The age of diminished presidential expectations
From the comments:
I am getting supremely annoyed at the argument that Obama made "it" (meaning health reform) happen, unlike his Democratic predecessors. The fact is that while the current reform produces near-universal coverage, it does so by basically departing from the core principles of those prior Democratic leaders. Even Clinton proposed a more progressive reform than this one.
I mean this is an ok first step on a very, very long road. It's NOT the kind of fundamental transformation Truman, Carter, etc... were proposing. Medicare -- passed by a Democratic president at a time when much of his party was on the edge of revolt over race and war -- was a far more radical and consequential achievement than Obama's far more stable Democratic majority can accomplish today.
The strength of Barack Obama's young presidency has been its depressing realism about the limits of legislative achievement in the age of the filibuster and unrelenting partisan polarization. Health care might pass -- and might is an important word there -- because Obama didn't try to do too much. Big as people think this bill is, it really only affects the insurance situations of 30 or 40 million Americans, most of whom would be otherwise uninsured. Helping 30 or 40 million people is a big step forward, but it is not reform of the health-care system. It is an expansion of it.
Similarly, Obama isn't drawing lines in the sand on universality (as Clinton did), or on full auction of carbon permits. Christina Romer told the administration it needed a $1.2 trillion stimulus, and the administration settled on $800 billion because that seemed passable. And it still didn't get a single Republican vote in the House. We live in an age where we expect, and arguably need, the president to do much more, but where the structural constraints confine him to doing much less. Obama, by aiming squarely for the middle of that Venn diagram, will probably manage to do quite a lot, while still not doing nearly enough. He won't content himself with noble failures, but we will not see full solutions.
Photo credit: Jay Janner/AP.
December 1, 2009; 11:42 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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