Wrong Issue for Obama

7 Sep

A quick thought on this relaxing Labor Day, inspired by Clarence Page’s commentary in today’s Buffalo News:

Where are the excited youngsters who dropped their video games, got off the couch and turned out en masse for Obama last year? Hah! Young folks aren’t turned on by health care. They don’t think they’ll ever get sick.

Instead, lots of us older folks turned out.

Older folks may not have their Medicare effected by the new healthcare insurance reform proposals (such as they are), but they know how to organize, how to be angry, and are crossed at a politician’s risk. As Page later points out, ask Bush how crossing seniors worked for Social Security reform.

Healthcare may be in need of serious overhaul. It may be the most important issue facing our country long term. But it is also increasingly clear it was the wrong issue for Obama to start with, because it misread what motivated his base.

Obama my bad

What issue should he have started with? How about the one’s that actually got him elected. Obama’s first qualification was not being Bush. Easy campaign slogan – hard to turn into actual policy. Especially when you keep the wiretapping program, et al. Next, was ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I disagree with the policy, but when folks like George Will are lining up saying its time to get out, clearly this would have acquired wide support. Fortunately for foreign policy pragmatists like myself, Obama has been realistic (read: conservative) on international matters, and we are doubling down in Afghanistan, not withdrawing.

But I think the real issue Obama should have led with, that would have excited his base, and done real good for the country, is a National Call to Service. On Obama’s Inauguration Day, I heard much crowing from national pundits like Chris Matthews that this was a JFK moment, when the best and brightest would be drawn to Washington to serve. Well, those best and brightest either didn’t pay their taxes, or decided to stay home and make more money. Likewise, Obama’s campaign was supposed to spark a Hope and Change movement, where individual communities would start serving eachother. Not quite that either yet.

Obama certainly paid some lip service to national service, and took some beatings for putting it in martial terms. And yes, a National Service Bill expanding AmeriCorps did make it through Congress. But what have you heard since? Bush created a national program to have volunteers help in disaster relief in their communities too – seemed to have worked well in New Orleans. Obama put a new national service bill on his list of things to do, checked it off, and moved on. Meanwhile, the movement itself died in a spate of townhall revolts, mixed messages from the White House, and Congressional mismanagement.

National Service could have done what Obama is only promising he is doing now. The Stimulus Bill was supposed to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, a la the CCC. Unlike those projects, which created parks, bridges and lodges with placards we still see today, the Stimulus Bill has instead funded 6000 road resurfacing projects, a wonderful (and soon to be forgotten) legacy for a Green President who wants to reduce our nation’s dependence on cars. National Service could have organized the country around a couple easy goals: 1) rebuild the economy, 2) rebuild the country (starting with our underfunded parks systems) and 3) serve those in need affected by the economic downturn. I thought this is what Hope and Change was going to be. Instead, its a mismash of disjointed healthcare “goals,” but no proposals. 

To be fair, at this point in Bush’s first term, we were talking about Stem Cell Research and the crew of a spy plane held in China. I hope Obama does not have a 9/11 moment to focus his Presidency. But I do hope he gets his game together.

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