Monday, November 02, 2009

Health Care as a Pyrrhic Victory

There is a rueful note in today's New York Times report of impending White House triumph in "a process that has at times seemed on the brink of anarchy":

"After months of plodding work by five Congressional committees and weeks of back-room bargaining by Democratic leaders, President Obama’s arms-length strategy on health care appears to be paying dividends, with the House and the Senate poised to take up legislation to insure nearly all Americans."

One criticism of all this chaos can be easily dismissed--that, as Matthew Yglesias shows, "Obama needs to be nicer to Republicans." Lack of bipartisanship on health care is like accusing the President of refusing to play tennis when nobody is on the other side of the net.

More important is the reality of Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin's observation, “When you are seeking 60 votes, every person is a kingmaker."

For only one example out of many, there is loathsome Joe Lieberman who, after being allowed to keep his committee chairmanship despite campaigning for McCain last year, is threatening to filibuster against any public option in totally predictable loyalty to the insurance companies that dominate his state rather than the President who forgave his own disloyalty.

Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal rails against "The Worst Bill Ever" ("Epic new spending and taxes, pricier insurance, rationed care, dishonest accounting: The Pelosi health bill has it all"), it's hard to refute those epic distortions about the many thousands of dense pages that are working their way through both houses of Congress.

These coming weeks will be a test for the Obama "arm's-length strategy," his instinct for consensus rather than strong leadership from the top.

According to one of his favorite philosophers, Reinhold Niebuhr, "Moral reason must learn how to make coercion its ally without running the risk of a Pyrrhic victory in which the ally exploits and negates the triumph."

But on the other hand, the mid-20th century's most eminent Protestant theologian never had to contemplate the arm-twisting that passes for reasoning with both allies and foes on Capitol Hill.

As in the debate over Afghanistan, the President is going to have to step up with decisiveness and persuade all the competing interests to follow his leadership.


Anonymous said...

The corporate government is useless, the healthcare bill is a waste of time, it will not help anyone but the insurance industry... Obama has no balls he is bought and sold.
The United States will perish...

Holte Ender said...

Obama has been too nice to republicans, considering they are openly desperate for him to fail. Calling health reform his "Waterloo" and "it will break him" the misinformation that has flooded the airwaves and the republican base encouraged to sing along with "Obama The Magic Negro." The President has endured all this with good grace, like a good leader should.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

"Decisiveness" and "leadership" = two things not even his most salivating acolyte can credit BO with. Good grief, agonizing over what kind of dog to get was one thing, but every single thing is an exercise in navel gazing . . . until he gets distracted by some shiny something (ooh, look, we can try for the Olympics or wage war on Fox News or even for a whole minute notice that unemployment is at 10% and he might want to ponder that little problem at a job summit).