Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our Transformational President

(from David Remnick's January 27 New Yorker article)

Have you read David Remnick's article in the current New Yorker? If not, do. Soon. Remnick listens to Obama without apparent lenses. He even discards the almost always present lens of "Are you succeeding or failing?" Healthcare is hardly mentioned. The article almost seems to me to exist without apparent intention or angle. We are invited to experience the President, through his own words, almost in slow motion, as he answers Remnick's many thoughtful questions. Obama (to my view) neither lectures nor sells. He expresses himself, sometimes taking a long moment before beginning. Remnick notes this characteristic of the President, not as judgment, but rather so we can experience this too. The words. And the space between the words.

A brilliant piece. The first one I've found where the author isn't trying to figure Obama out, and where we are gently told not to bring all our judgments to the reading, but to relax, sit back, simply experience the man.

Remnick does not say that Obama is a transformational leader. That's my conclusion, and I've felt that way for a long time. But I use that title now because Remnick's piece gives us a clean look inside someone who has the interior spaciousness, self-awareness and generosity of heart to have followed his own path of transformation, and to therefore be able to offer transformative space to others, including you and me.

Let me move to my evidence. What has Obama done to earn, in my opinion, the title of transformational leader
  • Affordable Healthcare for all Americans - Make no mistake: the ACA is here to stay. Republicans will, quite literally, break their pick on the Obamacare rock. All Americans, except (for the present) the undocumented, now have access to affordable insurance and, therefore, healthcare that is not tied to employment. 25 million people should be covered by the end of 2016, at which point the country will be investing $100 billion per year in the health of her people. No more medical bankruptcy. A new and supported focus on preventive medicine. New businesses will be easier to start. The economy will benefit. An important blow has been struck for fairness and the middle class.
  • Healthcare Cost Transformation - This transformative trend is still almost invisible; and where seen, it is explained away as a product of the Great Recession. It will take at least one, possibly two more years of continued cost slowdown in an expanding economy for the narrative to change. The CBO Long Term Budget Outlook, usually issued in June, will be the official pronouncement that declares the new reality. Possibly 2015. Certainly 2016. When the CBO shows healthcare costs holding steady in relation to GDP, then the US no longer has a long term debt or entitlement problem. Like Benghazi, the truth of this will not be accepted by the Right, but it will completely transform the real policy debate. We are not going broke. Medicare and Medicaid is fine. In fact they are leading the transformative change from fee for service medicine to coordinated care and payment for quality delivered, not quantity of usage. This is real. Count on it. Because the GOP cannot even contemplate this, they will not see that their policy prescriptions are, in many cases, solving a problem that is no longer present. They will probably hold the House in 2014, but will be clobbered in 2016.
  • Immigration Reform Poised to Pass - This is a game changer. Comprehensive immigration reform will set America up for solid economic growth for the foreseeable future. We are the only developed country whose population can be expected to grow robustly. Not Europe. Not Japan. Not China. No country has developed the capacity to build a diverse, growing and reasonably harmonious country, other than the US. This is our supreme gift, our central asset. With all our nativism and right wing intolerance, we still are a country that can welcome immigrants, and therefore grow and prosper. Obama has set this up, with patience and forbearance. We have a solid Senate bill with strong bipartisan support. The House will eventually do a bill, probably legalization, not citizenship - possibly this summer; surely, I believe, before 2016. The immediate economic impact of bringing 10-12 million people out of the shadows and into the light will be larger, I predict, than most economists will forecast. Even so, estimates say this will add a point to GDP on an annual basis. If a bill passes this summer, we could have a 5% nominal growth economy going into 2016.
  • End of the Budget and Debt Wars - Smart Republicans get this. Most don't. Obama has transformed the political debate about budgets. He decided quite early (late 2010, along with the Bowles-Simpson report), that he needed to take $4 trillion out of the 10 year Budget. This was the Grand Bargain target with Speaker Boehner. Many liberals jumped ship at this point, thinking he really wanted to cut apart Medicare and Social Security. They called this initiative the Grand Betrayal. But Obama held course. He knew that $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years would lower deficits to reasonable levels, and allow the political conversation to move away from imminent fiscal Armaggedon. When the Budget talks with Speaker Boehner collapsed, negotiators used the same general target to set the Budget Control Act, including the sequester. Obama brilliantly protected all mandatories (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc,), required an even split in cuts between Defense and other Discretionary, and saw to it that Defense took their biggest hit in Sequester-Year 2 (2014). He complained a lot about the Year 1 cuts in the Spring of 2014; but he was counting on the hawks going nuts about the 2014 hit to the military. And they did. When Obama stood firm in the Fall Shutdown, and finally convinced Republicans he could not be blackmailed, the GOP, under pressure from their hawks, cut a deal that gave the country a real budget for the first time in years. And in the course of the failed Grand Bargain talks, the Shutdown, and the Budget Agreement, he had established the following "rules of the road": 1. No Medicare or Social Security changes without new tax revenues. 2. New Budget cuts must come from Discretionary and be equally divided between the military and social programs. And 3. No negotiation over the Debt Ceiling. Think about these "rules" and you will understand how Obama has transformed the political conversation: the GOP is in a Budget Box - they won't support new taxes, so entitlements are out of bounds. And hawks won't take further cuts, so, essentially, social programs are safe. And don't play any games, GOP, with the Debt Ceiling this March. Will Republicans honor these rules? Probably not; but the media will. And they will support Dems in holding the line.
  • Ending our State of Permanent War - After 9/11, the Bush Administration declared a state of Permanent War and set up the institutional supports to allow us to fight such a War: Invasion of Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, Declaring the Global War on Terror, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and Torture, Extraordinary Rendition, the Invasion of Iraq, and the huge (mostly invisible) expansion of the NSA and its covert intelligence gathering operations. Did we overreact? Probably, but that's not the point here. Do you know how hard it is to stop a Permanent War without a Battleship Missouri Surrender Moment? Almost impossible. Bush had tapped in to the country's primary id - the almost unbounded fear of the usually invisible bogeyman, the essence of Evil. What to do about Evil? Eternal vigilance. A constant state of apprehension and fear. The use of torture, if necessary, because the danger is so great, and Evil deserves no rights. This is the world that Bush and Cheney brought us into. And Obama is taking us out, back out into the Light. Bad Guys exist, and need to be fought; but they are not the Existential Evil Ones, with almost unlimited ability to penetrate our defenses and do us unfathomable harm. This is not the Global War on Terror. This is a protracted fight with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This is the core of the Benghazi fixation, or mind-capture: the GOP knows Obama simply does not believe in the War on Terror, so he cannot recognize terrorists when they are right in front of him, and he needs to pay a terrible price for this essentially traitorous pattern of ignoring the Enemy. Obama has declared the War on Terror over. He has brought all troops home from Iraq. Combat troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with or without a deal for ongoing support with Karzai. He declined to bomb Syria, when he said he would; and opted instead for a US-Russia deal to eliminate all Syria's chemical weapons - a complete timeline sequence for which he has been unmercifully hammered.; but here I will make a declarative statement: Had we bombed Syria, the Iran deal would never have happened. And now we have a real shot at a deal with Iran, and possibly Syria. Even the NSA surveillance programs are under review. Everything has changed. The Playing Board has been reset. The US' claws have been retracted. We have a transformational possibility of peace. I will make a bold prediction: Because of what Obama has put in place, this transformation of our mindset and approach to engaging, not managing or ruling the world, we will not see any more wars between developed nation states for the foreseeable and distant future. We must continue the efforts for non-proliferation. We must figure out climate change, poverty, and resource scarcity; but the groundwork is in place. Peace as a real possibility. A very big deal.
Tomorrow I will look at the key transformational leadership qualities that I see in Obama, most of which are expressed or implied in Remnick's article. 

Until tomorrow.


  1. This is a brilliant post! Thanks for the glimpse into the way PBO is dis-entangling us from these seeming impossible traps. This was such a breath of fresh air. The Remnick article is beautiful in its unfettered insight into this astounding man.

  2. How do we know the Affordable Care Act is here to stay?

    Mitch McConnell Boasts About Supporting Government Sponsored Health Care In New Campaign Ad


    By September he'll be telling people Obamacare was his idea.