The Public Eye: At Last, Liberals Get Angry

By Bob Burnett
Thursday September 03, 2009 - 11:21:00 AM

The 1976 movie classic Network is best known for the scene where deranged newsman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) persuades his viewers to join his rant, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Thirty-three years later, faced with the news that the Obama administration was considering dropping the public option for healthcare, liberals finally invoked their inner Howard Beale and got angry. 

Liberals have been patient for a long time. We slogged through eight years of the Bush administration, beginning with a stolen election. Then there were tax cuts for the rich that plunged the United States deeper into debt. And who can forget 9/11, where Bush failed to protect us. Next his administration let Osama Bin Laden escape and bullied Congress into passing the “Patriot” Act. As if this wasn’t outrageous enough, Bush quit looking for Bin Laden, invaded Iraq, and burdened America with six horrific years of war. We shouldn’t forget Bush’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina. And more recently, his Administration’s lack of common sense that plunged the nation into the worst recession in 70 years. 

Through eight nightmarish years, liberals were remarkably well behaved: none of us carried assault weapons to Bush appearances, accused him of being a traitor, or shouted “kill him” at rallies. 

All the while, liberals yearned for change. Along came Barack Obama, who promised to put the White House in order and right the wrongs of the Bush administration. Obama talked about changing the tone in Washington, reaching across the isle to Republicans. He said he was a pragmatist, that he believed “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.” Liberals believed in these sentiments, and so they cut the new president a lot of slack. They had hope. 

The Obama administration’s first major initiative was the Economic Recovery Act that liberals believed was too modest, did not allocate enough money for job creation. Still, we held our tongues. Then came revelations about Bush administration wiretapping and torture policies. liberals believed an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate these outrages, but the White House held back arguing they wanted to look forward rather than backward. Again liberals backed off. We expected the Obama White House to eliminate the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding sexual preference, but instead the Administration begged for time, said that more study was needed. Once again, liberals acquiesced. 

Then came health care reform—the number one Liberal domestic issue. During the Democratic primaries, we understood that Barack Obama did not believe a single-payer system—an extension of Medicare to cover all Americans—was a viable option. Ever the optimists, liberals backed away from our preferred solution, believing that we could get many of the advantages of a single-payer system if Americans were guaranteed access to a public option, a nonprofit, insurance plan competing with those offered by health insurance companies. 

Liberals believe an acceptable healthcare plan must have four components: 

1. Provide affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans. 

2. Guarantee choice of doctors and health plans. 

3. Cause no increase in the federal deficit. 

4. Reduce healthcare costs. 

Theoretically, the president’s proposal would accomplish all four. 

Liberals have focused on the Obama solution for cost reduction: a Health Insurance Exchange that would offer citizens healthcare options, plans that offer a few different packages. The president promised: “One of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market [to] force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.” 

On Aug. 16, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN the public option “is not an essential part” of reform. Press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that while Obama’s objective of fostering competition and choice was non-negotiable, the specific mechanism designed to do so—the public option—was up for discussion. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, President Obama ad libbed, “All I’m saying is... that the public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform.” 

Liberals correctly interpreted these remarks to mean the Obama Administration was backing away from the public option, abandoning the best hope of reducing healthcare costs. And then a miracle happened: liberals got angry. 

For eight and a half years, liberals have been patient and well behaved. We’ve been good citizens and steadfastly supported a government that often appeared to not care about us. Liberals have patiently listened to the opposition, even when their arguments seemed irrational. We’ve tried to negotiate with those opposed to healthcare reform, even when they shook their heads, stamped their feet, held their breath until their faces turned blue, and refused to consider any change to the existing dysfunctional system. 

At long last liberals have had enough. We’re not going to compromise on the public option. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at