There is still a way for Hillary Clinton to get what she wants. Or at least, what she says she wants: health care for all Americans.
It grows less likely every day that she can win the presidency this year, but there is still enough time for her to make history. If you are a die-hard Hillary backer, it’s time to look at the hard facts. Barack Obama leads in the pledged delegate count, and every effort by Clinton to overcome his advantage has failed.
She fought for a second vote in Michigan and Florida. Party officials and courts in both states rejected the idea. Then Hillary and Bill went after the superdelegates, who haven’t budged. The more brazenly the Clintons court them, the more they turn to Obama. In fact, Clinton superdelegates have begun to switch sides or move to a neutral position. Ominously, there has been no visible movement in the opposite direction.
What remains for the Clinton machine is a choice. They can take every opportunity to tear Obama down or to rejoice in revelations like the recent taped comments in which Obama suggests that bitter working class folks turn to guns and religion for solace in difficult times. Such efforts just make Clinton seem desperate and expose Obama to further dissection, much to the delight of John McCain’s campaign. Or the Clintons can make a deal that will get her something very important in exchange for her support of Obama.
If Clinton is to be believed when she says she plans to take the campaign all the way to the Democratic convention, and fights it out all the way with Obama, she can hardly expect to have much say in an eventual Obama platform. And the plank she has most cared about throughout her political career is health care. So now is the time to change the race once and for all. It’s time for Hillary to prove what she has said all along—that this race is not about her, but about making life better for average Americans.
Question is, what can she get for pulling out?
Many people talk of putting both candidates on the ticket. But a ticket with two northerners, one with very high negatives, both from states the Democrats have a lock on, adds very little, if anything, to the Democrats’ prospects in November. On a personal level you could argue that a Clinton-Obama ticket paves the way for a bright future for Obama regardless of this year’s outcome, but it is harder to argue that Hillary could accept the veep spot and wait for her chance to run again.
After 23 debates, it is difficult to find much substantive difference between Obama and Clinton on domestic issues. Even on the Iraq war, they are virtually in agreement on the future; their dispute has been about the past, the origins of the war. But on one issue—health care—they have a real and measurable difference.
In each debate, Clinton charged, accurately, that Obama’s health care plan would leave 5 percent of the labor force uncovered. And her plan differs from his in one important respect—the mandate to purchase insurance. He contends that government should mandate that all kids have coverage. Adults will come along and sign on—if we can develop affordable plans.
She repeats ad infinitum that the plan should offer all Americans the same health care protection that members of Congress enjoy. But unless everyone is in the plan, says Clinton, the goal of universal coverage will slip away. We need those healthy 20- and 30-something workers in the pool to keep the system afloat. Like it or not, we are all in other government insurance plans: Social Security, workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Without a mandate, there is no system.
Clinton has the better plan. Obama has the votes. So here’s the deal: Obama should change his plan to include everyone, and Clinton can then drop out and stump for him. Come 2009, he can support her effort to reform health care coverage. He gets to be the president, she gets to accomplish what she wanted to do as president.
The Democratic plan is not a single-payer system like the one Canadians enjoy. It is not, as the talk radio hosts love to shout, socialized medicine. It is a fairly modest public policy reform with the potential to vastly change many lives for the better. It is a more efficient, more comprehensive way to buy health insurance, with the government serving as regulator and provider of last resort. It is a way to bring the United States closer to offering its citizens what people in many countries have long taken for granted—freedom from the fear that one serious illness could financially ruin a family.
Through two decades of public life, Hillary Clinton has been known as among the smartest and hardest working of public servants. The rap on her has always come from those who see her as self-interested first and public-minded second. If she puts her desire for meaningful health care reform ahead of her desire to return to the White House, it will tell us, finally, whether she really is in this for us, or for herself.
It will answer the question she always leaves in people’s minds, even people who adore her: Who is this person? As first lady she proposed a major health care reform that few understood and many supported, and Congress did not pass. By finishing second in the presidential primaries she may be given the chance to reprise her health care reform efforts, with the support of President Obama. That would indeed be a public service.