Blogs > HNN > My advice to Bush for his State of the Union Speech

Jan 22, 2007 1:17 pm

My advice to Bush for his State of the Union Speech

The White House last week leaked that President Bush plans to come out in favor of a plan to cover the uninsured. Then Saturday in his radio address the president himself provided a few details.

Smart or dumb move?

On the surface it looks like a smart move. A Wall Street Journal poll just out says that health care is the public's leading domestic issue. So there's plenty of interest. And anythin g he can do to get the country's attention off Iraq is probably of benefit to the White House.

But politically what's in it for Bush? Not much as far as I can see. If he's serious about negotiating with the Democrats, that would be welcome. It would be good for the country. But it will be the Democrats who get the credit for any deal. They own the health care issue.

If all Bush is hoping is to change the subject he might as well stay home tomorrow night. There's no chance he'll be able to get Americans to think about anything else but Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq ... What tone will Bush strike? What tone should he strike?

He's being urged by some pundits to tell the honest, grim truth. He should. But he shouldn't expect to be rewarded for candor. Americans, despite what they always say, don't really want the truth. They want a little bit of truth and they want it sugarcoated.

All presidents in bad times have sugarcoated the truth, as an article by me posted on the homepage indicates. There's a reason for this. They want to give people hope. You can't leave people feeling hopeless. That's not leadership. That's defeatism.

I still think he ought to give it to us straight and then try to provide some hope. FDR on occasion gave the public honest assessments of WW II, telling them the news out of Burma wasn't good, for instance, as HNN intern Caleb Miller reported last week. And it went over well because people knew we had to face up to reality. In the communal spirit of the times FDR was able to tap a deep feeling of national unity. So his appeal worked. Instead of being discouraged by the bad news, people were encouraged by the evidence of solidarity.

Bush is no FDR. He does fear not hope. And he isn't much for telling us the truth. And furthermore--strike 3--he's not much of a uniter.

So I am not expecting him to give us the truth and give it to us good and hard. Which is too bad. We need the truth. And we need a president who can rally the country around communal sacrifice.

Guess we have to wait two years.

And pray.

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HNN - 1/24/2007

Welfare reform for Clinton was another Sistah Solja moment.

For Bush health indurance reform of the kind he is proposing is just more of the same. It's Republican solution, not a Democratic solution.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/23/2007

My apologies for for the mispellings above.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/22/2007

Your point about Medicaire expansion is a good one. Budh got no credti.

However, in expanding medicaire's drug coverage, Bush clearly went against the grain of one of this major issues, which was reforming social security in a way that reduced the comeing imbalance between funds and recipient. That and the early complexity of the program made the Democratic propaganda more effective.

By comparison, Clinton had long made welfare reform a goal of his own. Liberals were angered because they felt it was too harsh, but conservatives were stuck with having to share some of the credit.

HNN - 1/22/2007

Bush should agree to take part in discussions about health care.

He should even offer proposals and try to providde some leadership.

My point was that there's almost nothing in the issue for him politically.

For political reasons he can't offer a program that will actually work (he's in the hip pocket of the insurance companies).

What little he does offer will get chewed up by the Democrats.

He barely received credit after all for the prescription drug bill--the single largest expansion of a Great Society program since LBJ created the Great Society.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/22/2007

I did not say that the stigma was of the same degree. However, the association between the parties and their positions on health care reform is real. Democrats are seen as supportive; Republicans not.

Furthermore, globalization is creating an urgency for health care reform even among people with good jobs. That was not as present in the early Clinton administration, when the economy was begining a boom cycle and the perils of globalization to the upper middle class seemed very theoretical.

This issue is growing.

It would be smart politics for Bush to take some initiative with a real, even if partial reform, and he would get support from a number of Republicans at the state level who are making a serious attempt to grapple with it.

Jonathan, if it is only tinkering, I am sorry. Both he, the Republicans, and the nation are missing an opportunity.

HNN - 1/22/2007

The analogy with welfare reform doesn't work.

Democdrats were hurt for years by Republican attacks on "welfare queens." Reagan built a career out of these attacks.

Now tell me: what Republican has been hurt by attacks on their health care position? What powerful weaving of myths and facts stigmatized Republicans on this issue the way Democrats were stigmatized on welfare?


Jonathan Dresner - 1/22/2007

Except that this isn't really health care reform at all: it's tax code tinkering to promote health insurance, and almost certainly more of a bonanza to private insurers (by establishing a high value on a "normal" plan) and employers (who can now pass on even more of the costs to employees under the guise of deductability) than it is a benefit to the rest of us.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/22/2007

Actually health care reform is becoming more bipartisan at the state level. A sincere effort to emulate or buttress those state plans would be good long term politics for the republicans.

Republican action on health care could be analogous to the Democrats and welfare reform in the mid 1990s. The Republicans got most of the credit, but the Democrats got some. More importantly, it took a volatile issue that hurt the Democrats off the front-burner.