During the primaries and the general election campaign last year, the most potent argument made for not supporting Barack Obama was his lack of experience. He had never managed anything. He did not have any leadership experience. And with only two years in the U. S. Senate, he lacked sufficient knowledge of how the legislative process worked in Washington. In other words, he didn't know how to lead or to govern. Although the debate over Obamacare is far from over, this fatal weakness has been laid open for all to see in the debacle over how health care reform has been handled so far.
President Obama's first mistake was that he did not lay out a vision for what health care reform should look like. He relied on the same nonspecific campaign rhetoric that led to victory last November in the election when talking about health care reform. He had convinced the public something needed to be done about health care but he hadn't made the case for specific steps that needed to be taken. Even his New York Times op-ed doesn't contain a single tangible proposal on how he will achieve the reform goals he wants to meet. By contrast, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey laid out a very sensible proposal for reform in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week. The President could have taken a cue from someone like Mr. Mackey by providing specific proposals of what to accomplish with reform legislation.
The President's second mistake was not practicing what he preached when it came to bipartisanship. At the beginning of this debate, President Obama made it clear he wanted support for healthcare reform to be bipartisan. But instead of bringing Republicans into the process of drafting the reform legislation, he outsourced the writing of the bill to Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic caucus. As a result, he got a bill that was chock full of goodies for their liberal supporters and controversial proposals that no one in their right mind could defend. The President then squandered precious political capital having to play defense on issues such as "death panels" and single-payer programs and flip-flops on the public option.
Now the President finds himself in a bind. His approval ratings are plummeting. The public is growing skeptical about whether they can trust him on this issue. Getting Republicans to come to the table at this point seems unlikely. Despite having supermajorities in both houses of Congress, he probably won't be able to get anything passed anytime soon as he can't keep his own party in line.
So what does the President do? Is it time to hit the reset button as some have suggested? You can't erase the past but you can move forward, can't you?
The first step for the President will be the most difficult. He has to come out and publicly admit that he has made mistakes in how he has handled health care reform. He then has to tell Congress to start over from scratch. He should bring leaders from both parties together and lay out a plan of what he wants to accomplish and be willing to listen to and incorporate ideas from both parties. There are an abundance of proposals being tossed about. The President needs to be willing to cull through them and working with Congress incorporate the best of them.
President Obama has a difficult task ahead. If health care reform is to be enacted it's going to require him to do something he hasn't had to do nor has the experience to do: be a leader. The chances of reform being enacted are directly tied to his ability to demonstrate leadership. If the President's plan does fail he has no one to blame but himself.