On the long and winding road of public opinion, it doesn’t take much to go from driving one-handed with the top down and the whole world before you to missing a hairpin turn and careening over the cliff.
Just ask President Barack Obama. One moment it looked like the American people would give our smooth-talking president everything he wants on health care reform, and then in an instant nobody trusts him any farther than they can throw his new overweight surgeon general.
You can chalk that up to grumpy old Republicans if you like.
But the blame for this crash-‘n’-burn disaster rests better on the awful leadership suddenly coming out of the White House. Obama and his brain trust failed to control the health care "reform" message, instead turning the wheel over to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lesser children in the House of Representatives. As a natural by-product of this messy and hurried-up legislative process, radical ideas on nationalized health care floated into the American consciousness — some serious and real, and some not. Seniors are worried their care will be rationed. Most Americans are confused, scared or both. It’s a horrible political climate from which to build consensus.
I have a solution, but first let me complete the case for how we got into this bad place.
The president made matters far worse last week when he held a town meeting in New Hampshire. It was designed to alleviate fears by allowing people a chance to ask questions directly to the president.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, so to speak.
The president made an absolute mess of his facts. He said things he can’t possibly back up because there is no single coherent bill ready for his signature. He uttered a complete falsehood when he claimed the AARP endorsed the reform bill. In fact, AARP supports only the general concept (as most Americans do) of health care "reform" but has not yet backed any specific plan.
And, most embarrassingly, the president made a big deal about not getting tough enough questions from the New Hampshire audience. No one asked a question that in any way challenged the president’s ideas, so the president called on a cute little girl who asked a written question about why people were so "mean" to the president.
After the meeting, thanks to a little reporting from the Boston Globe, it was discovered that the girl was the daughter of an Obama volunteer and a financial supporter. In other words, she was a plant. The stupid control freaks at Team Obama had salted the audience with people shouting "Hosanna! Hosanna!" instead of "Why!?" and "Please explain!" This ploy totally eroded the president’s credibility. As a result, the public debate is now a mess.
Here’s my solution.
Obama should bust some heads on his own team. Tell them to stop denigrating seniors who show up at public forums to criticize Obama’s nationalized health care ideas. It serves no healthy purpose to call dissenters "un-American" or "Nazis." Obama supporters have used both of these words, much to their discredit. Instead, Team Obama should be instructed to thank protesters and invite them to be the first to ask questions at the next televised presidential town hall meeting.
Finally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who still has clout, must take hold of the national debate. He should tell the president, Pelosi and the American people that nothing — nothing! — moves out of the Senate until there is a bill in plain English he and the average resident of his hometown of Searchlight can understand.
And then, Harry should grow the kind of backbone a Senate majority leader should have and make it known that health care "reform" will move to a full vote only after diligent study, a full review by all stakeholders, and full hearings.
If Harry did that, he’d score a leadership three-fer — he’d save the health care "reform" debate, rescue Obama’s presidency and maybe, just maybe, improve his horribly low approval rating before facing Nevada voters for the last time in 2010.
Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.