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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When Politicians Demonize Certain Industries

Here's an interesting story from The New York Times about an email exchange between President Obama's heath overhaul advisor and the pharmaceutical industry. From the article:

On June 3, 2009, one of the lobbyists e-mailed Nancy-Ann DeParle, the president’s health care adviser. Ms. DeParle reassured the lobbyist. Although Mr. Obama was overseas, she wrote, she and other top officials had “made decision, based on how constructive you guys have been, to oppose importation” on a different proposal. 
Just like that, Mr. Obama’s staff signaled a willingness to put aside support for the reimportation of prescription medicines at lower prices and by doing so solidified a compact with an industry the president had vilified on the campaign trail. Central to Mr. Obama’s drive to remake the nation’s health care system was an unlikely collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry that forced unappealing trade-offs. 
The e-mail exchange three years ago was among a cache of messages obtained from the industry and released in recent weeks by House Republicans — including a new batch put out Friday detailing the industry’s advertising campaign supporting Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul.
So, here's what happened. Candidate Obama vilified the pharmaceutical industry, blaming them for the high cost of health care, of exploiting sick people who need medicines, and that sort of thing. He gets elected and begins pushing legislation that would, among other things, punish the pharmaceutical companies (along with the rest of us). The pharmaceutical companies do not want to be punished, and who can blame them? So, they negotiate. Obama throws them a bone and won't punish them. They spend money advertising their support for Obamacare in thanks.

Now, it is conceivable that Obama really truly believes that pharmaceutical companies are part of the problem and perhaps in fact they are. But if that is so, what happened to Obama's principles when it came time to solve that problem? He sold out. He let the problem go, and for what? Advertising support to the measure passed. Smart politics? Or manipulation? A practical compromise to get something done? Or an abandonment of principles? In any case, the deal he struck with pharma means that Obamacare will not bring the cost of medication down. The problem remains, and we have to pay for it. 

On the other hand, perhaps the pharmaceutical industry is not quite so problematic -- what I mean is that perhaps their pricing polices are not as big a part of our health system's difficulties as Obama made them out to be (which isn't to say they are not a problem at all). What then? Candidate Obama either was mistaken or he exaggerated or both to get their support. He bullied them and took their lunch money. We've been watching The Godfather at home and it occurs to me that what Obama did bears a fairly strong resemblance to "making them an offer they couldn't refuse." 

Whether pharma is a problem or not, Obama is loser. Either he's a wheeler-dealer lacking in principles for political gain, or he's a bully who extorted support from a lucrative industry. Actually, in Obama's case, I don't think it's either-or, but both. My point is that there is no way to conclude that he's a principled, virtuous civil servant trying to make things better for us citizens.

When a viable candidate or sitting official bad-mouths a particular industry, what he's really after is campaign money and/or help in lobbying to get something done.

It's bullying in action.

Say what you want about the pharmaceutical industry -- this post is not about them. 

You know, any strong political force that promises to stand up against Big Business -- what they really want to do is have enough power to threaten Big Business so that Big Business starts funneling them cash and influence. And what do they do with that cash and influence? Use it to pay people with government hand-outs to vote for them.

Funny how that works, huh?


  1. Does that apply to demonizing the "abortion industry"?

  2. It depends on the politician, doesn't it? Guys like Stupak, for instance, who brokered a deal and abandoned his stated principles, maybe? I don't think politicians who truly want to defend human life are trying to get money out of, say, Planned Parenthood and are willing to change their tune once PP coughs up the dough. Or if they are, they're not really pro-life. Obama changed his tune, like Stupak did, once big pharma kicked in to help him promote his agenda.

  3. Oh, and the pharmaceutical industry, insofar as it researches and develops new medications to treat diseases, is engaged in what is essentially a very important and beneficial activity. One might claim that they are greedy and polluting as they go about it, but greed and pollution are not essential to the work of researching and developing medicines.

    I think the abortion industry differs from pharma in that regard.