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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

Public betrayal?

COMPROMISE is an essential element of politics, but supporters of President Obama s vision for health-care reform now have reason to wonder whether his plan will be bled to a condition of futility and impotence one compromise at a time.

This past weekend, the administration made clear that the President is prepared to jettison the public option, an alternative government insurance program similar to Medicare that would serve the nation s millions of uninsured. Conservatives have cited it as a prime exhibit in their opposition to socialized medicine.

But that suggests more trouble. The very fact that the single-payer system, which Mr. Obama once supported, was not seriously considered was itself a compromise to political realities born of the socialized medicine bugaboo. Where did that get Mr. Obama? Nowhere.

Having been condemned as a socialist and Marxist for a plan that was neither, Mr. Obama is unlikely to catch a break from critics who are very much invested in the dysfunctional status quo and who see this as an opportunity to bring him to his political Waterloo, as Sen. Jim DeMint, (R., S.C.) has obligingly admitted.

That a public option is so feared in some quarters is revealing; it subverts the notion that private enterprise is always more efficient than the government. If so, why do its critics fear its presence as an option? Maybe because, like Medicare, it will become the trusted support of millions.

We the people vote for governments; we do not vote for private insurance companies, which under this compromise will be left on the field uncontested, despite having enriched themselves in helping bring the nation to its present sorry predicament, one where coverage is denied because of pre-existing conditions or canceled or too expensive for millions to afford.

To fill the void left by the prospective abandonment of a public option, the administration is saying it would be open to consumer-owned, nonprofit co-operatives that could compete with private insurance companies. We won t dismiss this suggestion out of hand, but we challenge the idea of any compromise at all.

The Duke of Wellington stood his ground at Waterloo and took everything the enemy threw at him before advancing to victory. If he doesn t want to be the Napoleon of health-care hopes, Mr. Obama has to find the fortitude to do the same. Despite the polls, millions of Americans are at his side, looking for that leadership.

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