Monday, July 20, 2009
In the vernacular of magic it’s called “prestidigitation,” literally “sleight of hand.” It’s all about distraction. Look here, not there.
Six months into his Presidency, someone needs to tell President Obama that he can stop running for office. He needs to stop campaigning and start managing the government. The problem is, campaigning is what he does best, and may be all he knows how to do.
Lately, President Obama has been all over the place campaigning for Congress to pass healthcare reform legislation by the August break – almost without regard for the effectiveness of that legislation or its costs. Not that healthcare reform – and universal healthcare, in particular – isn’t way overdue. It is. The problem is his obsessive concern about the timing of the legislation, as if getting it done according to his frankly arbitrary schedule is more important than the quality and affordability of the program Congress passes.
So why is he pressing so hard? Without a doubt, it’s because he sincerely believes that it’s important legislation and that he’s doing his best, however ineptly, to make it happen. But why be in such a hurry and so persistently high profile in his appeals to Congress and the American people? One explanation is that his campaign for healthcare reform has the benefit of distracting us from his Administration’s embarrassingly incompetent handling of the economy and the $787 billion of stimulus money Congress approved at his request. Five months since he demanded these funds on an emergency basis, only $90 billion has been spent, much of which is still in what they call “the pipeline,” and we all know what that means.
And then there are the billions and billions of dollars he’s wasted bailing out some of our major financial companies and buying General Motors.
Clearly, these are things he doesn’t want to talk about. The economy’s a mess and he’s done precious little about it while putting us even deeper into debt in the process.
Fiscal and program management are not something he’s good at. Talking, yes. He’s an exceptionally good speaker delivering very well written material. Unfortunately, his performance as President has been disappointing, to say the least, although entirely consistent with what you would expect from someone with his minimal management experience. It took the head of the Congressional Budget Office to point out that his Administration’s healthcare proposal doesn’t make financial sense, a conclusion which he does not dispute. Shouldn’t his advisors have worked through the economics of their own program more carefully first, before submitting it for Congressional review and approval? Why hasn’t he been able to spend $697 billion of the $787 billion of stimulus money Congress approved? Shouldn’t the latter be his highest priority?
Well, let’s see… He can’t talk about his performance over his first 6 months office because he hasn’t accomplished anything, and he doesn’t know what to do about the economy except wait for it to recover on its own and then take credit for it. And he doesn’t want to talk about the additional troops he’s pouring into Afghanistan. So what does that leave, but to distract us by scolding Congress and campaigning directly to the American people to prove he’s on top of healthcare reform? (On top of a badly flawed program that needs more work than anyone should reasonably expect Congress to accomplish in the next 10 days?)
The question is, given the record of his Presidency to date, why should we believe his emergency healthcare legislation will be any better conceived, cost effective and well managed than his program for economic recovery?
Let’s hope he’s learning from his mistakes. In the meantime, when President Obama talks about this, maybe we should be taking a closer look at that.