[Posted by Karl]
As ObamaCare has run into difficulties moving through Congress, there has been no shortage of finger-pointing. People have been blaming Pres. Obama right and left for failing to lead, remaining aloof, voting present and delegating too much of the work to Congress. Some communications professionals believe Republicans have done a good job at capitalizing on the vagueness of the bills as presented to date, though I would agree with Eric Dezenhall that the GOP has been disorganized and that the pushback is “largely organic and through nobody’s genius.”
This rap on Obama is not entirely fair. The Obama administration’s strategy has been based on the supposed lessons of the failure of HillaryCare in 1993-94. They may have been a bit too knee-jerk on that score, but it is a reminder that putting out a concrete White House proposal is an approach that has failed before. Perhaps some think that Obama would have been better positioned to sell it, based on his personal popularity. But that argument is belied by the past few weeks, in which Obama has been campaigning on the issue to little effect.
Amid the lefty foot-stomping about the possible abandonment of a government-run health insurance plan, a few lefty bloggers are looking at the bigger picture. Ezra Klein casts a critical eye on some of his fellow travelers:
What’s been striking, however, is the implicit argument that this is somehow a simple failure of liberal will. Rachel Maddow called it “a collapse of political ambition.” The problem, she said, is that “Democrats are too scared of their own shadow to use the majority the American people elected them to in November to actually pass something they said they favored.” The question, writes Chris Bowers, is whether Obama is “more willing and able to pressure the Progressive Block in the House or the Conservadem Block in the Senate.” Ed Schultz said the president needs to “start doing some arm-twisting with some folks that aren’t listening to him.”
The unifying idea here is that someone can just go into a back room and torture Max Baucus and Kent Conrad. But how? Rahm Emanuel isn’t a shrinking violet. Neither was Clinton or Carter or Nixon or Truman or FDR. But none of them managed to get health-care reform past the Congress. There’s not really a record of presidents being able to bend committee chairmen and wavering centrists to their will. Even LBJ, the master of this stuff, decided to go for Medicare rather than full reform. He thought the latter too ambitious. The history of health-care reform is the history of health-care reform failing. If there was some workable presidential strategy, or foolproof negotiating lever, presumably someone would have used it by now, or at least mentioned it in public.
Kevin Drum also notes that Washington DC is a tough place to get anything done, using the Bush administration’s domestic record as an example.
In contrast, Steve Benen has a fit of partisan blindness, responding that Pres. Bush had trouble with his domestic agenda because “Americans didn’t really support the conservative agenda.” Benen has apparently missed the fact that Obama has majority approval only among Democrats on a range of issues, including healthcare. As the Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti put it:
The public option controversy exposes a flaw in the liberal agenda. Liberals viewed the 2008 election as an affirmation of their program rather than a repudiation of Bush’s (and by extension McCain’s). In order for liberals to implement their program, however, they require the support of people who do not attend Netroots Nation or read The Nation. But most Americans, as today’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll reveals, are satisfied with the health care they receive from America’s hybrid public-private system, and do not support a major government overhaul of such. Indeed, as Arthur Brooks argues in today’s [Wall Street] Journal, “There is no evidence that more than a minority of Americans accept the idea that a $17 trillion national debt, greater reliance on government for jobs and health, and hyper-progressive taxation offer the hope they deserve for themselves and their children.”
Pres. Obama may bear his share of the blame for that delusion, but not much more than the Unreality-based community that supports him.