Thu, Sep 03, 2009 - Page 9 News List

US healthcare reform needs a shot in the Left

It isn’t that the Right is organized on US healthcare reform, rather that the Left isn’t. But there’s still time to make amends

By Gary Younge  /  THE GUARDIAN

A thousand demonstrators gathered at North Carolina’s capitol on Saturday to support US President Barack Obama’s proposals for universal healthcare. In one of four rallies across the state, some carried placards stating “If it’s broke, fix it” and “Insurance profits bad for my health,” while ironic “Billionaires against healthcare” strode the grounds in top hats, carrying fat cigars and glasses of champagne as they mocked their enemy. Across the street stood 50 counter-protesters with signs saying “Socialism is an Obamanation,” “Revolution is brewing: 2010” and “Not ready for Obama’s communist America.”

In between stood a statue of Confederate general Zebulon Vance with the inscription: “If there be a people on Earth given to sober second thought [and] amenable to reason ... it is the people of North Carolina.” Given the fistfight that broke out at a local town hall meeting on healthcare recently, that claim is, at best, debatable.

With Congress about to return to work, the struggle for healthcare reform is reaching its most crucial and intense phase. Opportunities for a Democratic president to overhaul the system while his party has commanding control of both houses of Congress come around once in a generation — if that. Yet over the last few months the momentum has been slipping away. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll shortly before summer, 53 percent of Americans approved of how Obama was handling healthcare reform against 39 percent who did not. Today, 50 percent disapprove and only 46 percent back him. To get through Congress any bill will inevitably contain compromises. The issue is who will need to be placated and what will have to be surrendered.

Faulkner Fox, an organizer for Durham4Obama, knew there would be times like this. From the moment she started campaigning for Obama during the primaries she has provided unstinting but never uncritical support. After Obama took North Carolina by a hair’s breadth in November — the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter — she demanded that the campaign leave its data so the local group could continue organizing.

In January, before the inauguration, she called a meeting to talk about what they should do next. She expected around 40; more than three times that number showed up.

“We had brought together this very diverse brilliant group of people and it was clear to me that this should not stop on 4 November. We could not let those people go back into the woodwork. We had to keep going. We never thought Obama would do all the things we wanted to do and we always knew that we would have to pressure him to get some things done. That’s how politics works,” she said.

When trade unionist and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph demanded that president Franklin Roosevelt integrate the military, Roosevelt responded: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”

Here they are, making him do it.

They formed working groups and started organizing. Michael Pearlmutter, who co-chairs the healthcare committee, provides a daily digest of the day’s healthcare stories. One of their principal targets is Senator Kay Hagan, who swept in on Obama’s coattails but has since dragged her feet on all the major votes. A moderate Democrat in a conservative state, she is anxious to find ways to cover her right flank. Ask the pro-healthcare demonstrators at the capitol how they think she will vote and they shrug. But Faulkner, Pearlmutter and their fellow activists have given her little wriggle room.

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