Barack Obama’s most ardent critics would have us believe that his bumbling of the healthcare reform push — and, yes, he has bumbled it — will doom his presidency.
The critics would, of course, be wrong.
That does not mean, however, that their claims and charges should be dismissed by the White House — or that they are being dismissed.
Republican references to the current healthcare fight as Obama’s “Waterloo” are ridiculously overblown. But they appear to be having a positive influence on the administration’s approach to broader struggles over this particular issue and this particular president’s political future.
Indeed, the nasty turn that the debate has taken seems, finally, to have convinced Obama to speak up in a more forceful and — supporters of real reform hope — more focused manner.
“Right now, we’re losing the messaging war,” Senator Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, noted this week, in what would certainly qualify as an understatement.
This is what Obama’s hastily-scheduled Wednesday night press conference on the healthcare debate was all about.
Framing the fight as a struggle to get needed care to working families, the president declared, “This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down.”
Obama used the press conference to argue, at length, that his promised reforms would be fiscally responsible. In particular, he pledged to reject any plan “primarily funded through taxing middle-class families.”
Again and again, the president returned to the theme that his reforms would be designed to serve working families and the middle class. He even credited them with setting his mid-summer deadline for House and Senate action on reform measures. “I’m rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by healthcare costs, and they ask me can you help,” said Obama.
The president’s new mantra is: “I want to keep the pressure on.”
Actually, Obama is only beginning to turn the pressure on.
The president is beginning to understand something that he should have recognized long ago: There is a consensus on the need for healthcare reform. But there is no consensus on the scope and character of that reform.