Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chuck Schumer is an example...

...of why good senators often make lousy presidents: they are too focused on politics to the exclusion of good policy.

Before I get into why, here's a short history lesson in case your memory is faulty.

On the eve of the 2008 election, before the economic crisis took hold in the fall, the most pressing domestic issue facing America was health care reform. This was true among voters across the board: Democrats, independents and even Republicans. It's hard to remember now -- after Socialism!, death panels! and government takeover of one-sixth of the economy! -- but Americans of all stripes were fed up with the horribly dysfunctional health care "system" that had evolved over time.

After Bill Clinton had failed in the '90s, but Mitt Romney had succeeded in Massachusetts, the country was ready to take another "bite at the apple," as they say in Washington, at what had eluded them since at least FDR, if not Theodore Roosevelt a hundred years ago. Now that Switzerland had passed health care reform around the same time "Hillarycare" failed, the United States was the last developed country in the world to achieve universal coverage. And the system was getting worse, not better. Health care costs were threatening to bankrupt the country even as more and more Americans were losing coverage or seeing their own costs skyrocket. And don't even get me started on the "pleasure" of dealing with one's insurance company.

But it's easy to forget all that in the haze of two wars and the financial crisis that gripped the country in late 2008 and 2009. And Chuck Schumer, Democratic senator from New York, seems to be just as forgetful. From the Atlantic (my emphasis):

But his more noteworthy critique was of the pursuit of health reform itself: In his harshest assessment of the Obama presidency to date, Schumer argued that the White House and congressional Democrats erred by focusing on the Affordable Care Act throughout most of 2009 and early 2010 rather than following the passage of the economic stimulus with other targeted economic legislation that would directly help more people. He said voters had given the party a mandate in 2008 to stop the financial crisis and reverse the economic damage done to the middle class, and while he supported the substance of Obamacare, it was a political loser because it offered its most tangible benefit—access to coverage for the uninsured—to just 5 percent of the voting public. "Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them," he said. "We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem: healthcare reform." (While top Obama advisers like Rahm Emanuel, his first chief of staff, also opposed the healthcare push at the time, the president and Democratic leaders consistently argue that the benefits of the law accrue to a much larger portion of the electorate.)

And that's the problem with senators like Mr. Schumer: they tend to think more in terms of "good politics," keeping their majority in Congress and good old-fashioned power, than what elected officials are actually sent to Washington to do: improve people's lives.

Schumer could have just as easily said: We blew it by passing the Affordable Care Act. We could have kept our majority and committee chairmanships by just "going along to get along." I could have been in line for Senate Majority Leader!

And I think that's typical of the myopia -- and small-mindedness -- of the typical United States Senator. And it's probably why President Obama was so impatient to get the hell out of there. The World's Greatest Deliberative Body is filled with careerists like Mr. Schumer, not individuals who actually want to achieve something.

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