Mr. President: Time to Issue a Direct 'Call to Action' to Your Grassroots Supporters

11/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Great pitching will always beat great hitting, and vice versa. --Casey Stengel

Two months ago President Obama was strongly urged to get concrete about the health care reform package he wanted, to campaign actively and on television for support, to remind Democratic members of Congress that they face far more political danger in passing nothing or not much of anything than they do by banding together, to keep asking why Congress gets better health care more cheaply than the American people and... and... to make a direct call to action to his 13 million supporters.

He has done all of the above (with more, but as yet incomplete, concreteness about the reform he supports) except issue a direct call to action

The entire system is arrayed against reform. Most in Congress were there before President Obama was elected, and will be there after he leaves, so that any President's direct influence goes just so far. Our sorry system of campaign finance provides those making money off the current system the resources to buy the status quo. Human nature resists change; there is an old saying, "everyone favors progress; no one likes change".

As the Tobacco industry showed for decades after the Surgeon General concluded that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer, all the entrenched political system needs is a small doubt to justify paralysis. Their line: the relationship between cigarette-smoking and lung cancer is "merely statistical", and they were correct because laboratory animals were not stupid enough to inhale tobacco, so the proof was the vastly increased incidence of lung cancer among cigarette smokers and the relationship to how much they smoked. Their tactic: provide then Majority Whip, now Minority Leader, John Boehner with checks he handed out to the on the House Floor. It worked.

The Republican yapping machines are entrenched, effective and incapable of being embarrassed by lies or hypocrisy. They throw everything at it, and pursue whatever seems to be sticking, even if it contradicts what they said in the preceding sentence. They are both for and against Medicare and for and against covering all seniors' needs under Medicare. If you want a position on Medicare that agrees with your own -- you can have it. For them, it is a matter of survival: if meaningful health care reform passes, the Republicans will be politically irrelevant for at least two generations.

During the 2008 primary and general election campaigns, candidate Obama reminded us that "we are the change". That is because he knew well the barriers to reform.

But, Mr. President, we will not be change if you do not call us to direct and specific action. Yes, I get emails from David Plouffe, and have met with DNC Chair Tim Kaine exhorting me to cough up cash to support the President's drive for health care reform so we can "show the Republicans by our fundraising by the Sept 30th deadline" that we mean business.

Instead, how about showing the nation we mean business by actually passing meaningful health care reform, and render the Republicans irrelevant for at least 2 generations?

Only you, Mr. President, can galvanize your supporters, and go over the heads of Congress to show them the army they face if they to do not deliver. Getting crowds "fired up and ready to go" is wonderful, but you have to ask the nation to do something specific.

My suggestion is an "Earth Day" type of event. People should organize in their cities to come out on the street all over the country on a particular Sunday to show they want healthcare reform, and they want it now. The tea-baggers had 70,000 demonstrators--we could get 7 million or even 17 million if you would lead the charge. Earth Day, without a President's exhortations, surfaced 20 million people who gave a damn about our planet, and even forced Richard Nixon to sign the major environmental legislation of our time.

Hint to the President: You will not get 7 million or even 700,000 people out in the public square to support the Baucus bill. That, alone, should tell you something.

A large number of your supporters are young -- the millennials. They are also the most active. To get them fired up to come out on a Sunday afternoon, focus on three numbers: 8%, 18% and 35%. Those represent the percentage of the average family's income health care premiums cost in 1999, 2009 and will cost in 2019, if we do not enact meaningful health care reform.

Or, to put it in words the Republicans have taught everyone to understand -- these premiums operate just like a tax, so that healthcare premium "taxes" on the middle class doubled under the disastrous Bush Administration, and will double again if we do not act. Rather than arguing with Stephanopoulos over the definition of tax, you should remind him and others that health care premiums are themselves a tax, and recite the percentages. The middle class is paying 18% of their income, today in 2009, for their health care.

The millennials will be paying 35% of their incomes on healthcare in a decade if we do not enact meaningful reform that improves outcomes and lowers costs.

But, Mr. President, if you do not issue a direct, nationwide call to action, your millions of supporters will remain largely inactive, bemused and frustrated by fringe fear tactics, and not become the change you told us during the campaign we were.

That is, Mr. President, it is time to go "all in" on health care reform. Having declared health care reform the defining mark of your Presidency, you have nothing to lose but defeat.