Barracking Obama on health reform

Published : Sep 11, 2009 00:00 IST



A POTENT alliance of Republicans, church pastors, insurance companies and right-wing media commentators have forced President Barack Obama on to the road to sell his ideas of health reform in the United States. Obama flew to Montana in the west on August 14 to confront critics at a public meeting.

A network of anti-health care groups have put Obamas proposals in jeopardy with disruptive tactics at public meetings across the U.S. and misrepresentation of his plan, in particular that he wants to encourage euthanasia. Some of the opposition has been orchestrated by the same groups and individuals who successfully blocked President Bill Clintons health reform plan between 1992 and 1994, including commentators Bill Kristol and Betsy McCaughey. But the growth of the Internet has expanded the ability of opponents to spread their message, multiply networks and target public meetings.

The Republican Party, on the defensive since its crushing defeat in Novembers presidential and congressional elections, sees health care as a first sign of Obamas vulnerability. Much of the damage to the health package is being done by Christian pastors such as Rick Joyner, of the MorningStar Ministries based in South Carolina. On his website, Joyner, who has a large following, raises the spectre of Hitler and Stalin, a comparison that has entered the mainstream of arguments by opponents of health reform.

Describing the health care Bill as diabolical, Joyner writes: As incomprehensible as it may seem, this is about euthanasia, the power to determine who lives or dies in America. Hitler and Stalin would have loved to have had a means such as this for dispatching the millions they killed. It would have made their job much easier, and probably given them the ability to kill many more than they did. This Bill is sinister. Obama is trying to switch the political debate to the role of insurance companies and their failure to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions or watering down the coverage of people who become seriously ill.

The White House sent out a mass e-mail from one of Obamas senior advisers, David Axelrod, to counter what he described as myths and misinformation about the health plans. One of the myths that has taken hold is that there will be death panels of doctors advising people on euthanasia, even though there is no such provision in the House of Representatives draft Bill. Betsy McCaughey, who did so much to wreck the Clinton health plan, said on a radio programme that the Bill would make it mandatory to have counselling every five years to tell people how to end their life sooner.

The conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who has a programme on Fox News channel, portrayed this as sometimes for the common good, you just have to say, Hey, grandpa, youve had a good life. Two Britons whose views on the United Kingdoms National Health Service (NHS) were used in an advertisement in the U.S. claim that they were misrepresented. Both appear in advertisements for Conservatives for Patients Rights, a group that opposes Obamas plans. According to reports, Katie Brickell and Kate Spall said that they strongly supported state-funded healthcare.

The outrage felt in Britain over attacks on the NHS is mirrored in Canada. As with Britain, opponents regularly warn against ending up with what they derisively refer to as Canadas socialised health system. James Clancy, president of Canadas National Union of Public and General Employees, wrote to Obama about what he described as the scurrilous misrepresentations of Canada and our single-payer health system in the debate over the future of healthcare in the United States.

Ewen MacAskill
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