Why Obama Doesn't Sweat Health Care Reform

Jun 17, 09 | 9:33 AM   byMichael Wolff
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What is the president’s health care plan? There’s got to be one. This administration is about the execution of disciplined strategies. Sure, Monday’s speech in favor of more health care for more people was, according to the Financial Times, “impassioned.”

But who could be opposed? Yes, yes, the AMA, and sour doctors, and Republicans of all sorts are opposed to something, but not to being impassioned about wanting health care reform. Everybody wants health care reform.

On a pure policy basis, the president surely wants quite a drastically different sort of reform than the AMA, sour doctors, and Republicans. His speech was meant to draw the line between his real reform and all other fake reforms. And it drew it—a bit.

But even as he drew the line between entirely private reform plans, and his own preference for substantial government involvement in providing health insurance coverage, it was still pretty hard to find much that even any hard heart could disagree with. “What I refuse to do is simply create a health care system where insurance companies have more customers on Uncle Sam’s dime but still fail to meet their responsibilities.” Hmmm. Okay. Anybody wanna fight with that?

Churlishly, you might argue that this is reform by bromides. Even in this speech, one meant to throw down the gauntlet and inject himself into what will be the major congressional debate of the year, he was heavy on the obvious—“Heath care reform is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health”—and scant on the complications of difficult policy choices.

Even his fightin’ words—“When you hear naysayers claim that I am trying to bring about government-run health care, know this: They are not telling the truth”—are kind of a big yawn.

What he’s doing, of course, is avoiding the debate. He’s on the side of the righteousness overview, whereas the devil is in the details. Indeed, he’s letting the specific proposals come, or seem to come, from Congress instead of the White House.

I am not complaining. It’s a strategy. Indeed, it would be a neglected opportunity not to point out the technique that’s so evident here.

For one thing, he’s already seen Hillary Clinton screw up health care reform for a generation by being too into it—by loving health care’s unloveable details way too much.

In this debate, the minutiae will kill you. Just by putting all those horrible health care system reform words in your mouth you become a bloodless bureaucrat. The language of this debate is pure poison.

So you see what didn’t work, and you do the opposite. You slide on by. You don’t lower yourself to this debate, soil yourself with the deadening particulars.

Health care is vital, elemental, the real deal, absolutely crucial to the success or failure of this administration. But it’s boring. It steals the passion from passion. No one who truly engages in this debate comes out alive. That’s what the president understands.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at
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