Time to tip the King – Why Obama’s Healthcare Bill is Still Dead
Back in August, I wrote an essay explaining why Obama’s effort to pass Healthcare Socialization was doomed. As it turned out, he got a lot closer to succeeding than I thought he would. I did not account for how dumb he and his team are, and the willingness of Democrats to commit political suicide. Perhaps the last part is inaccurate. The Democrats instead self deluded themselves into believing that all of their metrics of public opinion were wrong. In August I relied on a chess analogy:
When playing chess, there often comes a time toward the end of the game when the outcome is preordained, even though the final moves have yet to be made. The positions of the pieces, and the relative strengths between the two sides are such that no combination of moves can prevent one of the players from winning the game. When both of the players are very experienced, the player in the winning position will often say “Mate in X moves”. This is a signal to the losing player to examine the board and see that the other player does indeed have a path to checkmate that cannot be blocked. Usually, the losing player will then “tip the King” to surrender the game, saving everyone time.
When players are of unequal experience, this often becomes a teaching exercise. The more experienced player will declare that checkmate is imminent, but the losing player doesn’t see how that is possible. The game then continues, with the loser learning a valuable lesson about end game strategies.
Obama’s Healthcare bill in Congress reached a point yesterday where the outcome is preordained, however as an inexperienced player, he is continuing to play the game, not yet realizing that he cannot win.
The flaw in my analysis was I did not consider two of Obama’s significant flaws, his inexperience and his ego. In every contest of skill, we will sometimes run into people who have a very large ego, coupled with lack of experience to understand how poorly they actually play. Most of the time, you see these types of people in Karaoke bars making fools of themselves. But even in an intellectual game like chess, you will run into players that beat all of their friends, and have little respect for the skill differential between themselves and experience tournament players. It takes a few truly humiliating losses to an experienced player before they realize they need to break out chess books to improve their game.
In August I assessed the relative strengths of the two sides of the healthcare debate:
As I wrote last week, Obama has a bad hand to play here (my apologies for mixing metaphors). He expended his political capital on the stimulus, but did not use it when he had it to pass healthcare. Instead he waited until the political fallout from the stimulus began to erode his public support, and has been trying to hurry through a bill before it eroded further. This has resulted in a legislative game where the quality of the bill is irrelevant, only the speed at which something must pass matters. The irony is that with a 72 seat majority in the House and a 20 seat majority in the Senate, he still can’t get a piece of legislation that will pass in Congress.
On Tuesday, the outcome was still in doubt. Both Pelosi and Reid were willing to give Obama a chance to sway public opinion in favor of the bill. They were waiting for his press conference to see if he could use his personal charm to turn public opinion in the direction of trusting him with their health. On Wednesday night, Obama turned in arguably the worst public performance of his career, even drawing criticism from usually sympathetic journalistic outlets such as the Associated Press, the New York Times and MSNBC. As Howard Fineman said:
“His prime time press conference was worse than a waste of time. He spent an hour (with the aide of a soporific White House press corps) pouring sand (one grain at a time) into the already-slowing gears of the machinery of health-care reform.”
Without public support, the members of Congress returned to their districts and were met by an outpouring of anger. They were told in no uncertain terms that if they pass this bill, they will be punished at the ballot box. In normal circumstances, this kind of backlash is enough to halt terrible legislation like this. Bush suffered from this exact same problem on both Social Security and Immigration reform.
But something curious happened this time. Some politically stupid people are running the show, and they convinced (or bullied) enough of their caucus into believing that the constituent anger they were experiencing was not real. It had been ginned up by right wing conservative blogs, and tea-bagging kooks. That the phone calls they were receiving were from political operatives and “Rush’s mind numbed robots”, not from their constituents.
Yesterday, Martha Coakley issued a memo, trying to absolve herself of blame in the Massachusetts election. Of course the Washington Democrat machine tried to counter it, and blame her for the loss. But in the end, Martha is right. In Massachusetts, a Democrat party hack, with no experience, running a bad campaign, should win by at least 5 points. This is a state that has elected John Kerry a number of times. Be honest, could a politician as poor as John Kerry win some place competitive, like Florida? We would laugh him out of the state. He ain’t no Bob Graham.
But instead she lost. Scott Brown was the perfect candidate to run against her. He is a tireless campaigner, who would stand out on a street corner, shaking hands and handing out fliers. No person or group is beneath his notice, or willingness to greet. When Brown would get into trouble, he would get in the truck and go find some voters. Coakley would run to Washington and beg for support from the establishment. But he also has the right positions and policies for Massachusetts at this point in time. Even so, Coakley was well ahead in December, but the Christmas Eve vote on healthcare was the last straw that nationalized this election and doomed her chances.
A few months ago I said that we are likely to find that the one sin that the voters will not forgive is breaking the promise to be post-partisan. The independents in Massachusetts punished Obama yesterday for breaking this promise.
In August, I also made some predictions on the future of healthcare legislation. On the details, I was pretty much correct, but I was wrong on the results:
So what is going to happen between now and the end of the August recess? Well Obama purposely withheld the July budget report, delaying it into August. The most likely reason is that it will show the deficit growing faster than expected, with significantly reduced revenues. Additionally, we have a July and August jobs report that will hit between now and when Congress reconvenes. There is a strong possibility that unemployment is going to pass the psychological barrier of 10%, which will create a great deal of political emphasis on the economy and stimulus, making Healthcare much less important. Additionally, Obama is going to try and pressure recalcitrant Democrats to vote for his bill during the recess. Juan Williams talked to White House contacts yesterday, and found that the plan is to remind Democrats how important it is for them to support a Democrat President, and that it will affect their fund raising efforts if they continue to resist.
In other words, Obama does not plan to try and build public support for his plan. His efforts will focus solely on political pressure on other Democrats.
This is a tactic that will not work for him.
Democrat members of the House and Senate are looking at polls and their need for votes from their constituents. They see the strong recruiting efforts of the Republicans. They will need to decide which they need more, MoveOn.org’s money or votes. They are going to choose votes.
Obama also hopes to use grassroots efforts to “get them onboard”, hoping that with a strong local push, they will change their minds. But how many Acorn grassroots efforts are going to be successful in the critical districts, compared to the people that are already showing up for these townhall meetings? We haven’t even begun to mobilize tea-party efforts. The result will be a strong push against Obama’s legislative efforts within the districts due to dissatisfaction with the bill, crumbling popularity of Obama, rising economic concerns, and fear of losing reelection.
The game is over. Obama is just too inexperienced a player to realize it is time to tip his King.
However, I didn’t count on the monumental level of Obama’s narcissism, arrogance and inexperience. Instead of resigning from this game, and starting a new one, he prepared to finish this game and do everything he could to win it. He was willing to sacrifice all of his bishops, rooks, and knights in a futile effort to snatch victory out of a losing position. In the process, he managed to lose safe Democrat seats in North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, and amazingly Massachusetts. He also put New Jersey and Virginia back into play for Republicans.
But now the game is truly over. In his arrogance, he will try to play on and try to come up with a miracle that will pass this legislation. But he isn’t going to be allowed to. His Democrat colleagues are going to take the board and pieces away from him.