Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forming the Reformers

Today's NYT reports that Democrats could be "set to go it alone on a health bill." Yeah, that's a relief.

Honestly I understand their reasoning. Republicans have concluded that the pleasures of political payback exceed the exigencies of fixing our system run amuck, a cacophony that costs so much more than it needs and delivers so much less than Americans deserve, this nation offering the Greatest Health Care System in the World (has that trademark been assigned yet?). To secure any hope of surviving as more than a regional throwback, Whigs without wigs, the party of Reagan must stand for something, even if that something is the pathetic choice of "anti-Obama."

Once more, health care reform faces death from a thousand scalpels.

So the Democrats are going to manage the operation now, run the Republicans out of the operating theater. Well, can you blame them? When it comes to the GOP's responses to each Democratic give-away, from single-payer to public option to private co-op -- "socialized medicine!" they screech (as if the Defense Department isn't a "socialized military" -- it's clear there will be no bipartisanship on this deal. Can you doubt that President Obama has mused aloud in staff meetings, "We've got a filibuster-proof majority, we've got a wide margin in the House, why not take this mandate out for a spin?"

Don't slip on the blood-stained floor, Mr. President. It's bad enough to confront a calcified Republican Party, bent on mischief and possessing no willingness to offer Americans more than empty fears of pulling the plug on Grandma. But the Democrats will be no easier to wrangle. Blue Dogs on the Right; Progressives on the Left, and few members of Congress owing you personal favors. The mind reels with the ways a decent president can be unmade by indecent hacks. I personally find sad reminders of Carter's failed presidency in this ongoing mess. And then there are the parallels to an even darker time.

A recent Harper's article compared Barack Obama to Herbert Hoover, noting both leaders' intelligence, pragmatism, and willingness to tackle tough issues. Hoover got a raw deal in the popular historical depiction, painted as the guy who fiddled while the economy burned. A fair assessment holds that this Republican worked tirelessly to head off the Depression, confronting first the disbelievers in his own party. But Hoover could not overcome historical, structural, and personal constraints that blocked his good intentions. I wonder if Obama thinks about Hoover's fate when he wrestles with the health care conundrum.

I have hope. I've got to. This is the first president in a long while who possesses the power to actually change things.

But I fear too that Democrats, despite the best intentions of their standard-bearer, are unable or unwilling to define the debate, clarify the plan, sell the vision, and craft the details without slipping their own predictable mires. The leadership in the House and Senate manages to be both feckless and petty, and the party as a whole lacks the discipline possessed by their opponents. Barack Obama proved his mettle as a community organizer in Chicago, but can he organize this community of fractious, insular, self-serving politicians?

Oh god, save health care reform from the Democrats.

Read the article: Democrats Seem Set to Go It Alone on a Health Bill (Free registration required)

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