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Obama’s healthcare woes

Obama caught between healthcare reform and lofty expectations

by Claude Salhani

When it comes to politics, Americans, much like everyone else, are terrible ingrates. People tend to forget how bad things were under the old regime and remember only the positive, sweeping the negative aspects into the forgotten corners of their memory.

Indeed, it was just a matter of time before the honeymoon President Barack Obama enjoyed started coming to an end. If the president’s ratings in the rest of the world are still somewhat solid, his star is no longer shining as brightly in the US as it was when he entered the White House last January.

Just eight months into his presidency, the man who turned out to be one of the most popular presidents ever in the United States upon his election is now starting to see his ratings fall.

One must add that this is really through no fault of his own. When Obama entered the White House last January, replacing one of the most unpopular presidents in US history, people expected the impossible, and they expected it right away. But that’s not how politics work.

The expectations people had of this young president were astronomical, bordering on miraculous. They expected him to fix the economy, which was in a global recession and sliding faster than Bush’s popularity. Obama inherited a country with probably the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression rocked the nation following the stock market crash of 1929.

People expected Obama to end two highly unpopular wars –– one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Then of course there is the invisible war, the one still being fought in the shadows, the ‘War on Terror’, as President Bush liked to call it. An indication of how disinterested the American public is in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be gauged through the lack of front-page articles on those two conflicts in the American press. Days can go by without either country making it onto page one.

Obama inherited the housing crunch brought about by the subprime mortgage crisis, triggered by a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures in the United States; that, in turn, had a negative impact on the world’s economy.

There was the climbing price of gas, which passed $3.70 per gallon for the American consumer before Bush left the White House (it was $1.45 when Bush took over from Clinton). But what perhaps contributed to Obama’s rapidly decreasing popularity, at least in the US, was his decision to take on the poisoned arrow of health care reform.

The reform of the American health care system has traditionally been the kiss of political death for anyone who dared touch it and its praetorian guard, the legions of lobbyists who protect their turf on Capitol Hill with the same zest with which Roman legions defended ancient Rome.

It was health care reform that brought the ire of the conservative movement in the US against current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was the first lady, and when her husband President Bill Clinton gave her the impossible task of setting up universal health coverage for Americans, which remains the only industrialized country in the world without universal coverage for all its citizens.

As if that were not enough, there is another kiss of death for American politicians who dare to venture there: Middle East politics. Here again, there exists an uncanny expectation that Obama will wave his magic wand and the sea of animosity dividing the Middle East protagonists will suddenly allow a passage towards a peaceful solution to the six-decade conflict.

As of July, for the first time since his election, Obama’s popularity fell below the 50 percent mark, according to an ABC NEWS-Washington Post poll. The health care industry in the US is a huge business and the drug manufacturers spend millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress so that senators and congressmen and women will vote like they are supposed to vote; meaning, to maintain the complex and archaic system of healthcare currently in effect.

The trouble with the current system is that it does not make sense. The US spends more than any other nation on healthcare, yet 47 million people have no health coverage (from a population of 300 million). And all that money doesn’t buy American citizens much bang for their buck: the World Health Organization ranks the US healthcare system at 37 out of 191 countries surveyed.

America does have some of the best hospitals, doctors, and yes, healthcare in the world. Unfortunately, not everyone can see those great doctors and go to those great hospitals. And the system’s biggest problem is that healthcare is usually arranged through one’s employer, and so an employee (and his or her family) loses health care coverage if he or she loses his or her job.

But Obama could not begin solving the above-mentioned problems without the participation of all parties concerned. After all, he is President Obama, not Saint Obama. He accomplished the impossible soon after assuming the presidency: gas is down to around $2.35 a gallon and the economy has stopped sliding and is actually pick up.
Miracles however, take a little longer.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington

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