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The Carletonian

Redaction free Bhalatics: On health care

<st week, this column discussed President Barack Obama’s strategic error in deferring to Congress. With respect to the economy, the Democratic Party failed to get the most basic of economic and financial reforms, from enacting a stimulus bill to ensuring that the economic climate that preceded last year’s financial crisis would never again occur. Yet, if even possible, the Democratic efforts to reform health care prove to be more tenuous, as President Obama’s strange strategy of passing-the-buck continues.

With all the talk of hope, change, three distinct factions emerged. The Blue Dog Democrats – they are a coalition of New Democrats, fiscal conservatives, social liberals, and people persuaded by Rahm Emanuel over the past five years to run for Congress as Democrats in traditionally Republican districts – dodder over the devils in the details of actually supporting a public health care plan. This antagonizes liberals – this group, of which I am a non-card-carrying member, thinks that any compromise with the former should not meander its way into the final, polished bill, seemingly oblivious to the legislative process known as compromise. Everyone else either fruitlessly attempts to douse the flames of intra-party squabbles or sits around, resting on laurels.

Of note, Blue Dog membership in the House boasts of Illinois Democrats Melissa Bean and Bill Foster, and (veteran of the 1993 attempt at health care reform) Jim Cooper. Carleton alum Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, Robert Byrd, Bob Casey, Kent Conrad, Kay Hagan, Herb Kohl, Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson, Mark Udall, and Mark Warner serve the group’s interests in the Senate. The liberal faction of the party includes the notable, ineffectual leadership of Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate. The two groups, virtually at an impasse, fail to recognize that each is beholden to the other. Liberal Democrats would not have ambled their way back into relevance if not for Blue Dogs winning elections, and Blue Dogs would not have won election if not for the millions raised by progressive organizations. And, yet, only Senators Jay Rockefeller and Richard Durbin have the presence of mind to attempt to sue for peace in this conflict, to reconcile the fiscal discipline sought by the Blue Dogs with the universal coverage that Liberal Democrats want. All the while, ours, the disorganized political party, makes watching a Spanish soap opera look mundane. With half-a-dozen plans proposed, all with conflicting costs, numbers of uninsured, page lengths, the Democrats allowed Republicans to cease control of the debate. With staged town hall meetings, with fake numbers, with their Trojan horse corporate members such as the Pharmaceutical industry and the American Medical Association who seem willing to acquiesce but really are not, the prospect for health care reform has fallen dramatically in three weeks alone. While the public views it as necessary, it resonates with a new, deep distrust for whichever plan the Democrats eventually produce. Out of Congress, nothing clear emanates. The Democrats need leadership, and they need it now.

Yet, President Obama seems not to have provided any guidance, any conducting to that cacophonous chorus of Congressional voices. He tells, but does not show, his vision for climbing out of this chasm. On the economy, President Obama has held barnstorming events and professorial press conferences, unveiling what he wants to do but not what he has done. While His most revolutionary idea so far, to create a regulatory agency to mitigate the douchebaguery that led to millions unemployed, trillions of dollars lost, and record profits for Goldman Sachs, is not a legislative masterpiece, but a bullet point list of what he plans to do. Nobody told me that the President would spend more time writing speeches than writing policy. Frankly, it is time for President Obama to stop caring – as David Axelrod pointed out in 2006 – so much about his popularity, and investing his political capital into agenda setting, because, frankly, Congress is not getting the job done.

A critique, now, will emerge, reminding me of the disaster of Hillary-care, and of 1993. But our view of 1993 is wrong. Health care, we are told, failed because Bill Clinton left a thousand-page, technocratic essay-of-a-bill, which described what is to be done, at the Congressional doorstep. Wrong. Health care failed in 1993 because Bill Clinton listened to Congress. The leaders, at the time, told him to hammer out the details and they would sign it. So, he worked on the bill, behind closed doors, while Congress was out of session. In the interim, a galvanized Republican opposition, viewing the Democratic president as an imposter, trashed, with vitriol, the bill and any Democrat who dared support it. Thus, come September, any political capital Bill Clinton and health care reform had at the Capitol evaporated.

What, my friends, do we think is happening right now? President Obama, then, overcompensates for the Clintonian lesson, and does so to his own detriment. By letting Congress marinate, unadulterated, unchecked, unfettered, we have an ineffectual Congress returning from their sandboxes, having heard the cries of their constituents, having still not resolved the keystone agenda of a new, Democratic President, into another Republican blitz.

Rather than simply speech-making or holding lunches with leaders, President Obama must insert himself into the policy. He must campaign, and campaign hard. He needs to do what he did in October to secure victory in the 2008 Election. He needs to cogently discuss policy and demand Congressional Democrat get their act together, while, at the same time, barnstorm a nation. Instead of into North Korea – literally, hidden halfway across the world and away from the health care debate – Barack Obama should dispatch Bill Clinton and Al Gore into the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and get these Blue Dogs in line. Why? Because the Blue Dogs – an offshoot of the old Democratic Leadership Council – will listen to, and respect, Bill Clinton. The former President secured the release of two detainees in five hours. The many Congressmen and Senators who owe their careers to Bill Clinton surely would acquiesce, coalesce, fold, in a matter of minutes.

Everybody told, in fact warned, President Obama what he should not do. He should not emulate Bill Clinton and impose himself on the legislative process. But all of this century’s great Democrats, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, have tried, but failed to accomplish health care reform. And, this time, with our pornographic political media scrutinizing every move, a failure could condemn the entire presidency. Thus, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, if they do nothing, face the real, distinct possibility of facing another decade in the wilderness. And we are all aware that there’d be days like those. Strange days, indeed.

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