Action Speaks!, the always-enlightening panel discussion series at the Providence art space AS220, is back at it with weekly chats through the end of October.
In the spring, as Phoenix readers may recall, the series focused on the politics and psychology of economic failure. This month, Action Speaks! picks up where it left off, looking again at our bout with finan-cial ruin and asking a simple question: what now?
The series, as always, focuses on underappreciated dates in American history as a spur for conversation on current affairs. WSBE (Channel 36) will screen relevant films the Monday before each forum and WRNI, the local NPR station, airs an edited version of the discussion the second Sunday following the live event.
The first discussion, “1993: The Creation of Hillary Clinton’s Taskforce on Health-Care,” will focus on President Clinton’s failed attempt at health care reform and identify lessons for the Obama Admini-stration.
The event, free and open to the public, is set for October 7 at 5 pm at AS220, 115 Empire Street, Providence.
Panelists include Dr. Joseph Chazan, a practicing nephrologist and professor of medicine at Brown University, T.R. Reid, the author of nine books including The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care, and Theda Skocpol, a sociologist and political scientist at Harvard University and author of Boomerang: Clinton’s Health Security Effort and the Turn Against Gov-ernment in US Politics.
The Phoenix, a co-sponsor of the Action Speaks! series, caught up with Skocpol for a Q&A via e-mail. Below, an edited and condensed version:
PRESIDENT OBAMA IS STRUGGLING TO WIN HEALTH CARE REFORM. WHAT HAS BEEN HIS BIGGEST MISTAKE TO DATE AND IS IT FIXABLE?
Obama and his advisors were surprised by the virulence of the right-wing attacks over the summer, I think. In the long view, liberal reformers aim to get universal health insurance every ten to twenty years, and they always think a rational case for re-form will prevail. They argue, correctly, that universal health coverage would help the US economy be more efficient and internationally competitive, and would help all Americans be more productive, and prevent economic catastrophes for many families that must cope with illnesses. But the rational arguments are never enough, because opponents of government regulation and spending gin up extreme attacks, pointing to threats of foreign-style totalitarianism.
Reformers never seem ready to counter the extreme attacks, or to mount emotional arguments of their own. This happened again this time to the Obama administration and Congressional Democratic leaders.
Obama was also vulnerable to counter-attacks because he chose to let Congress take the lead — which produces many bills not easy to summarize in public arguments — and because he let Senator Baucus delay for months trying to work out “bipartisan compromise” in the Finance Committee.
This really was unfortunate, because it allowed opponents of change to have a field day for many weeks, and because Democrats have to face the fact that Republicans do not want real reforms.
WHAT IS THE PRESIDENT DOING RIGHT ON HEALTH CARE?
He has the trust of the majority of the public because of his clear and sober presentations about the shortfalls of the current system. Even though many Americans, especially senior citizens, remain uneasy about reform, they trust Obama much more than the Republicans — and are ready to blame the Republicans if reform fails alto-gether. So Obama retains considerable leverage to shape and explain a final reform package.