I’m sure even Barack Obama’s strongest critics, the ones who never would have even considered voting for him last year, would admit that he is an excellent campaigner. But in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the election has been over for almost a year now. And Obama is no longer Senator Obama, candidate for President. He is President Obama.
Which means he has to lead. And that means it is time for him to take firm positions, no matter what they are or how risky they are.
So far, President Obama has been VERY lacking in this regard. Sure, he can still give an excellent speech and speak colorful words. But when it comes to actually stating where he stands and what he wants, he continues to give wishy-washy responses and hedge his bets. That’s expected, if not ideal, if you’re a candidate and are trying to win over as many as possible. It’s totally unacceptable if you’re a leader and 300 million people, not to mention the government you head, need your direction.
The most recent bit of wishy-washyness that compelled me to write this entry was Obama’s constant refusal to take a clear position on the healthcare reform plans on which he has staked much of his political capital. He campaigned for a public option last year. Now, he won’t say if he wants one or not. Hell, he won’t say what specifically what he wants at all.
I am well aware of the mistake Bill Clinton made in 1993, when he tried to put together the whole thing himself and then force it through Congress. I’m not saying President Obama should go to that extent. And I also know that, given the political divide in this country, no Republican would likely vote for whatever bill eventually goes before both chambers, regardless of whether it has a public option or not. But that’s besides the point, given the Democrats’ majorities in both chambers of Congress.
But President Obama can strike a balance between Clinton’s micromanaging and leaving all of the details up to Congress. I have very little faith in either party in Congress, since both seem to only care about scoring shallow, short-term victories that will help them get re-elected. And that lack of faith has been validated by the way they have dragged this healthcare reform debate on and on for months.
Obama didn’t have to let that happen. He could have said from the beginning that he wanted a public option with elements X, Y & Z, given that mandate to Congress and let them sort out the details for making it work. Or, if he really didn’t want a public option, he should have said that from the beginning too.
Bottom line is that he needed to take a stand either way. He needed to make clear, at least in a general way, what he wanted. He would have made some enemies no matter what he did, to be sure. But leaders have to take stands and accept the consequences if it turns out they took the wrong one. But by not taking a stand, he angered his base, allowed the Republicans to take control of the narrative of the public debate and, most damagingly, left too much decision-making power in the hands of the body of our government that is LEAST suited for making clear decisions.
President Obama has staked much of his credibility on healthcare reform. If he wants to get it done, and he wants the final product to be something that really works and that he can be proud of, he needs stop campaigning for healthcare reform and actually take a position on it.
That’s what leaders do.
By a 14-9 vote, including a “yes” vote from Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of health care reform today. The full Senate will now make a combined bill that will go before the whole chamber, while the House will do likewise. There is a long way to go. But the squeaky wheel is slowly getting its oil.
I don’t like the Finance Committee’s version at all because it doesn’t allow for any kind of public option. And as much as this notion appals staunch fiscal libertarians (including some friends and family members of mine), we can’t trust the insurance companies to keep rates in check without a strong public option. There are just too many parts of this country where one insurance company has a monopoly on the market and can charge whatever it wants.
In one of my previous posts, I mentioned a proposed compromise of including a public option but allowing individual states to opt out. This may give enough Blue Dog democrats and even some more moderate Republicans enough political cover to vote for it. As long as the option has real teeth (which the trigger concept would not provide), that’s what matters most.