Obama must reset the agenda - Macleans.ca

Obama must reset the agenda

Can his Congressional address on health care be a game changer?


090908_obamaBy all indications, this will be a crucial week for the Obama administration and its proposals for health care reform. Obama must regain control over the initiative after what can be charitably described as a tough summer. While most assessments of Obama’s performance were generally favourable through the first six months, it fair to say that the realities of governing are far more complicated than running for office. His poll numbers are now in a steady decline on key issues and, while Obama’s overall job approval rating remains over 50%, it is obvious the honeymoon is over.  It is time for the White House to reset the agenda.

Up first this week is Obama’s address to schoolchildren beginning the new school year. As Canadians, we are not accustomed to political leaders addressing kids on the first day of school. If it were to happen, we would turn it into a constitutional and jurisdictional issue. But in America, where the president is both head of state and chief of government, he is also held up as a model for the nation’s youth. Reagan and both Bush presidents addressed students at both the elementary and high school levels in different venues with little controversy. That Obama chose to address students on the first day of school to discuss the importance of staying in school and working hard should be applauded. His own life story should serve as inspiration to any child, whether they are a part of a Republican or a Democratic family. Some groups, however, believe otherwise, and have chosen to turn this initiative into a political football and attack the Obama political agenda.

As a parent (and a Canadian to boot), I can sympathize with parents who are worried about a politician using the presidential pulpit to speak to impressionable children. That the Department of Education chose to add a lesson plan where the children would be asked to write a letter to help the president with ideas was not a wise move—and it was fortunately withdrawn. This being said, some school districts and parents’ groups have gone over the top, labelling Obama a socialist propagandist and threatening to keep their children away from school. The growing presence of the lunatic fringes on both the right (led by Pastor Steve Anderson of Arizona praying for the president’s death because “he hates Obama”) and the left (led by Lyndon Larouche and his acolytes distributing posters depicting the president as Hitler) makes one hope that extremists will soon come to embrace good old fashioned values like individual responsibility, hard work, and getting a good education—the exact message Obama intends to deliver on September 8.

Next comes Obama’s Congressional address on healthcare. The president will be speaking to legislators in both Houses against a backdrop of a sharply polarized debates on his number one domestic priority. This is quite possibly his most important address since his response to the Reverend Wright controversy back in April of 2008. Back then, he delivered what became a game changer and convinced many that his upstart candidacy was indeed presidential. The White House, in its obsession not to repeat Bill Clinton’s mistake of foisting a specific reform package onto Congress, may have pushed things too far in the opposite direction, allowing the spread of confusing messages that were open to rumour- and fear-mongering. This blog has for the past several weeks argued in favour of direct presidential intervention with key legislators, just as LBJ did so effectively in the 1960s during debates on civil rights and Medicare. The White House also needs to present a simple but specific plan of reform, one endorsed by the president himself. Obama has hardly been aloof, holding town hall meetings of his own, and many interest groups opposed to the Clinton reform are now supporting the latest reform thrust. In recent weeks, Obama has also reached out to legislators on both sides to find ground for compromise, albeit with very limited success. In the meantime, he lost his best congressional ally with the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.

The task is especially daunting because Obama holds dear the prospect of a bipartisan solution. The polarized nature of politics in America, where Republicans are under the control of far-right elements as opposed to the traditional moderate elements of the party, makes it difficult to achieve. They cannot and will not produce a true bipartisan solution. A second factor making it difficult is the split within the Democrats between liberal-progressives on the left and the Blue Dogs who come from more conservative constituencies. Finally, the real elephant in the room is the economy: judging by the jobless rate, the recovery has so far been slow, and government debt is at historic levels. Had the economy stayed strong, given the Democratic numbers in both houses and the popularity of reform efforts, it seems likely Obama’s message would have carried the day by now. However, the original approach will not succeed and the White House obviously knows it.

The president won a clear mandate for change last November. He has acted accordingly in tackling the most important problem that he inherited: the struggling economy. Spending on stimulus and bailouts began last fall under Bush and was aggressively pursued under Obama. Now, We are no longer talking about the possibility of a “depression” or the collapse of the financial system, and all indicators show the beginning of recovery. On foreign policy issues, Obama has adopted new strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan with admittedly mixed results. But in doing so, and with his work on other issues like torture, he has reignited U.S. allies’ belief in an America that cherishes diplomacy and multilateral partnerships. His moves on global warming and energy are two more examples that Obama is moving his country in new directions. But his place in history will not be solely evaluated by the amount of legislation or new policies he enacts. Obama will be judged by how he exercised his leadership in times of adversity. He may not achieve all he wanted on health care and certainly will not get unanimity within his own party or much GOP support in the process. But if he improves the lot of the uninsured and corrects the inherent faults associated with existing health plans, then he will have shown that the “the perfect is not the enemy of the good.”


Obama must reset the agenda

  1. The president won a clear mandate for change last November.

    That's what he thought. He turned out to be incorrect, as this summer – and the fact that he now has to attempt to "reset the agenda" after such strong resistance to his primary policy agendas – tends to demonstrate.

  2. The president won a clear mandate for change last November.

    That's what he thought. He turned out to be incorrect, as this summer – and the fact that he now has to attempt to "reset the agenda" after such strong resistance to his primary policies – tends to demonstrate.

  3. Sadly enough, a select few people in the United States bothered to read the actual health bill – which is why people are mindlessly ranting that Obama is attempting to present a "Public [Insurance] Option" when in reality, the bill is actually a mandate for each citizen to purchase PRIVATIZED FOR PROFIT INSURANCE from a bankrupt CREDIT DEFAULT SWAP ridden company like The Hartford while the Government steps in and as opposed to issuing insurance (Like Medicare) creates a private board of doctors known as MEDPAC or IMAC (Independent Medical Advisory Councel) which will decide which HEALTH PRACTIONER TREATMENTS are ALLOWED……. Thus…. we are presented with no "Public Option" but a CORPORATE LOOTING OPTION to prevent these CREDIT DEFAULT SWAP laden companies from going bankrupt.

    • CAPITAL LETTERS are an excellent way to be taken seriously by all and sundry.

    • You are correct about the public option. But the Republican wing nuts are ranting about the British (Universal) and Canadian (Single Payer) medical systems. We are definetely not going there. I do not think that is because they have not read the health bill. It is because they cannot get their tiny minds past the ideological trap they are in – brainwashed.some would call it. The tortured logic goes like this. These Democrat guys are socialists, socialists have government health schemes, the worst governemt health schemes are in Britain and in Canada where they speak English, therefore these demo guys are going to foist a British or Canadian system on us. Their logic is illogical to put it mildly. I have addressed the issue of socialism in another thread on this site with another wing nut.

      We have to prevent the credit default companies from going bankrupt AGAIN? We already did that once. Joe Biden said it had been achieved already. He said it on TV this morning. So it must be true.

  4. For Depression era economics, The alternative? a single payer system – also known as "MEDICARE" which works FINE. To the reactionary cranks and Austrian clowns out there, when you are standing on a breadline waiting for a bowl of soup and you need an endoscopy , are you going to tell the Government "NO, you must assist me in destittude"?……… a single payer system (Medicare) allows the Government to negotiate with pharmacutical companies via bulk purchase and drive costs down, hence providing cheaper, non profiteering insurance.
    [Note: I am not a "Liberal" so don't even go there]

  5. "The president won a clear mandate for change last November." That is the very first mistake in thinking that this was a "mandate", fifty million people voted against Obama, and he won an election, not a mandate.

    About the school address, what you fail to understand is that in increasing numbers the American people do not trust Obama. Obama does not represent traditional American values, and parents do not want the kids exposed to his values. If his speech is not trying to promote his political agenda, then the majority of people will not object. The key is with the trust gone, now the people want to see what he's up to first. That's what happens when you lose the trust of the people.

    • "Obama does not represent traditional American values, and parents do not want the kids exposed to his values."

      Nearly 70 million Americans voted for him. Presumably some of them were parents.

    • I saw a woman this morning Sep 7 screaming and crying on CNN and holding her head in her hands about Obama's speech. She sounded hysterical and frightened "He can't brainwash my children on Tuesday" My thought is what she did not say "That's my job as their mother – he can't muscle in"
      This is all a response to Republican drivel designed to scare people (they have succeeded) The people are stupid Americans. Here is another scary thought for Republican parents. If the kids want to they will look at it on U-Tube, Face-book, CNN, Blackberry Neighbour's TV whatever. Especially if you tell them not to or if they find out the school was shut down for that reason. Unless of course these parents have some Taliban like controls on their kids.

    • The most amusing item on CNN today was the Floridian Republican Party Chairman Greer? claiming that the school speech was rewritten last week after all the Republican noise was created. The CNN bright young thing interviewers are getting better. She asked point blank if he had seen the old version of the Obama speech. He reluctantly admitted he had not. She followed up and asked him if he had inside information from the White House. By now he was starting to sweat. He talked and talked but did not say yes. But he finished up by stating that he knew the speech had been rewritten. She asked him again to prove the documents existed. Lots of talk and hand waving – no answers. Then he went on to claim that the teacher aide documents had been rewritten for the same reason. Here we go again. Newt Gingrich later on said it was all a storm in a tea-cup and the speech was fine. I do not know why the mighty US government feels it has to write these teacher helper documents. Can't each state do that for itself or each school for that matter. The US government is going the way of the nanny British government and maybe the Canadian government as well. We had better watch out.

    • Lastly for the obviously Republican writer on this piece. Yes you lost the election as you say. Get used to it. Do we really have to go through another Florida 2000, this time with some role reversal, the other side was just as bad. How can you tell who the Republicans are these days in the USA? They are the ones with uptight looks on their faces that appeared around January 20, 2009. Obama and his gang have screwed up the communications process to the electorate in a really grand manner this summer. Republicans have been able to exploit that for short term gain. This too shall pass. Judging by Gingrich's body language on TV this afternoon I think he may be realizing that the right wing nut jobs are overdoing things and it may backfire. This is not a trust issue – yet. Obama needs to claw back the debate on Wednesday. Otherwise he is going to lose credibility big style. Trust? What kind of education did you have?

  6. The president won a clear mandate for change last November.

    That's what he thought. He turned out to be incorrect, as this summer – and the fact that he now has to attempt to "reset the agenda" after such strong resistance to his signature policies – tends to demonstrate. He's flailing wildly, and it's awfully entertaining.

    • there you go again, as Reagan would say .. Supporting the fear mongerers , the character assassins and the right wing miltia wing nuts . He passed the stimulus and did the necessary bailouts started under and the econmy is improving. NO DEPRESSION in sight. Stock market has improved . Unemployment is slowing down despite the increase.Still has 50% approval destite the republican noise machine that you so like. He will pass health care and climate change. The world is inspired and your favorite , Cheney , is more and more reviled as a torture supporter. Yeah , I too find it awfully entertaining to see you guys show your idiocy .

    • awfully entertaining to see a guy come out of nowhere and win the presidency against all odds . avr has little knowledge of US history . there will be reform for the first time since 1965. And btw , the economy is starting to improve .

  7. It is ridiculous to say he has lost trust . he still has a 50% approval after all the Republican propaganda . This week is a test , I agree . But he won the election and we know what he stands for after2 years of camapaigning.
    As for values, he shares what the majority of Americans believe . For guys like George , he is starting to sound like he is using code to say as a black man , he does not have traditional values.Sad to hear that.

    • Well said about the black man. He does not have traditional values. Thank goodness for that. Do niave Republicans really think that you can bring about change with somebody who has the same traditional values as the the last lot before the change. Isn't that niave? The numpties would like us to conveniently forget it is only 7 months since they were kicked out of power using values that got us into this mess. Obama has excellent values, some of which are conservative. The less he brings to the table of the traditional values that got us into this mess the better. I think he is smart enough to retain the few traditional values that are worth keeping. I admit that is not clear and a much better job could have been done on communication of that. They should listen to the school speech today that they dont want their kids to hear. If they could read they would know about some traditional values (that Obama has picked up since January 20).

      • The moderator has deleted my last contribution in this box. I would be interested to know why? Are there rules available somewhere? I forgot to add the following.

        The January 20 comment was a joke. On TV yesterday they showed a rerun of George Bush senior giving a speech to schoolkids way back twenty years or so. He was using some of the same words as are in Obama's school speech. Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Or maybe US Presidents say some of the same things each time.

  8. In my opinion, it is a mistake to believe the president won a "clear mandate for change last November." One has to understand that people certainely wanted someone new and different in politics and Obama was most successfull in bringing a new bunch of people interested in public affairs. But, in the mind of many, at less for the fifty-million people who voted against him, he certainly did not have the mandate of bringing forward the health care reform he his now proposing. This is why it is illusory in dreaming of a by-partisan approach in the health care reform. The president will soon have to realized, that he can only rely for sure on democrats in this matter. As someone said, he won an election, not a mandate. If he keeps holdind in his by-partisan approch, he will lose a lot more that he is trying to achieve.

    • All this twittering about mandates. Obama won the the election on a platform of change. If McCain and Obama were competing for a mandate, what mandate did Mccain make his pitch for. As I remember it MCcain's election pitch was for the same old "traditional values" with a tweak (tweak is a small change) here and there so he could distance himself from the unfortunate George Bush. He lost!

    • He needs to get it with Democrats and one or two republicans. And let the people judge . If it works , he makes history . if not —-one term. Hope he makes history .

    • ……………….But, in the mind of many, at less for the fifty-million people who voted against him, he certainly did not have the mandate of bringing forward the health care reform he his now proposing……….

      ………a new bunch of people interested in public affairs……….

      You mean as opposed to being singularly focussed on lining their own pockets. Now that's change I can believe in. It would be different, that's for sure.

      All this talk of mandates. I think everybody on this page is now totally confused about elections and mandates. Didn't the fifty-million people who voted against Obama support the people who lost the election?. Their view that he did not have a mandate to bring forward health care is interesting and totally irrelevant. Are you saying that some of the people who voted for him did not think he had a mandate for health care.

  9. What did they think he was going to do about health care? During the campaign, the details of what he would have in his health reform package were sketchy as they usually are during campaigns. They still are. Is this too much change all at once? Change we can believe in, but not too much change all at once? Is the whole nation too geriatric or too stupid to take it all in? What are you talking about?

  10. I am psychic, and know exactly what Parisella is going to write as a followup to this post on Thursday morning:
    1. The speech was a smashing success.
    2. All Republican naysaying was disproved.
    3. Democrats are sure to pass exactly the plan they want, now.

    None of this will be reflected in reality, but that's never stopped him before on the Obama front.

    • I am not a psychic and I do not really care what Parisella writes tomorrow. Parisella said that Obama must reset the agenda. Obama did that. Parisella did not predict the future but I think he deserves some credit. Let's talk about the reality right here right now. It is also easy to predict the future of people who are predictable like Republicans.

      So item by item:-

      !. The Speech was the probably the best that this young President has given to date. It was the best Presidential speech in the last 20 years. Not that he had much competition in the last eight years except maybe for the post 9/11 speech.
      2. Three or four of the main Republican naysayings were refuted, big style. Did he have time to mention all the naysaying?. Also, tomorrow they will start claiming that if they had not made so much noise about Obamacare as they did in the last 3 months the healthcare plan would not have been as good as it was. They will try to salvage some credit. The senator who sent out a survey this afternoon to his district asking if they approved Obama's plan to include 12M illegal immigrants will……….well this is really going to be funny

  11. 3. I assume your psychic powers are better than mine. But here goes. Democrats will pass the 80% of the bill that has been agreed to by tonight and will add things that are agreed with the small(tiny?) number of Republicans who get on board and the Democrats will improve it further by the time it is signed.

    and one extra item

    4 . We will all be hugely entertained by the Republican response to this tomorrow. It has started tonight. They said the real Republican response will come to tomorrow. They said the one right after the President spoke was……..well they didnt say, Senator Joe Wilson has apologised tonight for calling the President a "Liar" He will receive a good response to his apology tomorrow. After that his ruined reputation will start to catch up with him.

  12. You may be right , avr . Smart observatrion on your part .I hope parisella writes that because it reflects reality . Your 3 points are right on . You should do a blog .