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August 24, 2009

Obama: Go It Alone on Health Care

Almost everyone in politics says they're in favor of bipartisanship, and on some level, they are. Except the average politician defines "bipartisan" as "the other party agreeing with me about what I want to do anyway." That's a lesson that President Obama and the Democrats would be wise to remember as the health care reform debate resumes.

As the town hall screamers argue that Obama is a "dictator" who is "forcing health care down our throats," the framework proposed by President Obama since the very beginning of the consideration of health care reform has been something quite different – a negotiation between the leaders of both parties in Congress to attempt to put some sort of grand bipartisan compromise on the table.

By this point, it's become clear that such a strategy isn't going to lead to any kind of health care reform, simply because the GOP isn't interested in negotiating. Picking off a few GOP votes in Congress may very well happen. But the idea of a massive bargain between the two parties to deliver health care reform isn't going to happen, and it's useless even trying.

In the past few weeks Charles Grassley, the GOP's alleged "negotiator," has done little but repeat the usual discredited talking points – "pulling the plug on grandma" and the like – and argue that the bill, somewhat absurdly, needs 80 votes in the Senate in order to gain legitimacy. That's a standard I don't remember ever being in place for any sort of legislation during the Bush years, especially when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

Amid the din of the town halls, with people screaming falsehoods about fascism and tyranny, with the n-word ("Nazi") making frequent appearances, it's easy to forget something: President Obama and a Democratic Congress were both elected by comfortable margins. Obama made his health care plans clear throughout the campaign, and has not proposed anything appreciably different on the issue as president than he did on the trail.

The Democrats have the presidency, 60 Senate seats and a comfortable House majority. Why not pass the best health care reform possible, without significant Republican support? Once again, I don't remember the Republicans feeling any sort of compulsion to reach across the aisle back when they had a congressional majority.

To argue with an elected president doing exactly what he said he would do – a reform that falls dramatically short of socialism, much less fascism or Naziism – is nothing short of absurdity. But the president's opponents have lied, scare-mongered and worse. They have told their base that the president, literally, wants to kill their loved ones. As for the media, which is allegedly “in the tank" for Obama, I've heard more media members in the past two weeks praise Palin's "death panels" crack as "a game changer" or "brilliant politics" than I've heard them call it what it actually is – a naked, shameful lie.

And that's to say nothing of those bringing guns to these rallies. (A note to the Secret Service – put a stop to this stuff, now. The First Amendment doesn't give you the right to say "I want to kill the president"; similarly, the Second Amendment doesn't mean you can carry a loaded rifle when the president of the United States is standing 25 feet away. And it's especially strange considering that the president hasn't done a thing, during the campaign or in office, to curtail gun rights.)

I'll admit Obama hasn't done the greatest job selling health care; and it's clear that thus far, he's losing the argument. And it's not hard to see why – health care is an extremely complicated issue that most of the smartest people in America don't even understand fully. Everyone understands "death panel," untruthful as it may be. For all they've done to avoid the mistakes of the Clintonites in 1993-'94, they've come up with all sorts of new ones.

But Obama has been written off before, especially at various points in the campaign – and come out on top. Health care reform is not quite dead yet, and with the right strategy in the fall, some version of a viable bill may very well emerge.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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