There's a lot at stake for President Barack Obama in his battle to reform the health-care industry. In many ways, this very contentious debate is the House of Cards of his political legacy. Many believe that as goes health-care reform, so goes Obama. And they're right. Obama seems lost right now, and that's not a good thing for him, for Democrats or for the nation.
Obama has shown a general unwillingness to put up an aggressive fight for what he says he believes in. He's appearing weak, indecisive and without conviction. The health-care initiative seems on the verge of imploding, and with it will go the president's stock.
The latest sign of trouble is the speculation that the White House could soon be dropping its once-essential "public option" from its proposed health plan, now referring to it as "not the essential element," as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said over the weekend. This is extremely disturbing, if true, for it shows that the president is bowing under pressure and compromising where he should not.
Let's get straight to the point: Obama seems more concerned with peacemaking than reform-making. He seems more preoccupied with staying popular, despite his tanking approval ratings, than with pursuing an aggressive agenda of change; change which he was elected to achieve. For an incredibly articulate and bright guy he seems woefully unprepared for the health-care debate. He still doesn't get it that mere talking-points and likability just won't cut it against (a) a massively misinformed electorate desperately in need of specifics and plan details; and (b) a Republican Party hellbent on destroying him with lies and misrepresentations.
To be sure, he's no George W. Bush, with whom I disagreed on virtual every domestic and global issue, but who demonstrated certitude when carrying out his agenda. When he wanted to march us into war, he did. When he wanted to use illegal torture and spying techniques, he did. When he wanted to lower taxes for the richest Americans, he did. When he wanted to take down political enemies like former Ambassador Joe Wilson, he did. He didn't care what Congress, the Senate or Democrats thought, and he never paid attention to public opinion polls. He was resolute and his precision was laser-like. He got the job done.
No doubt, Bush was dangerous, insecure and impulsive. A reckless cowboy whose irresponsible actions we're still paying for and will be for some time. But, he fought hard and relentlessly for what he believed in, which is an awful lot more than we can say about Obama in his initial seven months.
There is no better time for Obama than the present. The power and the bully pulpit of the White House is his. He also has the benefit of an overwhelming majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. He still has the support of Americans, who elected him in a clear mandate for change. He's a brilliant politician and has the ability to rally people into his corner. There's still time for him to prove he can get the job done, but not much.
With his rapidly dwindling popularity, and with voters growing increasingly frustrated by the minute, Obama needs to demonstrate and ability to lead and execute. He needs to be clear and concise with what he wants, and he must strong arm legislators--much as Bush did--to win their votes for his measures. He's got to grow some balls, for Pete's sake, and choose between being The Decider or The Waffler.