fact that Mr. Obama has selected Tom Daschle to be his Health and Human Services Secretary.  That’s not normally the kind of post one writes home to mother about, but Mr. Daschle will also be named “Health Czar.  We’ve had “czars” before.  In the seventies, we had an “Energy Czar.”  In the nineties, we had an “AIDS Czar” (remember her?).  In spite of the scary, Russian title, “czars” don’t usually have that much power in this country.  In Mr. Daschle’s case it may be different.  For two reasons:  1) There is a huge political mandate for health reform–the biggest mandate in over forty years and 2) Mr. Daschle has written a book.

Even if Tom Daschle was not about to be the next HHS Secretary/Health Czar, I would heartily recommend this book.  Critical, which Mr. Daschle co-authored with Scott S. Greenberger and Jeanne M. Lambrew, is a surprisingly readable history of the American health care system and–as it turns out–an interesting illustration of what might come next.

The great political scientist, Mae West, once said:  “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”  In many ways, Mr. Daschle suggests that what Hillary Clinton did in the early nineties was well…the one we’ve “tried before.”  Mr. Daschle is extremely respectful to Hillary Clinton.  He acknowledges that Mrs. Clinton exceeded all expectations of her and demonstrated a disarming grace under fire.  And he also shows us how she failed.  Mr. Daschle (and his co-authors) describe in detail how Mrs. Clinton’s task force got too big, was too secretive and took too long to do anything.

The former Senate Majority Leader writes:  “In my experience, the challenge of passing a bill is directly proportional to its size.”  The message is clear:  The Clinton plan was large, secretive, top down from the executive branch.   Mr. Daschle suggests a plan that is more incremental and more generated from the legislative branch.  The endgame is two-fold:  a universal individual mandate and a new Federal Health Board.  The individual mandate would require all Americans to be insured and give them numerous incentives and a variety of plans to choose from.  The new Federal Health Board would be the equivalent of the Federal Reserve Board in the American medical world.  There are so many changing protocols, the argument goes, it is literally impossible for the political world to keep up with them.  A new Federal Health Board would be insulated from day to day politics and have the power to make tough decisions.  Mr. Daschle points out that many states have similar boards.

I am in no way an expert on this subject, but from my perspective Mr. Daschle makes a strong case that his plan can get America to universal coverage.  And that would truly be cause for celebration.

Tom Daschle’s Critical is published by St. Martin’s Press.

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