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Steve Lunetta: Obama, the Modern Prometheus

Right About Now

Posted: March 7, 2010 11:12 p.m.
Updated: March 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.
“Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! The tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! You reproach me with your creation; come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.”
— “Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus,” by Mary Shelley, Chapter 10, 1818

In Shelley’s classic story, Victor Frankenstein creates a monster from body parts gleaned from the local cemetery and then infuses life into the flesh golem. The monster returns to have its vengeance on Frankenstein, killing friends, family and finally the good doctor himself.

It is interesting to note that the monster is not called “Frankenstein,” a common misconception in today’s society. The creation is called “monster,” “fiend,” or “it,” but never “Frankenstein.”

The parallels to the current health care debate are too rich to bypass. The massive health care overhaul being touted by President Obama is a collection of “reforms” that are intended to make health care available to most Americans.  

Like the dead body parts constituting Shelley’s monster, the misguided ideas making up the Obama Plan are wretched, stinking and fit poorly together.

For example, provisions in the plan to allow federal payment for abortions rankles many pro-life Democrats as well as Republicans.

Representative Bart Stupak, D- Mich., said about a dozen anti-abortion Dems will vote against the legislation in the House.

Liberal Democrats insist that the plan has a provision for a government-run health care option. Moderate Democrats and Republicans oppose this vigorously.

The hefty price tag is also in question. The White House estimates that the cost of the plan will be close to $1 trillion. Other estimates place the cost far higher. With amorphous promises of “savings” by the program, Obama is hard-pressed to explain to the American people how the plan will be paid for.

Blue dog Democrats who seek fiscal responsibility and, once again, House Republicans, oppose the legislation based on these funding questions. A bad plan could sink our nation economically.

Like the monster who plots his revenge by destroying the people close to Frankenstein before the final confrontation, the Obama program has consumed numerous legislators close to Obama who realize the unpopularity of the program will doom many a political career.

So, instead of suffering the indignity of defeat, elected officials choose to retire or simply not run again.

The best parallel to Shelley’s work is the vengeful return of the monster to its creator, the ultimate tragic irony. President Obama has placed all of his political eggs in this basket, hoping against hope that he will be successful.

If he fails, the memory of his one-term presidency will be the massive collapse of his creation, a legacy of abject failure and failed promises.

The subtitle of the Shelley novel is “A Modern Prometheus.” Prometheus was the fine Greek youth who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. This really cheesed old Zeus since Prometheus’ punishment was to be chained to a rock and have his liver eaten by an eagle. Unfortunately, the liver grew back each night only to have the cycle repeat itself the next day.

Shelley intended the story to be a warning to mankind as it entered the Industrial Revolution to not reach too far too fast. She was concerned that mankind was not prepared for the new issues, trials and tribulations that new technology would bring.

As Zeus did to Prometheus, she was warning that the outcome of the changes could be far more deleterious than the wonder of the advancement. We see the modern equivalent in the stem cell debate — we have the technology but do we have the wisdom to apply it in a way that does not compromise our own humanity?

Obama, as the Modern Prometheus, has advanced a concept that may be before its time. The wonders of the American economy have created a strong and vibrant health care system. While it is easy to cite horror stories, most Americans like their health care program and are not interested in a change.

The danger is clear. Like the liver-eating eagle visitations to Prometheus, an unsustainable health care reform could bankrupt our nation and cause economic chaos — well-meaning but ill-conceived policies form a terrible animated golem that haunt our dreams and destroy the public good.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right About Now” appears Mondays. He can be reached at


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