Sunday, October 25, 2009

How Obama's Doing: A Brief Progress Report

I wonder if the Left just inherently more pessimistic about our political fortunes than is the Right, at least when it comes to partisan and electoral prospects. It sure seemed like there was a lot of gloating from Republicans in Bush's early years. But right now, in the circles I travel, there is a lot of nail biting over the future of the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress.

I think, all in all, Obama is doing quite well. Consider where we are with the health care debate. Obama decided to jump into this fight in the first year of his first term. And unlike the Clinton Administration in the '90's, Obama decided to let Congress take the lead in crafting the legislation. So for months and months we've followed the ups and downs of every committee debate and ever Senator's proclamation of support or opposition. We watched, gape-mouthed, as conservatives took over summertime town hall meetings and shouted down their representatives and blocked civic discussion. It worked so well that the energy industry talked about emulating the tactic to block climate change legislation. For some of us, in those dog days of summer, it felt like maybe the wheels were already coming off Obama's wagon.

But once again, it turned out that the hits Obama was taking were part of a rope-a-dope strategy. The screamers ran out of breath, dropped their stupid signs ("Keep government hands off my Medicare!"), and went home. And what do you know, a solid majority of the public still supports creating a public insurance option to compete with for-profit plans. In fact, support for the public option is up 5 points since August. And Obama has an approval rating around 56% (which of course is higher than the proportion of votes he got in November).

Oh, and we're about to pass a landmark health reform bill with some version of a public option.

Let me stress this: Congress will pass major health care reform legislation in the next couple of months. President Obama will sign it into law. And this will be the most sweeping health care reform in a generation--since the creation of Medicare. We won't get everything we want--the public option may be watered down with one of the several compromises on the table--but it will still be a significant achievement. And this will all be accomplished in President Obama's first year in office.

Then, after passing sweeping health care reform--which, remember, President Clinton failed to do--President Obama will point and say, "See, this is 'change you can believe in.' This is why we came to Washington. To do big stuff." And that seems to me like a damn good start on his re-election campaign.

If you remember, at the beginning of all this, Republicans were talking about turning health care into Obama's Waterloo. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R) said darkly:
"If we're able to stop him on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
That now looks like the exact opposite of what's actually going to happen. Not bad for a rookie president.


Camp Papa said...

Thanks for the assessment. I think (and hope) you are right. What are your thoughts on his status re Iran and Afghanistan/Pakistan?

delaine said...

I think it is wonderful to have a president who is thoughtful, careful, and not afraid to take time to make important decisions. "Dithering" indeed! This would be spoken by the VP of the administration that invaded a country and embroiled us in a tragic war with a country that had not attacked us AND based it all on faulty intell. How refreshing to have a smart President !

Solid said...


I'm curious to hear what you thought about Senator Reid's plan as announced earlier today. The opt-out clause is a big step toward the recapture of authority at the state level, which is one of my favorite issues.

Not knowing all the details of the plan, I can't say I'm officially behind it, but I find myself hoping for a good bill that will pass. California, New York, and other blue states can jump right in, while traditionally red states like Texas, Utah, and the like can remain more or less as they are (barring major changes to Medicare, taxes, etc.). Then instead of talking about what we think will work and not work, we can try it out on willing volunteers in the field.

What do you think?

Elizabeth said...

What do you think about the unfortunate truth that those states most likely to opt out (deep South red states, possibly others) are also those states with the highest infant mortality rates (1. MS, 2. LA), highest unemployment and highest number of people at or near the poverty line?

Actually, maybe in this sense it could be a good thing...maybe there will be a revolution as these people who have no employer to help provide them with healthcare and probably also don't have the funds to pay for it themselves cry out to their state governments to at least give them the public OPTION. And people always do have the option to move to another state, especially if their insurance won't be tied to their job.

Dave said...

I was pleasantly surprised that a public option with a state opt-out clause made it into Reid's bill. If we have to compromise on the public option (which is itself a compromise from a single-payer system) then this is probably the best one. I do like the idea of having states with and without the public option competing side by side, because I think it will put the responsibility on state-level Republicans to explain to their citizens why they don't think their states should have that option. But I wonder if fewer states than we might think would actually end up opting out. Once the people get these popular social programs, they don't give them up lightly (Social Security, Medicare, for instance).

However, one of the big values of public insurance is that you can have really big risk pools that make it cheaper for everybody. So I kind of worry that the opt-out idea will just weaken the public plan by slicing it up.

You raise a good point about the states that might opt out being the states that need the public option most. I do think in some cases the people in those states would end up pressuring their Republican state governments to let them keep the public option. Who knows... maybe that could lead to a mini-Democratic revival in the South and Great Plains. I also wonder if Red States did generally opt out, if you would begin to see a big migration (of people and of businesses) to the blue states.

I'll have to dig into the Iran/Afghan/Pak can of worms in a future post.