Pull out your old Merriam-Webster and look up the word “spine”

By Debra Kozikowski


Just yesterday afternoon, according to this exchange reported by Dana Milbank, journalist Helen Thomas seemed to be in top form as she dogged White House spokesman Robert Gibbs for an answer about the president standing up for the public option in health care reform. 

“Is he going to fight for it or not?” Thomas snapped.

“We’re going to work to get choice and competition into health-care reform” was Gibbs’s vague response.

Thomas took that as a no. “You’re not going to get it,” she advised.

“Then why do you keep asking me?” Gibbs inquired.

“Because I want your conscience to bother you,” Thomas replied.

Milbank then goes on to describe Gibbs’ red face as the room erupted. 

Helen Thomas is not alone in her thinking. Many progressives who support the president’s positions wonder why he is seemingly unwilling to truly draw that line in the sand when it comes to some pretty big issues — the public option, Afghanistan and Iran among them.  After President Obama’s nationally televised speech on the subject of health care reform last month, his waning approval numbers rebounded.  People felt he was ready to make good on his promise for meaningful reform.

There are signs that the left is coming around to the idea of encouraging President Obama in loud clear voices that he needs to step up and speak out in support of the public option.  Online petitions are making the rounds and it’s not just liberals grousing at the lack of fortitude being shown from the White House when it comes to the fight for a health care system that works for everyone. Helen Thomas simply stated the obvious.

It was on June 4, 2005 at the Holiday Inn Inner Harbor, Baltimore that I sat spellbound, listening to Helen Thomas. She was two months shy of her 85th birthday as she talked about all of the president’s men she’d poked and prodded over her legendary career. She was the keynote speaker that year at the National Writers Union awards dinner and every one of us in that room marveled at her energy, wit and sass.

Obviously, she’s still at it, as feisty as ever and at the ready to voice what many of us are thinking. She has the guts and the audacity to speak her mind while getting to the heart of the story.  My awe of Helen Thomas has only grown over the years. Meeting her was a privilege. In retrospect, I regret not having asked her to pose for a picture with me.  I doubt I’ll get another chance but if I do, you can bet I’ll have my camera phone at the ready.

The Merriam-Webster folks should consider adding a picture of Helen Thomas to the definition of the word spine.

Be Sociable, Share!

18 Responses to “Pull out your old Merriam-Webster and look up the word “spine””

  1. I agree with Thomas’ politics but she is not a hero for her questions to Gibbs.  And it is certainly not spine.  Spine for a journalist is standing up to editors and tough sources when they are denying access etc.  Thomas is beyond all of those worries as a “historical institution”. 

    Standing up and prodding Gibbs is merely advocating a position.  Easy for her to do, she does not have to find 60 votes.  Easy for Milbank to get all righteous (this week against Obama, next week against the Repubs, he likes playing the righteous one).

    If you want (as I very much do) Obama to succeed you better hope he gets significant health care reform passed.  The public option is a need not a must have for significant reform.  You may disagree but there may not be the votes for it at the moment.  If you would prefer Obama to fall on his sword than pass reform then get ready for a major Republican resurgence in 2010.  Where are the legions marching for a public option?

  2. I’ve watched one too many WH press events where reporters practically coo over the privilege of being called upon to ask a question.  I agree with the designation of having a spine for Helen Thomas. And I also agree with the notion that a public option is the best way to secure meaningful reform.

    The president needn’t fall on his sword at all. He needs to take up his sword on behalf of what a majority of everyday average people want.  And a majority of those people want a health care system that takes care of health care coverage for all and when it doesn’t meet their wants, they don’t march in legions.  

    Today’s version of the Silent Majority are the Disheartened Majority.  They want real health care reform, they need real health care reform.

    If you can identify for me how that happens without a public option maybe we have something to talk about. Otherwise, Chi, all you are doing is making up excuses and spinning a half a loaf theory into some fantasy of success. As for those 60 elusive votes in the senate, I blame Harry Reid for rewarding Republicans like Blanche Lincoln with chairmanships. 

    Let’s see a little less talk and a little more action.

  3. I meant to call Blanche Lincoln a Republicrat. Not that it makes a difference that she’s a registered Democrat because she doesn’t vote like one anymore.

  4. Re Thomas- she can ask whatever she likes at this point, no other reporter in that room can do the same.  She has nothing to lose. That is NOT spine.  Read her book, she buddied up to POTUSes like the rest of them for years.

    You can call Lincoln names if you want, but if she thought falling on her sword for the public option was an electoral winner then I bet she would.  Just like Ben Nelson, Snowe, Dorgan, Baucus etc.  What magic wand/sword do you want Obama to wave? 

    The Dems have 60 senators because they have a wider tent than the Republicans.  A wider tent means they do not all march in rigid lock step like the very narrowly based Republicans.  If Reid stops giving chairmanships to anyone other than rock solid liberals then he will quickly become the minority leader.

    POTUSes pick their spots very judiciously or else become completely ineffectual very quickly.

    Over half the nation would struggle mightily to define what a public option is, perhaps to know even to what it refers.  That is not the making of a line in the sand initiative.

    Universal care absolutely does not require a public option.  Getting universal care is BIG reform.  That is more than half a loaf alone.

    Public option is about cost control, there are many ways to achieve cost controls.  I personally believe a public option would be a good idea.  Unfortunately a cloture proof Senate majority may not.

    I trust Barack Obama to make the best deal possible, which is why I voted for him.  I am not going to go suck my thumb if the deals do not meet every aspect of my best outcome. 

  5. Rockefeller and Schumer YOUR FANTASTIC! 🙂

    ATTENTION!! Congress Has The Votes Needed To Pass A Public Option – TODAY  http://bit.ly/TCq7O

    Why A Strong Public Option Is Essential – By jacksmith – Working Class

    Robert Reich explains the pubic option:  http://bit.ly/dDYSJ  http://robertreich.blogspot.com/

    Hollywood Supports The Public Option 🙂  http://bit.ly/3XLwPi

    It’s not just because more than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 77% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (86% of democrats, 75% of independents, and 72% republicans). Basically everyone.

    It’s not just because according to a new AARP POLL: 86 percent of seniors want universal healthcare security for All, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. With 79% of seniors supporting creating a new strong Government-run public option plan, available immediately. Including 89% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, STUNNING!!

    It’s not just because it will lower cost. Because a strong public option will dramatically lower cost for everyone. And dramatically improved the quality of care everyone receives in America and around the World. Rich, middle class, and poor a like.

    It’s not just because it will save trillions of dollars and prevent the needless deaths of millions more of YOU, caused by a rush to profit by the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!

    It’s not just because every expert in every field, including economist, and Nobel laureates all agree that free market based healthcare systems don’t work. Never have and never will. The US has the only truly free market based healthcare system in the World. And as you all know now, IT IS A DISASTER!

    It’s not just because providing or denying medically necessary care for profit motivations is wrong. Because it is WRONG! It’s professionally, ethically, and morally REPUGNANT!, Animalistic, VILE and EVIL.


    The public option is ESSENTIAL because over 200 million of you are trapped in the forest of the wolves. Which is the forest of the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! With no way out except through needless inhumane suffering, and DEATH. While the wolves tear at your flesh, and rip you limb from lib. Then feast on your lifeless bodies like a dead carcase for transplant parts.

    At the most vulnerable times of your lives (when you were sick and hurting), millions of you have had to fight and loose cruel, but heroic battles. Fighting against the big guns of the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! in the forest of the wolves. All because you have no place else to go. You have no other CHOICE!

    But the PUBLIC OPTION will give you someplace safe to go. And it will give us someplace safe to take you. The public option will be your refugium (your refuge). Where the wolves cannot get at you when your down, hurting, and vulnerable. Where everyone who needs it can find rest, security, comfort and the care they need. Protected by the BIG GUNS of We The People Of The United States. THE MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE AND COUNTRY ON EARTH.

    This is why it is so critical that we do not lead another 50 million vulnerable, uninsured Americans into the forest of the wolves, without the protections of a Strong Government-run MEDICARE like public option. We The People Of The United States MUST NOT LET THAT HAPPEN to any more of our fellow Americans. If healthcare reform does not contain a strong MEDICARE like public option on day one. YOU MUST! KILL IT. Or you will do far more harm than good. And millions more will die needlessly. Rich, middle class, and poor a like.

    To those who would continue to obstruct good and true healthcare reform for the American people, and who seek to trap millions more vulnerable Americans in the forest of the wolves. We will continue to fight you. We are prepared to wage all out war against you, and will eagerly DESTROY! you. Time…is…UP! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! No Co-op’s! No Triggers! NO INDIVIDUAL MANDATES! without a Strong MEDICARE like public option on day one.

    Healthcare reform can be the GREATEST! Accomplishment of our time and century. A time when future generations may say of us, that we were all, AMERICAS GREATEST GENERATIONS.


    I therefore call on all my fellow Americans and the peoples of the World. To join us in this fight so that we may finish becoming the better America that we aspire to be for everyone.


    I have been privileged to be witness as many of you fought, and struggled to take your first breath, and your last breath on this earth. Rich, middle class, and poor a like. Life is precious.

    Whatever the cost. WE! MUST SUCCEED.

    God Bless You My Fellow Human Beings

    jacksmith – Working Class

    Things You Can Do To Help NOW! http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2009/09/tired_of_watching_people_die_n.html

    No Triggers! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-rosenbaum/a-trigger-for-the-public_b_277910.html

    Triggers http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sirota/weve-seen-these-triggers_b_283583.html

    Krugman on heathcare  (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/25/why-markets-cant-cure-healthcare/)

    Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSM8t_cLZgk&feature=player_embedded)

    John Garamendi on the Public Option and the Grassroots:  http://bit.ly/TJMty

    Howard Dean on the Public Option http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SKfW2dUnow&feature=player_embedded

    We’re Number 37! in quality of health care http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVgOl3cETb4&feature=player_embedded

    Twitter search (#welovethenhs #NHS #hc09 #hcr #healthcar #obama #p2 #topprog #) Check it out.

  6. […] The Back Forty » Pull out your old Merriam-Webster and look up the … […]

  7. A trusted friend sent me an e-mail to tell me she very much liked this piece I’d posted.  She wrote that she’d written to the president asking him to stop being passive about the public option and other things. My friend is a woman of a certain age herself — not quite in Helen’s league but in her golden years by society’s standards.  She ended with this, ” You get old enough, you don’t give a flying fig what others think of you.  That’s the secret of Helen’s spine.”

    It wasn’t meant as derision for Helen Thomas but as an applause line for the fact that she has developed, over the years, a backbone.  Not to mention she keeps herself working and that puts her in a position to show it.  

    So thank you Helen Thomas for your wisdom, words and yes, spine.

  8. Wisdom yes.  And perhaps this is devolving into semantics.  But it is not brave, gutty etc. to do something when “you don’t give a flying fig what others think of you.” 

    Why do you think the public option is the end all be all?

    and here are the Amazon current bestsellers

    Obama et al. are herding some “challenged” folks

  9. Also define “stop being passive” what exactly should Obama be doing that he is not relative specifically to the public option?

    Drawing a line in the sand.  If he does so without the votes and he knows far bettter than you or I whether he has the votes, then what?

  10. He should be trying to get the darned thing passed. That’s right he should be doing what George Bush (I cannot believe I am writing this!) did when he wanted something.  Bringing people to the woodshed, I mean the White House, and having the conversation about why he “believes” in a public option.

  11. What is the “woodshed” exactly?

    W. Bush was stronger than Obama, you really think so.

    What woodshed did W. Bush use exactly?  Handing out candy (tax cuts, Medicare D) and using 9/11 like a hammer are different concepts than reforming 17% of the economy. 
    Where were all these “strong” Dems when we marched like lemmings into Iraq and did not have “spine” when the tax cuts for the wealthy were passed.

    No one on this stream is stating why swing district and state Dems should fall on their swords for public option.  Quoting Reich/Krugman et al (i.e. liberal economist) much less Bernie Sanders accomplishes nothing.  We all know 30-40% of folks strongly support the public option.  30% or so strongly oppose it.  This is about the middle 20-30%.

    Folks can get righteous and feel good within their own echo chamber (go to Fox if u want to rattle around their cave, I can take it for about 30 seconds) or figure out how to get the best deal possible.

  12. If he was willing to stand up for us the way we stood up for him, Obama would call in the recalcitrant Senate Democrats, Harry Reid first, and say, “Here’s how much the Democratic Party is going to contribute to your primary opponent when you’re up for re-election.” 

    All they’d have to do to avoid that is vote for cloture when they’re called upon to do it.  That’s where the 60 votes are needed, and Obama could ensure that we get them, if he wanted to.  Then the senators could be free to vote their conscience and a good bill (including the public option) would still prevail.

    It’s not rocket science, it’s politics, and surely Obama knows how to do this.  I can’t make up a story to tell myself that explains why he’s not out there fighting for this.  He really had me believing that he has principles he’s willing to stand up for. I guess I got punked.

  13. I thank Miryam for explaining the woodshed theory to our friend, Chi.  And yes the Republicans rode herd on their troops.  I won’t say GW was stronger because Obama has yet to show us what he’s got when it comes to putting the arm on for the cloture votes. 
    I still harbor hope.  

  14. Primary opponents for Lincoln, Bayh, Dorgan, Baucus, Nelson et al.?  Are you kidding me?  Lincoln will have a very tough fight next year without moving an inch further left. You have been watching too much West Wing (love the show but they did not even do such dreamy stuff). 

    I continue to be perplexed by the blind devotion to the public option.   If this POTUS gets universal care enacted, progressives should be jumping for joy.

  15. Wow. I haven’t been here in some time and usually it’s a nice quiet read but this thread is hopping.  Chi, explain to me how universal can it be without a public option? 

  16. Public option really has very little to do with univeral care.  Universal care simply means everyone is provided access to health care.  The key is creating means by which everyone get insurance.  So no recissions, which means no pre-existing condition restrictions; employer mandates; individual mandates;  and subsidies to those folks who are not “poor” (hence covered already on Medicaid) or over 65 (covered by Medicare) or vets (covered by VA).

    A public option is about cost control.  A very legitimate concern but merely a related not requisite component of univeral care.

    The Republicans have deftly conflated the two concepts but they are different.  Furthermore, the Republican are opposing just about any measure to control costs including the public option and then claiming “well we just cannot afford universal care”.

    Some (of my fellow) progressives tend to hang onto to the public option as a panacea for cost control in order to avoid what will inevitably be very tough questions on cost control.  But that is perhaps for a different comment string…

  17. Hello from Russia! Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  18. […] It was on June 4, 2005 at the Holiday Inn Inner Harbor, Baltimore that I sat spellbound, listening to Helen Thomas , just two months shy of her 85th birthday, as she talked about all of the president’s men she’d poked and prodded over …Continue Reading […]

Leave a Reply