Dan McLaughlin’s right: This really is the most Obama thing ever.
Knowing what you know about him, if you had to guess the genesis of his biggest domestic legislative initiative, which would you guess? That he spent years studying the issue, consumed by the intricacies of health-care policy and determined to make a difference if ever placed in a position to do so? Or that he needed a killer line for one of his speeches and couldn’t let pass a golden opportunity to grandstand? QED. Even the transformation of American health care is but a subplot to Hopenchange image-making.
Soon-to-be-candidate Obama, then an Illinois senator, was thinking about turning down an invitation to speak at a big health care conference sponsored by the progressive group Families USA [in January 2007], when two aides, Robert Gibbs and Jon Favreau, hit on an idea that would make him appear more prepared and committed than he actually was at the moment.
Why not just announce his intention to pass universal health care by the end of his first term?…
“We needed something to say,” recalled one of the advisers involved in the discussion. “I can’t tell you how little thought was given to that thought other than it sounded good. So they just kind of hatched it on their own. It just happened. It wasn’t like a deep strategic conversation.”…
The candidate jumped at it. He probably wasn’t going to get elected anyway, the team concluded. Why not go big?
I can’t quote much more due to fair use but you should read the rest to see how the pattern recurred during the 2008 campaign. Not until two months after he made the promise described above did he bother to get up to speed on health-care policy, and that was only because Hillary destroyed him over it at an SEIU candidate forum. (It seems looooong ago now but candidate Obama actually argued against Clinton’s preference for an individual mandate on the trail. Why? “Aides say Obama was simply looking for any way to differentiate himself from an opponent whose basic policy positions were indistinguishable from his own.”) Later it was Ted Kennedy who pressed him to stick with health-care reform by making his endorsement semi-contingent upon O doing so. Once Obama got to the Oval Office, Rahm Emanuel pleaded with him to find something else to focus on in his first year but O insisted on forging ahead because, unlike Bill Clinton, he didn’t get elected to “do school uniforms.” He had, as usual, come to believe his own bullsh*t about the grandiosity of Hopenchange, and having orated his way into the presidency, he probably figured (not without reason) that he could sell the country on a new health-care boondoggle too. It’s been a thorn in his side ever since, and the pain’s only going to get worse.
What’s striking about this story is how it mirrors the genesis of his half-assed “red line” on Syria. That was also the product of an idle remark that sounded good at the time on a subject that Obama obviously didn’t consider a high priority. Just as health-care reform became a test of his credibility on the left as a candidate, propelling him into a fight he didn’t necessarily want, the “red line” became a test of his credibility as commander-in-chief. The big divergence among the two comes right before the outcome: O felt comfortable plowing ahead on O-Care because he had tons of support for it among his own party, but when it came time to punch Assad in the face, the support wasn’t there so he chickened out. He’s willing to damage himself and his party to pursue idealistic policies that are virtually guaranteed to backfire in implementation, but he’s not going out on the limb by himself.
Bear all of this in mind today while you’re reading the Times’s story about the newest trade-off under ObamaCare. Premiums might end up being lower for some people, but there’s a reason, and it’s not one you’ll like. Exit question: How is it that this story about the genesis of O-Care has never been reported before?