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Dear Mr. President,
The defeat of the “American Health Care Act” must be a bitter experience for you. It has been referred to as a humiliating defeat, a train wreck, a disaster . . . well, you have heard it all. It can’t be good to hear. No one likes to experience failure in such a public, grand way. I can’t imagine you do.
But the question is what will you do with your failure? Will you own it or blame others? Will you be embittered and compile an enemies list? Or will you figure out what went wrong? Will you acknowledge what has been going wrong almost from the day you took office?
I confess, I did not vote for you. Frankly, I was afraid of you. I still am. Of your demagoguery. Of your authoritarian personality. Of your outrageous accusations. Of your appeals to racism, sexism, xenophobia and jingoism.
But as both President Obama and Secretary Clinton said, we are all Americans. And you are our only president. No one wants you to fail. Because then America will fail. If you succeed, our nation succeeds.
But what will success mean?
You say you want to make America great again. I believe that America is already great. But can we at least agree that America can be greater than it is?
I hope that the debacle you allowed yourself to become embroiled in will be a wake-up call to remember the interests of the people who put their faith in you and elected you to be our president.
You are a Republican. But the Republican establishment did not elect you. The Americans who gave you your electoral college majority are men and women who have lost faith in the accessibility of the American dream. They have lost faith in government as a vehicle to make their lives better. They saw you as their standard-bearer, their defender. To make America great again for them.
They did not vote for you because you promised them the Republican dream. They voted for you because you promised them their American dream.
When it came to health care, they couldn’t care less about the Republican article of faith to repeal and replace Obamacare. They wanted what you promised them: A great health care plan, at a fraction of the cost they are now paying. And while they may have thought your promise was an exaggeration, they believed in your sincerity. They believed you would fight for them to get greater access to the health care they need, at a lower cost.
Instead, you squandered your political capital supporting a House Republican bill that would have made quality health care out of the reach of many of the people who voted for you. It was a bill designed to restrict health care, and give enormous tax breaks to the wealthy. And that is precisely the hypocrisy and flim-flam that your supporters detest in government. They thought you were a straight talker, a no-nonsense representative. But you allowed yourself to get caught up in the shenanigans of the craven, venal, deceptive and divisive agenda advanced by Republicans in Congress.
When it comes to that agenda, there is very little in it other than the discredited notion that tax cuts will improve society, and that individuals can best care for themselves without a government that has the best interests of individual Americans at heart. The Republican notion that if the rich get richer everyone lives better has been disproven as a selfish delusion time and time again. It is only the very rich who can get by without some form of government assistance in their lives. And even they look to expand their wealth and power through government action—or inaction.
Mr. President, what will you do with your failure? Will you own it or blame others? Will you be embittered and compile an enemies list? Or will you figure out what went wrong? Will you acknowledge what has been going wrong almost from the day you took office?
As for health care, everyone will concede that the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, needs modifications. House Speaker Paul Ryan has now conceded that “Obamacare is the law of the land” and will be “for the foreseeable future.” Instead of abandoning health care reform, isn’t this an opportune time for you to engage Democrats, who want to be able to improve Obamacare without the threat of dismantling it? Wouldn’t all Americans benefit from both parties working to make the well-being of citizens their primary goal?
I hope that the debacle you allowed yourself to become embroiled in will be a wake-up call to remember the interests of the people who put their faith in you and elected you to be our president. Yes, this constituency wants better American jobs. They want safety. And they want secure borders. But they also want good schools, quality health care they can afford, clean air and water, and global cooperation.
President Carter coined the phrase “a government as good as its people.”
Mr. President, if you make your agenda the transformation of our government into one that is as good as our people, and if you put the interests of the people of our great nation first, you will achieve the admiration and gratitude of all citizens, whatever their political affiliation. You can still create a legacy that will make your presidency a great one.
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom is the Distinguished Service Rabbi (retired) of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, PA. He is the immediate past president of JSPAN, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.Photo header: Flickr/Andres Castellano