Healthcare summit is rude awakening for Obama and the Democrats

Inside Washington

February 26, 2010

By Jesse J. Leaf
Senior Editor
Troy Media

Jesse Leaf

WASHINGTON,  Feb. 26, 2010/ Troy Media/ — If anyone (living in a cave, no doubt) still harboured any optimism about the future of the Obama presidency, indeed, of the US as we know it, the marathon televised healthcare summit Thursday was a frightening and inevitable warning.

Like a boil, the infection that has been growing beneath the surface, finally broke skin with such an explosion that even Barack Obama must by now admit to the failure of his presidency and the dire state the country is in. He is no longer in Wonderland.

A quick rundown: The healthcare mess is just one of the major problems confronting the US. After eight years of a destructive political climate, Obama inherited a cancerous situation, with pockets of self-interest and corruption nestled in every government agency. With a secretive and cynical administration; a free press immersed in its own financial and intellectual drought; and a public unaware, uninterested and unable to comprehend the problems (all the while under economic pressure from within and without), the country continued its downslide. It would take a president of skill and power to halt, if not reverse, the trend.

Wrong man, wrong time

In a perfect political storm, Obama was elected to be that man. Intelligent, articulate, calm under pressure, he was the wrong man at the wrong time. For many reasons, Obama has so far proved unfit to draw the blood that is necessary to cure the patient – and the proof is in Thursday’s summit.

Passage of the sweeping healthcare bill has been a year in the making and it is nowhere close to becoming law of the land. Obama, like many intellectuals and Washington outsiders, made the mistake of assuming that if the right thing to do was intelligently and reasonably explained to people (and I am reluctantly including politicians in that category), their faces would immediately light up, and they would throw themselves bodily on the bandwagon.

Instead of studying Abraham Lincoln, Obama should have spent his weekends studying Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Baines Johnson (if not the George Bush gang). The first two: intellectuals, outsiders, failed presidents out of touch with the groundlings. Johnson was a successful power broker who spent decades in the trenches and understood the dirty give-take-or-I’ll-break-your-arm game of politics. And George Bush, well, he was a Mafioso who hid inside a shadow government, protected by the mob, and dealt favors to the boys. He, too, was a success.

Obama is ill-suited for the job. Coming out of an academic and community-service background, he erroneously thought that he could provide a moral framework for his vision and leave the nitty-gritty to others. In other words, he lacks leadership. During his tenure, he gives wonderful speeches (he never stopped campaigning, despite what he told John McCain at the meeting), but fails to proffer the details his troops would need to carry through the battle. In one meeting with contentious Senate Democrats, when it looked as if the sides were at an impasse, Obama left saying, “See what you guys can figure out.”

Just a big-picture guy

This lack of decisive direction from the White House unfortunately plays unto Obama’s personality and philosophy of leadership. Unlike Lyndon Johnson, he does not like to play dictator or get involved in petty conflicts over details. He prefers to lay out a broad proposal and wants the other guys to work out the details.

This has been fatal in Congress. Although the Democrats held a commanding majority, and should have rallied to quickly enact their healthcare bill, they remained in disarray and disagreement as to the details they were supposed to vote on. In a secret meeting with White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Democrats were seething with frustration over the lack of leadership at the top.

On the basest level, the Republicans understand the American psyche and keep to simplistic propaganda and false arguments and vote as a Soviet-style bloc. They have no problem with putting partisan politics ahead of public good. A perfect example is holding Canadian and British healthcare up to ridicule as failed experiments while extolling the American system as “the best in the world.” Both patently untrue, but an easy lie that plays well with the voter.

The Democrats, with a political death wish, argue amongst themselves, refuse to vote as a single entity and put personal integrity before public good. (This shortsighted rationale was painfully demonstrated by environmentalist Ralph Nadar, who ran for president because he thought the Democrats weren’t green enough. Result: he siphoned off enough votes to put George Bush in office, as anti-green a president as you can get.) They have failed pathetically in providing their own leadership in promoting their cause. Like the nerd and the schoolyard bully, they seem to cower in the corner and trust some higher power will overcome the enemy.

For all the talk about being the party of the people and a man of the streets, Obama and the Democrats have lost touch. They haven’t countered the in-your-face politics of the right. They haven’t put forth an effective argument for healthcare reform – the wide-ranging economic and social benefits that will percolate throughout the American economy. Calm and reason will never outplay the ravings of a Karl Rove or Glenn Beck.

Right now, because of the mismanagement of the healthcare issue, Americans have grown weary of the row and are concerned with other pressing problems, like job creation and to a lesser extent – until the next incident at least – terrorism. The war in Afghanistan and the presence in Iraq don’t even come close. How weird is that? All this without realizing the interconnection of all these with the country’s dire economic straits.

US spirals down

The problems are monumental and global. You won’t get more jobs without restructuring the economy to make up for lost manufacturing and outsourced service jobs. Does anyone have a clue? The comforting and ridiculous idea that we were in a postindustrial society where service-oriented jobs would make up for the factory-floor paycheck has, of course, been proven tragically wrong. Big whoop. Only an idiot society would believe that. So while the country continues to spiral down – people can’t pay their bills, jobs are lost, health problems go untreated – the Washington boys collect their large salaries, get great free healthcare, ride their limos and expect reelection.

Not much change for the good is visible, so the voters are expected to shuffle the deck again, which will mean a disastrous spell of contention and stalemate in Washington. Meanwhile, we may hope that, after Thursday’s debacle, skins may toughen. Obama may, at long, long, last, let the scales drop from his eyes and realize that he doesn’t live in Wonderland.  He may at last realize that his political foes won’t suddenly see that light and vote what is “right,” that good guys finish last in the capital, and that voters don’t vote with their heads. And maybe Congress will find its backbone, with the majority standing together, and – damn the torpedoes -get the  bill voted on reconciliation while they still have the votes. Because, come next election, they’ll see that Wonderland’s doors open both ways.

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, February 27, 2010

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