Healthcare: in the post-game booth with James Morone

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with James Morone. (42 minutes, 26 mb mp3)

“Show him a poltical near-death experience, and this guy rallies!”

James Morone has been telling us all along that healthcare politics was peculiarly personal — this business of medicine and presidents and policy, starting with Franklin Roosevelt’s polio and Dwight Eisenhower’s heart crises and JFK’s many brushes with death. Each of their adventures in healthcare legislation reflected their medical records, and shaped the narrative of their terms in office. And now the dazzling Obama bounce marks a second chance, a sort of second inauguration, a fresh start of the age still struggling to be born.

Jim Morone’s exuberant post-game commentary makes a variety of uncommon points, among them:

(1) The healthcare victory should be framed as the end of the 30-year Age of Reagan. It is a moment for Barack Obama to reintroduce himself as the child of a refugee from the British Empire in Kenya, and the visionary of an old American dream of both opportunity and community.

(2) It may be time to do something about Congress. “We can’t have a legislature that’s this broken,” Morone says. “I think the world has had a year-long seminar on why America doesn’t have health insurance. Why? The one word answer is: Congress.” After Harry Truman’s election in 1948, on a health insurance pledge, “if we’d been playing by English or Canadian or Australian or German parliamentary rules, we’d have had national health insurance in 1949 — two or three years after the Brits, eleven or twelve years before the Canadians. We didn’t get it because Congress laughed at Truman… It’s not that the public wouldn’t vote for it, or that Americans hate Socialism. It’s because we have a legislative process designed by the founders to break the democratic will and one that has multiplied its checks and balances until now, I think, it’s the broken branch of government.”

3. It might be time to try real representative democracy in America. Let the Left sit down with the Right and agree: “Here’s the deal. When we’re in power, we get to do what we promised the people. When you’re in power, you get to do what you promised the people… Put aside all those checks and balances that make elections kind of wild dumb puppet shows about all kinds of extraneous issues, and really make it about the kind of legislation we’re going to pass. It’s called democracy, and we might try it one year.”

4. We all — starting with the news commentariat — need a political scorecard tuned more to the perspectives of history, less to short-term electoral swings. The great monuments of Lyndon Johnson’s domestic record, in retrospect, were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, too, in 1965. Democrats paid heavily for those victories in huge losses in the mid-term Congressional elections of 1966, and then in Hubert Humphrey’s crushing defeat by the combination of Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968. But the election returns were not the measure of LBJ’s achievement. And neither will the 2010 House and Senate races — up or down — be the best judgment on Barack Obama’s young, still developing presidency.

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  • dave bernard

    The Age of Reagan may BE over, but the post-War generations will never abandon the self-indulgence that made his precept so appealing to the population. Mr. Marones’ suggestion that the President should set the tone by making an appeal for a post-Empire scenario is absurd. President Carter looked like a rube when he made his appeal for sacrifce and behaviour appropriate to slowing America. Americans will walk into the sea ’til endgame in its rabid self-gratification.

  • acf

    What makes you think that either one of them would be willing to agree to let the other one set the agenda if they won a majority? The conservative faction has been fighting government since the income tax was created almost a century ago. They’ve been trying, ceaselessly, to end Social Security, the most recent in the budget piece attributed to Congressman Ryan. And don’t forget their efforts at emasculating Medicare, their claims to the contrary in the current health reform debates. These are not people who will cooperate on anything witness their behavior this past year, so to expect them to come to an agreement on an issue such as this, is unlikely, to the extreme.

  • Potter

    Mr.Morone’s is a positive forward-looking right thinking ( to me) point of view. He would be a wonderful personal coach to Obama and should have dinner with him three times a week.

    I almost fell for his case for Reagan being a great president- except I just could not swallow it down. I get what he was saying about loving America.I can too. Not enough when you are president to be Mr. feel good though. Reagan was fatherly and loved this country no doubt but he did us some harm. He was the one who began the mantra (about taxes) “it’s your money” (and that the government should not take it from you). Yet he and G W Bush both ran up enormous increases in the national debt and preached supply-side economics ( free lunch)… leaving many with the delusion for the years that followed that we can pay less and still have services security etc. I also think of Reagan as a partisan president, not very bright or hands on- half asleep at the wheel ( which was probably his alzheimer’s long before the embarrassing end of his 2nd term. We were always wondering if he knew what was going on in his administration. I refuse to buy the story that the demise of the Soviet Union was his doing as well- no matter how many times it gets told that way, though I will admire “Mr. Gorbachov tear down that wall” forever. Perhaps that is the best way to end this post though and to say that there were those who loved him like a god- and still do.

  • katie o

    We should not underestimate the power of good storytelling. An effective politician understands that power, for better or for worse—it is why rhetorical savvyness (and skepticism) on the part of citizens is so crucial. But without a narrative, proposed legislation takes on little meaning and has scant chance of passing; personal opinions and wills turn an already cacophonous political process into nonsense. I am not so idealistic (or undemocratic) as to believe that all Americans can/should be on the same page, or to believe that Obama’s story is necessarily the right one simply because I voted for him. But James Morone is right about the need for a stronger story if Obama hopes to be remembered as an effective American leader in this global, billion-voiced, 24-7 moment—when a unifying logic behind much-needed reforms might make the haul less about petty differences and more about what we hope the American future can become.

  • I am pleasure to see this article from here. I will see your future ones, since it is so useful.

  • To the commenters who don’t trust Republicans in power: Remember, they have to live with the election results they get if they shut down those programs. Voters may not pay attention enough to see who actually caused the deficits, but there’s no way to hide who got rid of Social Security. It might (might) actually force the party to think proper governance is an important priority again.

    Narrative! I don’t really think in terms of narrative, but the range of acceptable political expression. Political correctness has become the most powerful tool of the modern Republican party. The right-wing media will call statements, ideas, and even gestures “unamerican” and “marxist,” while the mainstream media uses the even more damaging “controversial,” and bizarrely, “politically inept.” America has a great left-wing tradition. I, as someone who was born in the Reagan administration, am e when I find an anti-imperialist from the McKinley administration or a labor leader from the 1930’s, read their speeches and articles that are so far to the left of what you can find today, and think “this is so American.” Obama can, I think, author a new American narrative that can legitimize caring about our neighbors.

    Empire will be more difficult though, even if it’s “undeniable” that we are an empire, it’s difficult to get anybody to see it. Just in the past week, I’ve found three denials. On the Wikipedia article “List of Largest Empires,” there’s a constant edit war over whether the United States should be included. I was surprised to see on the Drudge Report the other day the headline “Health Care Law Signals US Empire Decline?” but found what I expected in the first ten comments: America is not an empire, it’s a “vibrant democracy!” And in Lynne Olson’s (extremely enjoyable) Citizens of London, she says FDR didn’t see America as an imperial power, but an expansionist power. (It’s said in the form of a summary, not a quote, so “expansionist” might be Olson’s word, not Roosevelt’s.)

  • Ellie Avishai

    A question for Chris, James, or anyone else part of the conversation:

    I thought that James Morone’s perspective on Obama and narrative was both wonderful and fascinating, but it left me feeling conflicted. Part of what I have come to love about Obama is his rejection of over-simplifying issues and insisting instead on raising the level of public discourse to reflect the more complex, messy realities that underlie our public challenges. His level-headedness and willingness to look at issues from more than one angle can admittedly feel slow and seem to lack a strong narrative focus, but it is also at the core of what so many of us love about him – he treats the public like adults rather than soundbite seekers. How can Obama define and stick to a clear, strong narrative (which must, by definition, be an over-simplification) without sacrificing this quintessential “Obamaness” in the process? I largely agree with Morone’s position, but would love to hear some thoughts on this tension.

  • What’s up, its fastidious article on the topic of media print, we all know media is a fantastic source of information.