Obama Promising To Provide The Small Print

After a campaign characterized by speaking in general principles (and sometimes impressively) Barack Obama is now promising to release the “fine print” of his policies. USA Today reports:

In the political hothouses of town meetings and union gatherings, the Democratic presidential candidate has shared his soothing style and intriguing background. He’s talked about bringing people together, banishing cynicism, serving as “a vehicle for your hopes and your dreams,” as he put it this month in Portsmouth, N.H.

Now his campaign is 10 weeks old. Enough with the niceties, the generalities, the story of his life. On Friday, the Illinois senator unveiled a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Today, he gives a speech on foreign policy. Next up, education and health care.

I might be giving Obama more leeway than he deserves due to having serious reservations about both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, but I do understand the situation he is in. Obama impresses me as someone who is brighter than the average politician. Ideally it would have made sense for him to run after having more experience in national government. I do understand that those who enter politics typically have great ambition, and it is hard to blame Obama for jumping in when his chances at victory looked unexpectedly good this winter. If he had waited, it is not possible to predict what his chances would have been in a future year.

Health care is a difficult topic for Obama as well as other candidates to provide specific proposals:

While candidates are deep in the policy weeds by some measures, there is a void on health care. Romney was instrumental in passing a universal health plan in Massachusetts, but he hasn’t highlighted it in speeches. Edwards so far is the only Democrat with a detailed plan.

On the trail, Clinton often refers to the “scars” she bears from her failed attempt at health care reform in 1993-94, when she was first lady. Both she and Obama promise to deliver universal health care as president, but both are in search of a grass-roots consensus that won’t evaporate at the first negative ad by an insurance interest group.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan that will not only work really well for all of us but will be politically feasible,” Clinton said in Davenport, Iowa.

At the health care meeting in Portsmouth, Obama asked whether people really meant it when they said they preferred a single-payer system to coverage at their job. “This is how you get into trouble when you’re president,” he said. “You start saying ‘we’re going full speed ahead,’ you look behind, and nobody’s behind you.”

While I hope to hear more from Obama as to what he would do as President, I would be satisfied with something less than a specific plan. Actually I would prefer a statement which gave greater insight into his thought processes on health care than simply giving one plan which might never have a chance of passing. I’d prefer to hear if Obama would consider either a single payer plan or something less. In either situation, the devil is in the details. I would rather hear what a candidate would find acceptable and unacceptable in each type of plan, what features they would push for.

Unfortuantely such a statement would be called too nuanced by the media, and a candidate who is willing to consider both single payer and other plans risks being considered a flip-flopper. In other words, I miss some of the long winded and detailed speeches John Kerry gave which might not have been popular, but which gave me a real idea of what he thought and led me to support him.

Obama has shown an ability to look at ideas in depth, transcending the conventional left vs. right divide. and has shown skill as an author and speaker. Perhaps Obama is the person who can discuss the nuances of the issues in depth without turning off everyone but policy wonks. This might be asking a lot of Obama, but someone expecting our support to be President should be held to high standards.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Curtis Faith says:

    I believe it will become very apparent that Barack Obama is a much smarter man than most think as he continues to develop his campaign. He is smart enough not to repeat the mistakes of the Clinton Health Care failure.

    I also don’t believe his having less years in government than some will end up being a liability. Not being an insider and not having created longtime enemies is a decided advantage when trying to build consensus.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think that many believe that Obama is very intelligent, even if questioning if he is experienced enough to be President. If it remains a three way race, I’d prefer someone with more intelligence, but I would pick Obama over Clinton or Edwards provided that I’m happy with the specific policies he comes out with.

    I would hope that most politicians would be smart enough to avoid the mistakes of Hillary Care. I’m just not sure that Hillary really understands what went wrong as the problems went beyond being the target of all those negative ads.

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