Bob Franken


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By the start of next year, we will have a pretty good idea of how the Obama presidency will be judged. For all the pushing and shoving over the budget, government spying on Americans and some contrived controversies, the legacy of this administration will be largely defined by the success of Obamacare. Or failure.
Fairly or not, the impression of the Affordable Care Act will be taken when it launches. If it gets off to a rocky start, if large numbers of people refuse to accept the individual mandate, if the beginnings are tangled in a bureaucratic knot, then Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats will be in deep doo-doo, as the man once said.
The president knows that. He acknowledged to The New York Times that we can expect some “glitches.” His peeps are going through all kinds of gyrations trying to get the machinery to creak into action to make sure that it’s not an embarrassment of glitches. The Republicans definitely are happily aware of the stakes, as evidenced by their blatant attempts to sabotage the whole thing. Their constant votes to repeal the entire law and the moves now under way to simply pull its funding are just part of the attack. This is all-out war.
Obviously it’s being fought on many other fronts. There are incendiary issues like immigration and abortion, but this is the season when everyone tries to get fiscal. We can look forward to some sumo wrestling between now and year’s end, collisions over whether the United States government can pay its debts and even whether the government should partially just shut down. That will happen if the White House and Congress can’t reach some sort of budget accommodation by Sept. 30.

The polls indicate that there are many who probably would prefer that they don’t wait, that they just close the doors now. The just-released Wall Street Journal survey projects an Obama approval rating that keeps going down; it’s now at 45 percent. But that’s lofty when compared with Congress. Its positive number is just 12 percent — 83 percent disapproval. And why not? The 113th is on its way to being the least productive in U.S. history, on pace to enact 72 pieces of legislation. That’s mind-boggling, so bad that House Speaker John Boehner insists he and his colleagues should not be judged just on what they enact, but what they repeal. That’s right: Mr. Speaker argues that they should get points for undoing the mess. Is it impolite to point out who made this mess?
That would be the political opportunists who put personal ambition over those they are supposed to serve. It definitely would include the cynical and greedy profiteers who bribe officeholders with campaign funding to make sure they can hoard the great bulk of the nation’s wealth, accumulating more and more at the expense of everyone else. Americans have begun to conclude that they don’t really have a stake in the system. If this belief becomes irreversible, we are doomed as a country, because a democracy can thrive only if its citizens think that there are benefits for being part of the team.
Health care is obviously a fundamental part of any society. When proper treatment is effectively denied to millions of people, that’s a problem. That’s the situation now. Obamacare is an effort to improve on that status quo. If the Republicans included conscience in their agenda, they’d couple their adamant opposition with credible proposals of their own. They don’t. Every once in a while, they cynically pretend they have a program, but it’s always a charade. All they’re interested in is political gain and bringing down Obama, because as Obama told the Times, he had “the gall to win the presidency.” The problem is that while they continue their sustained tantrum, the nation’s health is deteriorating. Apparently, that doesn’t seem to matter very much.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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