09/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Save AstroTurf for Football Season: Water Grassroots on Health Care, Not Clunkers

Watching bad strategy play out is frustrating, mainly because it undermines the genuine philosophical beliefs of voters and lawmakers, and partly because so often it repeats past mistakes.

President Obama is repeating the mistakes Hillary Clinton and President Clinton's administration made when they rolled out health care. The mistakes recurring are: 1) letting both the House and Senate write numerous forms of legislation and in so doing, exposing every desire of the industries and lobbyists involved; 2) not making choices and showing accountability to those industries and special interests to show that the chosen bill fits the public will.

There is no better example of the influence industries have over health care than the war going on between the AFL-CIO, the health care lobby, and the "turfers." Credit for finding such a divisive class-war dividing phrase goes to Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi said people want to know what's in the legislation -- and she's right. So, start explaining. Which bill? Which version? How much for what?

Obama said health care was going to be run by Sen. Kennedy, out of the Senate Finance Committee. So why is the House even part of it at this point? And why are Democrats opposing one another on what's important?

The president seems to have lost control of this critical policy discussion, derailed first by the Cambridge Beer Summit, then the cash-for-clunkers giveaway that only applies to people rich enough to own an SUV or comparable "clunker" to trade in and get a new car. Two billion dollars here, two billion dollars there, and you know what? This stuff starts to add up... and potentially undermine the need for costly health care reform.

This is the tipping point for health care passage. It needs to be basic, concise, and passable. It can always be added to or refined, but if President Obama wants his legacy to include health care as a right, his moment is now. He can either buckle down and focus on nothing else until it's done, or get derailed by the political play of the week. Only one approach will win. The listening meetings are staged by both sides. So why not stop them?

Move the football, stay on message, keep it simple, and save the AstroTurf terminology for football season.