What Massachusetts Got Right

The president got creamed in
Massachusetts. No amount of blaming this disastrous outcome on the
weaknesses of the local Democratic candidate or her Republican
opponent's strengths can gainsay that fact. Obama's opportunistic
search for win-win solutions to our health care concerns and our larger
economic problems is leading to a lose-lose outcome for the president
and the country.

The two issues that mattered on Election
Day were the economy, which Obama has sold out to Wall Street-as quite
a few disgruntled voters pointed out-and his plea to save health care
reform, which the voters who had backed him for the presidency with a
huge majority now spurned. It is significant that it was the voters of
Massachusetts who have now derailed the Democrats' efforts to revamp
the country's health care system by denying them the necessary 60th
vote in the Senate, for these voters know the subject well.

The federal proposal is based on their own
state's model requiring people to obtain health insurance without the
state doing anything to effectively control costs through an
alternative to the private insurance corporations. Lacking a public
option, the cost of health care in Massachusetts, already the highest
in the nation at the time of the plan's implementation, has spiraled
upward. Services have been curtailed, and many, particularly younger
people, feel they are being forced to sacrifice to pay for a system
that doesn't work.

Instead of blindly following the failed
Massachusetts model, Obama should have insisted on an extension of the
Medicare program to all who are willing to pay for it. He squandered
the opportunity to bring about meaningful health care change that the
public would have supported had it been kept simple and just. Instead,
Obama gave away the store to medical profiteers. They, in turn,
hopelessly muddied the waters with well-funded scare advertising
tactics that principled leadership on Obama's part could have thwarted.

A mere seven months ago, The New York
Times/ CBS poll found that 72% of Americans "supported a
government-administered insurance plan-something like Medicare for
those under 65-that would compete for customers with private insurers."
Even half of those identified as Republican said they would back such a
public plan, as would three out of four independents and 90% of
Democrats. Instead of heeding that call by endorsing a serious
extension of Medicare, along with increased subsidies for those who
could not afford it, Obama played to the conservatives in Congress-and
they rolled him.

If he wasn't prepared to make a breakthrough in health care, and that
meant a reform program that would begin sooner rather than later, he
should have put it on a back burner. The furor over a very
unsatisfactory plan drew attention from the far bigger crisis
concerning the meltdown of the nation's economy. By accepting and
indeed expanding the Bush administration's strategy of throwing money
at Wall Street, Obama ceded the populist label to the Tea Party
Republicans who now pretend that a banking mess brought about by their
radical deregulatory philosophy is not of their making.

It is the economy, stupid, and the
sooner Obama grasps that, the better for his and the nation's
prospects. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that "Americans
ranked job creation and economic growth as their clear top priority for
the federal government, well above national security and deficit
reduction. Health care, Mr. Obama's top domestic priority in 2009, now
ranks fourth, closely trailing the deficit and government spending."

Of course, the public is right. In the
midst of the worst economic crisis in 70 years, why waste enormous
political capital battling to pass a health care plan that is modeled
on a proven failure in Massachusetts, as voters there clearly
registered? Meanwhile, the president has dropped the ball in the effort
to make bankers act responsibly by forcing them to forego outrageous
bonuses and help homeowners stay in their homes.

Again quoting the message of that Wall
Street Journal/NBC poll: "The president's focus on health care amid
heightened job concerns could be hurting his ratings. At the one-year
mark of his presidency, 35% of Americans said they were 'quite' or
extremely' confident he had the right priorities to improve the
economy, down from 46% at midyear." The Journal noted that a majority
disapproved of the government's response to the financial crisis,
adding, "The related problem for Mr. Obama is the public's lingering
anger about the bailouts of 2008 and 2009, which helped boost bank
profits even as unemployment grew-a toxic political problem."

To salvage his presidency, Obama must
reverse course and make solving the "toxic political problem" of Wall
Street greed that's bankrupting the country his highest priority.

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