Friday, September 25, 2009


I’ve heard some interesting criticisms of President Obama’s involvement in policy-making; some of it valid and some of it just plain loopy. But David Broder has one that is a bit of a head-scratcher. He cites a conservative think-tanker, William Schambra, who says that “Obama is emphatically a ‘policy approach’ president. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems — and indeed society itself — more rational and coherent forms and functions. In this view, the long-term, systemic problems of health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole.” And Mr. Broder agrees.

Schambra’s essay anticipated exactly what is happening on health care. Obama, budget director Peter Orszag and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle grasp the intricacies of the health-care system as well as any three humans, and they could write a law to make it far more efficient.

But now it is in the hands of legislators and lobbyists who care much less about the rationality of the system than they do about the way the bill will affect their particular part of it. Everyone has a parochial agenda. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, wants to be sure a new cancer treatment center in Nevada has favored status.

Democracy and representative government are a lot messier than the progressives and their heirs, including Obama, want to admit. No wonder they are so often frustrated.

First, I think it’s interesting that now that we have a president who is actually engaged in the act of actually creating policies, he’s taken to task for it.

Second, rather than being doctrinaire and demanding of both his allies and opponents — “my way or the highway” — the president has been far too accommodating to the wispy ideal of bipartisanship, certainly in the face of the GOP opposition to everything he has proposed, usually because of the simple fact that he came up with it.

I think the president knows all too well how messy legislating is, and I really have a hard time believing that the worst thing a conservative intellectual can knock him for is that he’s actually engaged in the details of governing.