Take the wheel, Mr. President. The car is swerving all over the road. Are you going to drive it? or, let it keep swerving and maybe go off the road - as if you're a bystander?
It's not a bad metaphor for how I feel about President Obama's role in trying to close the deal with health care reform. The President has to step up now and be The Leader of health care reform efforts. He has failed to do so for most of this process in 2009, allowing US Senators, Representatives and other parties to knock his proverbial car off the road far too often.
Obama is driving me crazy the way he keeps allowing others to dominate the public debate - even with the stakes getting bigger by the day. He and his top advisors team seem oblivious to the perception that Obama is - still - appearing unclear on what he wants most in the final legislation and that he appears weak. He appears to be getting pushed around by others and far too detached about the actual content of the emerging bill.
The latest bad sign? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, suddenly remarked that the Senate might not get a health care bill completed during this calendar year.
For the past year, all I've read is about the Obama team felt it was essential to get this major legislation done during the President's first year. Remember how President Obama seemed disappointed when the Administration had to accept that the Congress would have to delay action on the bill until after the summer recess - and, instead, wait until the fall?
So, since Tuesday, I've been waiting and hoping that Obama would surprise me and come out with a strong statement correcting Harry Reid and perhaps saying "We WILL take action on this bill by the end of this year." But, NO-OO--OO........Instead, there has been the typical Obama silence. At this moment, (on Thurs, Nov. 5) Obama's silence makes Harry Reid look like the leader on health care and makes Obama seem like a passive, helpless observer.
President Obama and his team cannot sit back and let Reid's statement hang there for another few days. Obama needs to articulate his position on his view of the deadline for a bill OR to explain that he, too, feels legislation may be delayed. (I hope he does not allow delay because, I think it could jeopardize any legislation and hurt his entire presidency)
What baffles me is the Obama team was so skilled in communicating with the public during the 2008 presidential campaign. They didn't allow time to pass before responding to sound bites from their opponents during the primary and the general election. Yet, in the White House, there has been a tremendous drop-off in sensing when the President or a surrogate needs to make a statement or send a signal to convey important messages. With health care reform, in particular, the Obama team has been incredibly passive, allowing months and months to pass without Obama stepping forward and grabbing the bullhorn to declare what he's for and what HAS to be done.
Now, with 2009 winding down, and potential action by the US House on health care legislation approaching within the next few days, will the Obama White House take the initiative and explain what the hell is going on? Where is the President on the public option - bottom-line?
What about the bill's impact on the deficit? Will Obama reassure people that the bill will not amount to runaway government spending without sufficient accountability? I'm not personally worried about that, but, all signs suggest many Americans are - and the White House should wake up and address those concerns.
Obama used to talk about health care reform every day on the 2008 campaign trail. He knows the issue cold. Then, in his early weeks as President - despite the economy being in horrific condition - Obama decided to go forward with a major attempt to reform health care this year. He knew it'd be very risky with the economy as a distraction for all, yet, he did so.
It was puzzling that he chose to let the US Congress play such a major role in developing legislation, but, it has been far more puzzling to observe Obama let month after month go by without asserting himself more in the process. Maybe he knows the bill will be so flawed that he wants a bit of distance, but, it's way too late for that. He's in it up to his neck now.
How Obama handles health care reform in the next several weeks, and, perhaps months, will be an enormous statement about his presidency.
Take the wheel, President Obama. Get out of the passenger seat and start driving.
I post opinions at least once a week here. Often I write about politics or media coverage of politics -- two subjects I have followed closely for more than 30 years.