Consider this: President George W. Bush took 18 months to invade Iraq. He had the overwhelming support of Congress. He had 48 nation states behind him. And he had an approval rating in the 70s. Regardless of your views on the war, this, in case we’ve forgotten, is the way big decisions are made.
President Barack Obama, in contrast, is pushing a controversial healthcare bill through Congress with irrational speed and force, seemingly unconcerned that the American disapproval is shooting up, that budget experts say it will bankrupt us, that lawmakers want more time to tweak or in some cases totally overhaul it, and that it will be foisted upon the country, not by popular vote but by mere political mandate.
And if it takes prime-time addresses, glossy infomercials, some strong-arming tactics, and even a little harmless fear-mongering, he’s going to get it done, and quickly.
All of this is unsurprising if you can remember back four interminable months to the political Paleolithic era that saw the first stimulus bill rushed through Congress — before most people in Wichita (or on Capitol Hill) had a chance to read it. This despite promises to put “major” pieces of legislation online for five days so that America had a chance to weigh in.
But it is surprising when contrasted with a similarly significant moment in American history, one that — like healthcare reform — put lives at risk and changed the country forever. In recent years, history (and some clever but forgetful left-wing bloggers) has rewritten the story of the Iraq war, but the facts are there for anyone to see.
It’s become practically de rigueur to remember Bush (you know, the guy before Obama) as a feckless, go-it-alone, I’ll-do-it-my-way kind of president, whose cowboy politics got us in trouble both at home and abroad. Some like to remember the decision to invade Iraq as irrational and reckless, war-mongering and irresponsible. And some decided that the next president we voted for would know better than to put our men and women in harm’s way merely to satisfy some kind of political power trip.
But the facts are simple and incontrovertible. We were attacked in September of 2001. In October of 2002, a full 13 months later and after a successful campaign in Afghanistan, a large bipartisan majority in Congress authorized Bush to use force to disarm Iraq.
The president took another five months to assemble a “Coalition of the Willing,” made up of 48 nation states which, despite the unsurprising resistance of France, Russia, and China, supported our intentions for regime change in Iraq.
We didn’t actually invade Iraq until March of 2003 — a full 18 months after 9/11, during which time the defense department plotted the strategy that would successfully topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.
At the time, Bush’s approval rating was in the 60s when we went to war, and it was in the 70s when major combat operations ended that May.
All this runs in stark contrast to the handling of healthcare reform. First, there’s the speed. The current plan was imagined, drafted, and placed before Congress within a few short months. Back in May Obama and House Democrats told the country that they would pass a healthcare reform bill by July 31, without describing the contents of the bill itself. "We've got to get it done this year both in the House and the Senate,” the president said. “We don't have any excuses. The stars are aligned."
But there are plenty of excuses, if we must call them that. For one, the facts of Obama’s healthcare overhaul are alarming to many Republicans, conservative Democrats, and even the Congressional Budget Office, who say the plan is either too costly or that it will result in substandard healthcare. It's likely both are true.
For another, the plan is also really confusing, as anyone who saw House minority leader John Boehner’s flow-chart can attest. Obama’s universal healthcare system looks more like the plumbing schematic for a large city than a model of government efficiency, and some say the toilet is exactly where it needs to go.
Meanwhile, Republicans are complaining that in the sizeable wake of the president’s healthcare speedboat they are being ignored or shut out from the discussion. They worry that the administration is going to map out the major highlights of universal healthcare now and figure out the details later, a costly and dangerous strategy. They wonder if they’ll have to hear the vice president suggest in a year that the administration got healthcare wrong.
And public support is underwhelming. A new poll shows Obama’s approval rating on healthcare has fallen from 57 to 49 percent, and disapproval has risen to 55 percent. As more and more details emerge, the American people like this bill less and less.
It was a similar story with the stimulus. In the month during which the public had the chance to examine the recovery plan’s underlying bone structure, approval for it dropped 12 percent. Approval of Congress, which drafted the pork-stuffed package and pushed it through the House and Senate, was an embarrassing 26 percent. Now, even Democratic lawmakers say their offices have been flooded with the calls of concerned citizens about the healthcare proposal. But is anyone listening?
This isn’t just some minor proposal that will only affect a small fragment of the American population. This is going to affect everyone — not the least of which are the elderly and the generation that hasn’t yet been born. Americans asked for reform so that healthcare would be more affordable and easier to get, not so that it would cost more and require a law degree to navigate. Obama’s plan isn’t what we asked for, but it’s what we’re going to get, like it or not.
Unlike our men and women in uniform, who are volunteers, we have all been effectively drafted in the war that is universal healthcare. And make no mistake — this will cost lives.
With all that’s at stake, it would seem reasonable to approach such a major overhaul of what many consider the best healthcare system in the world, with a modicum of patience, with responsibility, and with the kind of equanimity that can reassure an anxious public in times of upheaval. Strange though it may seem, a careful look back at the Iraq war might prove beneficial to Obama as he eyes an arbitrary finish line in his reckless race toward universal healthcare.
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