Hello. Hope all's well.
So the media and the pundits keep talking about Obama's upcoming speech on health care reform as though it's a make or break, do or die moment that's going to either rocket the president into the history books as one of our nation's greatest all time leaders or leave him a crushed shell of a man, politically devastated and unable to accomplish another single thing during the course of his next three years in office.
Well, I think that's just wrong.
The president's speech is going to be important to be sure, but it should be primarily important to the 46 million Americans without health care coverage and to every other American, all of whom stand to suffer some pretty negative consequences if health care costs continue to rise and spiral out of control.
Even if the president were to totally bomb tonight, the health care reform issue isn't going to go away. Heck, even if the president entirely fails at getting reform passed this time around (although I think something will get passed), this issue isn't going to go away. America currently spends far more on health care than just about any other nation, and yet the quality and extent (meaning the number of citizens covered) lags behind many other nations (we spend considerably more and our costs keep rising, but have a higher infant mortality rate, a lower life expectancy, less medical equipment available per capita, and a lower doctor to patient ration than many other countries). There's a reason why the issue of health care reform wasn't abandoned forever after it floundered during the Clinton years, and, honestly, even if it fails this time I don't think it's going to go away. Health care reform will continue to be brought up as an issue because it's just something that needs to be addressed. The problems it's supposed to fix keep getting worse. Our government can't financially afford to let costs keep rising at the current rate (Medicare, for instance, will simply become unsustainable at some point if things don't change), individual patients will continue to see their services cut and/or refused if costs continue to rise, and our citizens will continue to become financially destitute whenever they get seriously sick unless things improve. Plus, there's the fact that as many as 46 million Americans are simply without any health care coverage at all.
Anyway, even if the president were to utterly fail, I don't think this issue would go away because the problems which underlie this debate aren't going to go away. If left unaddressed, they're just going to get worse. At some point, when things get really bad, even conservatives will have to address the problem. But things might get really ugly before we reach that point.
As far as the president suffering horribly if this health care reform thing fails, well, I just don't see it. At least not for Obama. Democrats in Congress might be facing a different story. When health care reform failed under Clinton, he went on to win a second term, but midterm elections were pretty brutal for Senators and Congressmen from the Democratic Party. I could see that happening again (which, in turn, could be a significant blow to the president's effectiveness). I think that this health care reform issue is taking place at an early enough point in Obama's first term that he can recover from it pretty well (assuming he does other things right) by the time he runs for reelection. It may get a lot harder for him to get things done if the Democrats lose Congressional seats in the wake of a health care reform failure (and I think voters will blame those Democrats if this thing fails; both the House and the Senate have been seen as a bunch of do-nothing squabblers for quite some time now, and it's going to be hard for the Democrats to explain a failure in health care reform when they're positioned with the biggest majority that they're enjoyed in decades).
Anyway, of course I think the president really does need to give a strong speech tonight that can help put the debate back on the right track and serve as a call to arms to get Democrats lined up for battle. But I think that the heat and pressure are ultimately going to be felt by the Senators and Congressmen more than by President Obama. I think that one of the reasons Obama is tackling this issue early on in his first term is so that he'll have time to recover from the whole thing if it crashes and burns (he's taken some heat for going after this health care reform deal during a recession and when he has so much other stuff on his plate, but I'm guessing his team thinks that, strategically, this is the best time to take this risk if they want to keep it from having a negative impact on his next election).
Incidentally, more and more I'm convinced that it's actually been a good thing that the conservatives had so much time to go on the attack and vent and rage and blow off steam during August. By now, there arguments seem sort of tired, and the Democrats have had some chance to correct some of the falsehoods and misrepresentations put out there by reform opponents (doesn't the whole death panel thing just seem silly by now? There are some people who undoubtedly still believe it, but those are the people who want to believe it- people who were never going to support reform, anyway)
Anyway, I hope President Obama hits one out of the park tonight, but I still think that health care reform is going to be a big, important issue that requires attention, regardless of how tonight's speech goes off. The issue is just much, much bigger than one single speech.
That's all that I've got for now. Good luck tonight, President Obama!
p.s.- Well, I guess that educational speech by the president yesterday to America's school children wasn't nearly as controversial in practice as people thought it would be. Stay in school. Study hard. Take responsibility for your own education. Use your skills to build a better country.
It's amazing that the kids survived that sort of thing.