Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Obama's Calculation Wrong, Though ACA May Yet Survive

There has been a lot of speculation about Donald Trump.  Vox's Brian Resnick points to a Change.Org petition entitled "Mental Health Professionals Declare Trump is Mentally Ill and Must Be Removed." It was started by clinical psychologist John Gartner, who believes the President suffers from narcissism and "serious mental illness."

Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio- who commends the appointment of General Mattis and Lt. General McMaster- nevertheless thinks the President has attention-deficit disorder.   And even psychiatrist Allen Frances, who terms such diagnoses by Gartner and others "bullshit," does not specifically deny that there is something wrong with Trump but argues  "it's only a disorder when it causes extreme distress, suffering, and impairment."

However, speculation about the the Obama Administration's response to the evidence of Russian involvement in the Trump-Clinton race is less sexy, but more responsible, than professionals diagnosing an individual without personal examination.

David Remnick, author of "Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War" in The New Yorker, is unconvinced that Vladimir Putin, determined to destabilize the presidential election because he hated Hillary Clinton, swung the election to Donald Trump in the presence of a poorly-run campaign, the FBI director's actions, and other factors.   Nonetheless, Remnick writes

Remarkably, the Obama Administration learned of the hacking operation only in early summer—nine months after the F.B.I. first contacted the D.N.C. about the intrusion—and then was reluctant to act too strongly, for fear of being seen as partisan. Leaders of the Pentagon, the State Department, and the intelligence agencies met during the summer, but their focus was on how to safeguard state election commissions and electoral systems against a hack on Election Day.

That caution has embittered Clinton’s inner circle. “We understand the bind they were in,” one of Clinton’s senior advisers said. “But what if Barack Obama had gone to the Oval Office, or the East Room of the White House, and said, ‘I’m speaking to you tonight to inform you that the United States is under attack. The Russian government at the highest levels is trying to influence our most precious asset, our democracy, and I’m not going to let it happen.’ A large majority of Americans would have sat up and taken notice. My attitude is that we don’t have the right to lay blame for the results of this election at anybody’s feet, but, to me, it is bewildering—it is baffling—it is hard to make sense of why this was not a five-alarm fire in the White House.”

Remnick's article strongly implies that Secretary of State Kerry during the transition recommended a bipartisan invesigation modelled on the 9/11 commission. However, on the Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday, Remnick suggests (second video below) that Kerry earlier recommended it, in the summer when the Obama Administration was told about the hacking..

Yet, we do know that President Obama in October did consider an independent commission but rejected it because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to "several officials" anonymously quoted by The Daily Beast, "would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics."

At that time, as Remnick reminded Maddow, President Obama was of the common belief, which played a role in rejecting any idea of a commission, that Mrs. Clinton would defeat Mr. Trump,

I thought so, also.  Nevertheless, there had to be two other electoral considerations.  There was very little chance Democrats would regain control of the House of Representatives but the odds of the Party retaking control of the Senate that November hovered around 50-50.

As Remnick inferred, by playing it safe and not gambling, Obama (it appeared at the time) was increasing the likelihood the presidential favorite, Hillary Clinton, would prevail.

Yet, the President was reducing the chance of Democrats retaking the U.S. Senate.  McConnell was poised to go on the offensive because, had Obama taken concrete steps to have the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin investigated, the Majority Leader would have had no choice but to divert attention from the substance of the charges.

Going on the offense at that time would have yielded a Democratic President and very likely a Democratic Senate as voters would have recoiled not only against Donald Trump, but against the Party he represented and which nominated him for the highest office in the land.Mrs. Clinton already was in the lead and the clear favorite, and it is very likely that additional attention paid to the Russia-Trump connection would have yielded a net gain of at least four Democratic Senators, which would have resulted in a Democratic-controlled chamber at 50-50.

We will never know for sure, though, because President Obama made a calculated decision which, at the time, was a rational one for him.   Go public and endanger Clinton's election while enhancing the Democrats' opportunity in the Senate because the odds were against McConnell's attack succeeding. Remain discrete and Clinton probably gets elected while the chamber probably remains in Republican hands.

He chose the latter, and speculation about his motive is safer than that of  Donald Trump's mental condition.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected- with or without a Democratic House or Senate- President Obama's signature achievement would have been prserved.   It appeared clear at the time, although not so much now, that the fellow who labeled the Affordable Care Act "a total disaster" would have signed a bill to "repeal and replace" it.  Whatever the composition of either chamber, however, such a measure passed by Congress would have been vetoed by a President Clinton.

The Affordable Care Act is President Obama's signature achievement, probably his most substantial accomplishment.  Rescission of the ACA, whether (highly unlikely) it would be replaced by a GOP President with something better (very unlikely) or something worse (very likely), would have seriously undermined his legacy.   If an NFL kicker puts the ball through the uprights but his team is called for a penalty, the points are taken off the board. If he missses on the subsequent attempt, the first kick becomes moot. Putting points on the board is rendered meaningless when they are taken off.

Understandably, President Obama played the odds. He still may win, with a Republican President and a Republican congress in apparent confusion or disarray over what to do next about Obamacare, increasingly referred to as the ACA. The country may not fare as well, but it was almost impossible for even the usually prescient Barack Obama to contemplate the election of one Donald J. Trump.

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