There was a moment at Monday night’s Democratic presidential debate where Sen. Hillary Clinton expressed frustration that it was hard to have a “straight up” discussion with Sen. Barack Obama because he allegedly keeps shifting his stances on issues. (Bet that’s not the first time she’s said that to a charismatic politician.)
She said that Obama once endorsed a single-payer healthcare system. Obama said he didn’t. The reasons this did-too, did-not dispute matters are twofold.
Clinton is trying to knock Obama’s halo off. It’s hard to be the standard bearer of “change” and a different kind of politics if you’re revealed to be another politician who opportunistically takes up and drops positions like changes of clothes.
Also, advocating single-payer makes you appear way too liberal for even a lot of Democrats. It puts you right out there with Michael Moore, the film maker behind “Sicko.”
So if you did once advocate a government-run system, which is what single-payer means, as a presidential candidate with a real shot at the nomination, it’s not illogical that you might be pull back from that position.
Reporter Laura Meckler has an informative posting on The Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” blog about this whole back and forth between Clinton and Obama in which she reports on the existence of video from 2003 in which Obama says he supports a single-payer system.
Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going at it over health care again, this time over whether Obama once advocated a single-payer health care plan, a system favored by the left wing of the Democratic Party. He says he didn’t. She says he did.
But she has the proof. His comments are on video, from a speech he gave in 2003 to the AFL-CIO. It’s all on YouTube, natch.
On one level, the dispute is sort of irrelevant because, regardless of what Obama said in 2003, the two of them both support a similar approach to insuring Americans today — a combination of government subsidies and new markets where people can buy coverage. (There is, however, a major dispute today over whether all Americans should be required to buy insurance, though given the range of views on this topic, that’s a detail.)
Neither one of them is currently supporting a single-payer system, where — like Medicare — the government would be the sole payer of all medical bills, eliminating the role of private insurance companies. Single payer is controversial, but it’s the best way to ensure that at least all Americans have health coverage. The only presidential candidate to support something like this is Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Single payer is supported by many on the left wing of the party, but it’s not embraced by the more moderate leaders. At a Democratic debate Tuesday night, Clinton accused Obama of supporting single payer and then backing away. Obama flatly denied it: “I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer. What I said was that if I were starting from scratch, if we didn’t have a system in which employers had typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single-payer system. What’s evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions, which is what’s happened frequently during the course of this campaign.”
But Clinton has the goods to back up her claim. In his 2003 speech, Obama said, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America the wealthiest country in the history of the world … cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody … . A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. And as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, we have to take back the House.”
Challenged with the apparent contradiction, Obama spokesman Bill Burton produced three recent examples where Obama did in fact say that he would support single payer but only if we were starting from scratch. And he put out this nasty statement: “The Clinton campaign has shown itself willing to say anything, distort anything and twist anything in order to win an election.”
When asked to respond to the fact that the video shows that in 2003 Obama held a different view, Burton challenged Washington Wire to get a copy of the full Obama speech and suggested that would show his comments were taken out of context. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer provided the full video and it proved Clinton’s point.
Obama tried to use the incident as an example of Clinton manipulating the facts, but it seems clear his campaign is the one doing the twisting. Clinton wants the incident to highlight how Obama no longer supports universal coverage, which she and others believe is not possible without a mandate. On that matter, the debate goes on.
Update: Burton later said that Obama has always been consistent in arguing that single payer health care is a good idea but “is not achievable.”
Clinton blasted Obama in the debate for the “evolution” in his thinking.
CLINTON “…we have seen once again a kind of evolution here. When Senator Obama ran for the Senate, he was for single payer and said he was for single payer if we could get a Democratic president and Democratic Congress. As time went on, the last four or so years, he said he was for single payer in principle. Then he was for universal health care. And then his policy is not. It is not universal.”
Obama retorted thusly:
…Now, it’s fine for us to have a debate about how the best way to get there is, but to suggest somehow that I’m not interested in having everybody covered or to suggest, as Hillary just did that I was in favor of single-payer — I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer. What I said was that if I were starting from scratch, if — if we didn’t have a system in which employers have typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single-payer system. That — what’s evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions, which is what’s happened frequently during the course of this campaign.
That’s not true. As the videotape shows, Obama did in 2003 say he was in favor of single-payer. And right after the part of his speech that’s on YouTube but that I have watched, he says he knows it’s not achievable “immediately” but holds out the promise it could be accomplished if Democrats controlled Washington.
It’s another case of, what do you want to believe, Obama’s statements now or your lying eyes and ears?
by Frank James