The rollout of his health-care program is an incredible, avoidable mess and the promise that everyone can keep their old insurance appears to be overselling to the point of undercutting Obama’s credibility as a person and a leader.
A wound to a president’s credibility is a wound that does not easily heal.
If national pundits and the pack of bloodhounds in the congressional Republican caucus pursue the credibility issue with relentless repetition, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy that will doom his presidency to failure.
A failed presidency is not good for effective governance — not to speak of what image of our country is projected abroad — so most of us should hope Obama could avoid “the second-term curse.”
Dan Merica of CNN summed it up, “…the problem of a tortured second term is not unique to the 44th president. Many before Obama triumphantly won re-election only to be sunk by a scandal, a debacle or a mistake.
“For George W. Bush, public weariness over wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the debacle over the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina made his second term seem longer than four years.
“Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and his impeachment by the House marked his second term. Those aren’t the only instances. Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra scandal; Harry Truman’s last years were dominated by the war in Korea and Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate.”
The nation again mourns the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s quest for a second term, then deemed highly likely, which was cut short by a bullet in Dallas.
But failure is not inevitable. If Lyndon Johnson’s first term can be considered a second term for JFK, a stimulative tax cut and comprehensive civil rights legislation can be viewed as an admirable second term.
A prime example of recovery is Bill Clinton emerging from the depths of impeachment to leave office with a record of peace and prosperity and approval ratings higher than Ronald Reagan.
President Obama has done the right thing in expressing his anger over the fouled-up launch of his prize victory and humbly acknowledging that he will have to win back peoples’ belief in his integrity.
The president has a hard pull because convincing the public he did not consciously mislead them about keeping their old insurance would leave the explanation for the mess is — ineptitude; he did not know what his legislation did.
He need not look to the insurance industry to save him. The industry liked things as they were, paying the bills for a health system that was broken and left 30 million to 50 million uninsured or under-insured.
Insurers are now complaining that to let their clients know they can keep the old contract for a year would be burdensome. Was it so burdensome to write millions cancelling their old contract? What is so hard about writing them back?
Attempts to recover from a bad mistake that can be felt by most of us with kitchen-table reality is hard. It takes time, and time is a finite quality in a second term, especially with a snarling pack of bloodhounds controlling the House.
Personal chemistry helps, but charm that comes through the flat screen in high-def is not enough.
The country rejected Jimmy Carter, whom voters had chosen to remove the stain of Watergate, not for any moral failure but because he was so moral he rejected the artifices of the presidency that allow people to get comfortable with him, and mainly because of growing gas lines and rising inflation.
The country was willing to cluck “naughty boy” to Bill Clinton and warm to his charm because he was also effective in filling station and grocery store reality.
A charm offensive from Obama would not work unless he fixed his signature program, which began to produce happy stories instead of ugly surprises.
I hope he does because there is something wrong with a political party that will do anything, including shutting down the government, to prevent millions of the uninsured from achieving a sense of security.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.