Last night we witnessed once again the power of Barack Obama's rhetoric. After eight years of George W. Bush, it is refreshing to hear once again a firm command of the English language; but a command of the language does not directly imply a command of the issues. The primary objective of Obama's rhetoric was to "sell" the White House Press Corps (and, by extension, those of us who follow the news they report) on the urgent need for his health care reform package to be passed as law. He pulled out all his guns to convince us that he understood the problem and had proposed a solution that would significantly alter the current system, which appears to give more attention to shareholders than it does to either doctors or their patients. Nevertheless, from a strictly logical point of view, one can almost always be highly convincing about even the most patently false propositions. Thus, any examination of rhetoric must also examine the motives behind the rhetoric, whether it involves a lawyer doing his job in defending a client (without necessarily knowing whether that client is really innocent) or a public figure speaking out on a major social issue without our knowing who actually paid for his bully pulpit.
This is the context in which we must read Sharon Theimer's Associated Press report about White House meetings with key representatives of the health care industry. Only by bringing motive into the picture can we realistically speculate over whether Obama's plan will reform health care back into the domain of the public service that every other industrialized nation in the world recognizes it to be or whether it is the sort of lipstick-on-a-pig that will allow those concerned with nothing more than numbers on balance sheets to maintain their status quo while the rest of us get sedated with the illusion that things are finally going to change. An understanding of motive may even help us to get to the bottom of the counter-argument posed to those who voice their suspicions to Obama's proposal: "It's only a first step, but we have to start somewhere." Some reforms cannot be achieved through a series of steps. (Think of Great Britain deciding to drive on the same side of the road that Americans do.) Those of us who voted for Obama for the change he promised now need to recognize whether or not he is delivering change where we need it or just selling us on illusions the way just about every other politician does.