September 30, 2014

Supreme Court Verdict Reinforces Obama as a Fearless Leader

Onyeani’s Letter to Africa
June 28, 2012

 

President Barack Obama and leaders of Congress on the occasion of the signing of the Affordable Care Act bill

In many instances when his presidency has been on the line, specifically two instances, President Barack Obama has chosen to be a fearless leader, unconcerned about his reelection, but rather doing what is good for the American people.  What has come to define Obama is his fearless nature in taking decisions that could easily cost him the presidency.  It will be recalled that on Sunday, May 1, 2011, President Obama went on television to announce to the American people and the world that an operation he had approved, had succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.   He had said that most critical day, “Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”

 

Unlike the about-turn that President Clinton did on health care, Obama charged forward, putting his presidency at stake and risk.  Yes, the Republicans won the first round in the court of public opinion.  And today, Obama won the biggest victory of all: an indelible constitutional victory that would last the test of time as the first President of the United States to have had his health care legislation passed, signed and upheld by the Supreme Court of the land.  It is a ruling that has definitely cemented the reputation of President Barack Obama as a fearless leader, undaunted by the consequences of whether he is reelected to office or not.  But there is no doubt that with all the great benefits that are already accruing to Americans, like people under 26 (6 million already) being able to continue to get insurance under those of their parents, insurers not being able to refuse to insure you for a pre-condition and seniors already saving more than $600 on prescription drugs, it is going to be a new day come November 2012 for the Obama presidency.

The decision to dispatch a crack team of Navy SEALS to Pakistan was not a unanimous decision on the part of Obama’s cabinet members.  Some members of his cabinet and advisers in the inner circle had expressed skepticism about the soundness of taking such an action because if the mission failed, his presidency would be gone.  Had the mission failed, Obama would have faced a landslide defeat in the coming November elections this year.  But he staked everything on his fearless leadership and gave the order, determined that, unlike his predecessor President George W. Bush, who had vowed to search for and kill Osama bin Laden, but had taken to talking about not being concerned about him at the end of his presidency, he Obama would bring Osama bin Laden to justice as he had promised to do.

This heroic act on the part of President Obama and the highly disciplined Navy SEALS who took his order as commander-in-chief and executed it, is a little more than a year ago.  Americans have short memories, especially those on the Republican side, that have never seen anything tangible that Obama has accomplished.  Some of the idiotic comments by some of their spokespeople tried to attribute the success of capturing and killing Osama bin Laden to former President George Bush.  They have amnesia, otherwise how do you attribute electing a party to office just two years after they created the worst economic meltdown in the history of the United States since the great depression, which they orchestrated in 2008, but rewarded by the electorate in 2010 in a landslide reelection of Republican politicians to Congress and the State Houses.  The unarguable fact is that not only did George Bush not search for Osama bin Laden, he did not kill him.  Obama, on the other hand, promised during the debate with then his primary opponent in the Democratic debates that he would kill bin Laden, and he did.

Now we come to today’s Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or simply “Obamacare,” as his opponents have derisively and pejoratively called it.  Here again, where his advisers including his own former Chief of Staff told him to tread cautiously, to act in small incremental steps, but Barack Obama instead chose the politics of non-consequence: it didn’t matter to him whether the Affordable Care Act was popular or not, he had made a promise to the American people during his campaign and he must keep that promise.  It was a promise that other presidents for more than a 100 years had made, but never fulfilled, not for not trying but for lacking the willingness to employ all their assets to see such a bill pass through the Congress of the United States, especially including the last two presidents who preceded him – Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

These two presidents failed woefully to enact legislation for an universal health care for Americans.  In 1992, then presidential candidate Governor Clinton had campaigned heavily on a promise to provide comprehensive universal health care for all Americans, which was to form the nucleus of his administration’s first-term agenda, just as Obama had promised during his own campaign for the presidency in 2008.  Once in office, President Clinton proceeded to set up the Task Force on National Health Care Reform.  He delivered a health care reform speech to Congress in September of 1993, eventually appointing his wife, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the health czar, an appointment that roiled conservatives.  With the health care industry joining the Republicans, and strident negative advertising, the Clinton plan was abandoned in 1994 by the Democratic-controlled Senate under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell.

During a debate with then Vice President Al Gore, presidential candidate George W. Bush was asked whether he would be open to the ideal of a national health care plan and Bush replied that he was “absolutely opposed to a national health care plan.  I don’t want the federal government making decisions for consumers or for providers.  I remember what the administration tried to do in 1993.  They tried to have a national health care plan, and fortunately it failed.  I trust people; I don’t trust the federal government.  I don’t want the federal government making decisions on behalf of everybody.”

Whether it was a ruse or a genuine concern for the millions of uninsured, Bush in his 2008 State of the Union address to Congress on January 28, 2008, proposed making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans.  “To build a future of quality health care, we must trust patients & doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options. We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control. So I have proposed ending the bias in the tax code against those who do not get their health insurance through their employer. This one reform would put private coverage within reach for millions, and I call on the Congress to pass it this year.

The Congress must also expand health savings accounts, create Association Health Plans for small businesses, promote health information technology, and confront the epidemic of junk medical lawsuits. With all these steps, we will help ensure that decisions about your medical care are made in the privacy of your doctor’s office–not in the halls of Congress.”  His Republican party killed the idea.

 

On the other hand, Obama, like Clinton, had campaigned on establishing affordable health care for the more than 30 million uninsured Americans in the 2008 election.  He was going to make health care his signature achievement, and he was not going to be looking back at the failures of his predecessors.  Like Clinton, he went before Congress to lobby for his health care bill.  On September 9, 2009, he said to the joint Congress, “So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future – and that is the issue of health care.

 

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

 

Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can’t get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can’t afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.

 

We are the only advanced democracy on Earth – the only wealthy nation – that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

 

Republicans pounced with vicious attacks and lies.  They were able to aggressively articulate their cause, while the Democrats seemed to retreat with tepid response.  But unlike other Presidents before him, Obama fought back and through the leadership of then Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, the bill was eventually brought to the House for vote.  On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 60-39, with All Democrats and two independents and one Republican voting for it, while 39 Republicans voted against it.  In the House, on March 21, 2010, the bill passed by 219-212, as 34 Democrats joined Republicans to vote against the bill.  Obama signed the legislation on March 23, 2010.

On the first test of its popularity with voters eight months later, the Republicans won overwhelmingly, ousting the Democrats as the majority party in the House of Representatives and almost taking over the Senate as well.  They increased the number of governorships they have to 29 to 20 for Democrats and one independent.  Before the 2010 elections, Democrats held 26 governorships to 24 for Republicans.

Unlike the about-turn that President Clinton did on health care, Obama charged forward, putting his presidency at stake and risk.  Yes, the Republicans won the first round in the court of public opinion.  And today, Obama won the biggest victory of all: an indelible constitutional victory that would last the test of time as the first President of the United States to have had his health care legislation passed, signed and upheld by the Supreme Court of the land.  It is a ruling that has definitely cemented the reputation of President Barack Obama as a fearless leader, undaunted by the consequences of whether he is reelected to office or not.  But there is no doubt that with all the great benefits that are already accruing to Americans, like people under 26 (6 million already) being able to continue to get insurance under those of their parents, insurers not being able to refuse to insure you for a pre-condition and seniors already saving more than $600 on prescription drugs, it is going to be a new day come November 2012 for the Obama presidency.

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