Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Promises, Obama Promises

President Barack Obama may be a rare exception for a politician because he has actually kept most of his campaign promises. And he has done so in spite of the most partisan and dishonest opposition tactics an American president has ever faced.

The president announced this past weekend that the U.S. and its allies had reached a short-term agreement with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program, opponents flew into a furor, even before they had specific details.  Some Republican members of Congress even accused the president of manufacturing the agreement as a diversion from his problems with the Obamacare rollout.

Understandably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a "Historic mistake," and said, "The world became a more dangerous place."  Saudi Arabia at first expressed concern, but later reversed itself saying, "The government of the kingdom sees that if there was goodwill, this agreement could represent a preliminary step towards a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear program."

The president addressed the controversy in San Francisco Monday, saying the United States "cannot close the door on diplomacy."  Of his critics, he said, "Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security."

The president first signaled his intention to pursue diplomacy with Iran during the 2008 Presidential Campaign when he said he would be willing to meet with America's enemies without preconditions.  At the time he was considered naive, and even radical.  Also in 2008, President Obama promised he would end the war in Iraq, wind down war in Afghanistan, and he would bring terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice.  He has delivered on all those promises.

This agreement gives Iran a six month window in which to reach an agreement that would ban it from building a nuclear weapon.  Iran was brought to the table by crippling sanctions that have cratered its economy.  Under the agreement, most of those sanctions remain in place, and can be instantly ramped up should Iran be found in violation during the next six months.

The point is that, for very little cost, the United States has opened a peaceful path to a verifiable and enduring nuclear agreement with Iran that would make the world safer.  It has also given Iran's new more "moderate" leadership something with which to strengthen its tenuous grip on power.  Realistically, reaching a long-term agreement will be a huge challenge for all sides.   But, for now, the president has done all he can to keep the U.S. out of another war. 

The president could use some good news given the shaky rollout of Obamacare.  He had promised in 2008 to make affordable health care available to all Americans, including the 40 million citizens who do not have coverage.  He and his allies had fought hard against long odds to make the ACA the law of the land.  Republicans have done all they can to defund or repeal the law, to no avail, even though they have no replacement to offer Americans. 

But now, in spite of a failed website, the Affordable Care Act is beginning to gain traction.  In fact, in California, where the state runs its own program, enrollment results are ahead of projections.  California is a test case that proves Obamacare can work if states are willing to give it a fair shot.  Most states that have Republican governors have opted out, but they are likely to opt in once the program gains momentum.

The president was elected twice by the American people.  Of President Obama, Shakespeare might have said, "He was ever precise in promise-making."   But the reality is, as the old saying goes, "A politician is known by the promises he keeps."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Today it is regarded as the most famous speech in American history. Yet, in the news coverage of the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, President Abraham Lincoln's brief two-minute address was overshadowed by the two-hour speech given by Edward Everett, one of America's great orators. 

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, we can reflect on how deeply divided our nation was at the time. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people died in the Civil War, according to revised estimates. That most horrendous war inflicted severe wounds on the country, from Gettysburg to Vicksburg, that still have not fully healed.

The Civil War was a tremendous personal burden for the president, whose determination to right a wrong resulted in so much death and destruction. As he rode on the train with his staff to the dedication at Gettysburg, he was ashen and weak. As Everett spoke, Lincoln stood for two hours waiting to give his remarks, looking out upon a vast sea of blue uniforms worn by soldiers, some of whom had served in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

The Bachrach photo. Source: Library of Congress

The dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery received front page coverage in many newspapers. Here is the headline from the New York Times:

THE HEROES OF JULY.; A Solemn and Imposing Event. Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburgh. IMMENSE NUMBERS OF VISITORS. Oration by Hon. Edward Everett--Speeches of President Lincoln, Mr. Seward and Governor Seymour. THE PROGRAMME SUCCESSFULLY CARRIED OUT.
And buried deep within that New York Times article was a text of President Lincoln's speech, even noting where the crowd applauded:
Fourscore and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth upon this Continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate. We cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. [Applause.] The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [Applause.] It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the refinished work that they have thus so far nobly carried on. [Applause.] It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain; [applause] that the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth, [Long continued applause.]
Three cheers were then given for the President and the Governors of the States.
Later, Everett reportedly told the president, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Mr. Lincoln, the world did note and long remembered. Happy anniversary.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Obamacare: Don't Stop Believing

President Barack Obama has been rightly criticized for the launch of the    Affordable Care Act. But the fact is that the president did do something historic and morally right by giving almost all Americans access to health insurance. 

Yes, the ACA website has been a disaster. Yes, some people are getting cancellation notices from their insurance company despite the president's campaign pledge that, "If you like your current plan you can keep it." However, the website will be fixed at some point. And the cancellations are largely due to the fact that those policies did not meet minimum standards. In fact, many people were being ripped off and didn't know it.

But these problems have given Republicans another reason to attack healthcare. They have tried everything to repeal, defund and denounce the president's signature program. Republicans have lied about the program, "death panels" anyone? They claim it's a job killer (wrong) and it will add to the deficit (wrong). The Republican controlled House of Representatives has voted 46 times along party lines to defund Obamacare to no avail. The Supreme Court has upheld the law, and President Obama ran, in part, on the health care law and got reelected in 2012. So computer problems, while embarrassing, are just another hurdle to implementation.

But change is not easy. When Medicare Part D was launched in 2005, its website was not available for months. Few patients who had signed up received prescription insurance cards, which caused huge problems for pharmacists filling prescriptions. No one is complaining about President George Bush's program now, even though it has added billions of dollars to the deficit. And the Massachusetts health care law, Romneycare, which the ACA is modeled after, was enacted in 2006, had technical problems, has been amended twice, but is successful today. 

While many Americans may be frustrated with the problems encountered by Obamacare, at least the president did something about the growing healthcare nightmare. Republicans don't have a real alternative; they just talk. Take Senator Ted Cruz, who told NBC's Jay Leno that he's a "big believer in health care reform." Sure, and the Calgary Stampeder has got a plan! "I think we ought to reform health care so it's personal, it's portable, it's affordable. We ought to empower patients rather than government bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor," he told Leno. 

Perhaps in a more truthful moment, just last August Cruz criticized the president and Obamacare to a Texas Tea Party group, "His strategy is to get as many Americans as possible hooked on the subsidies, addicted to the sugar." He warned, "If we get to January 1, this thing is here forever." Of course, Texas has the highest number of uninsured residents in the nation. That is why the president was in Dallas last week promising Texans access to affordable health care, vowing, "to get this done."
But the president was also busy last week apologizing to those Americans who have seen their current plans cancelled. "I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they received from me," he told NBC News. "We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this." The apology seemed genuine, and there is no reason to believe the president misled the country in order to get Obamacare passed, even in the face of all the Republican lies about the ACA. 

The healthcare train has left the station, albeit with some struggles. And there will be other hurdles ahead for the law. But, as more Americans see the options that are available to them, they will understand the true significance of Obamacare. And then they will be "addicted to the sugar!"