I'm just about to start reading this, but one or two paragraphs in and it's already dawned on me that Barack Obama has yet to actually be President.
I started to think this during a conversation with my friend Lenny yesterday - we were debating Obama's Cairo speech, and his various accomplishments to date. Lenny was pretty pleased so far, and I was much more skeptical (though somewhat optimistic). We both had our reasons, but ultimately, the picture is too unfinished.
I have a problem with Obama's failure to really stand up for gay rights, his decision to continue to abuse the State Secrets privilege and his mishandling of the bank bailouts.
Lenny saw the Cairo speech as a dramatic and impressive reframing of the War on Terror. He thinks the bailouts and the civil liberties issues are strategic decisions to not waste political capital on the small issues, when what really matters is health care.
I totally agree that if Obama manages to get meaningful health care reform through Congress, every capitulation, trade-off and half-measure he's employed so far, or will ever employ, will be secondary. Health care will be the measure of his Presidency. If he can get it, not only will his legacy be secured, but he'll accrue so much goodwill from the public, from liberal interest groups and probably from Congress, that he'll be able to get whatever else he wants. If he can't get it, he'll be badly wounded, and the cornerstone around which he based his campaign will be lost, leaving the rest of his edifice in precarious shape.
Health care really is the game. It's everything, and it's just about to get started. Judging the Obama Presidency without knowing what happens in the next year is like judging the FDR Presidency without knowing how WW2 ended (which, of course, he didn't.)
Because of the above, the temptation will be strong to claim a half-victory as a full one. But that won't cut it. What counts as a real win for Obama? To me, it's: affordable and universal coverage, with a public option and a dramatically reduced role for insurance companies, or at least an empowered counterweight to their influence.
P.S. I really hope nothing in that long NYT article makes a really elegant case against any of the above :) One of the perils of having an actual job is not being able to read everything I'd like to...