With the passage of Obamacare, it’s now quite clear that President Obama has been undervalued, and not just by critics on the right. As I wrote in January, when the likes of Eugene Robinson start bad-mouthing the Obama presidency, perhaps it’s time to buy some of those beat-up Obama shares.
This is not a weak and ineffective president. This is a relentless president willing to do whatever it takes to transform a country that falls woefully short of his expectations.
But in the aftermath of his victory on health care, Obama will almost certainly be overvalued. That’s how punditry works.
In reality, while Obama demonstrated commendable doggedness and, along with Speaker Pelosi, the ability to twist the arms of Democratic politicians, his overall performance on health care was impressive only up to a point.
At the macro level, Obama secured the passage of a bill he didn’t like that much by a Senate which, at the time, had 60 Democratic members. He then obtained approval, via a very slender majority, in an overwhelmingly Democratic House. Not bad, but not the stuff of legends.
At the micro level, Obama lost the national debate on health care. This is a significant failure because it undermines his status as a great communicator, leaves Republicans in a position to keep fighting over this issue, and threatens Democratic margins in the House and Senate.
That, of course, is why Obama plans to run a “victory lap” in which he will attempt to sell Obamacare. It’s possible he will succeed, but it’s not clear what arguments are available to him that he hasn’t already used without success.
David Axelrod claims that the passage of the legislation tilts the debate in Obama’s favor. But his argument is weak:
They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’
But it’s been known all along, and endlessly pointed out, that the legislation would extend insurance to sympathetic people who don’t have it now. This advantage has been deemed insufficient by a majority of Americans, given the cost of Obamacare and its perceived impact on the overall health care system.
How has anything changed in these respects? How will anything change in these respects before November?