My column for the FT this week is on healthcare reform--again. I think Obama needs to drop the public option, despite the dismay this will cause among progressive Democrats, and he needs to be honest about the need to raise taxes to pay for universal coverage. Politically, one can see why he has preferred to do neither, but the calculation has gone wrong. His strategy has done a very improbable thing: it has alienated centrists and progressives alike. He cannot repair his standing with both of those groups, and must now choose whose support he needs more. In any event he must start being clear, consistent, and honest.
The selling of healthcare reform has been marked from the start by indecision, both on substance and on tactics, and by an extraordinary lack of clarity. The country still does not know what Mr Obama is advocating. Much of the time, apparently, neither does he.
Since the congressional recess began this month, Mr Obama has been on the road to sell a plan that does not yet actually exist. Rival bills are in the works and the final result will quite likely resemble none of them. Meanwhile, the president states and restates fundamentally incompatible goals - universal coverage, higher quality, lower costs - as if mere commitment to those aims should be enough to satisfy sceptics. He says he wants a bipartisan solution, then defaults to left-liberal talking-points about the scheming of Republicans, the tyranny of special interests and the wickedness of insurance companies. It is a complete shambles.
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