Although the so-called debates over healthcare reform and energy have been less than enlightening, the actual work of Congress marking up bills and launching trial balloons on costs and payments, plus the assembly of shifting coalitions may be seen, retrospectively, to have been time and breath well-spent. These are, after all, complex issues, they will affect everyone, and the implications of various alternatives are worth airing.
One might have hoped that those who really knew what they were talking about had more air-time rather than the "pundits" who, in the area I know something about, healthcare, rarely have a clue about what it is they are pontificating.
But, there will be neither healthcare legislation nor an energy bill that will magically come together on its own.
On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans left the comfort of their homes to rally for the planet. During the next election, the first "dirty-dozen" polluter-apologist members of Congress were targeted. Seven lost (and recall incumbency provides a 90%+ retention rate). The next year, because of the message sent, Congress passed the landmark environmental legislation: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the law establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. All while Richard Nixon was President!
President Obama has much more clout than the ragtag groups that rallied people for Earth Day. Nor did they have the internet to reach and mobilize people. Obama has passion for the initiatives, a land army awaiting mobilization orders, and multi-media ways of reaching and organizing them.
He needs to use it.
To get healthcare and energy legislation passed, this is what the President needs to do, using healthcare as the example:
1. Determine what the key elements of the bill shall be. Clearly, he does that in consultation with the Members who have been leading the efforts in these areas, but he has to choose from among the competing alternatives what he wants in the bills.
2. Then, he has go on television multiple times, indicating the direct action people need to take. The key is not a long explanation of the details of the legislation. Those interested can read about it. Most importantly, are the exhortations to do specific things: go online to a website he establishes, call their Congressmen and Senators, and so on.
3. Ask the people to ask their Members a very simple question: Why should their constituents be paying for good healthcare for them, when they themselves, whose servant the member of Congress is, are denied such coverage?
4. Inform people about what David Plouffe is doing. Obama's 13 million person online army, mobilized for the Presidential campaign, needs to be mobilized. If, for legal reasons, it has to be a paid political announcement by the President to do this, so be it. If Plouffe can average $10 per person, he will have $130 million to put on ads, mobilize door-to-door, do what is necessary to show the Members of Congress that we are watching.
Finally, he needs to let his Democratic Congressmen and Senators know the hard cold truth: that their fate and his are inextricably intertwined. Allow him to be defeated on one of these major initiatives, and a repeat of 1994 may be at-hand.
This is not, as many have cast it, a question of nice guy and bipartisanship versus arm-twisting and partisan politics.
It is, like Earth Day itself, a matter of transcendence. Everyone who supported Obama knew, and many who opposed him also knew, that to break the hammerlock that the vested interests (aka the permanent political class) have on Washington DC the populace must be mobilized. If there were any evidence needed, just consider how many former staffers to Democratic members have been hired by the vested interests to lobby against Obama's initiatives, i.e., money talks, and the permanent political class is, in the end, the one truly bipartisan group around.
On health care, one need know just one fact: ~70% of the people want a public plan option, and are willing to pay higher taxes to get it. Yet, whether a public plan is in the bill remains highly uncertain. Only the interests of the permanent political class could be holding it up.
This President has the inspirational talent, the right issues, an army awaiting mobilization, the communications' tools to organize and activate--that is, if the President wants healthcare and energy legislation to happen, he can have it.
For Obama: push must now come to shove.
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