Had Obama only listened to Rahm

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post argues that Obama needs to listen to Rahm more. Which raises the question of just who has he been listening to the last year:

Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.

The president would have been better off heeding Emanuel’s counsel. For example, Emanuel bitterly opposed former White House counsel Greg Craig’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, arguing that it wasn’t politically feasible. Obama overruled Emanuel, the deadline wasn’t met, and Republicans pounced on the president and the Democrats for trying to bring terrorists to U.S. prisons. Likewise, Emanuel fought fiercely against Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to send Khalid Sheik Mohammed to New York for a trial. Emanuel lost, and the result was another political fiasco.

Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction.

The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.

Had it gone Emanuel’s way, a politically popular health-care bill would have passed long ago, leaving plenty of time for other attractive priorities, such as efforts to make college more affordable. We would have seen a continuation of the momentum of the first half of 2009, when Obama followed Emanuel’s strategy and got 11 substantive bills on his desk before the August recess.

Let’s correct the record a bit.

1. President Obama didn’t lift a proverbial finger for the public option, so spare us the Rahm talking points about “but for the public option, health care reform would have been done in a snap.”

Health care reform wasn’t done in a snap because the President didn’t fight for much of anything in particular, and when the GOP went ballistic, the President and the Dems in Congress refused to fight fire with fire. Yes, President Obama gave a number of very good speeches that included general principles that could have applied to pretty much anything the Congress passed. And while he was giving a few speeches, Republicans had their operatives shutting down health care forums across the country, freaking out Democratic members of Congress, and seemingly the White House as well.

Secondly the GOP didn’t block health care reform because it included the public option – it didn’t include it. They blocked health care reform because they decided early on to block the entire Democratic agenda in order to win the Congress and the White House back. That wouldn’t have changed had we not talked about the public option. We still would have heard about death panels had the President simply proposed sending a box of Band-Aids to every American.

2. More importantly, and more generally, Rahm’s “advice” seems to have been for the President to abandon all of his campaign promises and go the easy route in order to “claim” a large number of small victories. Yes, that might have fooled the public for a while, and it’s a trick the administration (and their non-profit allies) have been using to try to con the gay community into not noticing that none of the President three top promises (repeal of DADT and DOMA, and passage of ENDA) are going anywhere – but hey, they have a long list of things we never asked for, including cocktail parties, ceremonial resolutions, a federal employees benefits bill that might help a handful of gay federal employees (which is nice, but not a substitute for the actual promises that aren’t being kept), and an Easter Egg hunt. If the administration and its non-profit allies can just build a big enough list of small successes, maybe nobody will notice that the big stuff that actually matters is going nowhere.

Too much ambition is the last thing that doomed health care reform.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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