Obama and the Health of the Body Politic

This TOJ supports President Obama's courageous efforts to reform U.S. healthcare. Your good health depends on many factors, including an accessible, high quality healthcare system. Right now that is not what we have.

Since President Obama took the first steps towards the healthcare reform he promised in his campaign, the Big Pharma-AMA-Insurance cartel have unleashed armies of lobbyists in Washington and funnelled millions to cowardly Blue Dog Democrats and fringe elements within the Republican Party. They hope to derail healthcare reform now just as they did in the Clinton era to protect their corporate jets, country club memberships and excessive compensation.

Their job has been made much easier by a mediocre, gutless press that diverts public attention to drug-addicted, dead pop stars and away from pressing healthcare issues that have the potential to bankrupt this country and shorten the lives of our children and grandchildren. The media has failed miserably at this pivotal time and shares responsibility for the loud microphone they have handed over to devious liars, manipulators, and political hacks like Sarah Pallin. She quit the only responsible elected position she ever held, yet she is given national coverage for her non-sensical views on death panels?

Last week I got email from President Obama's organization that he was going to be speaking at a town hall on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is a little over an hour from where we live. The email was a plea for supporters of the President's efforts to show up for a rally to counter the anti-reform protesters that we going to gather there as well.

Having tracked the innane coverage of healthcare reform on both the major networks and the cable channels, I didn't need to be convinced the President needs help. From watching talking heads on split screens, who are paid big bucks to engage for faux-debates as to whether President Obama really has secret plans to euthanize the elderly or intends a Bolshevik takeover of hospitals, it was clear to me that caring citizens must stand together to protect the key elements of healthcare reform, despite all odds.

So on Saturday we headed down I-70 to Grand Junction, and arrived there around 2 pm. We parked and hiked through a weedy field to the rally staging area. It was a hot day, in the 90s, with a blustery, dry wind swirling dust devils (Grand Junction sits on a flat desert irrigated by the Colorado River). Soon there was a person with an Obama sign who directed us to a registration area, where we signed up (no doubt to receive pleas for money to fight an ad war that fuels the very corporate media that has been aligned to defeat true healthcare reform) and given posters to hold up that read, "Standing Together for Health Insurance Reform."

Health insurance reform? We need health services delivery reform. The problem is not about insurance, but fee for service, unnecessary procedures, ridiculous compensation to self-referring specialists, poor quality, hospitals duplicating purchases of high technology that ends up being underutilized, AMA resistance to wider utilization of non-physician providers in order to restrict the supply of medical providers, and a host of other well known issues. Insurance companies stand in the middle of these transactions, taking a big cut, but adding no value. They have no more incentive to lower cost than banks who took a percentage of the mortgage on a bubble-inflated house and caused the collapse of our financial system. If nothing changes, healthcare will have its turn. Look at your bill the next time you visit the emergency room at your local hospital.

But I understand the President has been abandoned by many of his congressional party members who lack the vision and leadership to stand with him on this issue. Steadily they are dragging down his bold agenda. Their focus is re-election, not leadership. So we will probably be left with a patchwork of ineffective minor reforms that, in the long term, will exclude even more people from care.

The President was scheduled to speak at 4 pm. Three hundred yards away you could see the check-in area where 1,000 dignitaries and randomly chosen citizens were undergoing security checks before entering the building. And there were large vans with satellite dishes identified with the usual corporate media logos. Police were everywhere, even on top of the building. I hoped maybe to catch a glimpse of President Obama, but I overheard someone say the last time he was there during the campaign they took him in a back door.

The pro-reform supporters stood several deep on one side of the main road leading to the high school, waving their signs. We had a temporary stage with loud speakers from which a congressman had spoken just before we arrived. He had already left to get through security at the high school. Sometimes the speakers would blare out John Lennon's " All You Need is Love" or Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The pro-reform supports would sway and wave their signs to the beat. One young woman, who had her talking points down, got up and tried to work up the crowd.

A couple of young men held a colorful banner with the message, "Stay Positive."

I climbed on a small pile of dirt to see what the anti-reform contingent had to say and was stunned at what I saw. Across the street was a snarling, angry mob, waving anti-Obama signs with absolutely bizarre, destructive, and incoherent messages, which had nothing to do with healthcare, such as:

Until you see something like that, you don't realize how deeply a certain swath of people just will not accept that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. They are consumed with irrational fear. A woman standing next to me said, "Lord, I wonder if they have guns." Good question. I did notice one thing -- they were all Caucasian, mainly old Boomers and a few kids who looked like skin-heads.

Around 3:30 a helicopter approached and took a swing around the high school and out towards the throng of rallying pro and conners. Everyone thought the President might be aboard and waved their signs upwards, or, in the case of the folks across the street, flipped the bird or waved their fists. But the helicopter soon took off away from the high school, and some resumed taunting each other and moved towards each other with threats so the police had to get in between them.

A friend from up where I live showed up with a sign saying he was a moderate and was standing in the middle of the street, handing out a factsheet of data collected on the internet about how much money is spent on healthcare and our poor rankings on key health indicators such as infant mortality and longevity. A police officer told him to get out of the street.

Eventually a huge jet, with landing lights on and the baby blue markings of Air Force One, passed overhead in a slow, wide turn, off towards the airport. Fifteen minutes later the military helicopter passed over again and hovered here and there around the school, but never set down. We never figured out how they had gotten the President into the building. The Secret Service had done the right thing keeping him clear of this seething mob.

It was after 4 pm. We wanted to hear what the president had to say, but no provision had been made to get his speech broadcast to the rally, so we trekked back through the field to our car, and headed back to I-70. When the radio came on, we scanned until a station came on with his calm, logical voice explaining to the crowd why healthcare reform is so important to the future of our country.

Each day where I work in a community health center, we see how the limitations and inequities of our healthcare system cause economic hardship, physical and mental suffering, and, not to be melodramatic, even death to a growing number of Americans. Someday it might be you or someone in your family, especially if you lose your job or get really sick. Don't rely on media to help you understand what is going on; the media is missing-in-action just like it was during the buildup to the war in Iraq. Your health is not as interesting to them as who will be on the next "Dancing With the Stars." Find out the facts for yourself. Go to http://www.healthcare.barackobama.com/.

As I watched Air Force One circle overhead, I wondered if sometimes it must be hard for President Obama to come back down to earth and face fellow countrymen who are so uninformed and blind to what really matters. President Obama is an enormously talented and bright man, a kind of person who comes along very rarely in public service. History will determine, not if he was up to the job, but if we were. This TOJ still has hope.