Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hope Without Audacity

This is a very interesting post. You may not agree with all of it (OK, some of you will agree with NONE of it!), I don't necessarily, but Dr. Drew Westen, of Emory University is saying something I've been thinking for a couple of weeks now. It appears that the Obama Administration is flailing about on the issue of health care reform, without doing the one thing the President does best - if I can use what may be a reductionist term for this - teach people why health care reform is urgent...

Westen says, "One of the great character strengths of Barack Obama, and one of his greatest strengths as a leader, is his ability to treat people with civility and respect and to try to inspire others to do the same...But our strengths and our weaknesses tend to flow from the same wells. In a paradoxical sense, as daunting as the problems the President has inherited, his greatest stroke of luck as a candidate and now as President was that the prior administration had so thoroughly destroyed our economy, our strength and reputation around the world, and the security most voters had felt in their homes, their jobs, and their health care that they were ready for more than a reshuffling of the deck. They wanted a new set of cards, one that wasn't marked."

His (Dr. Westen's) stinging rebuke, has a ring of truth to it, "...on issue after issue, the President is selling hope without audacity, leaving centrist Democrats from purple states and districts fearful of attacks from the right on everything from deficits to "socialized medicine.""

But the professor of psychology and psychiatry and author of the book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, isn't offering a blanket attack on the president. He is, however, admonishing him to guard against missing another 'teachable moment' as he got nothing in the earliest days of his administration for his efforts at bi-partisanship.

Obama has done this before. He did it with his speech on race in Philadelphia when "...he broke with the politics of avoidance that he turned the corner on the bubbling issue of race and won the Democratic nomination." He did it again when the complications and consequences of the economic crisis were being realized. Obama clearly separated himself from John McCain by showing the country that he understood what was at stake: "The truth, he stated with the razor sharpness of a good prosecutor making his closing statement, is that what McCain was saying in response to the extraordinary financial crisis that was unfolding "fits with the same economic philosophy that he's had for 26 years...It's the philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise. It's a philosophy that lets Washington lobbyists shred consumer protections and distort our economy so it works for the special interests instead of working people...We've had this philosophy for eight years. We know the results. You feel it in your own lives. Jobs have disappeared, and peoples' life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet. The cost of everything from gas to groceries to health care has gone up, while the dream of a college education for our kids and a secure and dignified retirement for our seniors is slipping away. These are the struggles that Americans are facing. This is the pain that has now trickled up.""

Now the same thing must be done with health care. By explaining his motives and teaching the country exactly what is at stake, he can give fellow Democrats courage and opposition head on. Westen says it even better, he needs to say it over and over, "...until it sticks in the minds of voters the same way Ronald Reagan made "government is the problem, not the solution" stick in the minds of voters for 30 years."

"No one should have been allowed to play with our financial futures the way the banking industry did. No one should have been allowed to amass fortunes in the oil industry or in oil speculation as everyday Americans were loading themselves down with credit card debt to pay four dollars a gallon for gas. No one should have lost a job or a home because someone wanted to turn a quick buck and didn't give a damn what the impact might be on millions of families, shareholders, or pensioners. No industry should have been incentivized to increase its profits every time it denied insurance to someone with a "pre-existing condition" or stamped "denied" on a legitimate medical claim."
"Those are stories the American people need to hear. Those are stories conservative Democrats need to hear echoed from their constituents if they are going to do what's right by them."

The electoral facts are, a president gets about two years to govern, after that he's campaigning again. There's no time to waste.

Mario Cuomo said, "We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose."

It really is time to be audacious...

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