Obama's next health-care challenge

The president must now convince a sceptical US public of the benefits of reform.

Barack Obama has won the most significant victory of his presidency to date. By securing the passage of a bill giving the US near-universal health coverage, he has achieved what eluded every one of his liberal predecessors and has finally dispelled the myth that he is little more than an accomplished orator.

The Republicans (every one of whom voted against the bill) are consoling themselves with the prospect of significant gains in this year's midterm elections. With the polls still showing most Americans against health-care reform, the White House will launch an intensive effort to convince people of the benefits of reform.

The shift in attitudes towards Medicare, which provides health coverage for retired Americans, offers a happy precedent. When the programme was introduced by Lyndon B Johnson in 1965, it was denounced by Republicans such as Ronald Reagan (play this recording) as a measure that would destroy American freedom.

The future president warned that unless the bill was blocked, "One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

But in a sign of how times have changed, Republican members yesterday cited alleged cuts to Medicare as part of their assault on the bill. They have reached the sort of accommodation with Medicare that Obama is hoping today's right will eventually reach with universal care.

As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post points out:

The GOP's embrace of the programme that Ronald Reagan fought, and that Newt Gingrich sought to let "wither on the vine", is based on the lived experience seniors have had with the bill: It has made them more, rather than less, free.

But for those Republicans hoping to win back control of Congress and repeal the bill, David Frum has a refreshing message -- forget it.

Frum, a former speechwriter to George W Bush, writes:

No illusions, please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994-style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to reopen the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to reallow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25-year-olds from their parents' insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there -- would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

It's an extremely cogent piece on how the hard right captured the Republican Party and led it to its own Waterloo. Read it all here.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Momentum vice chair Jackie Walker calls claims of antisemitism in Labour “a weapon of political mass destruction”

The issue was also compared to a “monstrous soufflé” during a tense and often bizarre Momentum debate at Labour party conference.

A two-hour debate hosted by Momentum – asking whether there is antisemitism in the Labour party – grew heated on Sunday evening of the Labour party’s annual conference.

The packed out room, at the campaign movement’s fringe called The World Transformed, was warned beforehand to avoid “bitter incivility of discourse”. Which, translated from the language of Labour conference, means: “Don’t say anything dreadful.”

Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum, argued that antisemitism claims have been “exaggerated for political purposes”, and “the most fundamental aim of such allegations, I suggest, is to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”, and “silence” his supporters.

She claimed that there is “little if any hard evidence” that Labour has a problem with antisemitism, and blamed a “rabidly, anxiously anti-Corbyn” media for using antisemitism claims as a “weapon of political mass destruction”.

“Being offended is not the same as experiencing racism,” Walker added. “Claims of racism have been weaponised . . . Both the chair and the vice-chair [referring to herself] of Momentum are Jewish, and many leading members of Momentum are Jewish.”

(Later an audience member picked up on this theme perhaps a little too zealously. “Trotsky the Jew? Lenin the Jew? What about Zinoviev? What about Kamenev?” he cried, concluding that therefore claims of left-wing antisemitism are “nonsense”.)

Jeremy Newmark, head of the Jewish Labour Movement, clashed with Walker, accusing her of having “perpetuated” the “antisemitic myth” of slave trade collusion (referring to a comment she made on Facebook for which she was briefly suspended from Labour).

She hit back by saying she was “disappointed” in his comment, and had “simply repeated the defamation of his friends in the Jewish Chronicle”, accusing them of racism towards her as a black woman.

Newmark lamented that, “the relationship between our community and the Labour Party has deteriorated”, and “it pains me that a once historic natural alliance [should] dissipate, dilute and disappear”.

He warned those who “want to criticise someone for over-egging” the issue of antisemitism in the party should look no further than Jeremy Corbyn, who called for Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into the subject. “Perhaps you should criticise him.”

It was a tense exchange, which elicited gasps and heckles from the audience. But perhaps less predictable was the description of the Labour antisemitism row as a “monstrous soufflé” by Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, an LSE academic involved in boycotting Israeli universities.

He called it “a monstrous soufflé of moral panic being whipped up”, and warned the audience: “We need to ask about this soufflé”.

“Who are the cooks? Where’s the kitchen? What are the implements?” he asked, before the killer rhetorical question: “Why has this soufflé been cooked?”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.