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It’s health care, stupid

By his own estimation, George H.W. Bush lacked “the vision thing,” a tragic but true assessment from a bland one-termer with the misfortune to be sandwiched between a pair of dream-weaving visionaries.
It may have been his lack of a goal, even more than the economy, that sunk Poppy Bush in 1992. And somewhere in that election is a lesson in the restorative power of vision that California’s leaders seem suddenly and instinctively to have mastered.
In good times, with everyone working and things going gangbusters, voters may overlook a lack of vision in their leaders. But when things are tough, when there are problems to solve, they have precious little patience for someone who can’t dream big.
That likely will prove itself out in the coming session, as the Legislature and governor hash out a big-vision plan on health care.
Sure the air has gone out of the housing market and economists are sending mixed signals about the year ahead. And sure, we still have that tenacious deficit. But voters are feeling better about their government–not euphoric, but better–and they’re feeling that way because politicians are working on a grand vision.
Last year, the collective dream was a California with better roads and schools, more parks and a steady supply of good clean water. This year, it’s a California where you won’t have to file for bankruptcy because your spouse got sick. This year, it’s about what’s possible and what can be done, instead of what’s too hard and who’s to blame.
In a year without vision, a $5 billion deficit would be Page 1 stuff. In this year with vision, on the other hand, the projected shortfall has been relegated to a detail in the bigger story of
health-care reform. Sure it’s still there, but instead of fretting over an intractable deadlock on cuts and taxes, there’s a palpable expectation of at least some headway on health.
The ability to convey a dream and lead toward a goal was something the first Bush didn’t have. All he had was a sour economy, and an opponent who understood the power of ideas.
Admittedly, the best idea may have come first, to tie the economy around H.W.’s neck like a bell on a cat. It was, as the mantra went, “the economy, stupid,” and political scientists have written reams about how voter perception of economics is even more important in an election than their own personal circumstances. That means, basically, that a laid-off worker may vote for you as long as he thinks who have a bankable plan. Bush had nothing of the sort. He had nothing for us to wait for, nothing to hold on to through tough times.
James Carville’s legendary “the economy, stupid” quote was part of a trilogy of simple concepts, written like a haiku, and affixed to the candidate’s door. Though 15 years old, that last one is as fresh as today:

Change vs. more of the same
The economy, stupid
Don’t forget health care


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