April 7, 2010

Salon.com Editor Offers Constructive Criticism of Obama on Healthcare

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Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon.com, spoke about the lessons Obama should have learned from the health care bill. Wednesday’s talk, sponsored by the Cornell Democrats and The Cornell Progressive, attracted a heavily-Democratic audience.

President Barack Obama’s push for Republican support for the recently-passed health care reform law jeopardized the bill, according to Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon.com. Walsh, whose talk Wednesday was sponsored by the Cornell Democrats and The Cornell Progressive, spoke about the lessons Obama should have learned from the health care bill.

The event had a partisan showing. No one admitted to being a Republican when Walsh asked if any where present.

“I’m a little disappointed to see President Obama leading, once again, by compromise,” Walsh said. Obama must learn to work with the votes he has rather than reaching across the aisle to get Republican votes that do not exist, she said.

“I think we need to talk a little more,” Walsh said. She felt that neither political party was properly employing the idea of bipartisanship. The two parties treat it as a strategy to appeal to voters and not a means of passing legislation. Until they use bipartisanship to focus on legislation, Obama will not be able to get Republican support, she said.

Terry Moynihan ’11, treasurer of the Cornell Democrats, agreed with Walsh.

“[Obama] spent too much time looking for bipartisanship that wasn’t there,” Moynihan said.

Walsh expressed disappointment that Obama and Congressional Democrats did not widely publicize the potential benefits of the landmark health care bill until shortly before its passage, citing a poll that found that the majority of working class Americans, who would benefit from the bill, thought it would not help them.

“[Congressional Democrats] really did a poor job of explaining why it needed to be passed,” Jake Welch ’11, a member of the Cornell Democrats, said. He said that he did not find out about important aspects of the issue until after the bill’s passage, including that the previous law allowed insurance companies to reject children with pre-existing conditions.

Walsh said she hopes that Obama will learn from the struggle over healthcare reform because although the bill passed into law, “he’ll be in peril again,” she said. His primary lesson is that Democrats alone must pass bills because Republicans are not willing to cooperate with him, she said.

Walsh also addressed concerns that Obama has not lived up to campaign promises.

“We all had our own private Obama,” she said, referencing the famous red, white and blue “Hope” poster of Obama created by Shepard Fairey.

“The movement was too much about him,” she said. According to Walsh, some volunteers campaigning for Obama in 2008 were instructed to speak only about change and doing good rather than issues.

Obama’s charisma gives him “the capacity to be a chameleon,” Walsh said, which “is good for a candidate but not for a president.”

Walsh also spoke out against political debates and talk shows, like The O’Reilly Factor and Hardball.

“It’s like reality TV; it’s like Survivor or NASCAR,” she said. Walsh has frequently appeared on those political shows — especially recently — to discuss health care reform, and she bemoaned the fact that she was never asked to discuss the main points of the law. She said the hosts only wanted to debate partisan issues like abortion and death panels.

“There are parallel media worlds with little crossing over,” Walsh said. She cited a study that reported most members of the conservative Tea Party movement only get their news from Fox News.

Walsh also criticized the Tea Party, calling it a “fringe movement” and saying that many members are motivated by racism.

Terry Moynihan agreed with Walsh’s accusation. “When you say things like ‘I want our country back,’ it seems pretty racial to me.”

“[They] don’t have any consistent platform … [and] are just angry,” Jake Welch said, comparing the group to “children.”

Michael Schillawski ’10, president of the Cornell Democrats, praised Walsh for her constructive criticism of Obama.

“It’s important, as well as healthy,” Schillawski said, “That Democrats and members of the progressive movement are skeptical of President Obama and don’t fall into an echo chamber.”

We expected a “thoughtful analysis of the progressive movement” when we invited her to speak, Schillawski said. He felt that Walsh lived up to this expectation.

“We tried to mold [the topic] to make it as current as possible,” said Andrew White ’12, one of the event’s organizers. White said he went to high school with Walsh’s daughter, providing the connection through which Walsh was first contacted in November.

“We wanted a topic students were interested in,” White said.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky