The way I see it, President Obama has a couple of months to turn his failing administration around.
The war in Afghanistan is going south, and within a couple of weeks,
Gen. Stanley McCrystal, Obama's version of Lyndon Johnson's General
William Westmoreland, will be coming to him asking for more troops.
Things are getting hairier in Iraq too.
His signature health care initiative is foundering, with Republicans working in lockstep to see to it that it fails.
Pressure is mounting for an honest probe into the criminality of the
prior administration in its authorization and promotion of torture
against captives--most of them innocent--in the Bush/Cheney "war" on
The stock market, which by climbing back 50% from its collapse and
the bottom it hit on March 9, gave the president a breather, is showing
signs of exhaustion, and is likely to start sinking again, as investors
realize that there is no end in sight for the recession in the real
If all this continues into December, which is after all only a
couple of months away, Congress will go into recess, and when it
returns, it will be an election year, with all House seats up for
grabs, and a third of the Senate also facing re-election. Republicans
will be in an all-out campaign to reduce the Democratic majorities in
both houses, with history on their side (in almost every off-year
election, the party of new presidents lose support both houses of
So, what's the president got to do?
First, he needs to announce a bold peace initiative in Afghanistan.
He should reject the call for more troops, and instead call for a
regional peace conference--one that would include all the neighborhing
countries around Afghanistan, and most significantly, the Taliban. At
such a conference, he should arrange for a new government of national
unity that includes the Taliban, and then get the hell out of the
country. Obama can declare victory if he wants, but the main thing is
to get out. Ditto for Iraq, where the US is still viewed as an occupier
and is going to be forced out eventually. There is no reason to stay
Second, he should declare the disfunctional and industry-polluted
health reform plans in Congress dead and simply announce that by
executive order, he is lowering the age for Medicare to 55, and is
switching all Medicaid patients in the country over to Medicare (with
the intention of lowering that age by five years ever year until all
are covered), and shutting down the Medicaid program. He should then
submit a bill to Congress establishing a government-owned insurance
company, open to all, with no restrictions on its ability to set
pricing and reimbursement rates or to negotiate discounts from
hospitals, doctors and pharmacy companies. Or alternatively, the bill
could enable anyone to simply buy into Medicare. He should tell
Democrats and Republicans alike that any member of Congress who votes
against that bill will not see any bill with her or his name on it get
his signature in his remaining years in office. The government company
would be phased out once Medicare covered everyone.
Finally, the president needs to announce that he is sickened by the
information he has received about the prior administration's torture
program, and that he is encouraging his attorney general to fully
investigate it, and to prosecute to the full extent of the law anyone,
no matter how high up in the military or in government, who authorized
torture or who covered it up.
Congress could be expected to howl at the use of an executive order
to expand Medicare, but the president could declare a national health
emergency as justification, saying the recession had thrown too many
people off of health insurance, and that as well, states were in dire
fiscal shape and laying off workers because of the increased Medicaid
Removing older workers from employers' health insurance plans would
be a huge shot in the arm for struggling companies, as they are the
biggest users of health care. Lifting the $400 billion cost of Medicare
from state governments would free up money to prevent the layoff of
state and local employees, which is threatening to stifle economic
Republicans can be expected to denounce the president for going
after the Bush/Cheney administration on torture, but most Americans at
this point are becoming aware of the damage that the policy has caused
to the country's international reputation, and to the soldiers in the
Many people would also howl about bringing the troops home from
Afghanistan, and Iraq, but the truth is that the vast majority of
Americans are sick of both wars and would welcome an end to them.
The key to all these moves, however, is that Obama needs to explain
them not in terms of saving money, but as being the right thing to do.
Health care reform has to be presented as a moral imperative, not as a
money saver (even though covering everyone with Medicare would be a
huge net savings for everyone in the country). Ending America's foreign
wars would be a huge savings, but the real reason to do it is that the
US has no business being a global cop and imperialist occupier. And
prosecuting torture is essential if the US is to be a nation of laws.
You wouldn't know it to listen to the jaded pundits in the corporate
media, but in my experience, most Americans are basically decent
people, and would like to be citizens of a country that did decent
things, not just things that could be justified as making "economic
I'm not expecting any of this to happen, of course. This president
has shown repeatedly and convincingly that he is a creature of the
Establishment, not given to any bold initiatives or to challenges to
the status quo. I'm just saying that these are steps that could salvage
his presidency--a presidency that is seeming increasingly doomed. The
corollary is that if he doesn't do these things, he will find himself
with a diminished majority in November, 2010, a reinvigorated
Republican opposition, a tanked economy, an angry electorate (including
a lot of pissed off former supporters), and, basically, nothing to show
for his whole presidency come 2012.