Wednesday, October 16, 2013

i miss bill clinton

I would have bet a month's worth of Social Security  that those words would never have slipped my lips.  At least, not in the same sentence.

But that is how I have felt for the past month.

Let me start with a given.  There is plenty of blame to be dished out to both political parties and at least two of three branches of the federal government for this fiscal game of chicken that is happening in Washington right now. 

And if we can get past that point without a lot of finger pointing in the comments section, I would be grateful.  (I know that sentence is a futile gesture.  But there you go.)

We are where we are because of decades of reckless spending and taxation -- by both parties.  And no matter what happens in the next week, we are not going to be any closer to resolving the underlying spending problem than we were at the start of September.

That's where Bill Clinton comes in.  He may have been a scoundrel -- even his most articulate supporters grant that much.  But he was also a masterful politician and negotiator. 

He almost always walked away from the political table looking as if he was a winner -- partly because he was willing to bargain away almost anything.  Sacred cows lived to be sliced into prime rib and stew meat.

And he would have seen the train wreck that is happening in front of our eyes when it was back up the tracks.  Months ago.

Some Republicans are doing their best to see that Obamacare is not implemented.  Whether or not one adopts their reasoning, there is no doubt that a majority of the American public would still like to see the law repealed.  But they certainly do not agree that a government shutdown is the solution.

If Bill Clinton still occupied the oval office, he would have immediately seen a solution.  The computer system that would allow Americans to buy their mandatory health insurance, and avoid being fined by the Internal Revenue Service, went online at the beginning of the month. 

Several weeks before it was implemented, the White House knew the system was not going to work as advertised, and citizens would worry that they would be penalized.  All because the government could not deliver as promised.

The Obama White House saw the "glitch" as a problem to spin, as if it were an iPhone "issue."  Bill Clinton would have seen it as a golden political opportunity.

I can see the scene now.  Clinton has called the political leaders of both houses to the oval office for a chat.  Probably, last July.  After a few social preliminaries, he would set out this scenario.

"Now, I know you Republicans are not happy with this new health care system.  But you don't have the votes to repeal it.  And it is a policy I care a lot about.

"But, we have had some problems rolling it out.  It is a very complex system.  We have already exempted businesses from reporting requirements during the first year.  We are now going to do the same for individuals.

"We will have a computer system up and running some time during 2014 to allow individuals to buy personal policies.  But there will be no fine for anyone who does not have a policy next year.  No one.  Citizens.  Businesses.  No one.

"I am going to announce tomorrow what this administration is going to do to help Americans with health care.  And I am going to tell the public it is not part of any deal.  It is just the right thing to do.  Of course, it will effectively delay the implementation of the system for a year.  But I am not going to say that.

"Now, what are you all going to do to keep the government operating?"

Bill was the master of stealing the Republicans' clothing while they were swimming.  And this would have been a natural for him. 

He instinctively knew how to navigate interest-based negotiations while avoiding position-based dead ends.  That is a skill that the current president, for whatever reason, does not have.

Whatever the reason,  if Bill Clinton had been running the show this month, we would hear far more champagne corks being popped and far fewer knives being sharpened.

But I doubt anyone is listening to those lessons.

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