HALFWAY MEASURES….I don’t want to jump all over Barack Obama before he has a chance to present his ideas in a serious way, but can I just say that I found his healthcare speech today distinctly underwhelming? He starts out with his trademark high-flown rhetoric (“Plans that tinker and halfway measures now belong to yesterday”) but then we get to this:

If we brought our entire health care system online, something everyone from Ted Kennedy to Newt Gingrich believes we should do, we’d already be saving over $600 million a year on health care costs. The federal government should be leading the way here.

….Another, more controversial area we need to look at is how much of our health care spending is going toward the record-breaking profits earned by the drug and health care industry.

….We also have to ask if the employer-based system of health care itself is still the best for providing insurance to all Americans. We have to ask what we can do to provide more Americans with preventative care, which would mean fewer doctor’s visits and less cost down the road. We should make sure that every single child who’s eligible is signed up for the children’s health insurance program, and the federal government should make sure that our states have the money to make that happen. And we have to start looking at some of the interesting ideas on comprehensive reform that are coming out of states like Maine and Illinois and California, to see what we can replicate on a national scale and what will move us toward that goal of universal coverage for all.

Like I said, I’ll wait for more. But this sure sounds like tinkering and halfway measures to me. After declaring in no uncertain terms that “affordable, universal health care for every single American must not be a question of whether, it must be a question of how,” we get a few lines about better use of technology, some tsk-tsking about insurance industry profits, and a bit of musing about whether employer-based healthcare is still the best idea out there. That’s….not very bold. After all, the link between employment and healthcare has been the fundamental issue underlying the universal healthcare debate for the past century, and I’d expect Obama to have a few thoughts about it by now.

We’ll see. Maybe he’s just setting the stage. Maybe in a little while he’ll give a major speech in which he really does endorse universal healthcare rather than fiddling around the edges of the debate. We’ll see.

UPDATE: Just to be clear: I’m not looking for a 300-page white paper. But I’d like to know that Obama is committed to genuine universal healthcare, not just a bunch of band-aids on our current system. This speech simply doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies on that front.

I know that endorsing a serious universal healthcare plan is politically difficult, and maybe Obama is just working up to it slowly. That’s fine. But high-profile candidates have a special obligation here. Dennis Kucinich can yell “Medicare for All” until he turns blue, and nobody’s going to listen. That’s not fair, but it’s reality. High-profile candidates like Obama, Clinton, and Edwards can change that. If they commit to a genuinely bold healthcare initiative, it becomes a legitimate topic overnight. Until they do, though, it stays on the fringe.