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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Obama’s State of the Union Address
Posted on Jan 28, 2011
The fact is, we have a society deeply divided over real stuff. We have people who shamelessly paid themselves, what, $15 million a year while they’re impoverishing other people. That’s not going to be … we can’t just sing “Kumbaya” and hold hands. You have the banks being made whole by the government with taxpayer money and then ripping off the taxpayers. We can’t just overlook that! You know, there are hard choices to make. And Obama did not address a single difficult choice. Yes, I will give him one … a couple of points of credit. Let me be a little more balanced. I thought mentioning gays in the military and saying, you know, we’ve got to be over that—that was good. Although he had to put a caveat in there that we’re no longer going to be able to debate recruiting on campuses, and militarism on campuses—we have to give that up. I don’t like that; it’s an infringement on free speech and our right to challenge military recruiting.
And he patched together a speech, or his writers did, that had something sounding good for everyone. And while you’re watching a speech, it’s very difficult not to say, “Yeah, I’ll check off that one, I like that one.” Yeah. Who wouldn’t want health care that will allow all of us to get insurance, no matter pre-existing conditions, if we can keep costs down, and if the medical industry is happy and the consumers are happy, and we’ll all work on that—that’s fine. But if you ask the question how we’re going to keep costs down, which is a legitimate question—a question that even the tea party people, Republicans are asking—it’s a legitimate question. And the fact is that Obama’s health care plan does not have a provision for keeping costs down, because he rejected a public option, rejected any kind of governmental cost control, rejected an extension of Medicare.
If we had had a health plan that said, “Let’s extend … or put Medicare down to 55 years,” that would have been a big improvement, because Medicare can control costs. But there’s no real cost control here, and I’m afraid that the health care, for all of its good qualities … and it is important that we be able to insure our children up to a certain age; it’s important that we not deny health care when you lose your job, or pre-existing conditions; those are real common-sense achievements. But yes, if you can’t control costs, then you haven’t accomplished very much. And I’m afraid there is nothing really in this health care plan that goes to that issue. But what he did in his speech is he just said, “Boy, everybody wants good health care.” Yes, everybody wants good health care. And he said, “I’ll work with you on the defects.” Well, that’s wonderful, but will he really take them on? And the fact is he didn’t, in the creation of the health care plan; he didn’t take on the for-profit health care industry that got what it wanted.
Anderson: Well, here’s a suggestion from within our own Truthdig team, which is that we ask you what you thought of Obama and the Chinese president’s visit?
Scheer: Yeah, I thought this was a strong moment for Obama. I think he … look. I think Obama is obviously better than many of the alternatives. Don’t get me wrong. And the fact that he’s not willing to … he has, at times, flirted with the bait China, “hold the Chinese responsible,” card, which Republicans and Democrats do. The good thing about this visit is he was willing to treat the Chinese with respect, which they deserve. That doesn’t mean you give them a blank check; that doesn’t mean you don’t criticize their human rights record. And in fact, one of the great achievements of that visit is the Chinese leader—Chinese leader! In public! Now, unfortunately, it wasn’t reported in China the way we would have hoped—but in public, in front of the world, said, “We need to work on our human rights.” That was an incredible, incredible victory. When is the time when an American president has said that, we need to work on human rights? That was a real achievement.
And I think the resistance of the impulse to demonize China, to look for scapegoats … the fact is, it was the U.S. economy that messed up the Chinese economy, not the other way around. It was the U.S. economy that messed up the Greek economy, and the Spanish economy, and threatened the German economy and the English economy. It was our banking policies—we are the culprits in this thing. Our Wall Street geniuses are the people that caused this international crisis. Now, the Germans and the Chinese have come out of it better than we have. But we can’t demonize them; we can’t blame this all on their currency or something. They’re going to try to do as well as they can, and they have a lot of people, a lot of mouths to feed. They’re going to try to … we’ve always jiggered currency, we’ve always jiggered trade to protect our own people; let’s not kid ourselves. So what they’re doing is, they say, hey, we can’t have riots in the street, we’ve got … hundreds of millions of people are going to be very unhappy with any of the slightest little drop here. And so they have protected their interests, and like the Germans, seem to be coming out of this nightmare that we created, you know, in better shape.
But I think it was a real achievement of Obama to embrace the Chinese, to treat them as equals, to not demonize, and yet to reserve the right to criticize things that are universally important, like human rights, yeah. So I thought it was a masterful—let me be very pro-Obama on this—I thought it was his best moment in foreign policy; it was masterful. So I don’t always want to criticize … look, I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. I take no joy in being a naysayer. I know we have people who comment and say, “God, you just love to be in opposition, you just love to be critical. …” I don’t. Trust me, I would rather go sailing today with our managing editor, who happens to be my son, Peter, and say, “Hey! The world’s in great shape. We don’t really need to put out Truthdig. We don’t need to be sounding the alarm. You know, let’s just go sailing! It’s a beautiful day in Los Angeles. You know, we have this little sailboat, let’s go out there, let’s enjoy it.” I’d love to just think, “Hey, let’s have a great lunch here, you know? Let’s take the whole Truthdig staff down to the beach, and we’ll go have lunch. Our work is done. We’ve got a great president, he’s solving our problems, and we should shut up for a while.” But the problem is that a lot of people are hurting around the world, and it would be irresponsible for us to shut up now. We can’t do that.
Anderson: Well, we’ll have to at least cut this off for the short term, or else you’re going to clock into overtime here. But thank you for your participation.
Scheer: All right. And by the way, thank you, Kasia, for doing this great job, and for being one of the two or three leaders of Truthdig.
Anderson: You’re welcome, Bob. Can I go sailing now?
Scheer: Yes. [Laughter]
Anderson: So thanks, everyone, for your questions, and we’ll look forward to the next live chat with Robert Scheer.
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