President Barack Obama now appears to be staking his Presidency on the health care reform bill before Congress. This time last week, the President postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia a few days. Now, as the health care bill drags on, the President is cancelling the trip and planning to make it in June instead.
By putting off the trip so, the President is going against the conventional wisdom that effective Presidents do not let one bill or one issue bog them down. The trip to the Pacific was very important for long term United States interests. As Chinese influence grows in the region, it is essential that the President shore up old relationships and build new ones to counter the Chinese influence. Of course, diplomatic manners will prevent such from being said, but reality dictates that the world will see President Obama as weak.
Here is why the President will appear weak. If a President of the United States has to exit a planned appearance on the world stage to herd votes for a Congressional bill, it is perceived as weak. That perception of weakness is increased when both houses of the Congress are under the control of the President's party. If the health care bill passes, the President still loses credibility on the world stage. If the health care bill fails to pass, it will, as Jim DeMint put it, be the "Waterloo" of the Obama Presidency.
What has to be frustrating to Obama supporters is that the President should have avoided this situation. The President should have realized that he is bigger than the any one bill before Congress and made his trip to the Pacific without delay.
Air Force One has the communications technology to enable the President to contact any wavering Congressman on any bill. Indeed, it is hard to understand how Congressional Democratic leaders and the people around the President think that a call from the President of the United States aboard Air Force One is somehow less impressive than a call from the Oval Office.
Even harder to understand is why the Obama people are doubling down again on the health care bill. Perhaps the President wants to stake it all on a flawed bill even liberals do not like. Whatever the reason, the President and his people are not practicing the smart politics that got the President elected. The President should have made his trip, called wavering Congressman from Air Force One, and went on with other business.
By doing that, if the health care bill failed, the President could still be seen as doing the larger job of the Presidency and his political life would live to fight for the health care ideas he has another day. Now, the President has staked everything on the flawed bill. Even the bill's passage seems like a Pyrrhic victory now for the President. The President seems to have to cow to the Senator from Nebraska or the Senator from Louisiana or the Congresswoman from California.
The President of the United States should not cow to anyone. Indeed, it seems that the President and the people around him still act as if the President was a still a Senator. A Senator can be passionate, to a fault, about one issue. The President of the United States has to address all the issues. The President can not be tied down to one issue and he certainly can not shirk his role on the world stage for something such as a Congressional vote. Throughout history successful Presidents backed off being trapped by one bill or issue and focused on the larger job. Unsuccessful Presidents failed to do so and doubled down on on a bill or issue as President Obama is now doing. Frankly put, President Obama's double down on health care is a gamble in which he can not win. For even he wins the Congressional votes, the price he paid for it far outweighs the benefit.