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Fineman Predicts Healthcare to Pass, Media Skepticism of Obama to Grow

By John Rossomando   |   Saturday, 20 Mar 2010 02:49 PM

One of America’s leading political journalists tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview that Obamacare is likely to pass by an extremely close margin as Democrats craft a means to protect their ranks in the November midterm elections.

Newsweek Chief Political Correspondent Howard Fineman also thinks that the mainstream media is growing more skeptical of President Barack Obama because of his poor handling of the healthcare overhaul and his inability to communicate his vision to the American people.

Editor's Note: See the exclusive Newsmax.TV interview with Howard Fineman below

An award-winning writer and longtime observer of presidential politics, Fineman has interviewed every major presidential candidate from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama. He is the author of the 2009 book, “The Thirteen Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define America,” which recently came out in paperback.

Once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is guaranteed of 216 votes – the magic number needed to pass the controversial legislation through the House of Representatives – Fineman believes party leaders will grant a pass to Democrats who are facing tough re-election battles to vote “no."

“If they can get to 216 votes they will then let everybody else who’s in worse shape back in their district fall away,” Fineman says. “If they’re going to get it, they’re going to get it by one vote and one vote only.”

In a wide-ranging interview surveying the political landscape heading into the midterms and the 2012 presidential elections, Fineman also tells Newmax:
  • President Barack Obama failed to sell his costly healthcare plan to a skeptical American public because of political missteps and poor communication skills. Now, the future of his presidency may hinge on this single piece of legislation.
  • Despite the federal bailout of a financial sector mired in widespread acts of greed and outright criminality, a wide sector of the American public doesn’t believe an expanded federal government is the answer to their problems. Democrats have failed to craft a winning message on this score.
  • The tea party movement is a force to be reckoned with in American politics, but he doesn’t believe it will become a third political party because GOP leaders are smart enough to seize upon its energy and message.
  • Former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a major political force, but she will have to master domestic and foreign policy issues if she has any chance of competing on the national level. Fineman compares her to George W. Bush, who by the time he ran for president had mastered important issues like education and criminal justice as Texas governor.
President Obama, though, has yet to master the art of communication and leadership necessary to convince Americans he has a vision for the country, Fineman says. Instead, he's embarked on a risky gambit with a make-or-break piece of social legislation still unwanted by a majority of the public, according to polls.

“Barack Obama hasn’t convincingly made the case to everybody, which is why the polls are where they are, but that’s not stopping the Democrats from going ahead,“ Fineman says of the president’s healthcare push.

“Far from being the ‘Great Communicator’, I think we (the media) are questioning whether he knows how to communicate at all because he hasn’t ever successfully explained how the healthcare reform system actually is going to work, and that is why people are so skeptical about him.”

Fineman says the question has never been whether the healthcare system in the United States needs overhaul. Leaders in both parties agree on that. The issue for the American public is whether Obama’s approach is the right way.

“There’s no doubt that there is a moral imperative to cover the people who are not covered,” Fineman says. “... And Barack Obama hasn’t convincingly made the case to everybody, which is why the polls are where they are, but that’s not stopping the Democrats from going ahead.

“He’s taking all of his chips that he’s won in the 2008 election and placed them right on the big red square of healthcare,” Fineman says. “If he fails to get it, as unpopular as it is with many people, I think it will damage his authority as a leader, which is not where it should be anyway in this country at this point.”

No matter how the issue plays out, Fineman says, right now the feeling is widespread that Democrats are going to pay a huge price for their healthcare push in November.

“I think it’s quite possible that Democrats will suffer a backlash whether they pass it or not,” Fineman says. “Paradoxically, they might have the better hand to play in some districts if it’s not passed and they can blame the Republicans for its failure, but even in places where the Democrats are strong there are concerns because it is a big, cumbersome, complex piece of legislation that I think a lot of even Barack Obama’s fans and supporters would say was not explained very well.

“I don’t think anybody doubts that they’re going to get clobbered this fall even though, keep in mind, a week is a year and a year is a lifetime in politics and this is still only March,” he adds.

Fineman tells Newsmax Pelosi has failed to keep her promise to deliver the most “ethical Congress in history" and that has translated into the highest degree of popular anger toward Congress since the early 1990s. A recent NBC poll found only 17 percent of Americans say Congress is doing a good job.

“I don’t recall a time it has been this bad since in the early ‘90s when Newt Gingrich led a revolution to take control of Congress for the first time in 40 years,” he says. “There are really two reasons for that. One, independents don’t like all the partisanship, they don’t like all the gridlock ̶ they don’t like all the politics as usual that they are seeing.

“And a lot of Barack Obama’s base ̶ liberals in the Democratic base are very upset that not more has been done, so they blame Congress for that.”

Obama’s approval rating, in contrast with that of Congress, has hovered close to 50 percent. Fineman said the 2012 general election is still Obama’s “turf” and a primary challenge from someone like Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh would be unlikely.

Obama no longer has the favorable press he entered office with, Fineman points out. While he never had the conservative media on his side, his stances on healthcare and his failure to close the prison for terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay has alienated the same “angry liberal bloggers” who initially supported him.

“But he’s lost the mainstream media now because we consider ourselves not ideological, and we look at how the game is played, and I think maybe a lot of us have concluded that maybe he doesn’t know how to play the game that well,” Fineman said. “The thing we are criticizing him for is something we think we know, which is how to communicate.”

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