Gaius Publius: Obama Got $20 Million from Healthcare Industry in 2008. Was Killing Single Payer Part of the Deal?

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog

One more data point on Obama and the ACA (the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) story before we move on.

Via this comment (thanks Bill_Perdue) from our previous post on the subject — “Unions say Obama betrayed them on ACA rollout“ — we have a dollar amount on the money received by Obama in 2008, just ahead of his 2009 rollout of the ACA, later called “Obamacare,” his signature health insurance proposal.

The amount paid by the health industry to Obama campaign coffers? $20,000,000. Twenty million big ones, in words.

Here’s Raw Story with the story (my emphasis throughout):

Obama received $20 million from healthcare industry in 2008 campaign

While some sunlight has been shed on the hefty sums shoveled into congressional campaign coffers in an effort to influence the Democrats’ massive healthcare bill, little attention has been focused on the far larger sums received by President Barack Obama while he was a candidate in 2008.

A new figure, based on an exclusive analysis created for Raw Story by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that President Obama received a staggering $20,175,303 from the healthcare industry during the 2008 election cycle, nearly three times the amount of his presidential rival John McCain. McCain took in $7,758,289, the Center found.

The new figure, obtained by Raw Story through an independent custom research request performed by the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics — is the most comprehensive breakdown yet available of healthcare industry contributions to Obama during the 2008 election cycle.

While the headline number is pretty interesting, the article goes on to articulate why. It was written in 2010, after the dollar amount became available, but also after the effect of that money became visible. That effect — the ACA itself.

First, look at the breadth of sub-industries who donated:

Health professionals — $11.7 million
Health services/HMOs — $1.4 million
Hospitals/nursing homes — $3.3 million
Pharmaceuticals/health products — $2.1 million
Miscellaneous — $860,411 

The Center’s best estimate of health insurance donation (not included above) is $712,317, but that number looks way low to me, especially considering how things played out.

Did Obama Seek Those Donations Based on a Policy “Preview”?

The usual explanation for these big corporate donations is a variant of “covering their bases” with a prospective winner. This makes the campaign donations essentially a defensive “play,” to borrow Wall Street investor slang. Raw Story:

[W]hen you look at it just on its own merit … Obama definitely has a relationship with the health sector,” Dave Levinthal [the Center’s communication director] told Raw Story. “When you raise $20 million from one group, obviously they’ve curried some favor with you and you have a lot of people in that sector who support you. … People want to be able to curry favor with those who are in power,” he added. “And one way to do that is by making donations to candidates and officials who are represented by the party in power. Or who look like they’re going to win.”

That’s certainly one way to look at it — pre-emptive bribery, or the pay-first plan for access to the new government’s shell-like ear. 

But that street has two entrances. What if Team Yes We Can already knew they were going to “go big” on health care reform — which quickly devolved into “health insurance” reform — before election day? Could they not have gone around to this same industry and asked for the donations, based on some wink-wink heads-up on the 2009 health push?

Notice that the change from pre-election “health care” reform to just “health insurance” reform post-election preserved the profits of the actual health-care industries, whose pricing power would go untouched, while at the same time it hugely boosted the profits of the health-insurance companies, who would end up with a zillion new customers, thanks to the mandate and a neutered public option.

From Norm Solomon, quoted in the article:

We don’t hear so much now about ‘healthcare reform. We’re hearing a lot more about ‘health insurance reform.’ And that is absolutely in large measure driven by the White House. … The funding from the healthcare industry to the Obama campaign, in retrospect, was not misplaced. It appears, based on policy, that those funders are getting what they would’ve hoped for. …

Whichever you believe, the pre-emptive bribery explanation or the pre-election preview of policy explanation, the results were the same.

Did Post-Election Obama Tank Single-Payer, After Pre-Election Obama Praised It?

And then there’s this, from Solomon again:

Let me put it this way. Single-payer advocates literally couldn’t get into the White House. And you have [chief pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and former Republican congressman] Billy Tauzin and Big Pharma and all of these in-depth strategy meetings in the White House in mid-2009 cutting deals.

We’ve heard that before, right? That Obama praised single payer before entering office, and tanked it afterward. Let’s test that, see if there are more sources for the allegation.

First, pre-election Obama, speaking in 2003 as a U.S. Senate candidate:

“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.” (applause) “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. … A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see.

But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”

Interestingly, he was speaking to a union audience, the AFL-CIO. Did they buy it? Yes they did.

Now let’s look at post-election Obama. These two pieces (as well as the union link above) come to us from a recent article in PandoDaily by David Sirota, who quotes other sources. I’ll present both quotes, and let you draw your own conclusions. The first is a statement made to NPR’s Morning Edition in June 2009 by Kathleen Sebelius:

Sebelius: Single-Payer Health Care Not In Plans

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill hammer out legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system this year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that a single-payer option is not on the table. …

Asked if the administration’s program will be drafted specifically to prevent it from evolving into a single-payer plan, Sebelius says: “I think that’s very much the case, and again, if you want anybody to convince people of that, talk to the single-payer proponents who are furious that the single-payer idea is not part of the discussion.”

That seems telling. Then there’s the story that ex-Montana governor Brian Sweitzer told to MSNBC. Here’s MSNBC’s version:

In August 2009, the president traveled to Montana to deliver a speech touting health care reform. His efforts to transform the health care system were then under siege from the tea party movement, which warned of a European-style “government takeover” of health care and spread myths of federal “death panels” to execute the infirm. So Schweitzer raised a few eyebrows when he introduced Obama by declaring his [Sweitzer’s] unabashed love for Canada’s government-run health care program.

[Sweitzer speaking] “Did you know that, just 300 miles north of here, did you know they offered universal health care 62 years ago?” he said. He praised Tommy Douglas, father of the country’s health program, who, he noted, was named in a TV poll the greatest Canadian in history – nine spots ahead of Wayne Gretzky.

Minutes later, the president used his own speech to declare, “I’m not in favor of a Canadian system, I’m not in favor of a British system, I’m not in favor of a French system. What we’ve said is, let’s find a uniquely American system.”…

After the speeches were over, Obama sat Schweitzer down for a private talk. According to Schweitzer, the president said his voice wasn’t helping the health care debate and asked him to step away.

According to another report of the same 2009 event, we find this:

Obama said the majority of people in America get health insurance through their employers, and “we want to build on that. For us to completely change that, it would be too disruptive,” he continued. “Max (Baucus) and I agree, that [single payer is] not the right way to go.”

Max Baucus’s role, and the role of Jim Messina, Baucus’ former aide and Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, is detailed here. It’s not a pretty story.

This is likely not new to many of you, but I wanted to fill in the picture before leaving the subject. All sorts of groups are having problems with the reality of ACA, just as many others are very glad for the improvement in their lives and finances. Whatever your own “on balance” conclusion though, there can be no doubt now what “health insurance reform” was designed to do. And those big campaign contributions, whoever initiated them, tell a big part of the tale.

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  1. LucyLulu

    I think you give Obama too much credit. Obama ay have changed his tune on single payer insurance, or maybe he lied and never wanted single-payer in the first place. Sure he courted the health care sector for donations (the above looks like mostly doctors). Obama raised almost $750 million total. Several industries donated more money than the health sector during the 2008 election cycle.

    However Obama is limited by the legislation that Congress sends to his desk to sign. Obama has had very little luck getting Congress to sign on to any of the other initiatives he has proposed. He seems to be able to generate bipartisan opposition. I don’t buy that he has ever had appreciable influence on Congress. Few presidents do, but Obama more so than most.
    There wasn’t support in Congress from our legislators for universal healthcare. Many Democrats were opposed, as were all Republican Congress members. Obama could have been a fervent advocate for single-payer and fought for his life to see it implemented. He still would have been unable to get it passed. For one thing, the GOP insisted that reform be fully paid for. There wasn’t a means (i.e. the will from our rulers) to provide funds for another entitlement program, for those who are poor, at least.

    OTOH, Congress appears well on the way to finding agreement on an immigrations bill that closes a SNAP loophole that’s estimated to result in 10% funds being fraudulently spent on some who receive help with utility bills. For years Congress has promised to address loopholes in other arenas, e.g. tax loopholes that allow top earners to reduce their liability or corporations to receive credit for offshoring jobs and declare their profits in low tax foreign nations. These other loopholes get press on the campaign trail but go no further. But access to a loophole that benefits the poor is quickly and unceremoniously shut down.

    We have a two-tiered nation of the haves and have nots.

    1. Lambert Strether

      “Obama is limited by the legislation that Congress sends to his desk to sign.” “There wasn’t support in Congress…” “The GOP insisted…”

      These all replicate rather neatly the excuses for inaction in Thomas Franks’ article on the “progressive” hive mind, which ignore (a) the possibility of abolishing the filibuster through the nuclear option*, (b) Obama’s role as party leader, and (c) heck, Obama’s role as President, all of which allow him to shape legislation. They also ignore (d) that Obama campaigned on “hope and change.” The country, when Obama was elected, was desperate for exactly what Obama seemed to promise, and had he and the Democrats risen to the occasion, Obama could have been a second FDR, instead of a third Bush.

      NOTE * Which Reid could certainly have invoked in 2009, when it mattered, instead of 2013 to get a few judges onto the bench.

      1. psychohistorian

        Obama could have also have wound up dead for any moves to take on either the FIRE industries or the medical establishment. I also agree that Congress would not have supported such changes to the way those sectors of the economy are treated no matter how hard Obama tried.

        Look at the recent vote on the Farm bill and cutting Food Stamps. We have sanctioned genocide being implemented here all under the guise of false austerity…..and ongoing control by the plutocrats and their puppet run corporations, banks and governments.

        I certainly hope 2014 is the year that the current social cancer we have starts killing the patient so maybe more will wake up to the fact that it does not have to go that way……or we get increasingly ridiculous militant repression of vast swaths of the populace that turn the world into a massive police state.

          1. rps

            Exactly. Old Hickory was no stranger to death threats from powerful interests. He was asked what his greatest accomplishment was in his two terms of presidency, he answered “I killed the Bank” speaking about the Second Bank of the United States, best known as the second central bank. Then there’s FDR born into a family of commerce, banking and insurance. He enraged his class who still see him as a traitor for raising taxes on the wealthy. There’s many presidents who went against the grain of powerful special interests.

            If anything, Barry is in it for the post-presidency cha-ching;That’s the only change he believes in

            1. Waking Up

              Don’t forget the ten years of Secret Service protection after leaving office which also has a great deal of value.

          2. jrs

            I also don’t see if we’re dealing with “Obama could have wound up dead” that in such a situation it matters much if more do “wake up to the fact it doesn’t have to go that way”. Unless your talking about things more effective than voting (politicians that presumably fear for thier lives) and protesting.

        1. human

          “I certainly hope 2014 is the year that the current social cancer we have starts killing the patient…”

          As this ‘signature’ legislation leaves 10’s of millions uninsured, we already have the consequences you suggest, notwithstanding any number of additional neo-liberal policies already written in stone or pending. Your end game is prescient, enabled by the US Democratic Party, whosoever wrote the agenda!

        2. HotFlash

          “Obama could have also have wound up dead for any moves to take on either the FIRE industries or the medical establishment.”

          I keep hearing that. So what? Any army enlistee faces the same situation. Home of the brave, eh?

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            The Kennedy myth that President’s face is an excuse by supporters who don’t want to hold their guy accountable or acknowledge the cramming so of their celebrity candidate because it would ruin their memories of euphoria.

            1. jrs

              Yep, yep and then in a world where presumably politicians face assasination for taking on big money interests we are offered such weak tea solutions: “wake up” “it doesn’t have to do that way”. Look I know that *activists* face risks. But politicians getting popped off that easily, I’m not that convinced.

              1. hunkerdown

                Hegemony prefers soft power. Would anyone even get close to the levers of power without the permission of their flex net? Besides if you’re the POTUS it would be fairly easy to borrow a few thousand well-compartmented JSOC/DoD operatives to neutralize problem richies and feebs, and to fabricate/plant whatever evidence is necessary to suggest all were compromised by the bête noire du jour, and to create regrettable “collateral damage” as they see fit.

                That none has done so yet suggests that, indeed, there are situational or cultural factors forestalling the application of state violence in the public interest, but not the national (which is another word for “private”) interest.

              2. NotTimothyGeithner

                Even if it were true, Obama had the gall to invoke Lincoln during his coronation ceremony. You might remember Lincoln chose to stay in Washington while the Congress fled, and the non-rebellious states were invaded twice.

                Washington, the real one not the cherry tree guy, was basically an action hero. His basic standing order was if you weren’t following an officer marked by a prominent white feather you were going the wrong way. He had 4 horses shot out from under him and SEVEN, yes 7, hats shot off during the Revolutionary War.

                I just expect better from the President of the United States then whining about the GOP being mean.

          2. Jil

            Whenever I heard that claim from the O-bots I would always say, then you should help Obama out. Don’t allow that poor man to be put in a position where he has to keep on ordering people to go to war, to be killed by drones, to be tortured, to go without healthcare etc. Don’t reelect the man. Save Obama from having to do all these terrible things and more!!!

              1. Jill

                I’m glad! I’d always get the strangest looks for that statement. But really, if you truly believed he was pure of heart and being forced to commit atrocities, wouldn’t you rather he not be forced to bear such pain?

                1. hunkerdown

                  When one gets to the point that projecting purity of heart onto one’s ruling class is the only hope one has, and browbeating others into fealty to that romantic crep is the only actual power one has, … man, that goes past learned helplessness and into Nürnberg territory.

                  Is it time for “those who can, decamp” yet, or is it past time?

        3. Waking Up

          Very few people want to acknowledge or even discuss the fact that Barack Obama was raised from the age of 10 by his maternal grandparents. One very significant result is that he was influenced by a grandmother who was one of the first female bank Vice Presidents. Can anyone ignore how that would shape his beliefs on the FIRE sector? He also attended one of the best private schools in Honolulu? Could that have influenced his policies which are decidedly pro charter/private schools?

          As for his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham received her Bachelors degree from the University of Hawaii in 1967 and finished her doctorate dissertation in 1992. She worked for the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation creating microfinance programs in Indonesia and Bank Rakyat Indonesia.

          It’s time for some people to take off the rose colored glasses about Barack Obama.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Part of the problem, much like Pumas, is the evidence is so damping for Obama’s malfeasance that no one can credibly say they thought he was a fine choice for President.At best, he was a LOT when compared to Hillary. For some reason possibly delusion, I expected more from Congressional Democrats, but most Obama supporters voted for Obama for the same flippant reasons that people they mocked liked W. and Reagan.

          2. JTFaraday

            “One very significant result is that he was influenced by a grandmother who was one of the first female bank Vice Presidents. Can anyone ignore how that would shape his beliefs on the FIRE sector?”

            Yes, they can. They do it all the time. They say “Unlike McCain with his five houses, Obama knows what it’s like to be poor–his mother was on foodstamps, (because she was a permanent student because her mother was one of the first female bank Vice Presidents).”

            I say, “Great! Then send Obama to all the community colleges and tell him to start handing out foodstamps.”

      2. Jess

        Not to mention the fact that after Scott Brown won in Mass the ACA eventually passed on reconciliation with only 51 votes and no supermajority was required.

        1. TimmyB

          Exactly right. Obamacare was passed by the Senate using reconciliation procedures, where only 51 votes were needed to pass it. The bigger betrayal is that the Senate refused to allow a vote on the Public Option when only 51 votes would be needed to make it part of Obamacare. That’s the real question to ask—“Why didn’t the Democratic Senate allow a vote on the Public Option during reconciliation?”

    2. Aaron Layman

      Obama was limited only by his level of will and determination to make a difference. The environment was ripe for change, yet he chose to pursue the status quo. For that reason he deserves all the credit he has accumulated. Obama has proven that we have the best government money can buy. The sellout on healthcare reform was purchased in the same manner as the sellout on banking reform.

      “Our government … teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” Louis D Brandeis

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Well said, Aaron. The accumulated record of neoliberal achievements is overwhelming and undeniable, but the congregation remains mesmerized, transfixed by the golden calf.

    3. Doug Terpstra

      It seems you’ve bought O’s briar-patch schtick, that he really is the lesser evil, well meaning but hopelessly impotent in the face of the naked evil GOP, who would kill him if he kept even one of his promises or put a single plutocrat in prison. The fact is, he never tried at all, despite having the ultimate pulpit. He never really tried appointing anyone to office outside of TPTB, never tried with NAFTA, Gitmo, minimum wage, unions, tax reform, lobbying reform, crime prosecution, whistleblower protection, ending wars, NDAA, Patriot II, settlements in Palestine, OWS, and so on, ad nauseam. The anti-messiah has effectively beguiled and paralyzed the dead liberal class; it’s really our fault after all because we didn’t make him do it.

      1. Ulysses

        Your comment is spot on! We need to stop indulging in magical thinking where obvious fraudsters are viewed as folks who would do the right thing if only the mean old Republicans weren’t so gosh-darned “obstructionist.” Except for a tiny handful of people, the entire political class, in D.C., is fully committed to the neoliberal agenda. This is why only social issues, like gay marriage or school prayer, etc. are actually debated in any meaningful way. Both major parties are committed to austerity for the masses and the upward redistribution of wealth.
        The kayfabe performances– with Ds pretending to preserve the last vestiges of the safety net against R slashers– are so sloppy they are almost entertaining, in a sick sort of way.
        The only bright spot on the horizon is that the American people have awakened to the fact that the game is rigged. Anti-establishment leaders, from the left and the right, will have no problem getting political support. We shall have to see if the repressive authoritarian structures, of the surveillance state, manage to continue successfully disrupting any organized resistance to the status-quo.

        Even the old Cold Warrior Harry Truman recognized the limits of state repression of dissent:
        “Laws forbidding dissent do not prevent subversive activities; they merely drive them into more secret and more dangerous channels. Police states are not secure; their history is marked by successive purges, and growing concentration camps, as their governments strike out blindly in fear of violent revolt. Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

        1. human

          “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy

          1. Code Name D

            If they don’t fight for you when they are in the minority. What makes you think they will fight for you when they are in the majority?
            – Code Name D

    4. Vatch

      Lucy, I think you are correct that the donations from the health industry did not have an effect on Obama’s rejection of single payer. Dealing with multiple insurance companies is very costly for physicians. If their $11.7 million were meaningful to Obama, he would have steadfastly supported single payer. But the donations from the FIRE sector were clearly more important to him, and FIRE includes insurance companies, so in deference to them, he rejected single payer.

      1. Jess

        And you don’t think that single payer would have cut down on the amount many doctors make? Hope you’re in Washington state or Colorado, where that stuff you’re smoking is legal.

        1. Vatch

          You might be correct. However, private insurance companies have already cut the amount that many doctors make, and the doctors have excessive administrative costs keeping up with all of the different rules that each insurance company has.

          1. hunkerdown

            And there’s an entire contracting industry dedicated to dealing with insurance adjusters on behalf of catastrophic claimants, made up of BSNs pushing paper for around $40/hr and billing around $80/hr. Unquestionably, their business interests are NOT served by a simplification of the health care financing system. I would be unsurprised if medical case managers were treated as health professionals according to Opensecrets’ criteria, since they’re not actually insurers, they do deal directly with patients/claimants, and they have nursing degrees.

      2. Waking Up

        Maybe you weren’t aware that the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association were VERY CONCERNED about having any form of “public option”.

  2. fairleft

    The article skips the entire presidential campaign, where the plans of both Hillary and Barack rejected single-payer and embraced either a mandated (Clinton) or non-mandated (Obama) health-insurance subsidy system. I think most of us understood by early 2008 that they were both in the insurance companies’ pockets. Their words and even the incomplete campaign donation data available then showed as much.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Yes, both Democratic candidates in 2008 rejected single payer in favor of the Washington consensus (first test-driven by Romney in Massachusetts) of the sort of “exchanges” we now see in ObamaCare, plus a mandate. The differences between the two were two-fold: First, Clinton was honest about the necessity of a mandate, and even IRS enforcement (!!), where Obama not only was not, but ran Harry & Louise-style ads against Clinton in Ohio, for which Krugman pilloried him. Second, we see that, for that reason, Clinton accepted that care should be universal, as Obama did not.

      * * *

      At the end of the day, these are not major differences; at best, single payer advocates would have had a seat at the table; but at the worst, with a truly universal plan as a starting point, they would have had better field position. We’ll never know.

    2. Code Name D

      I concur. I followed Obama’s healthcare claims very closely during his 2007 and 2008 campaign. At no point did he ever advocate for single payer. Indeed, what he did propose was extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and usually deeply couched in free market language.

      He gave no hint that he promoted RomneyCare either, BTW, which would have likely crippled his chances. At the time, RomneyCare was widely panned by the left, and justly so.

      1. TimmyB

        Obama was pushing the Public Option, which some on the left believed would open the door to single payer later. However, while the House passed the Public Option, the Senate refused to allow a vote on it during reconciliation (when only 51 votes were needed to pass it). Talk about a back-stab.

  3. Hayek's Heelbiter

    I was the first person in in line at Obama’s Jersey City rally in the early days of Obama was nomination campaign.
    He told the story of sitting with his mother on her deathbed, going through insurance forms.
    She was a waitress and had left her previous job and took another one. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, and when she went to her insurance company, they told her that her cancer was so advanced, it was obviously a pre-existing condition, and they would not cover her treatment. She went to her previous insurance company, who told her that since she had left her previous employer, they wouldn’t cover it either.
    Obama’s mother died.
    The entire gymnasium was weeping.
    But then he said something to the effect, “When I am president, I will fight tooth and nail for single payer to make sure every American has affordable health care.”
    The gymnasium went absolutely bonkers. They gave him a standing ovation, with everyone cheering and applauding.
    And then, when the healthcare debate began, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m taking single payer off the table.”
    When he claimed never to have said that he was in favor of it, I went from rabid Obot who had worked tirelessly to get him elected to a sense of complete betrayal (and turned to NC to find out what was REALLY going on behind the curtain).

    1. Lambert Strether

      “Something to the effect” is awfully slippery when dealing with a lawyerly parser like Obama. No disrespect intended, but does anybody else remember (or, even better, have a transcript) of Obama’s “not a dry seat in the House” Jersey City rally?

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Dear Lambert,
        You’re absolutely right. I confess that I was so swept away by emotion that I wasn’t in a very journalistic frame of mind.
        The transcripts should be available somewhere.
        The factual details of his mother’s illness, no matter how shaped or worded, should be fairly accurate

        1. Code Name D

          You’re not alone. During Obama’s campaign, I attended several pro-Obama watch parties. He did on occasion mention single payer – but only to pan it with the next sentence. Never the less – the crowd always cheered. Often so loudly that they wouldn’t even hear the pan.

          I was making videos at the time. So I would go home with captured video and dismantle his speeches. Working it over in minute detail made it obvious how bad his speeches were. And progressives cheered this.

          Going back and watching these again, I am reminded that what he focused most on was the public option. And as you can see here, even then he didn’t really support it.

              1. Vatch

                Here’s what the Wikipedia entry on Ann Dunham says about her illness and death, a couple of years after she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology:

                In late 1994, Dunham was living and working in Indonesia. One night, during dinner at a friend’s house in Jakarta, she experienced stomach pain. A visit to a local physician led to an initial diagnosis of indigestion. Dunham returned to the United States in early 1995 and was examined at the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and diagnosed with uterine cancer. By this time, the cancer had spread to her ovaries. She moved back to Hawaii to live near her widowed mother and died on November 7, 1995, 22 days short of her 53rd birthday. Following a memorial service at the University of Hawaii, Obama and his sister spread their mother’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean at Lanai Lookout on the south side of Oahu. Obama scattered the ashes of his grandmother (Madelyn Dunham) in the same spot on December 23, 2008, weeks after his election to the presidency.

                Obama talked about Dunham’s death in a 30-second campaign advertisement (“Mother”) arguing for health care reform. The ad featured a photograph of Dunham holding a young Obama in her arms as Obama talks about her last days worrying about expensive medical bills. The topic also came up in a 2007 speech in Santa Barbara:

                I remember my mother. She was 52 years old when she died of ovarian cancer, and you know what she was thinking about in the last months of her life? She wasn’t thinking about getting well. She wasn’t thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality. She had been diagnosed just as she was transitioning between jobs. And she wasn’t sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a preexisting condition. I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it’s like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health care system. And it’s wrong. It’s not who we are as a people.

                Dunham’s employer-provided health insurance covered most of the costs of her medical treatment, leaving her to pay the deductible and uncovered expenses, which came to several hundred dollars per month. Her employer-provided disability insurance denied her claims for uncovered expenses because the insurance company said her cancer was a preexisting condition.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          Pick any of his speeches. They are equally vapid with dismissal of good ideas. The 2004 DNC speech was a direct dismissal of Edwards’ Two America’s imagery which was about wealth inequality, the issue Obama talks about now.

          Like the differences between Obama and Hillary on health issues, projection was the order of the day.

          Obama gave a speech to AIPAC, and supporters hailed it as a new call for peace with a new tone when it reads just like W’s West Point speech with the same arguments.

      2. Teejay

        If only someone had a web site with the power and influence to make a story or
        question go viral on the internet.
        Sincerely, put out a query to your blogger list and list of websites: We’re looking for
        audio or video or (confirmable?) transcript of the Jersey City Obama campaign rally in 2008. If it’s out there let’s put or heads together and find it. Strength in numbers!
        Let’s get it.

  4. geoff gray

    in another speech obama said, ” i will sign no bill that doesn’t have a public option. you can take that to the bank.” Ezra Klein confirms that Obama lied to the american people about health care reform. the public option was an ingenious way of moving to single payer. much like medicare and advantage plans–advantage plans were introduced because it was believed that private insurers “managing” health care could lower premiums below medicare premiums. we know how that worked out: the government now pays advantage plans >10% higher premiums. in other words, public plans cut out the middle man and are cheaper. the same thing would have happened with the public option: over time the private inurers would not be able to compete because of the administrative bloat.

    1. jonboinAR

      Man, didn’t they even discuss that early on during the health care debate, that the public option had to be taken off the table because it would put the insurance companies out of business? I’m like, “So what! How’s that a bad thing?”
      But I remember some open complaints by the insurance companies that they would not be able to compete with the public option.

  5. TimR

    “…it hugely boosted the profits of the health-insurance companies, who would end up with a zillion new customers, thanks to the mandate and a neutered public option.”

    So how do they justify raising premiums by fantastic amounts on existing customers? It ***looks like*** a blatant abuse of their now mandatory victims/consumers. Why does nobody call them on this?

    Or do the insurance companies dispute Yves’ statement; would they say ACA is enrolling too many bad prospects and not enough healthy people? (But aren’t their bases covered through government support one way or another, or do they have an argument?)

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I don’t know the specifics, but many of the price tags of ACA were done to appease deficit morons. The deficit is the holy grail in Versailles. The insurers were expecting healthy people to sign up, and insurers have been squeezed for years by HMOs. The insurers needed the new customers to maintain profits. Since ACA was done with a mythical budget number in mind, it’s unlikely the government support will make up for healthy people not signing up.

      The ACA planners expected the economy to magically rebound as well. Like the retailers with huge inventories, every group involved in the debacle magically expected people to have unlimited sources of disposable income.

  6. Jill

    Lucy Lulu and psychohistorian,

    Obama is the person who told Congress to take single payer off the list of what they would consider. Why they did what they were told is not known to me, but it is simply not the case that members of Congress were unwilling to put single payer on the table. When you have Obama banning single payer advocates from the table and arrested at the WH gate for trying to present their plan, one should take notice. Those actions are a clear indicator of Obama’s intent and also, who he is as a human being.

    Obama was a player in the FIRE industry before he was elected. There was a link to that history at NC. He did not change how he acted from before being elected to afterwards. His actions are consistent. His rhetoric did change. The target audience of his public rhetoric was and is voters who need to be fooled. The meaningful speech takes place in private. That speech matches his actions (just as it did w/NAFTA/now TPP). That speech is aimed at the people he serves–those at the top of wealth and power.

  7. ThroxxOfVron


    It’s really that fucking simple. We ALL know it; so, please -just admit it.
    All the butt-sore ideologues and yet still unsatisfied redistributionists contorting themselves into ideological pretzels trying to pretend and defend the ACA is pathetic and shameful and counter-productive.
    “We have to pass the bill to see what’s in it.”
    Everyone who heard that statement and didn’t immediately KNOW that the American Public was getting royally fucked-over by the Oligarchs and Bureaucrats and Rentiers collaborating with each other to skim the American Economy via faux democracy is a god-damned fool.

  8. Mac

    I can understand all the money to Obama. I still fail to think Obama himself had much input to ACA, not that I support him at all, but do think all the work was done by congressional staff and much by lobbyists.
    I do not think Obama has much input on anything, he is just a front man and puppet for the staff he was “given”.

  9. rps

    I remember when Hillary and Obama were running. Hillary openly spoke about Universal Healthcare. Somewhere along the way of her campaign she changed her tune and starting campaigning for Universal Health Insurance. She lost my vote. Obama picked up the Universal Healthcare cudgel shortly thereafter; until, one day soon after -someone took him behind the barn for a monetary lashing. He readily got on the bandwagon campaign for healthcare “insurance”.

    I think what’s most sad, is we have a handful of men and women in public offices who quietly speak about the greater good trying to serve the best interests of humanity but are drowned out by the furies of greed, vanity, gluttony, pride and lust. Ethics, Morality, Integrity and Honor don’t enter the political realm anymore than in the business world. The codes for the greater good over self interests are shunned. The pirates code of Greed is good and It sucks to be you are the codes these destroyers swear their fealty too.

    Is there no Honor? Virtue? Is there no shame? Political obligations for the common good has gone to the wayside. Instead, Dante’s rings of hell are the treasure rings most politicians seek.

    1. jrs

      Not in politics anymore than the business world anymore than academia (see article here on how the frog researcher for instance). Ethics is for little people.

    2. Denise

      At least Clinton came out with a serious, workable health plan, whether you liked it or not. Edwards’ plan was also a serious one. Obama was the last of the three to publish a plan at all, quite late in the game, and it was a joke. It had no mandate and no chance of ever working, and he and everyone else knew it. It was pure pandering to the young. That was when I knew all I needed to know about him. Whatever else you can say about Clinton, she’s a serious person. He is vaporware.

      1. hunkerdown

        When has the content of an advertising/electoral campaign (identical in every way but the product) ever predicted policy outcomes, except in 2012 when the Democratic Party bought Dan Savage and, him being a good 1%er and purchaser of ink by the barrel, actually paid what little he billed?

  10. jfleni

    Perfectly normal and quite believable.

    If you think things will change, just wait to see what Slick Hillary is going to get

  11. Jill

    I found this site listing some of Obama’s bestest ever speeches: “In the 2008 campaign, affordable, universal health care for every single American must not be a question of whether, it must be a question of how. We have the ideas, we have the resources, and we must find the will to pass a plan by the end of the next president’s first term.”

    I also remember that Obama played strongly on his claim about all his small contributions. Presumably, Jamie Dimon gave at least one $10.00 contribution and using the campaign’s overseas donations and accounting system, gave a few more bundles of small contributions as well! :)

    It was interesting to see the amounts actually given even as the campaign touted Obama’s virtue in taking so many small contributions. That was cynical!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Tom Ferguson, expert on campaign finance, say the notion that Obama’s funding came primarily from small donors is a myth. I might be able to track down the details.

      1. Gaius Publius

        This might help (embedded links at the source):

        Drawing on data from the Obama campaign, some media accounts have suggested that grassroots fund-raising is replacing the traditional technique of soliciting big checks from rich people. A front-page story in Saturday’s Times featured the headline: “Big Donations Drop Sharply for President: Campaign is Relying on Smaller Gifts.” That is certainly what the Obama campaign would like people to think: scrappy Barack, the defender of ordinary Americans, is relying on small donations from waitresses and factory workers to take on big bad Mitt and his fellow-members of the one per cent. But this isn’t the full picture.

        Obama has certainly raised a lot more money in small donations than Romney, who has had a hard time attracting any. But soliciting donations from non-wealthy Americans is just part of the President’s fund-raising efforts—and a relatively small part. Even now, his campaign is raising most of the money it will rely on in the election from rich people. The President’s big donors haven’t disappeared for the 2012 campaign. By some measures, there are more of them than ever. You just need to count them properly.


  12. Jill


    It would be really interesting to see that information. While it appeared true that many people did give small donations, the campaign (and newz outlets) played that up as Obama’s major source of money.

    I noticed they didn’t even bother with campaigning on small pledges in 2012. However, I saw multiple “personal” pleas from the Obamas to send whatever you could, even if it was only $5.00. That really bothered me because if someone only has $5.00 to give, it should not ever go to Obama for his campaign.

  13. aint No

    For what its worth I don’t think Obama has changed since day one of his political career. The hope&change Obama promised was always of a non-political nature. It simply meant that by electing a black/bi-racial person President, America would be—miraculously— transformed.

    To that end, Obama and his people were also clear in their assumption that it was precisely because of his natural conciliatory style that Obama was the first serious black candidate who could actually get elected. Because he could . . . “bring us together.” And again, that’s how he’s— attempted—to govern.

    Policy wise however, Obama always seemed to me like a straight forward Clintonista; that is a 90’s style, “liberal neo-liberal.” And my guess is he’ll sound a lot like the old reprobate in retirement as well.

    1. hunkerdown

      “The hope&change Obama promised was always of a non-political nature”

      Ah, you mean “identity politics”, the Democratic Party’s flagship product on the retail side. When the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, who needs a toolbox? Expect the same with Hillary, and expect NOWWW and other neoliberal aristocrats hiding behind “women’s organizations” to shout down populists, as previewed in the New York mayoral race and analyzed previously on this very site.

      Maybe 1/20/17 is the outside limit on how long one has to decamp.

    2. Mac

      I do not think Obama has changed his political nature which was and is promote Obama.
      He was picked by the Democrats because he was a good looking, well spoken black man who would serve to let many vote for him to prove to themselves that they were not prejudiced.
      What you see and hear is the product of his staff and that plan.

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