Crazy — at least according to a snarky definition — is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
By that measure, President Barack Obama looks as if he’s going to indulge his crazy side tonight when he once again reiterates his core principles for healthcare reform, in his 122nd speech on the subject.
Now there may be a bit more detail (a public option trigger? tort reform?), a bit of different language and perhaps a more strident tone, but no one should expect a bold departure. And maybe not a different result, either.
Obama has to reassure:
- more independents that ObamaCare isn’t a budget buster
- more seniors that Medicare won’t get slashed
- more liberals that reform without an immediate public option is still worthy of being called reform, and
- more members of the middle class that the risk of inaction outweighs the risk of change to a health insurance system with which they’re kind of satisfied.
(The president’s support among indies and old folks, in particular, has been in free fall.)
That’s a lot of reassuring still to do for speech No. 122.
Maybe what’s going on here isn’t mild political insanity but rather quirky irrationality identified by behavioral economists as “anchoring.” Once people anchor to an idea or a belief, that becomes the metric by which they analyze competing ideas or beliefs.
Indeed, the president and many congressional Democrats seems to be anchoring to existing outlines for reform and ignoring competing ideas that could actually gain broader political support and work more efficiently.
Take the 166-page Healthy Americans Act sponsored by two senators, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Utah Republican Robert Bennett. It reads as if it were designed by a bunch of centrist economists rather than by lobbyists representing unions, activist groups and healthcare companies.
It would do a lot of the stuff many Republicans and Democrats agree on, such as mandating everyone buy insurance and requiring insurance companies cover everyone.
But it would also scrap America’s weird employer-based healthcare system by giving individuals a big tax deduction so they could buy their own insurance from private companies.
Of course, many conservatives would hate the increase in regulations and government involvement, while liberals would loathe the absence of a public option that could one day lead to a single-payer system.
But it seems like a plan that Americans could understand intellectually and accept ideologically. It seems like the kind of plan that Americans would expect from the centrist president they thought they voted for.
Time for that guy to let go of the anchor and try a new plan. If speech No. 122 goes as well as the previous 121 in capturing moderate Democrats and independent voters, Obama may have no other choice.