Monday, April 12, 2010

Popularity and the President

Almost 3 months ago, at the time when it looked like there may not be a health reform bill passed, I wrote the following letter to the Inquirer (it was not published) in response to a column written by Charles Krauthammer who postured that because President Obama's approval ratings had dipped below 50%, it was proof that he was too liberal for America as was his health care reform ideas.

We so often bemoan the fact that our politicians always seem to be running for office. That they only tell us what we want to hear. That they waffle and change their stance when the polls lean against them. Then we wonder why they tell us one thing and do another. Who can forget the first President George Bush who said "Read my lips, no new taxes". So when his Democratic opponent indicated that he might have to raise taxes, (and was painted as a typical tax and spend liberal), well, you know what happened. Of course, the first President Bush did raise taxes because the budget deficit had doubled during President Reagan's terms.

The lesson learned, honesty, at least in politics, is not the best policy, has certainly not been lost on those that run these high profile campaigns. Mature people know that sometimes the hard truth is necessary to avoid a harsher consequence. It seems that our electorate, that is you and me too, needs to mature a bit. Or maybe we just need someone to lie to us then, in one certainly short lived term, force the harsh truth upon us. While that president will be the least loved, history may proclaim him or her to be one of the best.

To the editor:

I always look forward to reading Mr. Krauthammer's weekly Monday column. Not because I agree with him (I rarely do) but because I believe it is important to stay open to the viewpoints of those who see things differently than myself. And I like to try to follow his spin as he attempts to justify his viewpoint of the world.

In the case of today's article, Mr. Krauthammer has concluded that because President Obama's approval ratings have dipped to just below 50%, it proves that he is too left for America. Interesting. At the beginning of Ronald Reagan's 2nd year his approval ratings were similar to President Obama's. By the beginning of Mr. Reagan's 3rd year, his ratings were even lower. Does this mean that, at that time, he was just too far right for America?

Perhaps, instead, the reality is that both presidents were faced with extremely difficult situations. Both had promised change, and America was unhappy that neither had been able to fix the problems within one year. In other words, America was then, and is now, a bit too impatient.

I'm sure that both Presidents Reagan and Obama would prefer to be popular. But effective governance is not just about earning popularity points. It is about making tough decisions regardless of opinion polls. My recollection is that Mr. Krauthammer never cared that former President George W. Bush had historically low popularity; in fact I am sure he labeled it proof that he was doing what was right and was true to his convictions.

Reforming health care is what is right. We are too great a nation to continue to keep our heads in the sand concerning the tens of millions of Americans who do not have proper access to quality health care. If finally getting this country moving in a direction where Americans don't go bankrupt due to medical bills, or don't have to choose between medical coverage and decent housing or healthy food, if putting the insurance companies on notice that pre-existing conditions are not an excuse for denying Americans access to our wonderful health care system, and that the almighty dollar is not more important than Americans' health and well-being, then I would unquestionably rather President Obama be right rather than popular.

I would like to think that Mr. Krauthammer would agree.


  1. Just wondering if you're willing to pay 50% more in insurance premiums so the insurance company can afford to cover those of us with "pre-existing conditions?"

    I'm still struggling to figure out how this plan will do all of the following and still make insurance a profitable industry going forward:

    Provide ~32 million extra Americans with coverage
    Offer more comprehensive health care
    Provide more preventative care
    Help small businesses get affordable coverage
    Subsidize healthcare for anybody making < 88k
    Close the donut hole, expand medicaid, cover kids until they are 26...blah blah blah
    Reduce the deficit by 1.3 trillion over 20 years

    When you look at it all, you have to wonder how an insurance company is going to manage all this without doubling rates for the average American. Maybe there is something I'm missing though...

  2. Danny,

    Thanks for the comment. The simple answer is that I am willing to pay more for my insurance to help gain access to the health care system for more people, especially those who are sick and currently shut out of the system. And, to be selfish, to reduce the chance that if I were to get seriously ill, I will not be denied health care for lack of insurance or will not bankrupt my family regardless of whether I survive the illness or not.

    The more complicated answer is that there is evidence that suggests that people without health care coverage

    use their local hospital emergency rooms for everyday health issues which is more expensive to the system

    wait until they are very sick to go to the doctor rather than seeing a doctor earlier in the process of their illness which is again, more expensive to the system

    But the bigger issue is the assumption that the health care insurance industry has to earn a profit. Non-profit health care insurers were very prevalent not that long ago. Pennsylvania had a long history of Blue Cross and Blue Shield being non-profit. Are we to assume that only for profit businesses can provide good service? After all, the actual work being done is by the regular workers who are, or should be motivated to do their best to earn their oaychecks.

    Finally, the fact of the matter is that health care premiums did double in the last 10 years. So, even if they only doubled again in the next 10 one could say that while the lower cost issue was not addressed, at least more people have insurance, the really sick among us can get insurance and (hopefully), regular, working class Americans will not have to face bankruptcy if they get sick and can't work.

    Again, thanks for the comment. Please feel free to comment anytime.