Politics Was Pursuing Health Care Reform a Mistake? Beltway oracle Charlie Cook calls it Obama's Iraq Max Fisher Feb 23, 2010 This article is from the archive of our partner .Passing health care reform has been tricky for the White House, to put it mildly. The months-long battle has given President Obama some bruises and has yet to yield a definitive success (although that may be around the corner). Now, in what may be a nadir in the opinion world's faith in health care reform, nonpartisan D.C. prognosticator Charlie Cook has compared the struggle to President Bush's politically disastrous Iraq War. Cook calls Obama's emphasis on health care reform a massive political blunder, insisting the White House should have focused on the economy. Is he right?Huge Mistake That Will Lose Dems The House Charlie Cook calls the health care push "one of the biggest miscalculations that we've seen in modern political history." He explains, "I think they just made some grave miscalculations and as it became more clear that they had screwed up, they just kept doubling down their bet." As a result, "it's very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." He says of the White House, "I think it's just fundamental, total miscalculations from the very, very beginning. Of proportions comparable to President George W. Bush's decision to go into Iraq." Dems Push Back Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse tells Politico, "Obviously, I think it's inappropriate to compare Iraq to health care reform ... Think about it. Iraq got President Bush down to a 27 percent approval rating. This week Gallup had President Obama at a 53 percent approval rating. Guess what? That was exactly the same percentage he won with in 2008 ... President Bush chose to go to war in Iraq; President Obama didn't create the health care crisis."White House Agrees? The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains, "The wave metaphor may not apply ... in that the wave implies popular support for a party, and Republicans don't have that. The main problem for Democrats is that they can't build beachheads very high because they've got little to show for their efforts. So even a moderate sized wave, combined with a turnout enthusiasm gap, could easily overwhelm defenses. I don't know if Cook is right, but his projection, based on history, and reality, is plausible. And even though the Democratic public affairs machine will say otherwise, White House officials do not seem to disagree with Cook."Should've Gone Smaller The Washington Post's Dana Milbank says it would've worked. "Obama's greatest mistake was failing to listen to [White House Chief of Staff Rahm] Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction," he writes. "The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous."Health Care and Economic Agendas Unrelated Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias dismisses Cook's assumption that Obama chose between the two issues. "Are there any centrist Democrats or moderate Republicans who are going to claim that had Obama backed off on health care they would have voted for substantial additional short-term stimulus measures? Do any sources at the Federal Reserve think that had Obama not attempted health reform that Ben Bernanke would have implemented a more expansionary agenda? As far as I know, the answer to both of those questions is 'no' so nothing was actually traded off when Obama decided to focus on health care."Health Care Reform About Fixing America, Not Ensuring Reelection The New Republic's Jonathan Chait laments, "What strikes me most about the retrospective advice being proffered to Obama is its sheer amorality. Politicians do need to look after their popular standing, but that's not all they need to do. The broken health care system represents a massive economic and moral crisis ... The purpose of winning elections is to solve problems like health care. There's something strange about advice that presumes it's appropriate to value the preservation of popularity above all else."This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.