Obama Finally Keeps His Word

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Obama finally keeps his word, says Jonathan Cohn in this piece praising the president's decision to go "all in" on healthcare reform.

Americans always say they want politicians who lead rather than follow--who do what they think is right rather than what they think is popular. And liberals, in particular, say they want politicians who will think big and pursue far-reaching reforms, rather than triangulate their way with incremental measures.

Say what you will about Obama and his plan. Both, surely, are flawed. But, particularly with this latest statement, he's living up to those ideals.

Well, what liberals want and what Americans who aren't liberals want are two very different things. Non-liberals might want to be led, but not towards big, far-reaching liberal reforms. They would rather be led nowhere than in that direction. I agree with Cohn that Obama is right to start championing a Democratic blueprint--if that is what he does. (So far he is still only promising to campaign for it.) But Cohn's notion that Obama is paying the price for naively trying bipartisan outreach, only to be let down by cynical scheming Republicans, is wrong. Obama did not try bipartisan outreach. He outsourced this reform to Democrats in Congress, and the last thing you can accuse Democrats in Congress of being is naive about Republicans.

The critical failure in all this was the failure to win public support. Cohn sort of acknowledges this. ("Public support would obviously help--a lot." Yes, it would.) But that failure is not mainly the Republicans' fault. I don't think their criticisms carry much weight: Republicans are no more trusted by the public than Democrats. It is Obama's fault, first for putting Congress in charge, and then for standing aside for more than a year. Also, as Jonathan Chait says, it is the fault of progressives, for working so hard to mobilise Democratic resistance to a reform they believed was insufficiently "robust".

All in all, the liberal strategy of focusing on the public option and constantly harping on the bill's shortcomings has won few identifiable concessions and has significantly increased the chance that no bill at all will pass.

Agreed. Unlike the president, liberal opponents of the Senate bill did a good job.

I hope it is not too late for Obama to do what he should have been doing all along: making the case not for reform in the abstract, but for a specific proposal capable of commanding wide support.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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