Tuesday, August 25, 2009

He may be 'The One', but he sure ain't 'The Prince'.

Richard Albert has a column in yesterday's Boston Herald. He argues that Obama's inaction and neutrality at the beginning of the debate on health care/insurance reform doomed the endeavour and hurt Obama's standing. Richard believes he should have taken direction from Machiavelli's The Prince.

He writes:

Some lauded Obama’s approach because it would allow him to claim credit for renewing the promise of the American welfare state without risking the kind of personal defeat that had befallen the Clintons and led to the Republican revival in the 1994 midterm elections.

But we now know that the White House should have done as the Clintons had - dive right into the details of the debate, champion a specific health care proposal and marshal his hard-earned good will in the service of a sustainable solution to the national health care crisis. Had Obama led - instead being content to be led - the nation would have been much closer today to resolving the most complex domestic social problem in contemporary American history.


Everything in politics comes at a price. Even, and often especially, the inaction of neutrality. In this case, the cost of the president’s neutrality may well amount to more than the cost of the failure of health care reform under the Clinton administration - and that is a terrible price that Americans cannot afford to pay.

I can't argue that there is much wrong with Richard's analysis (though I think we might disagree as to what is the best form a health industry can take). Obama stepped aside and let the Congressional Democrats take the lead in crafting health care legislation, and the result was a complete mess of a bill (well, bills, as no one ever seemed to agree on any particular wording). Obama certainly should bear some responsibility for that.

Further, though, I would say that when he did speak, he was not coherent in his objective and gave no issues or specific policies around which people could rally. If he had taken a leading role at the beginning, but had no different tone or message as he settled upon this summer, I'm not sure it would have made much of a difference.

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