Wednesday, September 09, 2009

President Obama travels cautiously down the road to Senator Baucus Healthcare reform while trying to stay off the Road to Serfdom. Can he succeed?

Our cautious President, Barack Obama, will not announce a “Public Option,” tonight, but the Baucus plan [he is following] puts America on the Road to that, if not On the Road to Serfdom. President Obama will opt for the safe shot, not the risky can take that to the bank and collect interest (assuming it survives the real stress tests).
To predict what President Obama will say this evening about healthcare reform, it is best to return to the first principles that have guided Barack Obama in the last seven years. That is the mature political candidate who sits in the oval office today.

Obama’s first principles of politics

When this reporter first sat down with Barack Obama for a half hour TV interview, it was March 15, 2001. He had “been spanked,” badly, as he put it, a year before when he sought to oust, in the Democratic Primary, Cong. Bobby Rush from his 1st Cong. Dist. seat that stretches across the South Side of Chicago. Obama realized that he had made two big mistakes in that race. He started too late and he was underfunded. Bad risks, so to speak. Although not that bad, because he was not “up for re-election,” in 2000, so he kept his state senate seat.

The Cong. Rush mistake

Barack Obama had let the Lake Front liberals prod him into a race he was unprepared for and one that was harder for him to win than the U. S. Senate seat, or the Presidency, for that matter. This is one of those things they don’t teach you at Columbia University or Harvard Law.

In short, the race against Cong. Rush went against Barack’s cautious nature. Obama is fairly cerebral for a politician; he likes to analyze the situation and take the good shot, the sound shot—he is not someone to just throw up the ball, whether it is on the basketball court, the court of public opinion or in the political arena.

The gamble against the War

The last big gamble Obama took politically was in October, 2002 when the 6th year state senator was one of two public office holders to speak out against the imminent Iraq War at a protest at the Federal Plaza in Chicago. [Obama called it a “Dumb War.”]. The other office holder present was then 4th year State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) [now running in a contested IL 10th CD Democratic Primary]. By the time Obama had joined this journalist for our third one half hour TV conversation on November 25, 2002, he was still against the War but struck a more moderate tone [Watch both clips here].

Coming out against the War was clearly something Obama believed in. It may also have been a calculated political move. It separated him early on from his four major Democratic Primary opponents, none of whom had spoken out as early or as clearly, as had Obama.

Winning the Primary and General on the Judgment issue

Indeed, the same was true in his Democratic Presidential Primary. Not only had Hillary and Edwards not spoken out early against the Iraq War, they had voted, as Obama argued, to give President Bush a blank check in Iraq, reflecting what he characterized as extraordinarily bad judgment. Essentially, Obama rode that judgment argument to victory in the Primary and used it, along with the confusion of McCain on economic issues and the sad state of the economy, to coast to the Presidency in 2008.

You see, that’s my point. After coming out against the War in 2002, Obama has been able to, in large part, leverage that “risky political bet,” to the Presidency, while returning to his cautious nature.

Obama on healthcare reform in 2004

In our fifth one half hour show, taped one week before he made the speech at the Democratic Party national convention in 2004 that made him famous, Obama spoke many of the same words he will put forward tonight. He continued to be for “Universal Healthcare,” because if someone is not in favor of that, “who is it that that person thinks should not be insured.” Not a fun question for a politician to answer.

As this reporter tried to explain to Obama in 2004, Republicans at heart don’t disagree with universal healthcare. They just want the “free market,” to be more involved than he does. They would like to “voucherize,” the assistance given to low income people, whether it is in the form of vouchers to buy health insurance or vouchers to buy healthcare from private entities.

Obama: the Free Market is entirely involved

Obama literally shouted at his TV host, “The free market is entirely involved.” I couldn’t explain to him then and nobody has explained to him since, the free market’s involvement in healthcare has been steadily eroded over the last four decades, mostly in a way that has not been helpful to consumers.

Obama also shouted at his TV host, “Show me the Republicans’ plan. They have been in power for six year, show me the plan.” Although some Republicans had and have a plan, they have not done a very good job of articulating it. Then State Senator Barack Obama had a point. However, Republicans have sharpened up their plan in the last month or two, and the majority Dems may ignore it at their peril.

Following Senator Baucus

With caution as his byword, look for Obama to follow, generally, the plan set out by Senator Max Baucus [See here]. As the Journal discusses, insurers will become government contractors. Everyone who isn’t covered by an employer will be required to buy “government approved,” coverage. Businesses will face restrictions on the types of policies they are allowed to offer. Insurance companies and medical service and device providers will be taxed heavily, and the tax will be passed on to consumers, as happens in competitive markets. The Government will respond with a complex, inefficient regulatory system, as it always does.

Government regulatory panels will be set up, over time, to decide how healthcare should be provided by “private,” entities and which services will be reimbursable by “private,” insurance companies and by government providers or insurers.

On the road to a "Public Option."

Our cautious President, Barack Obama, will not announce a “Public Option,” tonight, but the Baucus plan puts America on the Road to that, if not On the Road to Serfdom. President Obama will opt for the safe shot, not the risky one, as he runs onto to the court tonight. How do I know? He has not taken a major risk in seven years and that allowed him to became President of the United States. Barack Obama will dance with the one who brung him. You can take that to the bank and collect interest (assuming the bank survives the real stress tests). .