Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Big Picture: Grading the Week

If you've been reading the Daily Strikes, you know that the Strike and I have been none too thrilled with the trajectory of this past week for Obama's reform agenda, and at its conclusion we're confident in saying that it was one of the worst of his Presidency. There are some potential silver linings which prop the grade up from an "F", but overall, in a situation where the immense challenges mean that even an inconsequential week is an unacceptable missed opportunity, it is pretty devastating to have a week where the roadblocks actually grew against reform. We're giving a D+.

It has been enormously frustrating watching the regression on health care reform this week. Health care reform is difficult enough on its own - involving complexities, gambles, sacrifices, reorganizations, and the setbacks those inevitably create - but it becomes almost impossible when you throw in the two dominant storylines of the week. 1) It is extraordinarily misleading, hypocritical and disingenuous that the debate about health care has been framed as "can we afford it, given our deficit problems?" If you hear that argument, here's the response: 1) Obama's promised that the health care plan will be deficit-neutral so it is completely untrue that it will add to our deficit, 2) every analysis shows that the biggest cause of our deficit problems is our unsustainable health care system, so the worst thing we can do for our fiscal health is to NOT do anything about it, 3) for 30 years our deficit has been balooning due to tax cuts for the rich, out of control military budgets and unnecessary wars, as well as corporate subsidies (a large percentage to the health care industry). That is why we have a deficit. The media didn't frame the policies of Reagan and Gingrich and Bush under the damning "can we afford this?" label. But now that we are conducting on urgently needed programs to actually help hundreds of millions of people and fix our nation's biggest problems, all for FAR less money in the short term and that will in fact create far MORE revenue down the road as these investments pay off, all of a sudden there's a hue and cry about how we can't afford this. The elites got theirs for decades, but god forbid we spend 1/10 the amount on everyone else and on the future. Let's have an honest debate about what kind of health care system we want in America - if people think America's system works fine as it is, or just needs some market-oriented fine-tuning, then make that argument and. In fact, that already happened in the last election, and that argument lost. That of course is why this false argument is being peddled - big business and centrist Democrats can't argue on the merits against a public plan supported by the public 72-20, so they are peddling this completely false argument that is percolating throughout the population and sapping support among independents.

The second frustrating element, as we've discussed every day, is the pathetic effort by the supposed advocates of health care reform in Congres, and to a lesser extent, in the media and yes in the White House. This isn't going to happen on its own - without a full-throated "Bush selling the invasion of Iraq" all-media-platforms-24/7 crusade, health care reform will fail. Step. It. Up.

The potential silver lining is that the failures and displays of Congressional Democrat incompetence have put Obama in a stronger position to jump in with both feet. If up until a couple weeks ago Congressional Democrats would have resisted Obama meddling and stealing their thunder (a ridiculously selfish spiteful attitude but that's Congress), now they have to admit that they're going to fail and go down in flames unless Obama takes charge immediately. Also, Obama has displayed that he is at his best as a devastating counterpuncher, waiting until he's attacked before he steps up the passionate advocacy, letting his opponents show their cards and then pouncing on them. All the counter-arguments and excuses from the obstructionists are being displayed, so Obama and grassroots liberals know what they're up against. Obama needs to strongly point out the hypocrisy and disengenuousness of this "we can't afford it" argument, and he also should recognize that the public plan is still wildly popular, the arguments against are laughably weak (the current "it's unfair to the private insurance companies" seems to bet that Americans are overflowing with sympathy for their poor oppressed HMO), so he has a clear field to press forcefully. But, this is all speculation. If he can effectively turn the setbacks of this week into positives over the coming month, we'll play the role of our bleeding-heart 6th grade teacher Ms. Temple (hope you're reading!) and retroactively raise his grade.

The situation in Iran is in so much flux right now that it's impossible to say whether it will ultimately advance the goal of global cooperation to confront shared challenges. The efforts on regulation are also tough to grade - on the one hand it's good that the Obama administration proposed at least some financial regulation, while while way too weak is still far better than anything we could ever have dreamed of getting under the past 4 administrations. Then again, it IS way too weak, and Congressional Democrats are apparently extremely skeptical, a reaction that I'm sure is completely unrelated to the hundreds of financial industry lobbyists swarming them, showering them with campaign cash, promising jobs for their wives and sons, in stark contrast to the ZERO lobbyists on behalf of ordinary Americans. Finally, it's getting frustrating listening to Obama make these strong speeches about the need to close the book on the era of recklessness, sounding staunchly populist, but then turn around and do so little to actually live up to that rhetoric. We just have to hope the same disconnect - some might say hypocrisy - doesn't emerge during the fight for health care reform.

Have a good week, and let's hope it's better than the last one for the cause of urgently needed reform!

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