Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Heilemann vs. Weisberg

New York magazine's John Heliemann and Slate's Jacob Weisberg have dueling articles this week on Obama's first year --

Heilemann says Obama has gone off the rails. Weisberg says he's been a superstar.

Anybody who reads this blog know where this schlub falls: I'm with Weisberg all the way. A lot of Heilemann's points are fairly flimsy and not particularly serious. His proof that Obama has gone off the rails? His approval rating is down. As I argued last week, it was always going to go down.

But on more substantive charges, I suppose Heilemann deserves an answer. So here goes:

1) He says that Obama's stimulus plan wasn't big enough -- which is a standard complaint from the left. But then he ridicules Rahm Emanuel for saying that there was no other figure that could have gotten through congress.

How does Heilemann know that that isn't exactly true?

The stimulus plan did not get a single Republican vote in the House. Not a single one. The three Republican votes it got in the Senate were after scaling the number back to $787 billion. When the stimulus plan passed back in February, Arlen Specter was a Republican and Al Franken was not yet a Senator. In other words, the GOP could have mounted a filibuster if the administration didn't pick off Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Would that have happened if the bill had been $200 to $400 billion more?

I have no reason to disbelieve Emanuel (who is probably the best vote counter in the country) when he says no.

2) He repeats the standard claims that the White House mismanaged healthcare because (a) they didn't take the lead, (b) they should have waited until a less fraught time, (c) they haven't been standing squarely with the public option and (d) this is a "war of choice" for Obama (which is a new one.)

I think not taking the lead was a deliberate choice. When Bill Clinton presented Congress with a take-it-or-leave-it health care plan, Democrats and Republicans alike began jumping ship. Congress complained of being run roughshod over. The result was a bill that didn't even come up for a vote. Obama was simply avoiding the same mistake. "Want to feel included? Why don't you write the bill." Sounds sensible to me.

As for this being an inopportune time: I disagree strongly. I think the beginning of his presidency, when his approval ratings were at their highest, was always going to be the best time to pass a fraught bill like health care. He was never again going to have the majority that he has now, and that's the only way to get a behemoth like healthcare through Congress. And he gave himself the necessary recovery time to get over the teabaggers, et al. I think the timing was very smart.

I, too, would like to see a public option included in the final bill... but it's not President Obama's fault that Joe Lieberman is an asshole. The reforms that will likely be enacted are worth doing anyway, and if Heilemann thinks otherwise, well, we'll have to agree to disagree.

Finally, the "war of choice" thing. If you don't think that healthcare is a priority, then I'm not sure why anybody would support Obama (or be a Democrat) in the first place? Democrats have been waiting to pass healthcare reform since FDR. It is a major part of the Democratic platform. Is it the only part? No. But I don't think the 40+ million uninsured Americans should have to wait another year for something that should have been done decades ago.

Last week the Times had a heartbreaking story in which it included the fact that in 2007 62 percent of bankruptcies in America were due to medical bills.

What's even more shocking is that three-quarters of those people had health insurance.

"War of choice?" That's a war for sanity.