Yes, in the end, he got all the primary delegates House votes he needed. Yes, he worked our last nerve to get there. But, yes, too, this is an important victory - the first true bloodied, grueling revelation that his persistence, another critical Obama quality, finally paid off in the presidency. He could have given up weeks ago, as the punditry advised (because they seem to have no grasp of substance and mere addiction to hour-to-hour political plays). But he refused. That took courage. And relentlessness. Fallows puts it well:
For now, the significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)... TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period.
The biggest shift in social policy since welfare reform - but involving far more people. My view is that it will also empower Obama abroad, because there is a linkage between domestic success and foreign policy clout. From my column today:
Watching the various whip counts going back and forth reminded me of the agonising, delegate-counting path to primary victory that Obama took. It works your last nerve. It’s like England in extra time at the World Cup.
Imagine the narrative shift if this bill is passed. Obama will not have imposed this monstrosity on the country from on high; he will have ground it through the bloggers, and the pundits will declare a resurrection. The narrative will be about his persistence and his grit, rather than his near-divinity and his authority. And suddenly it will appear lo! as if this lone figure has not just rescued the US economy from the abyss, but also passed the biggest piece of social legislation in decades.
There is only one story better than Icarus falling to earth; and it’s Icarus getting back up and putting on some shades.
The media will fall for it. The public will merely notice that the guy can come back and fight. Even when they don’t always agree with such a figure on the issues, they can admire him.
Again, the real parallel is Ronald Reagan.
People forget how unpopular Reagan was at the same point in his presidency and passing a big tax cut was legislatively a lot easier than reforming a health sector the size of the British economy. But like Obama he persisted and, with luck and learning, aimed very high.
Obama has bet that this is his destiny. He is extremely cautious from day to day, staggeringly flexible on tactics, but not at all modest when you look at the big picture.
He still wants to rebuild the American economy from the ground up, re-regulate Wall Street, withdraw from Iraq, win in Afghanistan, get universal health insurance and achieve a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine in his first term. That’s all. And although you can see many small failures on the way, and agonising slowness as well, you can also see he hasn’t dropped his determination to achieve it all.