You don't have to go too far to find someone vehemently opposed to Obamacare. What is new these days is that former enthusiastic supporters are now among its biggest critics. From business and union leaders to Republicans and Democrats, to conservatives and liberals, they all finally have something in common: they want Obamacare trashed.
The last time a president introduced a bill this contentious was in 1969, when President Nixon had the distinction of introducing the $2.5 billion Family Assistance Plan (FAP), which was universally despised by virtually everyone.
With the counsel of Urban Affairs Council Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixon created the FAP, which called for the replacement of bureaucratically administered programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps and Medicaid with direct cash payments to those in need. Not only single-parent families, but the working poor would qualify for aid.
This sounds like the ideal Obama program of "free money." And it met with the same derision that Obamacare has.
It was hated by conservatives who thought the proposal too generous in guaranteed annual income for more than 13 million working men and women whose wages remained insufficient to lift them above the poverty line.
Yet, FAP was also hated by liberal politicians and welfare rights activists, most notably the National Welfare Rights Organization, which characterized the benefits under FAP as being too stingy ($1,600 per year for family of four). Liberals also opposed the work requirements inherent in FAP, the very feature of the program that conservatives found most appealing.
So Nixon hit the perfect storm — alienating the left and the right.
But the distaste over FAP didn't stop there. The Labor Department saw the proposal as a threat to the minimum wage. Caseworkers opposed FAP fearing that many of their jobs would be eliminated. And many Americans complained that the addition of the working poor would expand welfare caseloads by millions.
Nixon pushed for its passage time and again, but met with no takers. Recognizing that this could sink his 1972 reelection, he thankfully let FAP go by the wayside.
Unfortunately, Obama seems only capable of small-mindedness.
He stubbornly pushes for a program that restructures 1/6 of our economy and which nobody has read or understands. It is a major reason why economic pessimism prevails and why attempts at job creation have failed. The more we know, the more we don't like — and the more we fear its ultimate cost.
You would think that a president pushing something that is supposed to help all Americans would be sophisticated enough to understand how to engage both parties. Yet, Obama could not get a single Republican in the House or Senate to vote for his "signature" legislation. Even President George W. Bush was able to get several Democratic votes for the unpopular war in Iraq, including Hillary Clinton.
Now we're seeing Obama's traditional base erode. It's not a surprise that Nixon lost the labor unions over FAP. Now we're seeing the AFL-CIO slink around the White House trying to exempt its members from Obamacare — the bill they once championed.
The Huffington Post recently posted the following: "What it's clearly boiled down to is that Republicans are possessed by an overpowering psychological compulsion to repeal Obamacare even at great cost and harm to America and the GOP despite 41 previously failed legislative attempts to do so. And now they can't stop. It's about raging, venomous, unprecedented partisan ego and out-of-control anger. The hope for logical, rational, country-first thinking has been decidedly killed off by a macro dose of hostility, resentment and fear; fear that Americans will ultimately grow to love Obamacare once they get a taste ... and that there'll be no turning back."
Even considering its source, this kind of demagoguery on the left is over-the-top and off-the-mark. Obama has not just lost the conservatives, he has lost the American people. Poll after poll proves this.
Sixty-two percent of respondents in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll say they lack the information needed to understand the changes that will take effect as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. Barely one in 10 thinks the federal government, their state government or the health insurance industry is fully prepared to implement the law.
Nixon had the good sense to recognize when a bill lacked support from the nation. He did what a president is supposed to do: do what's best for the American people.
It seems to me Obama could learn a lesson from Nixon's FAP fiasco. It's not about trying to ram through an unpopular agenda — it's about setting aside your ego and demonstrating a rare commodity these days: leadership.
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