Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama needs to own health care debate

Even Bob Dole agrees: Barack Obama needs to be the leader on health care reform for the Democrats.

From the start, Obama has left it to Democratic leadership in Congress to push the health care bill through. He's had a "hands-off" approach to the whole process, advocating bits and pieces of things he'd like to see in the bill but leaving most of it up to Democrats in Congress to figure things out.

That sort of approach isn't working.

By leaving the health care debate up to Congress to hash out, Obama leaves the plan vulnerable to attacks without a central figure responsible for its defense -- nor does he give it a leader to advocate for it on its behalf. A disorganized plan by the Democrats (with some supporting a public option while others waver on it) cannot defeat a strong oppositional force led by Republicans and the conservative movement in general.

Such an oppositional force is able to, through a repetitive smear-and-fear campaign, defeat an unorganized and split Democratic coalition for reform.

It's not that the people don't want such reform either -- poll after poll has shown that there is strong support for a public option plan and for reform in general. But by creating a perception of falsehoods, causing fear and panic in the people, and by making a vocal minority seem larger than it is, the conservative movement is slowly defeating this health care bill.

Strong leadership is needed to help overcome such tactics. Barack Obama must become that leader; he can reframe the debate on health care reform and show that the worries caused by conservatives over lies and mistruths are nothing to fret about.

Without a central leader on this debate, Americans will rely upon too many individual voices, legislators who have their own priorities and own stances on the bill. With Obama taking charge, however, as the head of his nation and his party, he can define what actions are needed and what stances his party should take on the bill.

Next Wednesday, he will address Congress and the American public. It's the first step Obama should make towards taking hold of the health care debate on a more personal level.

Through his leadership, we may be able to save health care reform with a public option intact.

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