Obama: knowing when to be an asshole

Submitted by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns.

Below is a post I recently wrote at Credit Writedowns. I hope you find this in line with Marshall Auerback’s recent post on the same issue. Here I am looking at things from a purely political standpoint – not necessarily a defense of one position or another on health insurance reform.  Feel free to comment.

Barack Obama’s health insurance reform initiative is clearly foundering. So, his administration has pulled out the big guns. Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius on the Sunday morning talk shows. Obama himself had a prime time press conference on the issue. He has hosted a number of town hall meetings. The President has even written an opinion piece in the New York Times.

Yet, most pundits are still acting as if his healthcare efforts are on life support. I have read any number of posts from pundits of all political stripes asking why Obama is not having success on healthcare.  The answer is simple: Barack Obama needs to learn when to be the conciliator-in-chief and when to be an asshole.

Wasting political capital on banks

Let’s rewind a bit to explain. Back in July, I wrote that Obama had wasted a lot of political capital by caving in to the financial services lobby. In my view, this goes to the core of the issue. The US and global economy were poised on the precipice.  Obama rightly put economic issues first as he entered office in January, dealing with economic stimulus and financial sector reform. However, his crisis solution has been a massive giveaway to big banks, effectively transferring money from taxpayers to the banks in order to shore up their bottom lines and keep them solvent.

Team Obama thinks this was a necessary evil to prevent economic collapse.  But the average guy on the street of any political stripe sees this as galling.  You have a trader at Citigroup, a ward of the state for all intents and purposes, poised to make $100 million. JPMorgan recorded record revenue and $2.7 billion in profit last quarter. And Goldman is poised to pay record bonuses this year.  For Wall Street, the crisis seems to be over and it is business as usual. The response for many is rage, anger, at the way banks have been gifted a new lease on life while ordinary Americans are displaced.  Much of this bile is directed at Wall Street, but the true anger should be reserved for Washington.

Populism is rising

And now we are getting that anger on health care. People are angry that the economy has suffered for so long and they are angry that the economic elite are prospering again but they are not. The realization that this did not have to be is sinking in.

Barack Obama campaigned for President as a change agent.  In effect, he was promising to change Washington, so that ordinary citizens benefitted as much as, if not more than, special interests. However, it seems that Washington has changed him. You have the banks getting bailed out, GM and Chrysler, a stimulus bill which many see as laden with pork-barrel spending, the secret deal with the drug lobby, and on and on.

These are not ordinary times, folks. This is a depression.  People are afraid – afraid of losing their jobs and their homes, afraid their standard of living will fall, afraid they will be the first American generation ever to be permanently worse off than their parents. Most of all, Americans are afraid of America’s standing in the world. This economic period is shattering a world view that the American dream is attainable for everyone.

Enter the demagogues. In times of acute economic stress, demagogues, political bullies, fear merchants, and war mongers of all stripes come out of the woodwork.  These individuals are willing to point the finger and assign blame. They are willing to tell people what they want to hear. And their message is just fact-based enough to pass muster for anyone looking to channel their anger and disappointment about the sorry state of the economy.

Why do you think the birthers movement, challenging the American bona fides of Obama, is popular despite the evidence? Why do you think the idea of government ‘death panels’ is gaining currency in the healthcare debate?  It’s not because these ideas are accurate and I don’t think it’s because people are dumb. It’s because the people making these claims are pointing fingers and naming names.  They give us a target at which to vent our anger.

This is a major reason why the Austrian economics solution to depression is ill-conceived.

It is the same wrong-headed prescription given to the Asians in 1998 and to Argentina in 2001.  We squandered an opportunity for fiscal prudence when the economy was on more solid footing.  With depression on our doorstep, is now the right time to start cutting back?

This would mean liquidating General Motors, bankrupting Royal Bank of Scotland and Citigroup or allowing Iceland, Hungary and Pakistan to fend for themselves.  In theory, each of these measures seem prudent.  But, in practice, these measures would result in huge job loses, would induce further deleveraging and asset price declines, would deplete capital from an already fragile global baking system, and would lead to a probable depression of unimaginable severity.  It is in such a bleak environment that dangerous despots and dictators like Hitler and Mussolini rose to power, taking advantage of the natural human need for ’strong’ leader in a time of chaos and uncertainty.  Could we expect any different today?

The answer to that question is no. And we should remember this as we debate policy responses. The rise of extreme populist fervour on all sides is troubling and could lead to much worse if the economy does not show a robust recovery.

Obama needs to be an asshole

I have said before that Barack Obama is in a political and economic position more akin to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt. Hoover dealt with a sick economy that was still falling.  Roosevelt entered the White House after a large percentage of the economic damage had been done. I believe the economic situation for Obama is certainly less severe than it was for Hoover, but still precarious.  I do not mean to say that Obama is the ‘black Herbert Hoover’ as my friend Yves keeps pointing out. I do mean to say that he needs to be thinking of himself as Hoover and not Roosevelt to have the right mental predisposition of what’s at stake.

So, from a purely Machiavellian perspective, Obama needs to jettison the professorial above-the-fray coolness and get down in the trenches and fight for what he believes in.  And that means he is going to have to run roughshod over his enemies.  Mark Thoma pointed me to a quote that gets the essence of this argument:

A lot of what our job is about is understanding the point of view of others, even when we disagree with them. A lot of our job is explaining to students a wide variety of viewpoints, and allowing them to choose from among them.

I don’t think FDR worried so much about the point of view of others–Doris Kearns Goodwin said he "gloried in his enemies."

FDR also largely got what he wanted.

So, when pundits debate where Obama is losing hearts and minds, it has as much to do with style as substance.  For instance, Patrick Buchanan says Obama is losing the center because he’s running left. He would say that. Robert Kuttner says Obama is losing the left because he is running center. He would say that too.

But Nate Silver’s critique in his Grand Unified Obama Critique is more on the mark.

If liberals are convinced that the President is too conservative and conservatives are convinced that he’s too liberal then either the President must be doing everything right or everything wrong. Lately, granted, it has seemed more like the latter…

What I think people were hoping for is that Obama would, somehow or another, be able to overcome the institutional barriers to change, probably through a hands-on approach involving a lot of public persuasion.

Put bluntly, Obama needs to be an asshole. Right now it looks like he is willing to compromise on any and every issue. Yes, compromise is an integral part of leadership and governance. But, there is a time for compromise and a time to fight.

For which specific issues is Obama really willing to fight and lose? He is not saying, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” Americans still have no clue what his core beliefs are. And, they are losing respect. That gives demagogues an opening and is the main reason Obama’s grass roots support has evaporated when he needs it most.

Look, if the economy regains solid footing by mid-2010, these issues will go away and Obama’s political party will benefit in the mid-term elections. He might even get the Roosevelt treatment for bringing us out of a deep economic contraction. However, if the economy remains fragile, as I believe it will, this lack of fight will become a true liability for the President.

Unquoted related articles

Where’s Mr. Transformer? – Eugene Robinson

Palin’s Red Menace – Richard Cohen

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About Edward Harrison

I am a banking and finance specialist at the economic consultancy Global Macro Advisors. Previously, I worked at Deutsche Bank, Bain, the Corporate Executive Board and Yahoo. I have a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. As to ideology, I would call myself a libertarian realist - believer in the primacy of markets over a statist approach. However, I am no ideologue who believes that markets can solve all problems. Having lived in a lot of different places, I tend to take a global approach to economics and politics. I started my career as a diplomat in the foreign service and speak German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and French as well as English and can read a number of other European languages. I enjoy a good debate on these issues and I hope you enjoy my blogs. Please do sign up for the Email and RSS feeds on my blog pages. Cheers. Edward http://www.creditwritedowns.com


  1. RPB

    Constant supply of services and increased demand for services


    lower costs and greater care

    I knew it!

  2. attempter

    Does Obama need to be an asshole? Who would even know, since he's refused across the board to even be reasonably assertive and tough with those who deserve toughness.

    (To be frank, I can't imagine who it's even possible to be an "asshole" toward, given the treatment the Right and the corporatists deserve.

    I do in fact think Obama has already been a asshole toward everyone to whom he lyingly promised Change.)

    Leaving aside the possibility that he always wickedly agreed with Bush in all things, the basic temperament problem seems to be this kumbaya attitude he has. No one is "bad", everyone has a valid point of view, everyone can be a constructive voice in seeking solutions to problems which are no one's fault in particular.

    Obama is an extreme example of America's state of delusion and denial over the irreducible facts of class struggle. It's like he's the synthetic product of all the lies and idiocy on that point.

    Today we have the health care debacle, and wasn't that the first red flag in the spring of 08? To my recollection it was. As I recall Krugman was the first to sound the alarm on Obama's right wing tendencies vis the feudal insurance parasite, how he absurdly and immorally was calling them a legitimate stakeholder.

    Similarly with the bailouts. I have consistently argued in comments and blog posts that:

    1. The alleged necessity to bail out the big banks, in order to prevent the apocalypse, is to say the least not at all proven.

    2. Even if that were the likely result, no freedom-loving human being would be willing to pay that price if it meant having to live in perpetuity under the thumb of an extortionate protection racket. To have this debt "economy" is simply not worth doing under those circumstances.

    3. It's not sustainable anyway. it's only propping up a zombie delusion doomed to fail anyway. Every cent is being wasted.

    But the likes of Obama is simply congenitally incapable of comprehending any of these objections.

  3. Anonymous

    My son is a poly sci major, and he reminds me of Obama.

    No core beliefs, a fixation on government as the answer to almost any ill, and a complete disregard for looking at the other side of the argument.

    Obama is already an asshole. It's just taken the folks who voted for him this long to realize this fact.

  4. DownSouth

    Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent… [The question] one feels inclined to ask [is]…"to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering into politics, which of their own nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud.

    –George Orwell, "Reflections on Gandhi"

    Obama rode to the presidency on a sea of money provided by Wall Street bankers and the votes of millions of rank and file Americans. He has tried to make everyone happy and has ended up making no one happy. Perhaps his homologue can best found in the tragic figure of Mexico's Emperor Maximilian:

    Maximilian and his brother had different political ideals. In Vienna, Francis Joseph, after crushing the liberal, nationalist upsurges of 1848, ruled in the autocratic fashion native to the Hapsburgs. In Trieste, and before that in Lombardy, Maximilian sympathized with liberal reforms and an aggiornamento of the church and the empire. The (Mexican) Conservatives whom he received at Miramar in 1862, however, did not go into these political niceties. They claimed Mexico needed Maximilian to restore order against barbaric, anarchical revolutionaries. The Mexican people begged him to come… In a referendum gerrymandered by the French, the people had opted for the Monarchy of Maximilian…

    …howls could be heard from the haciendas of Jalisco to the halls of St. Peter's when Maximilian, to prove his liberalism and leave his personal stamp on affairs of state, decided to sustain the reform legislation of Benito Juarez. Did he not understand that he had been brought to Mexico to uphold privilege, not to abolish it? Juarez refused Maximilian's invitation to become prime minister in the imperial regime. If Maximilian wanted a democracy, Juarez said, let him impoe it on the subjects of his brother Francis Joseph…

    Maximilian now rests forever in the crypt of the Hapsburgs in Vienna. The Mexican firing squad blew out one of his eyes and the embalmer could not find a fake blue eye in all of Queretaro, so a black eye was borrowed from a Virgin at a local church and ensconced in the dead emperor's socket. From the depths of the Kapuzinergruft, he now looks at death with one blue Austrian eye and one black Indian eye.

    –Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror

  5. Anonymous

    Oh, and the use of 'demagogues' is especially droll.

    Obama isn't losing the debate on health care reform because of 'demagogues' (and how nice it is to actually be allowed to debate the bill, instead of having it passed on two days notice. Liberals only ever see the trees).

    He's losing independants, the same folks that bought into the hopey changey line of reasoning.

    Then we got TARP.

    Then we got 'stimulus', another thousand page bill that 'had to be passed' to prevent unemployment from hitting 8%.

    Now we get 'health care reform'. Which no one on the dem side can explain, or rationalize, or even get facts in order.

    Color me sceptical, but this entire excercise is not about 'reform', it's about passing a bill that allows Dems to re-write how HC is supplied in the US. They'll work on the details later.

    No thanks.

  6. Edward Harrison

    Down South, obviously none of us wishes a similar fate for Obama. But, I do always appreciate your witty historical references.


  7. Troy Ounce

    I'm not with you.
    The Austrians only claimed that their solution would mean desperation and unemployment for 2-3 years.
    The Keynesian solution, like throwing money at the problem, means in fact a denial of the core problem, stretching the time line of despair and pain from 2-3 years to 10-15 years and in the end you still have to bite the bullet by liquidating the Zombie companies resulting in mass unemployment. Also, I can guarantee you that a struggle of 15 years culminating in mass unemployment and hyperinflation will be a perfect breeding ground for the call for the demagogue you are so afraid of.
    I can recommend watching this animated video: http://is.gd/2mHpl
    There is another side to the problem: the financial system in the US needs a desperate overhaul and I think everyone would agree with this (except the odd banker). By artificially keeping industries alive, there is no need to go after the culprits. I mean: the banks are making big bucks, no? The recession is over, isn't it? Look at all those green shoots!
    Your politicans/bankers are the cons, they are buying time just waiting to create the next bubble.
    Look at your problems and deal with them please. The US is bankrupt. Stop spending money. There will not be an upturn in 2009 or 2010. Rather make it 2025. Deal with it.

  8. Bruce Post

    If Obama does become an "asshole," I suggest he start with U.S. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. I ran a U.S. Senate office out there over twenty years ago and also directed the state teachers' union. As a result, I got around the entire state and met some really fine people. Yet, many North Dakotans have a visceral suspicion of and animosity for the federal government. At the same time, North Dakotans are among the best at suckling the federal, er, "breast." According to a 1999 study, North Dakota ranked 4th in terms of a favorable federal balance of payments with the states. In other words, a lot more federal dollars flowed into the state that North Dakota dollars flowed out. See: "State Differences in the Federal Balance of Payments," South Dakota Business Review, Dec. 2001, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6420/is_2_60/ai_n28886762/ And, it ranked number one in terms of agricultural payments. So, while Conrad and his fellow residents are swatting away a federal healthcare public option with one hand, they are eagerly grasping for even more federal dollars with the other. Conrad's affinity for coops must come from his state's long-reliance on rural electric cooperatives, again heavily supported by the feds and a surviving legacy of the New Deal. Coops may work great for phone poles, they may be entirely unworkable for chronic diseases. Yes, Obama should start with calling out Kent Conrad for his utter — might we also say "udder" — hypocrisy.

  9. Namazu

    You hint at this, but the problem is "which asshole?" What belief is he willing to go to the mat for? He seemed genuinely upset at the arrest of his friend Professor Gates, but never mentioned the incident involving kids getting kicked out of a swim club here in Philadelphia the week prior. What if being an asshole just makes him an asshole?

  10. skippy

    Obama won the popular vote and was given mandate to change the political landscape. In fact the GFC was a boon as it would have enabled him to apply the screws and effect change across the board. I wonder out of all those that voted for him, what percentage have received any dividend for their investment. Well I guess if your spending political/financial capital its best to to keep it local and in concentrated amounts (more bang for your buck), eh.

    As a parallel, in so many ways. PM Keven Rudd (regardless of if you agree with him or not) has not squandered his mandate, in fact he has one head on a pole with another feeling the executioners desire. He whipped a tired political machine in to high gear and is unrelenting in the delivery of his policy's.

    In trying times all must shoulder the burden equally. America is now showing its true colours, favorable out comes *always* for those at the top and pot luck for the rest. Hell, health care reform is just throwing a dog a bone, after the master has consumed the flesh.

    Obama reminds me of an old biblical story, when will he begrudgingly grant the peoples desires, only after he is publicly humiliated?.

    The possessed daughter of the Canaanite or Phoenician woman in Tyre – the woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, but Jesus says "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel". The woman replies, "Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table", whereupon Jesus tells her that her daughter is healed, and when the woman returns home she finds that this is true. (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)

    Skippy…The bell tolls, yet it is unanswered, tone deaf, but not colour blind (green backs).

  11. Anonymous

    George W Bush was such a failure he gave enormous power to a Black man and a woman, courtesy of a local Op-Ed. Where was this outrage during the Bush administration when Bush and his dimwit US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao missed their monthly jobs creation target for 8 years?

    In the US, it takes the creation of 100K-130K new jobs created PER MONTH just to absorb US graduates into the workforce. These two Republican morons rarely, if ever, met that target. We have proof that for the first time Republican tax cuts do not work to create jobs; the labor available in India and China is way too large. Republicans never seem to understand that failing to provide jobs automatically expands the need for government programs, including, now, health care.

  12. vlade

    Well, I'm surprised people are suprised, but it's a different (and longer) story, so I will just comment on Mark Thoma's found quote. If you understand PoV of your enemies, you can often crush them more easily and almost always have much more satisfaction in it :)

  13. Anonymous

    I absolutely turned off from Obama when he caved to the financial services lobby. I'll not support him now in any way now.

  14. Mark

    I think that Doug Henwood identified the problem. He noted that Obama is a product of the meritocracy and will not attack the system that allowed him to prosper.

    FDR was born into the aristocracy. As FDR said, he welcomed the hatred of the rich. Obama obviously doesn't welcome the hatred of the system that made him what he is.

  15. RPB

    No one has addressed the root issue of universal health care. How do you include 50 million uninsured into a system whose infrastructure and personnel are geared towards treating those already insured? Where do you find the additional doctors, nurses, technicians, medical equipment, drugs and hospitals to include these new people? How is this physically possible?

    With this line of reasoning all we need to do to solve the economic crisis is give Obama a dozen fish and a few loaves of bread.

    Cheap shots aside, how do you address the human and material burdens to including millions more into a system already at its limits? How do you entice more people to shoulder the drudgery of medical school when they know there pay will be limited and they will be required to take care of many more patients? How do you continue to incentivize companies to research and create new drugs if the government will greatly limit the profit to their efforts? How does government more effectively ration a limited resource than the provide market?

    These are the most important limitations that no one has addressed.

    There is no question much needs to be improved about health care, but the solutions being presented to us are farcical at best.

  16. Siggy

    If you have a company with 400 or so employees, in all probability, you have a 'health insurance' plan/benefit. In actuality what you, as the employer, are doing is engaging in self insurance. The 'insurance company' provides you a contained cost contract and claim administration service and you, the employer, directly bear the majority of the cost of medical services. Effectively, medical benefits are an additional cost attributable to your workforce.

    Now if we had actuarily based universal health care benefits it should be possible to lower the effective cost per employee. This would result not because of price fixing but by reason of competition. You the citizen would be required to obtain insurance from from a health insurance provider. As the pool of insured parties increases, the ability of the insurance companies to earn a profit increases. The point of government control lies in treating the insurance companies as public utlities.

    Now, the so called insurance companies will not like this because they will then be at risk for losses due erroneous expected cost calculations.

    I did not vote for Mr Obama. Nonetheless, he is my President. I want him to succeed. The probability of his failure, however, is increasing by the day in large measure because of his propensity to be more of a socialist than an agent of the liberty he swore to uphold when he took office.

    His populist remarks are becoming pandering palaver that reeks of cynicism. He need not become an asshole, that would be a redundancy.

  17. Kill All Keynesians

    Typical clueless keynessian/Freiedmanite nonsense. I disagree with every economic assertion in this pile of tripe.

    Austrian Economics has never been applied fully in the real world, your revisionist "history" is dangerously delusional and just plain wrong. Easy to do, when you have to view everything through the prism of stupidity that seems to be the types of policies you would favor.

    This comment has nothing to do with Obama, just your obvious economic system ignorance. Nothing here but a puff propaganda piece advocating just more of the very same idiotic economic policies that have led us to this sorry state.

    If the nonsensical economic ideas you favor actually worked, we would not be in this crisis to begin with. Of course, it's easier to just ignore the facts when they don't fit your world view.

  18. Anonymous

    Yes as the economy goes so goes everything for Obama. His problem is more he's never thought outside the establishment, he learned to climb it, not challenge it.

    Mr. Obama's fate lies with whether the status quo can simply pull through.

    This isn't necessarily Obama's fault are politics is bereft of real new thinking, it pulls to the top those who do not challenge.

    Hope and Change were marketing slogans, Obama is who he is and that will not change.

    Healthcare was a strategic error, and it has been bungled tremendously, but just like the man he emulates, Mr. Bill, he can be ok if the economy gets moving, but stagnation is the future, the Dems are in trouble and thats saying something when the Reps are simply pathetic.

  19. billmo

    Obama is is a dope along with the rest of the pols in DC. He paints a beautiful picture of healthcare reform yet leaves out the details expecting Americans to take it hook line and sinker. No, thank you.

  20. mark-o-burg

    So where's Obama's history of being a "fighter" and getting "down in the trenches" to fight for what he believes in? Anyone?

  21. Anonymous

    I think you are spot-on. I'm gratified to see this analysis. In my job I meet a large number of the public every week, and I am amazed at how irrational anger at the financial system bailout is being transfered, without sense, without cause-and-effect, to the health care debate. The feelings of many people are poisoned at the moment and, as you say, demagoguery is rampant.

    I recall in the midst of the worst banking problems, some economists said emergency measures were trying to function as a slap in the face, hoping to awake various financial systems from hysteria. The President has not yet found his method to awaken the United States from health care hysteria and lead to a clear health care goal.
    Dean P.

  22. Hugh

    "So, from a purely Machiavellian perspective, Obama needs to jettison the professorial above-the-fray coolness and get down in the trenches and fight for what he believes in."

    What if what we are seeing is what he believes?

    "But, there is a time for compromise and a time to fight."

    All of Obama's compromises and outreach have been to the right. Liberals and progressives have gotten exactly nothing out of Obama. So it is important to keep in mind which way these "compromises" have been running. This ties into the first point because these rightward trending compromises may not be compromises at all but a reflection of where Obama is truly at politically.

  23. "DoctoRx"

    The use of the "A" word in the title is IMHO inappropriate. "Fighter" would have sufficed, or many other linguistic terms.

    Letting Congress write the "stimulus" bill was perhaps OK in a crisis setting, but not sending Congress a White House healthcare reform bill is inexcusable.

    We need, at a minimum, competence in a President. We now have a rookie who has been spared Clinton's learning curve because of a fawning press.

    The economic cycle may help him, however. Nothing like coming into the White House 13 months into an economic downturn to which your predecessor has committed trillions to end.

  24. Spikky

    Please stop calling the highly educated Barack Obama an asshole and a clown.

    To call Obama aan asshole and a clown is to do a disservice to clowns and assholes. Rather you should call Obama a child of racialist preferences and special handling. A man with a powerful voice, who reads a teleprompter in order to know what it is he is to say. A man whose two auto biographies were written by other writers, a man who never did an honest day's work in his life, who depends upon an army of ACORN thugs and Oprah-oid mind-zombies. A man who assumes that a smile and glib comment are good enough to take him all the way.

  25. Anonymous

    Who wants "Big Government" where the leader is an asshole? That prescription is expected to be seen as a benefit of democracy?

    Grow up and stop being so immature. Leadership is needed. If you think following the "Big Dog" will get someone to give you a job… think again.

    Pick a religion that has assholes as their self-proclaimed leaders. Has that religion provided any meaningful leadership throughout the ages?

    People follow leaders. Dogs follow assholes.

  26. Anonymous

    if you spent $30 MILLION a day every single day for 2000 years it would still not equal to obama's $23.7 TRILLLION in financial bailouts

    … the main reasons why people get poorer are because of higher taxes and inflation.

  27. Gregory

    Any lingering doubts I had as to where Mr. Harrison stood economically and how much I should value his perspective are now answered. Mr. Harrison's views are now without substantive value to me. This is the last time I read the words of Mr. Harrison.

  28. Terry


    Thank you for saying so eloquently what had to be said….

    …Now if only the President and Rahm Emmanuel will listen.

  29. minka

    You're on to something but I don't think you've quite nailed it.

    I don't think 'asshole' would work.

    Passion and assholism are not the same.

    What is fundamentally missing is the moral dimension of health insurance reform.

    He has the power to frame the debate and he's chosen to focus on unsustainability, keeping your benefits, reforming insurers.

    This is wonky. The opponents are fiercely focused and they see their cause as moral : taxation as theft.

    So a moral cause going up against a wonky cause. The wonky cause loses support.

    BUT health insurance is a life and death issue. I had a brilliant boss who killed himself because of health care debt. I have a friend whose son was turned away from an ER and he died. These are 'only in America' stories. They are brutal, outrageous, and stupid. See

    Build the moral case. If it is strong, then the crazies have to deal with it. "Do you believe all this death and suffering is worth lowering your taxes just a little?" would be question in the minds of all who saw them screech.

    Health insurance reform is a powerful cause because, while this moral case is the start, you also add efficiency, cost control, sustainability to that – it is a win for our economy.

    Building the argument for reform is like building a house. The foundation needs to be strong: It needs to be moral.

  30. Anonymous

    A lot of verbiage wasted over the definitions of 'leader', asshole' and 'fascist' in the article and the comments. For America's intents and purposes, they are one and the same and America needs one. BHO is not the one, but one will eventually fill the void – on that the article is correct – but otherwise it is lost in circuitous definitional logic.

  31. biofuel

    From reading Bill Gross and others, the game is to preserve “the gains” and stall re-redistribution of wealth away from the moneyed elite to the greater population by means of the government – make sure that another FDR and another New Deal never happen. In the Reagan days it was about remaking this country so that a person could get fabulously wealthy, now it’s about remaking this country so that those that did become fabulously wealthy remained so.

    I would guess that guys like Bill Gross are smart and see these things way ahead. People are upset because they bought into the Obama “change” and now realize that they were had. This round is lost. I would suggest thinking about the next one. It would be another great test of the American democratic system – can it really deliver a change so much desired by the greater electorate or will the electorate be misled again.

    As to debt repudiation/social unrest, at this point, I would venture to say, it amounts to blind furry of someone who realized that he was had. It lacks a leadership, a list of demands and a vision of a better future. To this end, it is worthy to remember that FDR was one of them, he was wealthy; while Obama is an aspiring wealth…

  32. lambert strether

    Why do you think Obama isn't fighting for his beliefs? To my mind, his work on TARP gave a clear indication of what his beliefs are — no accountability and no transparency for banksters — and his conduct in office has confirmed this.

    What you see is what you get.

    Oh, and the health care mandate guarantees a market for the insurance companies, while any standards will be gamed, resulting in the forced purchase of junk insurance. That makes the mandate a bailout. The banksters and the insurance companies are one and the same.

  33. Young Snowbird

    The anger aimed at health care is not exactly misdirected. Underlying the health care insurance issue is whether companies and corporations will be willing in the future to continue providing health insurance if a government option is provided. The real issue here is not that the government would be providing health insurance BUT that this move is yet ANOTHER way that government is opening a way to relieve companies and corporations of costs, at the expense of the taxpayer. Just another bailout to the rich in the cloak of providing for the poor. THAT is what is fueling the anger. Congress did not listen in October 2008 when the people demanded NO BAILOUTS for the banks, and then GM. The anger is getting desperate, for in our hearts, we that have worked for 'profits before people' corporations know that the corporate "ethic" is to serve the shareholder, and screw the worker and the customer. The best way to do that is to dump the insurance and boost the profits. THAT is why they are angry, but ya can't really bite the hand that feeds ya, so you bite something else.
    I want a way to have health care services at low cost. The present health care system is broken, the present economic model we live under is broken for the average citizen, and there is no way to solve the current problem while still using the current economic model. That's plenty to be angry about.

  34. Lord

    Austrians should lavish Hoover with praise as he did almost everything they wanted. Instead they lambaste him for his pathetic attempts at amelioration. No reality is ever capable of the Austrian ideal. When it fails it is always from a lack of purity to the one true faith. Pathetic.

  35. Hugh

    Gregory, I think we can dispense with the fiction that government is not part of the equation. It always has been. It always will be. That means in economics the political dimension must always be taken into account. Given our current circumstances, the role of government is even more important and that means what our political elites do or don't do will be crucial.

    Young snowbird, throughout the industrial world government run healthcare systems provide better health outcomes than here and at lower costs. So while you may be angry, perhaps your anger could choose a better focus. Americans would like not to have to worry about healthcare, what happens if they or someone in their family gets sick. If government can do a better job, and again we have the experiences of the rest of the industrial world to learn from and the mistakes of the current private insurer system to avoid, do you really think those Americans are going to refuse a better system even if government run on purely ideological grounds or because they are "angry"?

  36. Young Snowbird

    Hugh, you misunderstand me. I am not against government healthcare. I really could use some myself right now, actually -probably have kidney cancer and no insurance. I was trying to explain what I see as the source of the anger, and the reason why healthcare has been used as a target.

    There has been such an infiltration of corporate control in government over the past three decades, and blatant policy making which benefits corporate interests at the expense of the taxpayer that the average citizen is having a hard time identifying goverment from corporate powers. They are wondering how many times they have to pay for something. I can understand that. We need to find a way to extract that corporate influence out of our politics functions, and get politics serving the people.
    Once that happens, we can have universal healthcare, though probably not soon enough to benefit me.

  37. Dave Raithel

    Well, there's ample documentation above that "asshole" is ambiguous, but I'm going to concur with Mr. Harrison. Nobody really likes an asshole, but just try getting through life without one. It's better to have an asshole that does his job than no asshole at all….

  38. Young Snowbird

    Hugh said, "do you really think those Americans are going to refuse a better system even if government run on purely ideological grounds or because they are "angry"?

    My answer: Yes, mostly because they are angry. I'm not saying its right, but it happens. Emotion is not rational, and you can't deal with it, or understand it, using rationality.

    Mostly we won't get decent, government funded healthcare like most of the other countries of the world have because of ideology, and the now thoroughly adopted, and demonstrated belief in the "I've got mine, screw you" mindset that has taken hold of the majority of folks in the US over the past few decades. Until they don't have anymore. That will be interesting to see.

  39. Anonymous

    Wow! Nice piece. He's looking more and more like an inept weakling. Even after FDR failed to expand the Supreme Court, he did not exactly run away and hide. And like Obama, FDR's problems were primarily with those of his own party, people with whom FDR was absolutely ruthless. If Reagan proved that "deficits don't matter" then Bill Clinton proved that "promises to the base don't matter." Looks like Obama is following squarely in Slick Willy's footsteps.

  40. Anonymous


    Overhauling health care tops CMA's agenda

    Aug 15, 2009 10:10 AM
    Jennifer Graham

    SASKATOON–The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says this country's health-care system is sick and doctors need to develop a plan to cure it.

    Dr. Anne Doig says patients are getting less than optimal care and she adds that physicians from across the country – who will gather in Saskatoon on Sunday for their annual meeting – recognize that changes must be made.

    "We all agree that the system is imploding, we all agree that things are more precarious than perhaps Canadians realize," Doing said in an interview with The Canadian Press.


  41. thelogicgirl

    Rebound? Those guys need a shrink in their house. Capitalism what it always has been:

    Capitalism is not fair particularly when humans and institutions intervene. Take the rule of cash for your old cars. Well people find loopholes, and the get cash paid for by the taxpayer (U and I). The only way to get "even" is to profit like sharks are doing. If you dot not do a thing, then it means you are paying for the car of a next guy. I like loopholes, and easy money. U?


  42. thelogicgirl

    Rebound? Those guys need a shrink in their house. Capitalism what it always has been:

    Capitalism is not fair particularly when humans and institutions intervene. Take the rule of cash for your old cars. Well people find loopholes, and the get cash paid for by the taxpayer (U and I). The only way to get "even" is to profit like sharks are doing. If you dot not do a thing, then it means you are paying for the car of a next guy. I like loopholes, and easy money. U?


  43. Anonymous

    This is a major reason why the Austrian economics solution to depression is ill-conceived.

    Ummm… You don't seem to provide any evidence.

    In the Austrian economics favor is the 1920 depression which was very severe, but very short-lived… so short-lived that most people have not even heard of it.

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