Democratic Convention 2008

Obama 2008: "Opposed" to Health Care Mandate

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Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debate, handicap the Oscars at the Kodak Theater in January 2008.

Here's something President Obama might have forgotten: In 2008, when then-Sen. Obama was fighting then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, he got the inside track by opposing a federal mandate requiring you and every other American to purchase health insurance. 

The individual mandate, which is so totalitarian and unconstitutional that even the thoroughly unlibertarian voters of Ohio rejected it last week, went on to become the unpopular centerpiece of Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the putative reform of the health care system widely known as "Obamacare."

The difference over the mandate was one of a number of areas in which Obama at the time seemed to be a more free market candidate than Clinton. But I had forgotten all about it until I discovered my old handwritten notes from Obama's endorsement interview with his apostles at the Los Angeles Times. Read on for some fascinating bits of history, and dark foreshadowings of the narcissism that we have come to know too well these last three years: 

Barack Obama 1.16.08 

Family

Could I win? We concluded that we could. 

Should I win? Not a time when ambition was sufficient.

Not pollyannaish unity: practical, progressive, grounded in common sense.

Tone: Politics desperately need honesty. Not saying I never shade answers. [laughter] 

People think political environment is fundamentally dishonest. 

Young people are sophisticated news consumers. 

John Edwards considers telling the press that Barack Obama sired Rielle Hunter's baby, January 2008.

Experience: Last inexperienced president from Illinois did pretty well. [laughter] Clinton came to caricature my inexperience. In public life 20 years. 

Foreign policy: Most confidence in my judgment. Look at my speech in 2002. Everything I talked about has come to pass. 

Domestic side: What are decisive differences. Rough ideological agreement in Dem party. Clinton, Edwards & I agree on health care. Philosophical difference on mandates. I opposed, wanted to emphasize cost savings. 

Hillary thinks problem is George Bush. I think the problem is more severe. Political culture is broken.

MLK: Indicative of different ideas of how change works. I believe words matter. 

Expansion of executive power? Apply Title VII in job apps: Is there qualification that should exclude somebody? If you concentrate too much power in exec branch, undermine basic design of constitution. 

SCOTUS justices: Marshall, Earl Warren did OK. Current court: Breyer, Ginsburg. 95% of laws should be determined by precedent. There's 5% where law has to be made, because it's new issue or conflict of values… 

Copyright, diversity of ownership of media? Copyright and patent systems are often abused. Consolidation of media is not entirely healthy. Silver lining is the internet. But major media extraordinarily powerful. Need rules in place… Goal is not just symbolic diversity. In favor of net neutrality. 

Surge? Succeeded in quieting violence and that's to be celebrated. Decision of Sunni Sheikhs. Thinking that Americans going to be leaving soon. Clear timetable for withdrawal. 

Use of force? One example 9/11. entirely supported. At other end of spectrum is Iraq. Stuff in middle. President's job to determine all factors. Diplomatic and strategic, and that we're dealing w. fractured, failed states. Prez Clinton did right thing in Rwanda. Acheson/Kennan/Marshall/Truman crew… Understood having more humble foreign policy and that more you can use non-military tools (World Bank, etc.) Blend of realism and idealism. I give George HW Bush lotta credit. They navigated end of Cold War with a lot of savvy. General Jim Jones: How little we spend on conflict resolution. 

2 for 1 with Clintons? I'll use Bill. [laughter] The way they think about govt is not right for now. Karl Rove thinks Hillary will walk all over us: Because they understand model of politics 

Most frustrating part of process? Fundraising unappealing. Media frustrating. Rich people – I spend lotta time with rich people. 

Hillary: Instinctually much more negative to Republicans. 

I started campaign from scratch. Must know something about management. 

The following day Hillary Clinton came in to appeal for the second-best Times' endorsement, notes of which are below. 

I also have copious notes from the days and days of meetings the L.A. Times editorial board held – with all the hope and energy of children performing a fake news-broadcast skit for their parents – in order to make the wise choice. This was the paper's first presidential endorsement (including primary picks for both major parties) since 1972, and the ed board was fully inflated with the solemnity of the task – though after all the rigmarole we ended up reaching a conclusion Ray Charles could have seen coming a mile away: that the paper would back Obama and back him hard. 

Some of the comments from my erstwhile ed board members were absurd at the time but have been rendered fully hilarious by the passage of time: 

"She is solid prose. He is a poem." 

"Obama was everything I expected and more." 

Some are funny: 

"What a great country this is where you can be the wife of a president and grow up to be president." 

Some reveal James O'Keefe-worthy bias: 

"I wouldn't vote for McCain if there was a gun to my head." 

"As long as one of them [Clinton or Obama] wins." 

And one is grotesque: 

"Romney reminds me of Greg Stillson." [The insane presidential candidate who is targeted for righteous assassination by the hero of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone

The Hillary notes are also interesting. I remember my own impression at the time being that on economic matters Obama seemed like Adam Smith compared to Clinton (or for that matter, eventual GOP nominee John McCain, who ran on a platform of having the government bail out every underwater mortgage in the country). A gander at Clinton's comments suggests why: 

Hillary Clinton 1.17.8 

Focus on what's at stake. Moral authority. Restore Middle Class. 

Ambiguity on Obama's opposition to war: Distinction is what he would have done to oppose. Part of larger pattern. On numerous issues: 130 votes, he voted Present. On issue after issue it wasn't yes or no, it was maybe. Petraeus ad 

Hillary Clinton gives sharp salute to a country in the process of giving her a one-finger salute, January 2008.

How repair exec power expansion: Close Gitmo by exec order if necessary. Rein in signing statements. Have to make clear habeas corpus does apply. VP needs to accept he's part of exec branch. Ending rendition, black sites. Reestablish moral authority. I remember speech I gave on torture. Washington. Even when Lincoln suspended habeas, got Congress to ratify it. 

Tax cuts & growth? Tax cuts far too weighted to wealthy. Clearly increase in revs tied to huge amts of stimulus: flows into defense, homeland security. It would be hard for that stimulus not to bring in more revs. Maintain middle class tax cuts, go back to high end. We borrow money from Chinese to buy oil from Saudis. Prez Bush has to go to Saudi to lower price. Our fiscal sovereignty. Sovereign funds are new: Not subject to market discipline. Look @ tax cuts for shared prosperity. 

Tax rates 17% once you factor in payroll and income. 

Mortgage crisis is huge. Productivity is up 18%; most corp execs not sharing that. 

People who are doing work of economy not getting benefits of economy. 

How free has free trade been? Think it was Paul Samuelson: Classical economic analysis of trade may no longer be accurate in global economy. Look at lotta trade partners: They don't give access to their markets we give them. South Koreans: They're just very good at saying one thing and doing something else. I commissioned study on Canadians keeping U.S. products out. American consumer maintained world econ until recently. 

CAFTA: We told Bush get Dem votes thru envmtl and labor standards

What about U.S. govt supports? We've to got to change way we do ag subsidies: gotta switch to envmtl angle that would merit govt funding. Could you get coalition for that? Happen to think family farmers are important part of rural economy. 

First lady experience? Learned about power & limits of office. Combined w. my experience at other end of Penn Ave. 

Healthcare: Learned about marshalling public support. Was part of diplomatic team. Negotiated: Macedonia borders, Ireland, women's issues, dialogue w. Muslim world. 

Jumpstart Arab Israeli peace talks? Regret deeply Prez Bush's disengagement. Had Arab-Israeli…Jordan agreement. Setbacks: Rather absurd view Arafat had. 

Responsibility of Prez is defend and protect U.S. Very much in favor of getting back to promoting democracy. Show world we're in favor of their aspirations. Right kind of security. Prez Kennedy was eloquent advocate of democracy & security. Iraqi people haven't charted own course because of blank check by Bush admin. Democracy about more than just elections. 

Next Prez will have more in common w. Harry Truman. 

Other-directed. Not raised to talk about myself. President is CEO, COO: Important to run country. Lot of ways to be inspirational. Making things better for other people is inspirational. Women have a narrower range in public life. 

Dynastic concern? Everybody starts from some place: Put yourself out there, raise money. 

VP: Someone who could become Prez immediately. Don't think old calculus – gotta carry this or that state – as important as having somebody to be full partner, ready to be prez tomorrow. 

Subprime: Moral hazard. Balance impact against impact on economy. Create envmt for workout: voluntary program. Freeze rates for five years. Prepayment penalty perverse: Vacant houses in declining economy. Look at guy at Countrywide who walked away with $100 million: That's moral hazard. 

Younger readers may not remember this, but back in 2008 even a presidential hopeful could believe that huge amounts of stimulus lead to increases in tax revenues. Lucky thing she didn't win!