Health Care Won’t Make or Break Obama

t’s not as dangerous politically as Social Security but it’s awfully close.

President Barack Obama’s push to change health care in this country is unpredictable politics and a danger zone for any politician. The outcome will have lasting effects but it isn’t likely to define his tenure.

The economy and inherited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will probably push health care aside as Obama makes the defining decisions about the forty-fourth presidency.

Health care is a huge issue for many Americans. Millions are uninsured and many millions more are underinsured. Those with insurance (or, in many cases, employers) are paying top dollar premiums to give people the type of coverage expected. But even more critical is the state of our economy. Will I have a job in a month? Six months? A year from now?

To someone who has lost or fears losing a job, the fragile economic state is top of mind right now. That won’t likely change anytime soon. Memories are long even after you do find work.

History tells us we’ll likely see an economic boom before the end of Obama’s time in office. He may or may not be responsible for it, but if it happens he’ll likely get credit for the turnaround. And when voters return to the polls in 2012, they’ll remember that first—even if true and lasting health care reform falters.

Plus, even if he fails, past experience tells us it won’t have a long-term effect beyond the president’s time in office. The last Democrat to take on the complex issue failed. President Bill Clinton’s attempts at reforming the system were soundly rejected by Congress and the American people. In 1993, the GOP-led attacks on “HillaryCare” catapulted Republicans into a takeover in Congress. It was a devastating blow to Clinton and the Democrats. But, even as that blemish sits prominently on his record, Clinton was not defined by it. Gleaming economic prosperity and a sex scandal overshadow the failings of a health care plan to this day.

Obama’s right to try to tackle this now. The need is urgent and he has enough political capital to try major reform. But he’ll be remembered most for helping to pull us out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression—or not.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV’s news director. Before that he was the station’s political reporter. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at