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CSMS Magazine Staff Writers

Gambling in politic has always been riskier than going to an actual gambling booth to either win or lose money. As in other forms of risk-taking businesses, the higher the gamble, the greater the risk. So, Barack Obama seemed to indicate last night that he is willing to bet his entire presidency, or at least the next four years, on one hot-button issue: health care.  Of course the president is by no means the first to take on a health care initiative. Other presidents have done it in the past. However, what really differentiates him from the rest of his predecessors is that he appears determined to be the last. But will the gamble work?

The last president to tackle this issue with such intensity was Bill Clinton 15 years ago. Although political pundits are trying to make a sharp-edged comparison or to associate Clinton with Obama’s latest push, the differences between the two, at least on the approach, are almost diametrically at odds. Bill Clinton took a diehard, bullish approach that later forced the initiative to die on arrival. The Republicans in Congress were not prepared to be swayed by what they perceived as an arrogantly exclusivist agenda designed by Democrats at the “expense” of special interest groups and private insurance companies. The Republicans had successfully managed to portray Bill Clinton and his Democratic allies in Congress as uncompromising messengers on a mission to “socialize” Health Care. The legislation died, and 10 months later, Republicans won control of Congress, and health care just disappeared from the public agenda, though Clinton himself recovered to win a second term.        

Although Barack Obama faces the same obstacles that Bill Clinton faced, it is very unlikely that we will witness a repeated scenario.  In contrast, Obama has taken an amazingly different tone, preferring to focus on a bipartisan resolution; and Wednesday night speech before a joint session of Congress—despite the rhetoric—still confirmed Obama’s political desire to choose the promise of compromise over Clinton’s sharp-edged attitude. But pragmatism may not be enough to capture the elusive bi-partisanship that Obama is desperately seeking. Republicans in Congress are determined not to dance any political tango with a president, they believe, is a shrewd political tactician.

Since taking office last January, no legislation signed by Barack Obama was achieved with solid bi-partisan agreements. The Republicans bet their strategy of boycotting Obama on a practical realism that the majority of the electorate favors political consensuses as oppose to a go-it-alone approach. This is an altruism long factored-in by Obama strategists in Washington. “We must unite the party behind the president….That will happen once there is a clear-cut understanding of the plan across the board within the party,” declared David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser.

Axelrod’s assertion is an implicit recognition that unless the Democrats are united behind the effort, Obama is most likely to fail. So, all the tough words we heard last night mostly aimed at forcing renegade Democrats to fall into line. “The time for bickering is over…..Now is the season for action,” Obama declared under thunderous applauses. But these lines were strategically injected into the speech to fire up his political base, to force the conservative Blue Dogs into a fait accompli and to put rejectionist Republicans into an outright defensive mode. Shame on “those who are trying to make short-term political gains at the expense of a long time problem,” Obama went on to say.  

Obama knows there is no chance of having a truly two-party approach to health care reform, and only a slim chance of dragging more than two or three Republicans aboard a Democratic bill. If there were any doubt, South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson seemed to have erased them all when he call Obama a liar, sending the nation into a chocking mode. Wilson was enraged over Obama’s remarks regarding illegal immigrants not being covered under his plan. But this is also when the gamble might very well play in Obama’s favor. He will benefit if voters view him as reasonable and Republicans as belligerents.

If all fails, the only alternative that will be left on the table is the option of a government-run insurance program. That also may be falling on deft ears, for Obama himself is not a big believer on such possibility, and he risks losing it all if he reluctantly moves ahead and the politically dubious Blue Dogs decide to boycott it as they have already promised.

Remember the stimulus fight? Many Democrats have learned an important lesson. The Administration bragged on winning significant Republican support, but it was flatly rebuffed. Now, the strategy is two-fold: Demonstrate a willingness to talk with Republicans while dismissing their “advice” like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who is asking that he [Obama] start the process from scratch. But, for better or for worse, Obama is moving ahead – “even if it means using reconciliation, a last-ditch procedural maneuver that allows him to pass legislation with a simple majority rather than a filibuster-proof majority.”

Also see Relentless rightwing attacks and dwindling poll numbers have forced Obama to change tactics 

Obama’s contrition to the Muslim world: Will it work? 

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Moqtada al-Sadr: The terrible headache to US plan in Iraq

 Iraq: The beat goes on and on 

 The execution of Saddam Hussein: Was justice served?

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