September 4, 2009


Barack Obama, Explainer-in-Chief : Republicans have been able to confuse the issue, but their chances of killing health care reform remain slim. All Obama has to do is lay out the facts. (Terence Samuel, September 4, 2009, American Prospect)

It is important for the president to keep this bottom-line calculus -- that he is right on the right side of this issue both morally and politically -- at the top of his mind when he returns from vacation to a chorus of depressing reviews about how badly August turned out for him and the prospects of health reform.

Health care reform is an issue that won him the election, and it is one that is worth the good fight, one to which he should not just bring a megaphone, but a baseball bat.

Not entirely inaccurate, but it is the way that the issue contributed to his election that reveals why Democrats' health care plans are unsellable. Here's the sort of ad that the Obama campaign ran constantly, especially in swing states like NH, in order to get to Maverick's Right:

You know what ad he never ran--and for obvious reasons--the one where he talked about providing universal health care, doing so through a government bureaucracy, and adding one or two trillion dollars to the national tax bill to do so.

And here he is on health care at his own Convention:

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most. [...]

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

Okay, so during campaign 2008 we have the UR as, at worst, the defender of the status quo and, at best, the foe of taxes who will reduce your health insurance premium and whose health care plans will be entirely paid for by closing a few loopholes. In effect, he ran against exactly the sort of reforms that he and his party are now stuck trying to get past an unwilling public.

Let us concede for the moment the notion that Mr. Obama is the smartest person ever to run for president. Mightn't we suppose then that if he was on the right side of the health care debate both morally and politically he would have run on that position instead of against it?

You know the other ads he never ran? The ones about cap and trade and immigration reform and gays in the military and all the other things that Democrats in Congress can't pass. Sure, President Obama has the least effective legislative record of any modern president, but, to be fair, he didn't run on any kind of legislative agenda and ran against much of what he now proposes.

The contrast to George W. Bush is particularly damaging. In his first term, Mr. Bush had the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment since LBJ despite the radical nature of his proposals. And why was he able to achieve so much, even after losing control of the Senate? Because he actually ran on those plans.

Consider even the one big issue on which he carried elections twice, but could never get enough Democratic votes to pass legislation, SS Reform. Here he is at his convention:

Social Security has been called the third rail of American politics, the one you're not supposed to touch because it might shock you. But if you don't touch it, you cannot fix it.

And I intend to fix it.

To the seniors in this country, you earned your benefits, you made your plans, and President George W. Bush will keep the promise of Social Security, no changes, no reductions, no way.

Our opponents will say otherwise. This is their last parting ploy, and don't believe a word of it.

Now is the time - now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to end the politics of fear and save Social Security together.

For younger workers, we will give you the option, your choice, to put part of your payroll taxes into sound, responsible investments.

This will mean a higher return on your money in over 30 or 40 years, a nest egg to help your retirement or to pass on to your children.

When this money is in your name, in your account, it's just not a program, it's your property.

Now is the time to give American workers security and independence that no politician can ever take away.

And here his is on the vouchers in NCLB:
On education, too many American children are segregated into schools without standards, shuffled from grade to grade because of their age, regardless of their knowledge. This is discrimination, pure and simple, the soft bigotry of low expectations. And our nation ... and our nation should treat it like other forms of discrimination: We should end it.

One size does not fit all when it comes to educating our children, so local people should control local schools.

And those who spend your tax dollars must be held accountable. When a school district receives federal funds to teach poor children, we expect them to learn. And if they don't, parents should get the money to make a different choice.

And here on tax cuts:
Another test of leadership is tax relief.

The last time taxes were this high as a percentage of our economy, there was a good reason; we were fighting Wo War II. Today our high taxes fund a surplus. Some say that growing federal surplus means Washington has more money to spend.

But they've got it backwards. The surplus is not the government's money; the surplus is the people's money.

I will use this moment of opportunity to bring common sense and fairness to the tax code. And I will act on principle. On principle, every family, every farmer and small-business person should be free to pass on their life's work to those they love, so we will abolish the death tax.

On principle, no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government, so we will reduce tax rates for everyone in every bracket.

On principle, those with the greatest need should receive the greatest help, so we will lower the bottom rate from 15% to 10% and double the child credit.

Now is the time to reform the tax code and share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills.

Meanwhile, his campaign ads hammered away on these reforms as a matter of trust: that you could be trusted to invest part of your own SS taxes; that you could be trusted with more of your own tax money back; and that you could be trusted to choose a better school if your child was in one that was failing.

He effectively laid the groundwork for his massive legislative agenda by running on it and demonstrating that the American people supported it. His campaign reflected a belief that he was on the right side of the issues morally and politically, just as President Obama's considered decision not to run on any of the current Democratic agenda would appear to reflect his accurate recognition that it would have been deadly political suicide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2009 8:05 AM
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