Obamacare is proving so difficult to repeal due to Obama’s self-sacrifice in passing the law – and Trump’s transparent self-interest.
These are strange, polarising times in politics, when shades of grey melt away and arguments are framed in stark black and white. This state of affairs is not conducive to healthy debate or sensible policy making, but it does present us with a wealth of neatly defined morality tales. Look at politics in the UK or US right now, and there are plenty of lessons about the perils of hubris, and the importance of hard work and humility over vanity and ignorance.
This is true in the case of President Trump’s ongoing failure to destroy the Obamacare healthcare system. Having already failed once to ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare in March, the president faced further embarrassment this week after members of his own Republican party refused to support the latest attempt.
Trump made ending Obamacare one of his flagship policy proposals during last year’s election, yet despite his majority control of Congress, the system remains stubbornly in place. Obamacare is battered and bruised but still etched in legislation – for now a tower that can’t be toppled.
This is really a parable about self-sacrifice versus self-interest. In getting his healthcare plan into law in 2010 in the form of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama faced a huge amount of personal and political pain. As other presidents before him had found, the idea of spending public money to extend health insurance coverage to millions of people was toxic with large swathes of voters.
This ill feeling was inflamed by the newly formed Tea Party on the right-wing of the Republican Party, which accused Obama of trying to bring socialism to America. As his approval ratings dropped, the president also faced legal roadblocks at every stage of what was to become an agonisingly drawn-out process.
Yet Obama endured. Despite the severe hit to his personal standing and that of the Democrats, who took a pounding in the 2010 mid-term elections, he got his bill into law and in doing so, changed the way Americans think about healthcare forever. The recent backlash at local town hall meetings against the Republicans’ repeal and replace plan shows the extent to which people have come to see Obamacare as an integral part of their lives.
Like all public healthcare systems, Obamacare is not perfect, and in certain states the finances underpinning the system are now struggling. Indeed Trump has now settled on the idea that the government should “let Obamacare fail” of its own accord. Yet this position is both petty and paradoxical as it reveals the enduring strength of Obamacare. For all the power he supposedly wields, Trump is unable to bring down the system of his own free will.
The moral of the story is that power is meaningless without the characteristics needed to apply it effectively. While Obama drew on all his skills and personal resolve to get his healthcare plan passed, Trump has shown little willingness to sacrifice himself to the demands of his office. Many of his policies to date have been ill-conceived and lazily delivered, resulting in defeats in the courts and in Congress.
Trump’s regular appearances on the golf course, or at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, do not point to a man willing to spend long days agonising over policy details or brokering deals in Washington. The emptiness at the heart of his administration was revealed this week when the Republicans’ proposed replacement plan to Obamacare fell apart, the party choosing to withdraw their half-baked bill from the legislature.
Obama no doubt takes quiet satisfaction in witnessing the resilience of one his greatest achievements in office. Ever the deep-thinker and philosopher, he may also see the value of viewing the Trump presidency as a morality play in microcosm, a true parable for our times.