Monday, July 20, 2009

The Politics of Attention Deficit Disorder

Six months of scrambling on all fronts--bank bailouts, economic stimulus, climate change--have brought the President lower approval ratings from a public suffering from crisis overload and left him needing a Hail Mary pass to score on his key issue.

"With skepticism about the president's health-care reform effort mounting on Capitol Hill--even within his own party," the Washington Post reports, "the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to dramatically increase public pressure on Congress: all Obama, all the time.

"Senior White House aides promise 'an aggressive public and private schedule' for Obama as he presses his case for reform, including a prime-time news conference on Wednesday, a trip to Cleveland, and heavy use of Internet video to broadcast his message beyond the reach of the traditional media."

This test of presidential clout, coming up on a complex issue against the background of other trillion-dollar commitments that have still to bear fruit, leaves him exposed not only to Republicans with their simple-minded message of tax phobia and deficit fear but increasing anxiety among 2010-vulnerable Democrats who now sense a potential lack of visible progress on all fronts by next fall to keep them in office.

In this kind of ADD political climate, health care legislation lends itself to demagogues' cover on all sides, with providers "promising" non-binding new efforts to cut costs as Republicans line up with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus to "back" a future public option for health insurance with trigger mechanisms that will never be pulled off.

This leaves the President having to resist the temptation to settle for small gains that can be claimed as victory but will leave the failed health-care system fundamentally unchanged.

As he embarks on this week's campaign, to get him into "Win one for the Gipper" mode, he may want to take to heart Ted Kennedy's valedictory in Newsweek, "The Cause of My Life," which retells the medical consequences from generations of the "Kennedy curse" and makes a passionate plea for universal health care now.


John said...

The mainstream media is saying excruciatingly little about the content of the House health care reform bill. They are focusing on poll numbers and costs, without considering the costs of doing nothing. The are absolutely part of the problem.

Joe Hornbaker said...

I despair of this country's political system getting anything done. Added to that despair is the knowledge of the complicity in ignorance most of our media zealously indulge in.

The president is faced with fecklessness and treachery in his own party, and outrageous lying and duplicity in the so-called opposition party. In this poll-driven, ratings-addled bizarro-world, we can't listen or discuss with any intelligence the serious issues of the day. Health care is just one example.

If Obama turns out to be a one-term president, it'll be because the no-nothing culture we have created doomed him. And at that point, I will cease to care about anything political in this country anymore. It won't be worth what's left of my time.