Fair warning. This is likely to be a long, rambling, brooding blog post. Even Tigger gets depressed from time to time, when the half acre wood is no longer offering its customary delights.
The news leaking out of the White House is that Obama has ruled out drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but is still debating the requests by the military for troop increases. I have the sinking feeling that he has wandered into that quagmire, and cannot bring himself to take the bold, unpopular, but ultimately politically wise step of winding it down. I think Judith Baker is right, but I also think that there is simply nothing I or others like me can do about it.
It would take a president possessed of divine arrogance to cut our losses. I think Obama has many impressive traits of character, and many gifts of intellect, but that sort of arrogance is, I fear, not one of them.
At the same time, the health care reform effort is stumbling toward a moderately satisfactory conclusion. There will be a bill. It will be a massive improvement on what we have now. It will have something that looks like a public option in it. And it will essentially leave the inefficient, dysfunctional, unsatisfactory American health care delivery system intact.
I do not at all blame this one on Obama. He has handled himself with enormous skill in this effort, and he will be rewarded with a better bill than could have issued from the efforts of any other politician in America today. In this case, the problem is that the source of the dysfunction is not characterological but structural. The decision made at the end of World War II to tie health care to employment, a decision that worked pretty well for three or four decades when lifetime employment by a single employer was much more common, has left us with a vast system of insurance companies, HMOs, capitalist drug companies, and pay for play doctors that now yields inferior results for an exorbitant price.
[Footnote: My French cousin, Andre Zarembowich, retired Physics professor and, like me, a man of the left, tells me that the French system that is so often cited as an example in these debates actually owes its existence to the power and influence of the French Communist Party at the end of the Second World War. So the Republicans who call reform proposals socialistic are essentailly right. What they neglect to mention is that in this case, socialism has yielded a far superior result. Why am I not surprised?]
It was Marx who taught us that revolutionary change occurs when, as he put it, the new order grows in the womb of the old. That is how capitalism displaced feudalism, and it is how Marx hoped and expected that socialism would displace capitalism. To think otherwise is to fall into what Engels labeled "utopian socialism," for which he and Marx shared a contempt with the naysayers of the right. There are many interesting new formations growing in the womb of capitalism, most obvious among which is the transformation of information dispersal and authority structures by the Internet. But nothing remotely resembling such nascent change can be seen in the health care delivery sector of the American economy. That is why the entrenched interests have such an easy time of it resisting reform, and why the reforms proposed so often have the air of utopian fantasies.
I said, a few days ago, that I was tired of being perpetually angry. I also long to be able to hope. How long, O Lord, how long?