Commentary Magazine


Topic: first-year president

A Messy Process for Health Care, Indeed

In the New York Times today, we read:

“A messy process,” Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Republicans last week, referring to the health care fight. In his State of the Union speech, the president confessed, “With all of the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Without the help of Republicans, Democratic leaders respond, that messy process is the only way to amass the votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda. “The American people don’t care about process,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told journalists last week.

Her comments underscore the greatest contradiction within Mr. Obama’s agenda — not too many legislative priorities, but the difficulty of achieving them in the civics-textbook fashion he espouses.

I have two thoughts on this, the first of which is that Ms. Pelosi is out of her political mind if she truly believes what she says. It’s true enough that the American people care about more than process; but they do care about process, as well – especially when the process appears corrupt and is used to force massively unpopular legislation down their throat. This issue helped turn former Massachusetts state Senator Scott Brown into United States Senator-elect Scott Brown. And process is what Pelosi had in mind when she and Rahm Emanuel repeatedly – and now, we can fairly say, hypocritically – invoked the phrase “culture of corruption” against Republicans in 2006.

Second, saying that President Obama has had difficulty achieving his priorities in “the civics-textbook fashion he espouses” is a bit too gentle. Mr. Obama made process – post-partisanship, outreach to the other side, high-minded debate, transparency, and putting an end to the influence of “special interests” – one of the pillars of his campaign. He spoke about it time after time after time. In the speech announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama said: “I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. … It’s time to turn the page.” What his top political aide David Axelrod saw in Obama, according to the authors of Game Change, are “qualities that the nation was hungry for: optimism, outsider status, an aversion to hoary ideological dogmas, a biography that radiated the possibility of overcoming divisions and the capacity for change.”

Messrs. Axelrod and Obama are 0 for 5 based on that scorecard. The President has not only failed to live up to his promises; he has violated them as much as any first-year president in our lifetime.

There is a cost to pay for such things – as we have seen (in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) and as we will soon see (the mid-term elections in November).

In the New York Times today, we read:

“A messy process,” Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Republicans last week, referring to the health care fight. In his State of the Union speech, the president confessed, “With all of the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Without the help of Republicans, Democratic leaders respond, that messy process is the only way to amass the votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda. “The American people don’t care about process,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told journalists last week.

Her comments underscore the greatest contradiction within Mr. Obama’s agenda — not too many legislative priorities, but the difficulty of achieving them in the civics-textbook fashion he espouses.

I have two thoughts on this, the first of which is that Ms. Pelosi is out of her political mind if she truly believes what she says. It’s true enough that the American people care about more than process; but they do care about process, as well – especially when the process appears corrupt and is used to force massively unpopular legislation down their throat. This issue helped turn former Massachusetts state Senator Scott Brown into United States Senator-elect Scott Brown. And process is what Pelosi had in mind when she and Rahm Emanuel repeatedly – and now, we can fairly say, hypocritically – invoked the phrase “culture of corruption” against Republicans in 2006.

Second, saying that President Obama has had difficulty achieving his priorities in “the civics-textbook fashion he espouses” is a bit too gentle. Mr. Obama made process – post-partisanship, outreach to the other side, high-minded debate, transparency, and putting an end to the influence of “special interests” – one of the pillars of his campaign. He spoke about it time after time after time. In the speech announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama said: “I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. … It’s time to turn the page.” What his top political aide David Axelrod saw in Obama, according to the authors of Game Change, are “qualities that the nation was hungry for: optimism, outsider status, an aversion to hoary ideological dogmas, a biography that radiated the possibility of overcoming divisions and the capacity for change.”

Messrs. Axelrod and Obama are 0 for 5 based on that scorecard. The President has not only failed to live up to his promises; he has violated them as much as any first-year president in our lifetime.

There is a cost to pay for such things – as we have seen (in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) and as we will soon see (the mid-term elections in November).

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