The Blog

Obama Misses the Source of the Cynicism

Plus: WH tries the apocalypse argument.

12:00 PM, Jan 28, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Apocalypse will not likely be the result of our reform plan, said the White House spokesperson. When you've reached this argument, you are losing badly. The White House's Dan Pfeiffer made this encouraging pitch for health-care reform today:

“Really the only thing you can do is pass it, implement it, and then let people see that the apocalypse doesn’t come the next day.”

The argument, for a year, has been apocalypse will come if we don't pass this immediately. The president got nicely hyperbolic in his last speech to a joint session, which as you'll remember was four months ago and designed to push health-care reform over the finish line.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail.

But many people, quite understandably, value their current care and are not convinced by the argument, "Seriously, when we change the whole system, it won't be apocalypse." It is not a good sell, and that is not the fault of those who are skeptical.

Obama cited these citizens' "cynicism" on Wednesday as the reason for the failure of legislation, but misidentified the source of that emotion:

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values.  Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper.  But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow.  Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith.  The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.  

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. 

No wonder there’s so much disappointment. 

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went.  And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it. 

That's as close as he gets to admitting he might be at fault for some of this growing "cynicism," instead of the dreaded pundits and their "misinformation."

What Obama must understand if he wants to accomplish anything is that the health-care process, which he abetted at every turn, increased the skepticism citizens had about the government's ability to solve a big problem. He'd like to believe this skepticism is simply a Bush hangover, when in fact it's a new realization of how badly the federal government solves big problems, illuminated by Barack Obama himself.

Why? Because the man who campaigned on transparency wanted to ram the sweeping reforms through Congress with little debate and before August recess, when Members would have to go home and hear from concerned constituents.

Why? Because the man who claimed to value other viewpoints said not a word when his surrogates and allies slimed health-care dissenters as an extremist, racist, mob of brownshirts and he himself portrayed them as gullible pawns of special interests who were, shall we say, bitterly clinging to the status quo in their ignorance.

Why? Because the man who railed against the polluting influence of special interests and lobbysists carved out exemptions for union-run "Cadillac" health-care plans while Andy Stern visited the White House dozens of times.

Why? Because the president that promised to broadcast negotiations on C-SPAN instead created an orgy of back-room negotiations that culminated in lawmakers arguing over whose pay-off was bigger— the one to Ben Nelson, insurance companies, or pharmaceutical lobbyists?

The American people are skeptical because they were able, much to the dismay of the president himself, to slow down the sausage-making on Capitol Hill enough to see how short it falls, not just of Obama's promises, but sometimes of even basic functionality. This is a point small-government conservatives have been making for years (about Democrat and Republican administrations alike), which is why they argue in favor of more tailored and local government/non-government solutions to domestic problems.

Americans are skeptical because, during the process Obama tried to prevent and obscure, they learned that their legislators often don't know the intended consequences of the giant bills they don't read, not to mention the unintended ones. Is it any wonder, at this point, that they'd like the government to try biting off less to chew, that they'd rather rely on themselves, even in times of low job security and high premiums?

Ironically, a liberal president's crusade, built on unshakeable faith in the federal government as a problem-solver, revealed to many in a new way how misplaced that faith can be.

"Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers," Obama said last night. "It is an American value."

And, every day, they are right to question whether the federal government that brought you the process described above has any intention of doing the same for them. That is an American value, too.

Recent Blog Posts