Toast Obama’s victory, but winning this battle makes the war even harder

On Sunday night, even by normal standards, Washington was a heavily divided city. As Obama, Biden, Pelosi and the Democrat high command drank champagne and hi-fived a successful resolution to 12 months of hard politics and the President’s number one domestic policy, Republican strategists and press officers rubbed their hands with glee.

For both sides, Obama’s landmark legislation passed by the House of Representatives late this weekend that promises to revolutionise a healthcare system struggling on life support is a key campaign battleground for November’s Mid-term elections.

For the Democrats, the fanfare will declare that millions will benefit from a White House-lead piece of policy, that Republican conservatism and negativity was overcome for the good of the country, and that Obama has finally proven his ‘change’ credentials.

In contrast, the GOP’s spin machine will go into overdrive. Their favourite moniker, of a “socialist” and “big government” Democratic party, will be re-energized, Obama’s election pledge to end bitter party politics on the Hill will be derided, and – most importantly – the President will be painted as a man hell-bent on enacting his will, despite public resistance.

The facts are that, while many agree that the US Healthcare system is in dire need of an overhaul, Obama was forced to resort to dubiously democratic procedures in Congress. With a straightforward bill likely to be filibustered by a Scott Brown-enhanced Senate, the Democrats will now utlilise the shady corridor of ‘reconciliation’ to squeeze the House-backed bill through the Senate. It is perhaps fitting that Brown, the Republican who won Teddy Kennedy’s long-held Massachusetts seat in January, will be forced to powerlessly watch as a piece of legislation that Kennedy vigorously supported until his death passes over his desk.

That said, the legislation still fell short of what many had hoped for. It will only cut the number of uninsured Americans by half, and even then only in 2014. Universal coverage is still a pipe dream, as is a government-run ‘Public Option’ – two things that Obama was forced to concede to a GOP fuelled by angry protests and grass-root activism.

Obama’s difficulty now is ensuring that this personal mission hasn’t cost him his political career. In a strange twist of conventional politics, the President – having won over Washington – must now convince the American public that the legislation is right, and that him and his party deserve an extended run in power.

Even before Sunday’s highly-controversial decision, many experts predicted Democratic carnage in November, with all the signs so far pointing to a Republican victory – and a recapturing of the House majority – in the mid-terms. This bill could swing the vote back towards Obama’s party, or put the nail in the Democrat’s coffin.

Indeed, 34 Democratic Congressmen defied the President’s pleas and voted No to the bill. With no Republican support, it passed by 7 votes, 219-212. Those 34 undoubtedly did so with their conservative-leaning, or Obama-wary districts in mind. For sure, Sunday’s vote would have been heart-wrenching for some, who will surely now be facing incredibly tough races in November.

Undoubtedly, in passing legislation that could have saved millions of Americans if enacted decades previously, and doing what previous Presidents failed to achieve, Obama has earned his place in history. Clinton, perhaps fearing the wrath of the electorate with eyes on a second term, curtailed his grand designs for similar reforms. As a result, he will be remembered for Lewinsky first and foremost. If Obama hadn’t had bravely sacrificed vast amounts of his personal political credit to push these reforms through Congress, he may have been remembered for little more than his skin colour. Now he has a legacy.

Yet ironically this legacy may well be his undoing. The question, of course, is whether Obama can buck a trend that may emerge in November and convince a currently skeptical US public that he deserves 4 more years in 2012. Needless to say, Healthcare was just the top issue in his in-tray, with Environmental, Financial and Energy overhauls all promised.

Certainly, he faces an uphill battle. Some Democrat supporters wanted more from this particular bill. Indeed, the full legislation won’t come in until 2014, and even then, 23 million Americans will still be uninsured. Other swing voters will surely assess the biggest domestic issue currently – unemployment – and reckon that Obama has done little to solve that problem. Yet the millions who were cut out, ignored or bankrupted by the US healthcare set-up of the past will surely stand behind the man who fought long and hard to redress the balance and extend coverage to them.

President Obama called on Democratic lawmakers to ignore the prospects of re-election and vote for what was right, not what would get public support. Many boldly heeded that call. Now, unless the US public sees the merits of his work, he may face the same consequences.

We are right to celebrate Obama’s victory in this most crucial of battlegrounds, but the war is an altogether different fight. Liberals in the US and across the world must hope that his wasn’t a valiant sacrifice.


  1. This article has missed the crucial fact that, as Obamacare’s most controversial proposals won’t come in until 2014, Republicans who have been shrilly trilling that the passing of the bill will immediately kill god and everything fluffy will start to sound significantly less convincing. On the other hand, some of the proposals that come into effect immediately will be very popular. For example, it requires that states do not cut back on Medicaid provisions, at a time when states are considering all possible avenues that they can make savings. There are lots of other smaller proposals that will be uncontroversial, but will win votes within certain demographics.

    Also, you state that the bill will only cut the number of uninsured by half. Yet the number of uninsured Americans stands at 47 million, and the bill is supposed to leave only 15 million uninsured. Where do get your 23 million figure from?

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  2. Ieuan,

    You’re right – though as far as November is concerned, and the lawsuits filed by GOP state governors notwithstanding, the controversial/popular sides of the bill will have made little impact. All the GOP will care about is that $900billion is being poured into ‘socialized’ medicine at a time when the deficit is enormous and unemployment is still a major issue.

    Basically, if Obama doesn’t do enough to convince people to trust him and the Democrats that in the long run it will get better, we could be back in 1995 again, and that’s pretty depressing.

    RE: the figures, I pulled them from yesterday’s Financial Times, page 7. Can’t post the link here due to the pay-wall, but it’s in the library if you want to check! I guess the confusion on numbers just highlights how the political spin on this bill can be swung either way.

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  3. It will be interesting to see what the Republicans will do now that they’ve lost this battle so spectacularly. Will they try to convince the American public that insurance companies should have retained the right to refuse life-saving treatment on the grounds of ‘pre-existing conditions’? Will they try to tell Americans that they should be living their lives under constant fear of bankruptcy?

    Their position is now totally indefensible. They demonized this bill to such an extent that they will soon pay the price for their shameless lies and for their cynical and nihilistic attitude. We can only hope this will be soon enough.

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  4. Your article is obviously soaked in your own liberal agenda and as such you fail to give fair acknowledgement to the genuine Republican objections (including many in the Democratic Party). Republican ‘negativity’ is based on well founded concerns over government taking over one fifth of the economy when the public finances are already in turmoil. The ‘back room deals’ which helped get such a tragedy of legislation passed at this stage show not a government of ‘change’ as proclaimed by Obama throughout his presidential bid yet one of the ‘same old politics’. Rationing healthcare as practised here in the UK was also of fundemental concern to Republicans.
    If you had the least understanding of US politics you would know that Republicans want an overhaul of the current system to correct its failings, yet they would work through market-based solutions in increasing competition over state lines and heightening regulation in specific areas to avoid the often exploitative actions of insurers.
    Government is rarely the solution; especially when it comes to healthcare.

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  5. ‘Government is rarely the solution’

    Oh dear.

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  6. 24 Mar ’10 at 11:37 pm

    Friedman is dead

    ‘Market-based solutions’… Or put another way, the Republicans are in the pockets of those lobby loving insurers.
    If I was to make an audacious guess at whether ‘AHRRRRRR!!!!’ could afford health insurance under the ‘old system’ I would put my sub-prime mortgage on the answer being yes.

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  7. “The ‘back room deals’ which helped get such a tragedy of legislation passed at this stage show not a government of ‘change’ as proclaimed by Obama throughout his presidential bid yet one of the ’same old politics’.”

    When Republican circles have become so delibrately obstructionist, backward and bordering on racist I don’t really blame the Obama admin for having to resort to ugly politics. It would have been nice if the Republican minority had allowed itself to be governed and play a part in government but they clearly have no intention of letting that happen.

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  8. 25 Mar ’10 at 6:33 pm

    Bill O'Reilly

    I love it when Yanks waffle on about ‘Liberals’, ‘Socialism’ and ‘communism’ when they talk about politics. I wish they would read the proper definitions instead of just taking Glenn Becks word for what they actually mean on Fox News!

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  9. I concur. I have SO MANY internet arguments with people who think that ‘liberal’ and ‘communist’ are the same thing – as if Stalin loved giving individual freedoms! BAH

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  10. Besides the blatant blindness in this article to the other side of the argument, the naive inability to appreciate why anyone would object to such a system of healthcare just because it’s all any of us here have ever known, the one thing I resent most about this article is captured in the line: “We are right to celebrate Obama’s victory”. Who exactly is “We”? Why is it assumed that everyone under 25, at York or anywhere else, is necessarily a Guardian-reading leftie? The title carries the same tone. I would have read the article with a much more fair and open mind if it hadn’t come across as being addressed to a particular, ‘fashionable’ clique.

    The fact of the matter is this single issue has represented all that was false about Obama’s campaign – all his grand plans have got bogged down by one way or another, he has been forced to resort to exactly the ‘same old’ grubby politics he pledged to rise above, and the result is an approval rating that has plummeted faster than you can say “Yes We Can”. He’s gonna get hammered in the midterms, tying his hands for the remainder of his term and the whole thing will have been a monumental disappointment. And only after that will most of his healthcare reforms actually kick in. Still, it makes 2012 a whole lot more interesting than it might have seemed.

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  11. 26 Mar ’10 at 3:11 pm

    normal bloke!!

    No one has the right to free health care. We seem to always forget in this country that we (and our employers) actually pay for it, out of money we never even get to see, as its taken straight out of our wage packets!

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  12. JC

    It’s a comment piece. Nouse is clearly a slightly leftie student newspaper (most are, aren’t they?) that models itself on The Indie or The Guardian. There is bias here – but all it does is echo the fact that the majority of students at York who care about politics will be glad that the healthcare bill passed.

    Write a comment piece for Vision presenting the opposing view – I’m sure they’d lap it up.

    I’d also like to point out that Obama’s approval ratings have improved by 5 points (see Gallup’s reasonably authoritative polling) since the bill passed. This may be a short-term rise – but it wouldn’t surprise me if Obama gained votes due to passing it. An effective partisan president is likely to do better than an ineffective partisan president, after all (not that I’d call him a strictly partisan president).

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  13. “Why is it assumed that everyone under 25, at York or anywhere else, is necessarily a Guardian-reading leftie? The title carries the same tone. I would have read the article with a much more fair and open mind if it hadn’t come across as being addressed to a particular, ‘fashionable’ clique.”

    As far as I am aware, the writer is a Tory supporter.

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  14. So what? Both replies are missing the point. Having an opinion is one thing, assuming a consensus view of your readers in this way is quite another.

    Imagine if we in the UK didn’t have the NHS, then suddenly someone came along and tried to force it into existence, in the current climate. What would the reaction be? The opposition would have a field day over the government’s fiscal irresponsibility. If this was an open and shut case it would have been passed months ago. It wasn’t, but (similarly to ahrrrr’s point) this article fails to appreciate why that is.

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  15. Unfortunately, JC, you appear to be an idiot. Whilst the concerns of sensible human beings may be an expensive bill coming into effect when debt is high, the greater concerns of sensible human beings should be that a large number of fellow human beings are unable to get the healthcare that they need at a time where their jobs are trying to cut back on providing any healthcare support due to the economy.

    More importantly, the Republicans aren’t fighting it because of ‘fiscal irresponsibility’ but rather because they think that healthcare should be 100% privatised. They are the only country in the developed world that doesn’t have universal healthcare and anyone that has experienced free healthcare and suggests that the US system is better is a total gimp. America is living in the 1930s in many areas and though this exchange may well show that they are indeed a ‘socialist government’, it will also show that the Republicans’ claims about the problems were wrong and that President Obama is the strong leader that they want.

    It’s the swing voters, again, who are important in this and it’s hard to tell how they respond. Different states see different things and it’s likely to be a closely fought battle either way. I’m still hoping that one day the USA will wake up and join the civilised nations of the world – and they’re getting slowly closer. If the democrats win the mid-terms and hold a majority in the Senate until the end of Obama’s time, more things may change – and hopefully will!

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  16. I just wanted to say that this article is very high quality! Better
    constructed and written, and more interesting, than 99% of
    campus media pieces. I can’t see who wrote it (Foy?) – but well
    done whoever it was. I know someone who only reads Nouse
    material, and never Vision or the Yorker – maybe it’s because of
    items like this one.

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  17. One thing, which is actually something that bothers me about politics articles in general, is the use of things like ”a currently skeptical US public’. I’m baffled as to how on earth anyone could have any idea whatsoever as to what the US public thing about anything. I know there’s polls to find things out but anyone with half a brain can see the obvious limitations of generalising from the found in those things. I know it would make things a little more inconvenient because people would be much less certain about things, but with truth supposedly being the priority in journalism etc, I’d be really curious to hear what people have to say about that, because when things like ‘a currently skeptical US public’ are used in the newspapers on a constant basis, people may very well come to accept the amount of certainty which is implied.

    I don’t intend on knocking the article at all but I think it’s something that is really worth considering,

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  18. Great article. A week is a long time in politics so by November healthcare will be a distant memory notwithstanding its huge significance. The Republicans will tie the healthcare bill (law) in with a “big government” attack. So I think his sucess will depend on a cumulation of healthcare with the fate of other policies. Jobs, as you say, being front and centre.

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