Health care reform, or no change?
More troops for Afghanistan, or are we getting out while the getting’s good?
Sweeping financial re-regulation, or cosmetic changes?
A powerfully resurgent economy, or a weak “jobless recovery?”
Green energy, or belching smokestacks? A plan to reverse global warming, or business as usual?
A peaceful, prosperous, friendly Middle East, or the same chaos and instability that has plagued policymakers for more than half a century?
Good questions, and the Obama administration has the answers — or so it thinks. The administration is attempting to implement big solutions to big problems — and to do them all simultaneously.
That’s a good model for troubled businesses. If you, like the guy in the TV commercial, have just become the CEO of General Motors, you can’t isolate your problems and put Band-Aids on them. You need to strengthen and re-align your products, re-establish relationships with your suppliers, monitor your competitors, re-focus marketing, recreate factories and re-invent your labor force.
If you succeed — great!
If not — GM goes down for the third time, and disappears permanently from the American business landscape.
But successful countries, unlike their business counterparts, resist dramatic change. Nations such as the United States and Great Britain usually adhere to Edmund Burke’s famous axiom: “When it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change.”
That’s why both countries have endured and prospered for many generations.
Whether we agree with the Joe Wilsons of the world (“You lie!”), it’s pretty obvious that the congressman and his co-religionists are driven more by a certain inherent American wariness than by the substance of the Obama health care plan.
Their position is simple and straightforward. Whatever the faults of the existing system, let’s not radically restructure it by government fiat. By doing so, we risk losing what’s good and add nothing of value.
In the settled politics of a mature democracy, you don’t achieve change by advertising it as such. You create incremental change, and you structure it so that its initial impact will be relatively slight and widely perceived as beneficial.
Let’s suppose that the actual goal of the Obama administration is to move all of us into a European-style single payer health system. Sound impossible? Not at all.
Just announce that to help older Americans the minimum age to receive Medicare will decline slowly during the next 10 years, or until most of those who need or desire such coverage can access it. It’ll be perceived as a gradual, incremental process and one that can be altered or amended as necessary.
If it works, the result would be universal health care — the prize that eluded masterful politicians from Roosevelt to Clinton. And if the slow expansion of Medicare proves unaffordable or impracticable, so be it.
Gradualism works — sudden change doesn’t. We’d suggest that the president, if he seeks both to initiate those famous “changes we can believe in” and return to his former popularity, might find inspiration from a particularly sappy popular song.
“Slow down, you move too fast/You’ve got to make the morning last … Life, I love you, all is groovy!”