Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cancer Patient in a Burning Hospital

This article is composed of three excerpts from earlier pieces that I posted on my blog. Each one deals with a fundamental reason behind Obama's current failures as president.

(Article - 2/22/10) Is President Obama doing the right thing by focusing on health care reform right now?

.....This is a tricky question. There is an analogy that I often use to illustrate my position on Obama's emphasis on health care reform: Pretend that there is a cancer patient in a burning hospital. What do you do first - try to cure his cancer, or get him out of the building and away from the flames?

.....While the answer to this question is obvious enough when posed in such stark and viscerally powerful terms, it becomes a bit trickier when its principles are manifested in more abstract themes such as "unemployment", "budget deficits", and "health care reform". Few apart from the most strident conservatives would argue that each of those three issues rank among the most important in American life (the far right acknowledges the significance of our budget deficit but tends to be contemptuous of those who want to solve unemployment and our health care crisis). Yet because all three of those problems are so pressing, sometimes it can be difficult to properly prioritize them. Such was made clear in an article published earlier this month which described:

"One senior Democratic senator said (Chief of Staff Rahm) Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy. But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers."

.....I will not deny that, given the humanitarian urgency and moral imperative behind America's health care crisis, there is something extremely admirable in Barack Obama's determination to focus on resolving this problem. Unfortunately, the health care crisis - and for that matter the budget deficit, another issue on which Obama has placed great emphasis - is the cancer eating away at the flesh of America's socioeconomic fabric, while rising unemployment is the burning building in which we as a nation are trapped. That is why I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments expressed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson when he recently said:

"Let's make a last effort to get universal health care... But if it doesn't work let's move into creating jobs and boosting the economy."

(Article - 2/23/10) Why doesn't Obama focus more on jobs?

.....Obama has, with a steadfast determination that utterly baffles me, refused to pursue the policies that will be necessary to lead us to a recovery. What he should be doing right now, for political as well as moral reasons, is casting himself as a bellicose populist, one who uses the prestige and raw power of the presidency to help the people in their time of need by pushing through policies which solve their problems and serving as a bulwark between them and the cupidity of their adversaries (a tactic that has worked beautifully for economically progressive presidents from Andrew Jackson to the two Roosevelts). Equipped with this image, he should then push for measures that - however unpopular with conservatives and so-called centrists, and however initially extreme they may appear to many independent-minded Americans - are nevertheless guaranteed to have an immediate, significant, and overwhelmingly positive effect on our country's economic life. Above all else, this should involve passing an additional $1 trillion stimulus package, including $700 billion in private investment and infrastructure spending, $200 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $100 billion in a second WPA, which will almost instantly start creating thousands of jobs, bringing us into a much healthier economic state by autumn 2012 (when Obama needs to be re-elected) and to full employment within a year or two after that.

.....Instead, Obama refuses to do any of this. He seems to have bought into the myth that has been adamantly propounded by the Democratic Leadership Council, the Blue Dog Coalition, and other so-called centrist groups within his own party for years - i.e., that America is a right-wing nation, and as such will turn against any politician who tries to press a liberal agenda upon them. The fact that all of the evidence, historical and contemporary, points to Americans being a distinctly non-ideological bunch - that we are, indeed, a nation that cares far more about meat-and-potatoes RESULTS than we do about the ideological mechanisms through which those results are reached - has eluded him. To avoid being branded a "socialist" or a "radical", Obama has chosen a strange approach that can best be called glorified inactivity, consisting of proposing measures that nibble at the edges of our biggest problems without doing anything meaningful to solve them. For a tactic that is meant to win over the support of all three American voting groups - his conservative opponents, liberal allies, and moderate friends - Obama's approach has pulled off the unique feat of guaranteeing the worst of all three worlds: his political allies are angry at his insistence to budge from his love affair with inefficient half measures, his enemies continue to distort the inadequate piffle that he does push through as being "socialist" and "radical" (despite the fact that they are mostly borne of his attempts to accommodate them), and because his policies don't work, moderates continue to be angry at the lack of tangible results. Yet with a stubbornness that is very unbecoming a president (as we saw when it was displayed by George W. Bush in the last decade), Obama refuses to recognize the error of his ways, and instead plods ahead with the same failed strategy.

(Article - 3/1/10) What will all of this mean?

There are one of three outcomes that can take place in this situation:

1) Barack Obama learns from his mistakes, abandons his efforts to reach out to Republicans, creatively uses his power to pass an ambitious agenda that will end unemployment and our recession, and thus creates a new "Obama Era".

2) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes but, like Ronald Reagan, lucks out and has the recession take care of itself before he runs for re-election in 2012*.

3) Barack Obama doesn't learn from his mistakes, the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney in 2012 (I explain why it would be Romney here: http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/02/new-thoughts-on-2012-election.html), and Romney defeats Obama.

So will there be an Obama Era? The answer to that question has yet to be written, but Barack Obama is holding the pen.

* - Bill Clinton also lucked out; although his policies were inadequate to the needs of America during its early-1990s recession, the Internet revolution triggered an economic boom that prevented Clinton's dithering from doing any real damage.


Anonymous said...

America is center-right, and it's the founding father's fault. red states have too much representation.

he has to work w/ the DLC and Blue Dogs, otherwise nothing will get done and he'll be another Carter.

Matt Rozsa said...

There are several flaws in your argument:

1) The "red states" weren't economically conservative until the dawn of the Ronald Reagan era.

2) Jimmy Carter didn't fail because he tried to be too liberal; he failed because he was generally inept in handling the major crises confronting Americans in the late 1970s. If you look at those liberal Democrats who DID actively push the centrist and conservative elements in their own party (Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson), they tended to be far more successful in implementing their will than the ones who tried to appease them (John Kennedy, Bill Clinton).

The problem with the DLC/Blue Dog philosophy is that it's based on a notion of history that fails to take into account, you know, HISTORY.