Obama To Address Congress Tonight
After yesterday’s successful indoctrination of our youth all over the United States, President Barack Obama is taking his tin foil show on the road, this time to Capitol Hill. He will address the American people and the less impressive collection of minds that occupy Congress. This is being billed as a watershed moment for Obama’s young presidency. Make or break! The stakes are high! <insert overly dramatic idiom here>!
While it’s hard to judge just how important this speech will be to his presidency, — after all, two-term President Bill Clinton gave a similar speech in a failed attempt to overhaul health care back in 1993 — there is no doubt that this will be a pivotal moment in the current push for reform. He has staked his popularity on this debate, and it’s hard to ignore the slide he’s experiencing in the polls as a result.
But, why the slide?
Is it because the country is growing increasingly skeptical and adverse to significant reform? Is he losing support from his own party because of perceived weak-kneed commitment to true, cost-cutting health care reform on his part? I believe both to be realities facing the president, and in many ways, that guides what I expect to hear from him tonight.
President Obama, as I stated above, has invested a tremendous amount of political capital and popularity into this debate. His mistake was giving Congress the keys to a car that was his name. His administration learned the mistakes of the Clinton-era reform attempt perhaps too well. In the 90s, the bill was written exclusively by the White House and got no real input from Congress. As a result, it was met with stiff resistance from a Congress in which Clinton had tougher numbers to work with in terms of votes. Obama has decided to put the pen entirely in the hands Congress. This has also turned out to be a bad idea. With Congress floating around several different bill proposals, there was no real plan for Obama to pitch to the American people. So, here now is President Obama, completely invested in this debate, with no plan to take ownership over. There is no coherent plan to bring to the American people. Tonight, I think he does what only presidents can do; he makes his grand pitch to the country. In simple, easy to digest language, I expect Obama to explain what his vision for reform consists of. He will explain what reform means to everybody; those who already have insurance and those without. The reality is support is slipping, but not because Americans no longer want reform. That has been roundly debunked. Rather, the white noise drowning out the debate, lack of a clear plan, and, frankly, lack of leadership from the White House are the root causes. I look for Obama to address the leadership deficiencies and problems plaguing the debate.
Then there is also the issue of support within his party. This, in my opinion, will be the most difficult issue to address and ultimately rectify. The fact of the matter is Obama has clearly weighted the importance of the ‘public option’ differently than many progressives in his party. His administration doesn’t quite see it as the most important aspect of reform. But whose fault is that? They’re the ones that initially elevated the ‘public option’ as if it were the holy grail of reform. This, again, goes back to a failure of leadership and a lack of a clearly articulated plan. Managing expectations is one of the most important jobs of the president, and it is an area he has failed in quite miserably.
Obama is going to have to make sure he doesn’t anger the people who worked their tails off to get him elected. He is in danger of appearing weak, and he is in danger of losing his base of support. The White House is signaling that he will voice support for the public option, but will not mandate that it be included in any bill. Politically — lest we forget the business these folks are in — it seems like the best option for him. The public option does not enjoy broad support in Congress, so for him to make it the make-or-break issue would be suicide for reform. There is now the idea of a trigger option being floated around. Introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, it’s basically a plan to ‘trigger’ the public option into existence if a series of benchmarks aren’t met by the health insurance industry. What those benchmarks are is unclear. So, too, is whether this is a realistic plan with any prospects for success.
I look forward to hearing this speech, though. It’s going to be interesting to see Obama try to re-seize control of this debate.
September 9th, 2009 @ 8PM EST.