Have you see the new Domino's Pizza ads? The ones where the Domino's Pizza chiefs read extremely critical letters and watch brutal focus groups? People say the pizza is awful and tastes like cardboard. The Domino's Pizza chiefs apologizing and admitting the critics are right, but they conclude with the Domino's team saying that they listened to the American public, and, as a result, created a brand new, much tastier pizza. What President Obama should do right now is the same thing with health care reform.
Obama's Domino's Pizza Ad
Obama should apologize for messing up this health care reform effort, for breaking his promises about health care because he let the special interests have too much power, and for not doing more to rein in the banks. He should let the American people know he heard them last Tuesday; should say that he was so busy focusing on ways to stop an economic meltdown that he let too many Wall Street CEOs and bad actors make out like bandits after ruining our economy.
Obama should own up to his failures on health care, while also carefully spreading the blame around. Acknowledge that it was his fault for letting others demagogue health care, and own up to not doing enough to explain it to the America people. He should be apologizing for allowing himself to be so consumed with the very noble of goal helping people get health insurance, that he lost sight of the important details. He let himself cut too many terrible deals within a broken Senate, and allowed a handful of senators to hold the bill hostage until it became a big giveaway to the health insurers.
After admitting his failings, he should rapidly pivot to his solution. Point out that the Senate bill, now before the House, still has some good elements (and list them), but it is seriously flawed. It doesn't do enough to help regular Americans, and doesn't do enough to hold the insurance companies honest. He should state that the message from the voters was clear. They wanted change. They wanted an end to the broken ways of Washington. The voters want a bill meant to help Main Street instead of the insurance CEOs, and that is what they will get.
Obama will instruct House members to not vote for the current bill until the Senate passes a separate measure using reconciliation to fix the problems with the first bill. Explaining that, by using reconciliation, Republicans and special interests won't be able use the rules of the Senate to hold these improvements, which would benefit the American people, hostage. Say that, with reconciliation, the insurance companies can't protect themselves from competition by preventing the American people from getting the choice of a public option. Only after the bill has been fixed will he ask the House to vote on both the bill and the fixes, and then only if it is a bill that puts people in power, not the private insurance companies. (Alternately, he could tell the Senate to start fresh using reconciliation to simply give everyone who can't afford insurance coverage through Medicaid/SCHIP/Medicare.)
I think the evidence points to the Massachusetts special election being about populist anger over what appeared to be an administration too friendly to banks, insurance companies, and drug companies. But, to a larger extent, it does not matter. The second Obama makes the grand gesture to say that was the message, the meme enters the DC blood stream.
It makes Obama look like he is listening to voters. Most importantly, it sends the message that people are upset with the corrupt process and the anti-consumer compromises, but not the general goal of health care reform. (The other option is to say that people are, in general, against the idea of health care reform, and Obama wasted his first year pursuing something the public did not want.)
Obama should hope that people still like pizza, and they just think this current pizza tastes bad. If that is the case, Obama can still come out looking stronger by delivering a better pizza.