Obama’s Legacy?

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Is it healthcare? The Paris Climate Agreement?  His election as the first black president?  Something else?  Over at Dissent, Corey Robin reviews eight books on the Obama legacy.  Many of these books are written by Obama staffers.  Robin’s calls them the “Obamanauts” and suggests that they may be Obama’s legacy.

Here is a taste:

Since the 2016 election, many members of the Obama administration have written their memoirs in the hope of defining that legacy. In addition, more than a hundred men and women who worked in and around the White House have given their reminiscences to Brian Abrams, who has composed a remarkably fluid oral history of the Obama years. We’ve not yet heard from the man himself. While it’s not unprecedented for the president’s men and women to get the first word, the effect of his silence and their volubility is to decenter a presidency that, more than most, was centered on one man and his words. Obama had an uncanny ability to make sense of his place in history, to narrate what it was that he was doing. His politics had its limits, but they were often, and often knowingly, self-imposed. No matter how circumscribed the view, Obama managed to conjure a sense of what lay beyond it. With one exception, none of his people has that sense of time or place. They’re bound by a perimeter that is not of their making and that lies beyond their ken.

At the same time, not only do the Obamanauts wish to salvage Obama’s legacy from Donald Trump; they also believe Obama’s legacy can save us from Donald Trump. “My hope in writing this book,” says Dan Pfeiffer, who ran communications in the White House, is that “if we learn the right lessons” from Obama, “we can ensure that Donald Trump is an aberration.” That puts Obama’s legacy at a double disadvantage: defended by some of its least persuasive advocates and defined by what it is not. Burdened by a future he had a hand in making but no intention of creating, Obama gets reimagined in these memoirs and reminiscenses in light of everything he sought to avoid: the destructiveness of the president who came after him, and the irresponsibility of the Republicans who came before him and dogged him throughout his time in office. Instead of a clear outline of the man, we get the shadow of his enemies. That’s not fair to Obama, but as he’s the one who chose these people to speak for him while he was in office, they are the ones who’ve chosen to speak for him when he’s out. So it will remain, until he writes his memoirs.

The Obamanauts have an argument that they think can be used to defeat the Republicans. It is an argument that sets out what liberals and Democrats should be saying, and how they should be saying it, in the next election and beyond. It is part sense—about economic policy, foreign policy, and so on—and part sensibility: about norms, the presidency, and how our public life should be conducted. Because the sense is so thin in these memoirs, the sensibility winds up mattering more. Which is probably for the best. For it’s that sensibility that gives us the clearest view of what Obamaism, beneath and beyond Obama, was all about. It’s the style of leading sectors in the Democratic Party, currently embattled against the left, though we hear little mention of that battle here. But most of all, it’s that style that answers the question: What is Obama’s legacy? For better or worse, and at least for now, it’s the Obamanauts themselves.

Read the entire piece here.

Remembering John McCain

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McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace

Some Historical Perspective on Our Health Care Debate (and Another Plug for the Podcast)

TomesI know our patrons are eagerly awaiting the drop of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast patrons-only episodes.

I am happy to announce that our first such summer episode, which focuses on Civil Rights Movement tourism, will be available on Sunday.  If you are a patron, stay tuned for more directions.  I am sure you will be hearing from our trusty producer very soon.

Not a patron of the podcast?  It’s not too late to get these special episodes and all the other great perks that come with being part of our support community (including books and mugs!). Click here.

Whether you are a patron or not, I encourage you to go back and check out Episode 22–“The History of American Healthcare.”  Our guest on this episode is Nancy Tomes, Professor of History at Stony Brook University (SUNY) and author of the Bancroft Prize-winning book Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers.  Tomes’s book and interview provide some much needed historical perspective on what is going on in Washington D.C.  right now.

The Tomes interview is representative of the kind of history interviews you will get every other week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Civil Rights and Health Care

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I am not a scholar of the Civil Rights Movement, but I found Vann Newkirk’s piece on the Civil Rights Movement and health care to be compelling.  (I would appreciate any insights from scholars of the Civil Rights Movement).

Here is a taste of Newkirk’s piece at The Atlantic:

It was a cold March night when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned his pulpit towards health care. Speaking to a packed, mixed-race crowd of physicians and health-care workers in Chicago, King gave one of his most influential late-career speeches, blasting the American Medical Association and other organizations for a “conspiracy of inaction” in the maintenance of a medical apartheid that persisted even then in 1966.

There, King spoke words that have since become a maxim: “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” In the moment, it reflected the work that King and that organization, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), were doing to advance one of the since-forgotten pillars of the civil-rights movement: the idea that health care is a right. To those heroes of the civil-rights movement, it was clear that the demons of inequality that have always haunted America could not be vanquished without the establishment and protection of that right.

Fifty-one years later, those demons have not yet been defeated. King’s quotation has become a rallying cry among defenders of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark 2010 legislation that has come the closest America has ever been to establishing a universal guarantee of health care. Their position is in peril, as the Republican effort to repeal the law and create a replacement that leaves 22 million more people uninsured over the next decade and will slash Medicaid enrollment by 15 million now sits just days away from possible passage.

People of color were the most likely groups to gain coverage and access to care under the ACA, and in the centuries-old struggle over health, they have never been closer both to racial equality of, access and to, the federal protection of health care as a civil right. But if Republicans have their way, that dream will be deferred.

Just as the ACA’s defenders find themselves between a once-in-a-generation victory and a potential equally devastating loss, so the MCHR found themselves in 1966. King delivered his address just months after breakthroughs a century in the making. In the height of the movement in the early 60s that brought sweeping changes in voting rights, integration, and education, civil-rights actors had also won major victories in a push for universal health care. Chief among those victories were two of the defining pieces of 20th-century American policy: the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

Of course, the Civil Rights Act might not seem like much of a health-care bill, and Medicare isn’t usually counted among major civil-rights victories, but as detailed in in health-policy researcher David Barton Smith’s The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health System, they were complementary pieces of a grand civil-rights strategy.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is a piece about the King quote mentioned above.  It is apparently very had to track down and there is no recording or transcript of the speech he delivered on March 25, 1966 to the second convention of the Medical Committee on Human Rights.

Congressional Budget Office: 22 Million People Will Lose Healthcare By 2026

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The Washington Post reports on this.

A few quick thoughts:

  1. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act believe that the free market is the answer to all of our problems.  They are free to believe this.  But they also have to sleep at night realizing that 22 million people will lose health insurance as a result of this bill. It is very difficult to pull a social safety net out from under people once they already have it.  Ideas have consequences.
  2. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will inevitably argue that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is wrong in its conclusions.  OK, let’s grant this point. Let’s just say that the CBO is off by 10 million people.  The GOP defenders of this new bill will have to go to sleep at night realizing that 12 million souls will lose healthcare by 2026.
  3. The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in American society, including seniors and the poor. The GOP defenders of this new bill–many of them say that they value the life of vulnerable members of society–will have to sleep at night.

Katelyn Beaty: Trumpcare is Not Pro-Life

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Pro-Life Rally in Dubin in 2011

Katelyn Beaty is the former managing editor at Christianity Today and currently serves the magazine as an editor at large.  She is pro-life, anti-Trump, and anti-Trumpcare.

Over at VOX she explains her position.

Here is a taste:

As an evangelical who opposed Donald Trump’s presidency, I should be used to a certain political homelessness by now. Most days I’m fine with it. I believe Christian faith is strongest when it transcends the talking points of Republicans and Democrats alike.

But on the topic of abortion, the homelessness comes as an existential crisis — and tempts me to check out of politics entirely.

I oppose abortion because it contradicts the Christian teaching that every life is sacred. Whatever life exists in the womb in its earliest forms, abortion certainly ends it. I believe that a life before birth is self-evidently a life and does not become one only after a woman chooses to call it her child.

But I also believe that abortion is a symptom of — not a solution to — a culture that profoundly disregards women. So I am keenly interested in cultural and political solutions that honor women’s choices while also honoring the dignity of unborn persons. With enough goodwill on either side of the political aisle, I believe we can ensure that every child who comes into the world is welcomed and flourishes long after birth.

But given the deep polarization of US politics, I have lost hope that either party’s leaders want common ground on this topic. Not that long ago, pro-life voices were found on both sides of the political aisle. (Pre–Roe v. Wade, most pro-life activists were political liberals, and Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to favor abortion rights.) Despite wildly different views on the free market or the role of federal government, House and Senate leaders could come together to find compromises, such as restricting taxpayer funding for abortions (1976) or banning late-term abortions (2003).

And she concludes:

This is the opportunity before Republican leaders in their moment of power. It is also the growth edge of the pro-life movement in America. Protecting unborn life must mean more than defunding Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade. Protecting unborn life must at root mean putting our money where our mouth is: enacting programs and policies that make it easier for millions of women to choose life, from pre- and postnatal care to delivery to high-quality child care and education and beyond.

At the very least, for the AHCA drafters this would mean keeping pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care coverage mandatory; retaining Medicaid expansion; and diverting the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood to federally qualified community health centers. (I have ethicist Charles Camosy to thank for these suggestions.) Beyond the scope of health care, it could also mean federally backed parental leave, a child allowance, and more robust financial assistance through SNAP, TANF, and the WIC nutrition program.

These solutions are ones many Democrats could get behind in theory — but only if the party welcomes pro-life leaders and resists overalignment with far-left abortion rights groups. Likewise, Republicans must also be willing to expand federal funding when unborn life is on the line, acknowledging that the countries with the lowest abortion rates also, not incidentally, have the lowest rates of child poverty owing to strong federal support programs.

It’s not enough to be against abortion. I am for life that includes but also extends beyond the moment of birth. I believe the pro-child versus pro-woman dichotomy is a false one unduly perpetuated by both extremes of the abortion debate. And I am waiting for politicians on both sides of the aisle to find political solutions that appeal to a wide swath of Americans.

Until then, I am tempted to check out of politics over disillusionment that Democrats or Republicans care about protecting vulnerable members of society. When partisanship reigns, real political solutions die. And when politics is reduced to winning, then many Americans lose — and are left to find the common ground previously abandoned by our country’s leaders.

Read the entire piece here.  Thanks, Katelyn. Keep writing!

Episode 22: The History of American Healthcare

podcast-icon1On May 4, 2017, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, the first step towards fulfilling the GOP’s promise of “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But already what used to be a winning issue for Republicans appears to be turning against them. This is but the latest shift in a rich history of healthcare in America. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling tackle this politically-charged issue. They are joined by historian Nancy Tomes who just collected one of historical scholarship’s highest honors, the Bancroft Prize, for her book Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers, out now with the University of North Carolina Press.

What the GOP in the House Did Yesterday

Just so we are clear, the American Health Care Act:

  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients. If you want a reliable company that can give you car insurance and many others visit One Sure Insurance for more info.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Produces higher deductibles for patients.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.

This is from Paul Waldman’s piece in The Washington Post.  He wants to hold the GOP accountable.

After the bill passed, you can hear congressmen on the floor singing this:

Slacktivist is also ready for a fight.

A Strange Week on the Abortion and Contraception Front

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Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on some interesting developments this week in the world of abortion politics.

It turns out that the country’s most well-known progressive is defending a pro-life candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.  At the same time, the Trump Justice Department is still defending the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Here is a taste of Shellnut’s piece:

Despite Trump pledging to dismantle Obamacare and to defend religious groups against “bullying” by the federal government, his administration has opted to still stand by the birth control requirement in court.

The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department requested on Monday that a federal appeals court continue to negotiate with Christian schools like East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, and Westminster Theological Seminary for another two months, rather than dropping their case and allowing the schools to continue to not offer contraception coverage per a lower court decision.

The colleges are among many evangelical and Catholic groups—most notably the Little Sisters of the Poor—who challenged the Obamacare requirement that employers’ heath plans include emergency contraception, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other birth control. Some believe that certain methods prevent implantation of an embryo, and others object to all artificial birth control. While exemptions for schools and nonprofits allow them to delegate employee coverage to a third party, theses organizations are requesting the full religious exemption that churches qualify for.

Becket, the religious liberty defense firm representing the two Baptist schools, issued a filing last Thursday requesting the Justice Department drop the cases given the new White House administration’s stance…

While the Trump administration takes an unexpected course on the birth control mandate case, one-time presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders recently made headlines with a twist of his own. The pro-choice Independent supported a pro-life Democrat in Nebraska, spurring debate over abortion’s place in the party’s platform.

Sanders (himself a secular Jew) campaigned for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who is Catholic and pro-life. Sanders defended his decision, saying, “You just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

NARAL Pro-Choice leadership and the Democratic National Committee chairman disagreed, arguing that abortion policy is a fundamental, “non negotiable” part of Democratic identity.

Read the entire article here.