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Obama’s Address on Health Care

September 5th, 2009

ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC will all carry Obama’s address to Congress on health care. Guess which network will not carry it? Not hard to figure that one out, is it? While the Republican Party’s propaganda machine will refuse to carry the speech, Republican leaders nevertheless are demanding that they be given network time as well.

At this point in time, it is looking more and more like Obama will wuss out and pass on the public option. One wants to hold out hope that Obama will discover his spine and use the address to pull an American President: tell the nation that the opposition is no longer credible, that there have been too many bald-faced lies, too much opposition for partisan political purposes, that he tried everything he could within reason and got nothing in return–no return of good faith, not even a gesture–just more attacks, smears, and lies. So he’s putting back in everything he thinks is right, what the nation needs–and if the Republicans want to block the bill, they do so at their peril, with the responsibility for failed health care reform on their heads.

He won’t, of course. He’ll take the whipping the right wing has been giving him with forced praise for their in-fact-non-existent “bipartisan efforts,” remove even more major stuff the right wing has been objecting to, and call for a weakened, watered-down bill that will be reform in name only. And the Republicans will not thank him for it–they will take it for the sign of weakness it is, and only ramp up their lies and attacks. They will use Obama’s concessions as a rallying point, taking everything and giving nothing, and then start attacking even more of what little remains of the bill, only heightening their cries against anything Obama puts forward.

Let’s face it: Obama doesn’t have the guts to abandon the whole bipartisan angle even after the right wing has made it painfully clear that they will object to anything for the sake of winning midterms next year.

And let’s face another fact: Obama blew it. He let the health care bill wander into Congress slowly, and let it linger for so long that Republicans were able to beat it to a bloody pulp. He should have worked out most of it behind the scenes, quietly working out major details with Democratic leaders, and then presented it up-front as a vital, lives-are-at-stake issue which has to pass within just 2-3 weeks. And every time the Republicans objected, all he’d have to do is pull two or three names from the large pool of people who died because they didn’t have insurance, have their families stand behind him, and remind the nation that every day the Republicans delay, they are killing more and more Americans.

He should have known full well that he’d never get Republicans to go along, and could have used their back-stabbing on the stimulus bill to (a) point out that bipartisanship would not work because the GOP had precluded it, and (b) he was right on the Stimulus, it worked without Republicans, and if he has to pass health care reform without them too, that was their choice–he would do what he knew was right. Even if there was a huge outcry, Obama still could have gotten away with it, with midterms being so far away.

Instead, Obama fumbled, bumbled, tried to appear bipartisan long after that dog died, and continued to let the right wing flog him while he smiled and took it. And nobody, no one on the left, right, or center will respect him or give him any credit for it. What the hell is he thinking?

I still hold out that faint hope for him to grow a pair and take a leadership role this coming Wednesday. But I fully expect for those hopes to be dashed.

  1. Tim Kane
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:34 | #1

    Great post Luis. I don’t know how you do it.

    I’ve been wondering if you were still rolling along with Obama or was becoming disenchanted, like myself and most liberals.

    The New York Times had this nice essay on Roosevelt: The Divider on the tough political stances he took during his years as president.

    Not included in the essay was this favorite statement of mine from Roosevelt: “…I am an old campaigner, and I love a good fight!”

    There’s much analysis comparing the 1930s with today.

    Earlier in the summer Harper’s magazine published this article titled “Barrack Hoover Obama” which likened Obama to Hoover. The article made a strong case suggesting that Hoover was perhaps the most progressive official in his administration. The problem was, Hoover wasn’t progressive enough. The article goes on to make parallels to Obama suggesting he too is not progressive enough. Roosevelt then came along and completely overshadowed Hoover’s efforts.

    All these articles are good, informative and very relevant.

    However, I find it more instrumental to look towards back towards England in this era.

    Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, like Obama, sought cooperation with his political opposites, through appeasement and concessions. The result of such tactics was catastrophic. Both Chamberlain and Obama seemed to have mischaracterized their political opposition.

    Along the way Chamberlain lost the support of his backers and gained only greater contempt and disrespect from his adversaries.

    I’ve always been kinder than most towards Chamberlain. (Game theory suggests that) Peace amongst the nations of Europe was objectively the only sane, rational course – and so bending over backwards to signal good faith dealings was, perhaps, worth the effort (it also bought time for rearmament – though I’m fairly sure that Chamberlain wasn’t thinking in those terms). I also think that for historical reasons and moral authority, it helps that the British bent over backwards for peace.

    Game theory says that for two parties in a perpetual game with seemingly no end in site, the best and most rational course of action is cooperation. The second best course of action tit-for-tat: I punch you in the nose, you punch me back (see Spy vs. Spy or Grumpy Old Men as to why this is, in the long term, crazy) which always leads people back to cooperation. In that vein then the logic of cooperation seemed obvious, and Hitler’s bellicosy in the 1930s suggested that he didn’t believe he could deal with the Western Allies.

    Game theory also says, that as soon as one can perceive the game ending, even if it is many, many moves from now, it pays to start cheating and not cooperating immediately. This is where Chamberlain mischaracterized, in my most generous view of Chamberlain’s actions, his political opponent. He didn’t realize that Hitler foresaw the game ending because he wanted to end it.

    Because Hitler wanted to end the game, he began not cooperating. Chamberlain misinterpreted it, and Hitler gained such an advantage by catching the Allies so wrong footed, that the edge he gained from his early non-cooperation didn’t begin to abate until the Battle of Britain.

    For a long time I’ve seen the same thing going on in our politics. In theory the Republicans and Democrats are in a perpetual game. Civility and cooperation between the two is the most rational course of action. But the Republicans abandone that a long time ago. This frightens me because I think they are playing a game ending strategy. They are punching the Democrats in the nose, and the Democrats refuse to punch back, guaranteeing that the Republicans will punch them back.

    At best the Republicans realize that Obama is a wimp and they can run him roughshod all over the school playground for the next four years. At worst the Republicans want to end the game – that means either ruining or destroying the country (as they came close to doing under Bush) – I’m sure many Southerners have no problems with that out of revenge to what the country did to the Confederacy – or they simply want to destroy the efficacy of the constitution perhaps bringing about one party rule. That seemed to be Karl Rove’s goal.

    Tactics aside, Obama’s strategy of allowing political vacuums to emerge, only to arrive at the 11th hour to save the day (either to achieve economic stimulus or health reform or, channeling Chamberlain, achieving “peace in our time”), might be successful (or not), but it isn’t leadership.

    Leaders have to bear the standard, in the middle of the battlefield, throughout the entire battle.

    Nobody wondered where Churchill stood during World War II, or Roosevelt for that matter. But here we are, right now, and no one knows where Obama stands on the issue. Or where he plans on taking a stand.

    No one knows. That’s not leadership. And frankly, it’s pretty disgusting.

    Perhaps Obama blew his load in the long grueling two year run for President, and has got nothing left. Perhaps Obama was Wallstreet’s candidate all along, the guy that pays the piper calls the tune, and so, they are calling the tune (this suggest that Obama was a fifth column candidate inside the Democratic party).

    Whatever, the case, I wish that Obama would pursue Health Care with half the initiative he pursued the Presidency. In abdicating on this issue, he’s abdicated his own Presidency. Bush was on vacation most of the time, but when it came time to do battle, he showed up.

    Again, I know that there are lots of people theorizing on how Obama is implementing a passive aggressive strategy where he shows up at the 11th hour and wins the day. Again, as President, I say he can’t do that – that’s abdicating leadership.

    I hope that Obama might yet channel his inner Roosevelt, and his inner Winston Churchill to boot.

    I like your ideas about parading out members of families that have lost a loved one because of our great and vaulted system, mention more people will die from our health care system year in and year out, than died on 9/11 and that every minute Republicans obstruct health care another American declares bankruptcy because of heatlh care and every day another five American’s die. That’s hard ball.

    I’ve advocated here, before, Obama should just sign an executive order allowing Medicade to sell at cost, health insurance to those that have none. It doesn’t matter if it’s extra-constitutional, remember the Unitary executive doctrine and watch Republicans head explodes as millions of people start queing up for it. How are they going to yank it away?

    That’s hard ball. Politics is a contact sport. We thought we were getting Roosevelt, instead, Obama thinks he’s Lincoln, and delivering Neville Chamberlain.

    If Obama does some good, I’m sure I’ll forgive him. But right now, his actions or lack of action feels unforgivable, and if it continues that way I’ll end up loathing him as much as his enemies.

  2. kris
    September 9th, 2009 at 03:54 | #2

    Obama doesn’t have the guts? He’ll take the beating? Wuss? That leaves a bad enough mark. But Neville Chamberlain??? I’m stunned.

    Unless there have been some new developments that I’ve missed showing without question that Obama has submitted to the conservatives on the health care issue*, I’m not sure what has brought this on. Is it because Obama isn’t touting the public option as aggressively as you perceive we should? But what good will that do at this point? We’re not even close to final legislation yet. Right now, this is going through a laborious process in Congress, where there are many bills floating around, including several proposing the public option. The problem is not the Republicans. It’s the Democratic-run Senate Finance committee, in particular Max Baucus, who is only tangentially a Democrat and is willing to sell his party out in order to get a bill into conference with the least amount of political blood shed. But if it does get through the committee, the House and Senate negotiate in order to draft a bill. This is where we’ll find out, among other things, the fate of the public option. Obama is barely a part of this process, and to put himself out as an uncompromising, outspoken public option proponent would be political suicide.

    So, let’s just wait until the final bill is on the floor before we wash our hands of Obama. I find it particularly astonishing that people believe Obama is such a dupe he’s clueless as to the Republicans M.O. What he’s doing right now is brilliant. He’s just hanging back and allowing the Republicans to show their true colors. His reasonable tone will only benefit the Democrats once a health care bill is finally drafted. I get that we’re impatient to see the GOP get their come-uppance. But getting potentially historic legislation passed without a hitch is more in the country’s best interests.

    *Anonymous sources don’t count.

    September 14th, 2009 at 22:59 | #3

    Kris, I agree with you: Kane’s comments are over the top. The fact is that liberalism can become a doctrine, and when liberals become doctrinaire, they are no longer liberals.

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