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Morning Jay: Obama has Failed by His Own Standards

6:00 AM, Aug 31, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Earlier this week, Gallup published a sobering graph:

This year, net confidence in the government hit a recent low. That suggests to me that Obama has failed by his own standards.

Let’s recall the meta-narrative of the Obama 2008 campaign, which he laid out in the first couple pages of the Audacity of Hope. Contrasting the “dirty and nasty” elements of politics, Obama praised its more noble side:

…a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.

Obama’s purpose was to “excavate” the lost nobility of American politics, emphasizing the public good over special interests. In Obama’s estimation, it is the dominance of such interests – be it partisan absolutists, lobbying groups, or whatever – that has driven us apart, and eroded the public faith in our institutions. Obama would change all that, and restore confidence in the government.

The chart from Gallup tells us that faith in the government has most certainly not been restored, and a review of the Obama administration’s actions to date reveals a White House that time and again has chosen the special interests over the public good.

The problem began right away, as Obama outsourced the drafting of most legislation to Congress. This was a grievous mistake because Democrats in Congress are now hopelessly dependent upon PAC money from unions, environmentalists, feminists, trade groups, and businesses. It’s almost inconceivable that, left to their own devices, congressional Democrats would emphasize what “binds us together.”

Thus, we saw a similar result with the stimulus, financial reform, cap and trade, and above all health care. Let’s look at that last item in more detail, as it’s a perfect metaphor for how far short the president has fallen from the lofty rhetoric of The Audacity of Hope.

The Obama administration made a conscious effort to court various interest groups in designing health care reform. The goal was to prevent the “stakeholders” from launching attacks on reform efforts. Contrary to our common left-right conception of interest groups, the White House created a "strange bedfellows" coalition that included, for instance, Walmart and the SEIU, both of which believed they could gain something from Obamacare.

The consequence was that many of the major groups won big time payoffs. For starters, the public option never had a real shot at becoming law, considering none of the big groups wanted it (Obama telegraphed his willingness to drop it as early as April 2009). Beyond that, the pharmaceutical industry, the hospitals, the doctors, the AARP, and the labor unions all made concessions and in return had an opportunity to influence the bill. Even as Obama was publicly blasting the insurance companies, his team was working hard behind closed doors to cut a deal with them.

So in the end, health care reform was very good for plenty of special interests. But what about the public interest? Consider the following:

1) To lure the special interests to the table, they had to enact an individual mandate, which Obama opposed during the campaign (owing no doubt to its massive unpopularity) and is of questionable constitutionality.

2) To create the illusion of cost control, they had to implement Medicare reforms that the chief actuary of Medicare & Medicaid Services says are completely unsustainable.

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