Answering your questions about Obama's speech

Why Democrats are so quick to compromise, what will happen to Joe Wilson and more


Alex Koppelman
September 10, 2009 10:30AM (UTC)

A big thanks to everyone -- from War Room readers to the Open Salon community -- who wrote in with questions for this, a little experiment in having a chat with our readers about President Obama's speech to Congress Wednesday night. If we didn't get to your question, our apologies -- it's been a long night, and we couldn't get to everyone. But if your question is especially pressing, or you have something you didn't get to ask before, you can put it in the comments section of this post and we'll try to answer it later.

War Room reader dannyken asks: I'm in the UK, so forgive me if this is a beginner's question. It seems to me that the Democrats go out of their way to make legislation acceptable to Republicans when they're in power, but Republicans don't return the favour when they are in power. Why is this?

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Well, dannyken, I see that some of your fellow readers gave pretty good answers to this question already. But they didn't quite get to the heart of the matter.

Preliminary studies have shown that, as children, Democratic politicians tended to be beaten up for their lunch money on a regular basis. Already cowardly by nature, they quickly learned that it was easier just to give up the money and curl into a frightened ball with little or no bladder control than it was to put up a fight.

Isn't science great?

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Open Salon user Ben K. e-mai ls: What's going to happen to Joe Wilson, the Republican who called Obama a liar? It'd be great if Democrats could use this to beat him in 2010.

That's not likely to happen, but it's not impossible, either. Wilson will have all the normal incumbent advantages, and this story is about a year too early to really help his challenger, Democrat Rob Miller. Plus, Wilson represents a pretty solidly Republican district in South Carolina, a red state. If working as an aide to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond and insulting a colleague over the war in Iraq -- he called Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif.,  "viscerally anti-American" -- didn't keep him from elected office, this probably won't, either.

That said, in 2008, Miller gave Wilson the toughest fight he's had so far. Of course, Miller still lost by eight points -- that does look pretty good compared to the 26 point margin the congressman racked up back in 2006, true, but it's not exactly a close race, either.

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The Democrat is getting a boost right now, though, with about $70,000 in donations to him pouring in between Wilson's outburst and this post. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Wilson's fundraising go up temporarily, too, as conservatives on the Internet organize to defend him.

War Room reader Minneapolitan asks: I pay for two-thirds of insurance premiums for several employees. This is becoming increasingly costly for our small business. How will this "insurance exchange" save money for small businesses? Is this the "public option" that President Obama is now talking about? This is confusing.

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No, the public option and the insurance exchange are two separate things. The idea of the insurance exchange is that, by being pooled with a lot of other small businesses and individuals, you'll have more leverage and will be able to get a better deal from insurance providers, the same way that large companies can negotiate better deals now. Supporters of the idea also say it would benefit consumers because it would give more opportunity for comparison shopping.

If a public option is included in the final legislation, and that bill becomes law, it would be part of the exchange. Put very simply, think of the public option as another health insurance provider you'd be able to choose from, but run by the government, and not for profit. (Not everyone would be eligible to participate in the exchange, though, or the public option.)

Open Salon user shawn disney asks: Health care is a problem that is incredibly complicated in the US ,although dozens of other modern countries have solved it handily. What does that tell you about the US? I believe it is a natural result of "diversity"; because we have attempted to "assimilate" so many people of varied cultures, (and failed), we are left with no consensus about the "People" the Constitution talks about ...

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Well, I think you're wrong about assimilation, and I think about the reasons that the United States' diversity has been a problem for passing things like universal healthcare, but there's something here worth considering. If you look at the Nordic model -- countries with really robust social welfare states, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden -- they all have pretty homogeneous populations. And then if you look at the town hall protests recently, the protesters there have often been fighting for their own entitlements, like Medicare, even as they argue against government programs for others. It's just human nature to want to make sure you're taken care of yourself first. So maybe in a situation where everyone else in the country looks like you, it's easier, subconsciously, to accept the money given to them. But it's a different story when we start feeling that some sort of "other" is going to benefit at our expense.

War Room reader had_enough asks: I think it might be salutary to go back over the real reasons Obama sacrificed Single-payer, or Medicare-for-All, before negotiations ever started. His stated reasons (tradition, disruptive, etc.) are profoundly disengenuous, and the first real evidence that Obama was a corporate shill, in my view. So, if the War Room could explicate why Obama didn't just go all in for Medicare-for-All from first to last, I think that would be helpful ... He had a genuine chance to blow open this mess once and for all and he sacrificed it on the altar of... something. What was that something?

A chance at passage.

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I don't mean to be flip, but that's really what it comes down to. The public option is in enough trouble right now; there's just no way that single-payer would pass right now. (In my interview with him, Jacob Hacker, the Yale professor generally credited with inventing the public option, says the same thing.)

I think Obama really does deserve more credit than you're giving him here. He may believe, personally, in single-payer and see it as the best possible option -- I don't know -- but he hasn't given it up to help corporations. There was just no chance a proposal for single-payer would go anywhere right now.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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