The Politics of Health Care

The Politics of Health Care

President Barack Obama has been pushing hard for his plan to overhaul the health-care system: speaking to all kinds of audiences across the country; seizing every opportunity on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, Internet; meeting with countless group leaders including Republicans and conservatives. He is everywhere, talking to everybody.

Pay attention to one of Obama’s favorite lines: “We have been waiting for health reform since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We have been waiting since the days of Harry Truman. We’ve been waiting since Johnson and Nixon and Clinton. We cannot wait any longer.”

That riff stimulates tumultuous applause, shouts of “Yes, we can”, supporters shouting “We love you!” and Obama responds, “I love you back!” If this sounds like a political campaign, that is because it is actually-the beginning of Obama’s campaign for reelection to a second term in 2012. You can’t begin too early. Every president has used this strategy in his own style.

Remarkably, Obama has maintained his popularity with the voters even when they disagree with him on the issues: unemployment, bank bailouts, handling the economy, the federal deficit, war in Afghanistan, closing Guantánamo, etc.. His favorable rating is 53%, good for these times of trouble and far ahead of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Leader Reid as well as Republican leaders Senator McConnell, Representative Boehner, and Senator McCain.

Obama’s political advisors know that love is a many splendored thing that can dissipate if he fails to deliver. But Obama’s prospects for resolving Afghanistan and unemployment, the two biggest problems, are dicey at best. Republicans will challenge him saying, “Nice young guy, but what has he accomplished? What national problems has he solved?”

Obama needs a stunning victory in his political bank account, a victory that directly affects every American, an accomplishment that has eluded every previous president of either party in times of prosperity or recession. In 2012, Obama will declaim the names of his predecessors who failed on health-care reform, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, while reminding the voters of his singular deed.

Health-care reform legislation is crucial for Obama: he must pass THE bill. That is why he is prepared to sacrifice content for political victory, better to pass a weak plan than no plan. Furthermore, Democrats have learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Heeding the lesson of the Clinton failure on health reform, Obama has neutralized the pharmaceutical and insurance industries by negotiating concessions that will increase their customers and their profits while changing the system to include everybody. The White House has affirmed these deals so Harry and Louise are not campaigning against Obama’s plan.

After many months of tortuous appeasement of the Republicans in and out of Congress under the rubric of bipartisanship, Obama has his deal but it is not with the GOP. He found that it is easier to deal with big business than to deal with the Republicans, out of power and cranky.

Obama recently told “60 Minutes” that if a health-care bill passes, “I own it,” but if it fails, the Republicans will own it. Fear not, America, there will be a health bill, it will be adopted by the Senate and House and President Obama will use it to prove his presidential mettle in the 2012 election.

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