Did Obama Try Too Much, Too Soon? Well, Duh

5247156Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics nailed it this morning with a compelling post making the argument that President Obama misread his political mandate and overreached with his proposed public option for health care reform.

"So far, the White House has not exhibited a good understanding of exactly what is possible in this political climate. It has been acting as though the President's election was a major change in the ideological orientation of the country," he wrote.

What about all the talk about the second coming of FDR? Exactly. It was just talk, according to Cost.

"All the strained comparisons of Obama to Franklin Roosevelt were a tipoff that many were talking themselves into the idea that the 2008 election created an opportunity for a substantial, leftward shift in policy. Yet the election of 2008 was not like the 1932 contest. It wasn't like 1952, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, or even 1988, either. Obama's election was narrower than all of these. FDR won 42 of 48 states. Eisenhower won 39, then 41. Johnson won 44 of 50. Nixon won 49. Reagan won 44, then 49. George H.W. Bush won 40. Obama won 28, three fewer than George W. Bush in his narrow 2004 reelection."

You can't argue with the numbers. And whether you accept the premise that the opposition to health care reform is a genuine grass roots movement or a ginned-up gimmick by a right-wing conspiracy no longer matters, this much now is clear: What with the administration's Health and Human Services Secretary acknowledging that a government run health insurance option "is not an essential part" of reform -an unidentified administration official now tells Marc Ambinder that Kathleen Sebelius simply "misspoke" during a Sunday CNN interview - the door is open to that dirtiest of words for the true believers: compromise. What with Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, Dick Durbin, Bill Clinton - and even the President himself - dropping clear hints that they were open to a deal, the get ready for the spinmeistering to go into hyperdrive.

Of course, the President may still try and drive though a health care reform bill on his terms. Good luck with that. Nate Silver did the math and the public option is looking increasingly iffy.
Might the President have had an easier time of it had he not inherited a faltering economy and a couple of wars upon taking office in mid-January? You bet.

The bailouts and the deficit also played a part in souring the public on the need for big legislative changes. With all these different crises competing for the administration's attention simultaneously, President Obama only recently began hitting the stump with an effective sales pitch. No such lack of concentration hampered the insurance companies, which opposed the public option with everything in their arsenal. This was Enemy No. 1 and it appears they've played the winning hand. (Things may still change but that's how it looks for now.)

One big difference between FDR's era and the present is that - at least in the beginning - Roosevelt worked with a Congress "infused with a remarkable spirit of bipartisanship," notes Boston College history professor, Patrick Maney, who authored The Roosevelt Presence: The Life and Legacy of FDR. Obama only wishes he had that kind of supprt from Congressional Republicans.

Rahm Emanuel's now-famous declaration never to let a serious crisis to go to waste, notwithstanding, President Obama may have to settle for half a loaf this time around.


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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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