Is Health Care Weakening Obama Abroad?

One of my favorite rhetorical hallmarks of Obama is his habit of tying policy goals together. The impact of the fiscal stimulus highlights the plight of the unemployed, which accentuates the need for universal health care, which we must use to bend the curve of health inflation down to control our debt, which is necessary to continue good relations with the Chinese ... and so it builds. I call it the Jenga! Theory of Rhetoric, because stacking your policy proposals on top of each other makes them seem more impressive and organized, but when one block slips, the tower comes tumbling down.


But look at this. In the New Republic, Noam Scheiber has a good piece on how the Chinese are peaking over Congress' shoulders to see if Washington can get serious about reforming spiraling health care costs to clean up our debt. The Jerusalem Post says Obama has no shot at being an effective global leader so long as the American economy stinks. Turns out Obama isn't the only person that sees the success of his policies interconnected. The world agrees.

I see two points to make about this. The first is that JP is being a little hyperbolic. If it's true that "everybody is saying no to Obama," then it's at least partly because he's asking for so much: Normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia; historic talks with North Korea; movement on the global warming front. Would Obama have more leverage if the US economy were chugging along? Probably. But Saudi Arabia has reasons to maintain status quo relations with Israel that have nothing to do with America's foreclosure rate.

Second, I think Washington is keen to the impact domestic politics have on the perceived power of the president abroad. That's exactly why this health care bill is about much more than health care for his presidency. Morally, passing health care is about covering the uninsured. Fiscally, it's about keeping health care inflation from running away with an ever-increasing percent of government spending. Politically, it's about accomplishing something so that, at the very least, local newspapers around the world will stop concocting half-baked theories about your lack of political capital.