President Obama's Healthcare Mistake: Bipartisanship

After a summer of brutal town halls, lunatic TV/Radio hosts and angry protesters, it’s hard to say that President Obama’s health care reform effort is where he, or the millions of Americans supporting him, hoped it would be. With three bills, two from the Senate and one from the House, floating around, it looks like the final bill will bring little more than further tweaks to the system, not the broad and comprehensive reform that is desired.

With large majorities in the House and Senate, the question of the day seems to be, “Why are the Democrats not getting more of what they want?” The answer is a fundamental misunderstanding, by both the President and the Democratic leadership, of the world of professional partisan politics.

The President’s mistake was letting the far right drive the debate. For months, we heard of socialized medicine, death panels, and a government take over of health care. Perhaps the most emblematic example of the Democrats’ complete failure to drive the debate was when one retiree stood up at a Town Hall meeting and said, “Keep government hands off my medicare!” Educating the public to both the needs and goals of reform should have been the President’s number one priority.

His bigger mistake was pushing for bipartisanship while the Democrats were running the show. The President, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid all assumed that if they produced legislation that incorporated Republican ideas, they would subsequently get Republican votes. Why would a single Republican vote for a bill that they have never been publicly asked to support, contribute ideas to, or even read, before it was publicly announced as the Democratic Healthcare Plan? The Republicans get many of reforms they want (more than they should — given their minority status) and they still get to blast the Democrats.

The President should have pushed for radical and comprehensive reform and then compromised, not just skip ahead to the compromising, without making the other side compromise too. Alexander Hamilton argued for a King so that he could get a strong executive because he understood that in a Democracy, compromise is king.

It will be interesting to see what the final bill will look like, but it is clear that Liberals across the country will not get the kind of reform they want; not because of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh but because the Democratic Leadership forgot, at least for a moment, how to play the game.

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