Vantage point

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Obama: Clingy, Clueless, or Shrewd?

Like I have blogged before, I don't like the Democrats' healthcare bill. I don't like the public option or expansion of medicare. So I cheer every delay in passing the bill.

But I do like Obama. He is right on more things than he is wrong. well, at least he was on the campaign. And I still think he is the best President the country can realistically have. So I hold my nose while he wallows in the healthcare mess, hope that they get done with it soon, and just friggin' move on to other stuff. Like Don't Ask Don't Tell, which even Admiral Mullen says we should repeal. Or actually closing Gitmo. Just do whatever you want to with healthcare and move on, dude.

So I feel a combination of amusement and annoyance at how pathetically clingy and needy he is acting towards the Republicans in this healthcare debate, under the name of bipartisanship. It's been happening for over a year. They have steadfastly refused any sort of compromise. And yet he keeps trying to court them and change their minds. Like Bill Maher frequently jokes about this, "Barry, they're just not that into you!"

The last 14 months have seemed oddly like the movie Groundhog Day. Dems propose something. Republicans whip up fear. Senate leadership and White House bend over backwards and sacrifice another point, chanting "bipartisanship". Republicans still say no. Blue dog dems get scared. There's talk of revamping the bill, taking stuff out. Stuff gets taken out. Dems propose. Republicans whip up fear. Obama-Reid talk about compromise. Blue dogs get scared..... and so on. I bet reporters love all this, because they can just recycle most of their reports again and again.

So after the elaborate drama that was the White House Healthcare Summit; drama that made good TV, but in terms of impact was meaningless, I thought fine, at least now we're done. Now we know. A compromise is impossible. Now the Democrats, who have a majority in both houses, will pass the bill, using reconciliation, and in the worst case scenario of a 50-50 senate split, using Biden's vote (remember, Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote 8 times!). It might make things better, or worse, or whatever, but at least we won't spend more than the 14 months we've already spent on it.

So imagine how loud my groan was when I read this headline - Obama: Compromise on health if GOP is serious

Duuuude!!!! Do you have Jerry's mother from the sitcom Seinfeld saying to you every hour - "How can anyone not like you?" I doubt even Gandhi had the sort of confidence you do about changing the minds of your opponents. I can understand this approach at the beginning, but even 14 months after the whole drama has gone on? What the hell?

Like a spoilt teenager who has trouble dealing with the fact that a girl he loves actually does not and never will love him back, Obama is really reaching. Just like the teenager, who misreads a polite smile from the girl as a signal that she is falling for him, Obama takes any slight agreement with a Republican as a sign that he is getting their votes. He looked so thrilled at the summit when Tom Coburn put forth some ideas he agreed with. Ideas that frankly were not as great or earth-shattering as Obama made them out to be, and should already have been in the bill. But Obama praises them anyway. And immediately he concludes - Coburn hearts me!

Obama plans to unveil an updated proposal this coming week, likely on Wednesday, according to press secretary Robert Gibbs. Gibbs suggested it would include concepts put forward by Republicans at the summit. One Republican who was there, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was contacted Friday by the White House and asked to submit details of suggestions he made on rooting out waste and fraud from the medical system, Coburn's spokesman said.

Sweet. So is Coburn putting out for Barry? Will a bipartisan love affair bloom from the marshes of the healthcare debate? Will Obama-Coburn be the new McCain-Lieberman? What do you think?

Spokesman John Hart said that Coburn views Obama's legislation as a government takeover and would not be able to support it even if it's changed to include some of his proposals.


Here's the thing. Obama could tell the Republicans to write the bill from start finish. And they still won't vote for it. Why would they? They need the bill to fail. Once it fails, it can be used as a huge campaign tool for the 2010 midterms and even the 2012 Presidential elections. I doubt they thought the bill's debate would go beyond 2009. Now we are almost into the 3rd month of 2010, and the Democrats are still just thinking about reconciliation, instead of ramming it through asap.

This delay has been a bonus for the Republicans. They know that all they need to do is stall, stall, stall. Whip up public sentiment. Make the polls skew even more heavily against the bill. That way, they scare the blue dogs. And every day that we move closer to November, the chances of the blue dogs voting for the bill reduce significantly. Killing this bill seemed like an unrealistic although ambitious goal in 2009. Now it seems very likely. Especially since even now, Obama is talking about compromise, and contacting the GOP to ask what to include in the bill.

Obama is being really naive. he?

The man is intelligent. He is a Chicago politician after all. Surely, he is not stupid enough to actually believe the GOP is serious about compromise, or even one of them will vote for the bill?

So here's my theory. The original bill that Obama wanted, he believed it would work. But the bill has been watered down so much already, that Obama knows that this version is bad. It will make things worse, not better. It will be tough to pay for. He will HAVE TO raise taxes. It will get rolled out over the next few years, get criticized as ineffective, and hurt his chances for re-election in 2012. And maybe even afterward. He hates the possibility of what this mutated version of healthcare reform could do to the rest of his Presidency, and even his legacy.

So, he actually WANTS the bill to die. Yes, killing the bill will be disastrous for the Dems in the midterm. But sacrificing some seats in both houses is a price he's gladly pay for making 2012 But by the time 2012 rolls around, the people will have forgotten all about healthcare. The economy is recovering already. 2012, barring the Mayan apocalypse, is likely to be way better than 2008 in terms of economic growth, income, consumer confidence, and even unemployment. Just like Clinton won re-election easily despite his healthcare debacle in 1994, because the country was in a lot better shape in 1996 than in 1992.

So he is joining in with the Republicans to stall, stall, stall. By sounding all earnest about bipartisanship and committed to passing healthcare. Bipartisanship, even 14 months after the opponents say capital-N-to-the-capital-O. The debate stretches till summer, when everyone goes on break. Then fall, when campaigning starts. And getting even one of blue dogs to vote for the bill with the election around the corner will be impossible.

The bill will die. Dems will lose big. Obama moves on. In 2012, he can attack the Republicans for being the party of NO and killing healthcare. And win re-election.

I know. It's a bit out there. But plausible.