Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Politics of Health Care

The Politics of Health Care
By Jerome Grossman

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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Amateur Hour on Afghanistan

Amateur Hour on Afghanistan
By Jerome Grossman

A clash is coming on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase there. One plan, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, would "scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan." Greater reliance would be placed on drone airplanes attacking insurgent leaders and less on nation-building.

However, the 66 page classified report by the commanding general on the ground, Stanley McChrystal, assessed the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan "as a potential threat to the safety of American troops. “ He called for more troops and "other resources" that "would be required for victory." This approach is supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Can Obama resist the recommendations of his military leaders?

It is an embarrassment to the Obama administration that the secret report was leaked to newsman Bob Woodward and printed in the Washington Post. It forces the President's hand at a time when he is hard pressed to push health-care reform legislation through the Congress, giving the President another controversial issue to manage. It is hard enough to handle a single controversy. One observer called the chain of events and the leaked report, "amateur hour." Who slipped the secret document to Woodward? In the midst of the battle over health care, Congress must battle over troops again? Republicans are already on board for escalating the war, with more troops and money. The Democrats are divided but most want the administration to develop an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

It will be politically difficult for Obama, the leader of the only superpower on earth, to simply walk away from the war. But we did it in Vietnam, America is more secure and we gained a friendly customer. We have agreed to leave Iraq in 2011 and the political roof hasn't collapsed. If we leave Afghanistan to the people who live there, how would such a haven increase the danger in the United States? That case has not yet been made. We have learned how to protect ourselves: no attacks have been made on the U.S. since September 11.

The President’s sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections, the widespread corruption, and the guerilla tactics of the Taliban. Nine months into his presidency and six months after announcing a new strategy, Obama is reconsidering his plan again. Does this indicate uncertainty?

The allies of the U.S. want out. At least half of the Americans polled have lost confidence in the war. There is division in the Obama administration. No strategy seems to work. Is it worth more American lives? Is it really necessary for American security?

Politically, the war is a loser. It is no longer the Bush war; it belongs to Barack Obama - to intensify or to end – halfway measures won’t do


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