President Obama's greatest success so far as president -- achieving passage of a health care overhaul -- is also his greatest failure. The politician became famous because of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech in which he said, "even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
Republicans despondent because they think the bill is a government takeover that is about to ruin the American health care system may want to cheer up. First, if the bill is half as terrible as the Republicans say it is, Americans are going to be so upset about it that they blame the Democrats. That will redound politically to the benefit of the Republicans, and it may even make a repeal of the bill possible. Second, even without passage of this bill, health care costs were growing to the point where they were putting pressure on family and government budgets, and it was about to get worse because of the aging of the Baby Boom generation into Medicare. Now the Republicans have a plausible way of blaming the Democrats for all these problems, which were going to happen anyway under the course set by a Republican administration.
The present Democratic jubilation over the passage of this bill is eerily reminiscent to me of the mood among neoconservatives after Congress voted to authorize the Iraq War. We learned after that vote that getting Congress to pass a resolution is just the beginning; getting government to execute a plan well in unpredictable or adverse conditions, and getting the public to support it amid mounting casualties, are other things entirely. When one party controls both Congress and the White House, the temptation to overreach is strong, no matter which party it is that holds power.
Finally, it will be interesting to see whether, having achieved this, the Obama administration has now spent every last ounce of political capital it had left, and will rest on its laurels or take a victory lap; or whether, instead, it will try to take the momentum of this win and roll on into other legislative fronts, such as a financial regulatory overhaul or immigation law changes.
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