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Susan Estrich
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The Courage of His Convictions


When you ask people why it is that they hate or distrust politicians, the usual answers, understandably so, are all about what gutless wonders most politicians are — addicted to their polls, determined to stay there at all costs. Campaign promises are about getting elected; once there, they are quickly forgotten. Courage is not a word you hear very often in discussions about politics.

Not Barack Obama.

Whether or not you support or even understand his health care plan — and the polls suggest that right now most Americans don't — you must admit this: Obama is a man who does everything humanly possible to keep his promises. He promised health care reform, and he is risking his presidency to deliver it. If that's not courage, what is?

To be sure, Obama is not on the ballot for a few years. Bill Clinton proved that a president can survive and even triumph after a humiliating midterm defeat.

But that hardly makes it a game plan that makes political sense.

When most of the country turns against you, most politicians will turn with them. Ours is a representative and not a direct democracy, which means we send our representatives to Washington not to do what we want them to do (at least not necessarily), but to do what they believe is right. Most of the time, for most politicians, those things are one and the same. The reason they won in the first place is because they are "in tune" with their districts, and they stay there by staying "in tune."

The problem with the health care debate is that the chorus has changed so dramatically in the past year. Whereas a year ago most Americans said they favored comprehensive health care reform, now they don't.

Heads no, tails. Obama no, Scott Brown. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Insiders can debate until the cows come home about the reason for the shift in public opinion. Was it a failure of communication — too much emphasis on the minority who are not insured, as opposed to the majority who are? Was it a failure of politics — choosing to fight the last war (Congress was left out on HillaryCare) and, as a result, losing this one by leaving it to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi instead of taking the initiative in the White House? Was it the big bailouts and stimulus bills that left many of us suffering from spending fatigue?

It doesn't matter. Whatever the reason, this much is clear: The weather has changed. Storm clouds have gathered. Voting for health care is much riskier politically than it was when both houses of Congress passed their bill. And while individual members of Congress will face the voters first, there is no question that a rout come November will leave all fingers pointed at Obama — which would generate the sort of talk about a one-term presidency that no incumbent in his second year would want to hear, much less invite.

And yet that is what Obama is doing. He is staking his presidency on a health care plan that most Americans don't want. He is asking members of Congress to stay with him not because that is what their constituents want, but because it is the right thing to do.

Obama wants a vote on health care because he believes that it is now or never. However grim things might look, this is the biggest majority Democrats are going to have in the foreseeable future. If not now, when?

You can call it arrogant or foolish or shortsighted. Me, I call it courage.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



36 Comments | Post Comment
You are absolutely right, Ms. Estrich, and it is refreshing to hear amid all the screaming. While a few loud-mouthed contrarians are getting the spotlight for their so-called stands on "principle," like abortion coverage or government spending and "socialism," it is the president who is quietly and firmly standing on principle and taking the blows, at great personal risk to his career and his legacy. "Courage" is when you are not doing what is popular but what is good and right. Courage is not taking the path of least resistance, not giving up when the going gets tough, keeping your head when others around you are losing theirs. By every measure of courage, President Obama is courageous. I think the majority of Americans in the coming critical weeks of legislative action will turn again, from fear and anger to confidence in the President and his goals for healthcare reform. I think they will trust a leader who has shown he will not give up on them.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Laurie Craw
Thu Mar 4, 2010 11:31 PM
MAyeb he should have focused more on the bipartisianship and transparency that he promised.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mike M
Fri Mar 5, 2010 1:22 AM
Are you kidding me?! President Obama has demonstrated no courage at all. Is floats more ballons than an Octamom birthday party. He presents plans that are not bills and only works in progress. He weaves and dodges and as in the Senate, as President, by his actions he votes Present more than any of his predecessors.....courage of his convitions....he has no convictions.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mapache
Fri Mar 5, 2010 4:34 AM
I agree with your basic point, Susan. If he sees this through to the end he should win the Profiles in Courage Award! But it is important to remember that the president brought this mess on himself: from negotiating behind closed doors with insurance companies and big pharma to not articulating his legislative priorities to not presenting a clear rationale for WHY we need hc reform. Also, he allowed weird shenannigans like the infamous Cornhusker Kickback (not to mention being rolled by people like Nelson and Lieberman). LBJ, Nixon, and even to a certain extent W, would never have found themselves in this mess. In short, Obama has come across as a feckless novice who doesn't have a clue how to lead. He allowed the Republicans and the Tea Partiers to define his signature domestic policy! Hopefully he can turn things around. Most thinking Americans -- whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent --know that healthcare is a mess, and that it is one of the main reasons why American industry is on the ropes.
Comment: #4
Posted by: cadbury
Fri Mar 5, 2010 4:44 AM
The only health care reform we need are two laws: One that bans an HMO from giving the patient the runaround and a law that limits malpractice awards. Congress seems to have all the taxpayer dollars it needs for its earmarks and pork barrel projects but yet claims a tax increase is necessary to fund Obamacare. Why not use the earmark and pork barrel money to fund Obamacare?? The real problem with Obamacare is that NOBODY has bothered to explain it well enough so that even Jethro Beaudine can understand it. That Obama seems so anxious to force it on the public leaves the impression that it has parts in it that he doesn't want the public to know about until it's too late to do anything about those parts. Congress can't seem to rid Medicare of fraud, waste and abuse. So what guarantee is there that Obamacare will be free of the fraud, waste and abuse that plagues Medicare????????????? Current law bans a hospital from turning away someone in need of medical attention who doesn't have an HMO. So it's difficult to persuade people to pay for something they can get for free. So may a supplement policy to cover non-emergency visits to the doctor's office for relief from the minor aches and pains life doses us all with would be more acceptable to the public.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Pat Riley
Fri Mar 5, 2010 4:52 AM
"The only health care reform we need are two laws: One that bans an HMO from giving the patient the runaround and a law that limits malpractice awards."
While this kind of thinking is widely believed, it is totally false. First of all, as long as insurers/HMOs are operating for profit, you will continue to get a run around. Second, bipartisan reports show that malpractice reform at best would result in a 2% decrease in healthcare costs. Contrast that with the dramatic annual increases in premiums and co-pays that most of us have to pay.

Part of the problem with the whole healthcare debate is that people are so poorly informed. My "favorite": The Tea Partiers with posters saying, "Government, keep your hands off my Medicare!" HUH???
Comment: #6
Posted by: cadbury
Fri Mar 5, 2010 6:38 AM
Perhaps it would have been more courageous and more noble to actually describe his intentions and convictions during his campaign for President.

"Say what you want about Hitler, but he really hated those Jews, and had the courage to see things through!"

If it was so predictable, this assessment would be embarrassing - even for Susan.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Pascal
Fri Mar 5, 2010 11:05 AM
dear susan, please be advised that obama is a dictatorial national socialist much like shari law and you are not one of him. please staY AWAY FROM OBAMACARE because i know you know exactly what it will do to the usa/ love// tom
Comment: #8
Posted by: tom bowden
Fri Mar 5, 2010 11:43 AM
The heart of the healthcare problem is cost. For 4 decades we have printed money and created massive inflation. Any industry that could import supply, didn't have high inflation, just large trade deficits. Cheap imports kept automobiles, oil, consumer staples at walmart from rising. Anything which had to be produced here, like education, homes and healthcare have exploded in price. This healthcare proposal would make the deficit way worse, and we will have to inflate currency more. Intuitively the american people understand this. If a president goes against the american people and he is right, he shows courage. If he is wrong, then he is just stupid. History will be the judge.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Joe
Fri Mar 5, 2010 4:26 PM
Talk about turing poop into ice cream.
Comment: #10
Posted by: JohnnySunshine
Fri Mar 5, 2010 6:04 PM
p.s. how's Herb Regal doing (now on the South Shore?)
Comment: #11
Posted by: JohnnySunshine
Fri Mar 5, 2010 6:04 PM
"Thelma and Louise" were courageous in the final scene of the movie by the same name. It did not turn out well.

Comment: #12
Posted by: Bill Van Luchene
Sat Mar 6, 2010 3:56 AM
Dear Susan, indeed, Obama shows some courage by refusing to be led by the polls.

But the *real* courage were if *his* seat was on the line. It's always easier to tell others to bite the bullet when you are personally safe for several years. Besides, the Democrats are already expecting to lose in November, so they have less to lose than what people are saying.

Last but not least, I would disagree with you about your definition of "what is right". It would be right if the reform was focusing on curbing rising health care costs, which it's not.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Laurent
Sat Mar 6, 2010 6:10 AM
You say: "Whether or not you support or even understand his health care plan and the polls suggest that right now most Americans don't". It would be helpful to have citations supporting the assertion that most Americans don't understand the plan. I think you're mistaken.

I believe the polls show that most Americans do not like the health care plan in principle and know that, if enacted, it will have a ruinous effect on our economy.

I think that conclusion is simple, defensible and correct.
Comment: #14
Posted by: rddavies
Sat Mar 6, 2010 7:14 AM
During the campaign candidate Obama promised to reform healthcare. I was for reform. What our president is trying to do is "takeover" healthcare. I did not vote for a takeover. He will surely take it over in steps. He has promised this already. I still want health reform.
Comment: #15
Posted by: JoAnn
Sat Mar 6, 2010 8:17 AM
Ms Estrich,
First, please give credit to Ralph Waldo Emmerson for the line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," and then finish it with the remainder of Mr. Emmerson's line, "adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines."
Second, Mr. Obama told us 47 million Americans are uninsured. That number was echoed by Mr. Reid and Ms Pelosi. And, they claimed it exceedingy urgent and critical they receieve medical care. Now, they tell us only 30 million will be insured without any reference to why it is no longer critically urgent for the remaining 17 million uninsured. Mr. Obama never told us he wanted an individual mandate to buy an insurance policy on threat of fines, penalties and taxes, and further, that he wanted to set aside the fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if someone decided not to buy an insurance policy. If "health care" is indeed a "right", as Mr. Obama has asserted, then why are fines, penalties and taxes necessary to the exercise of that right?
Comment: #16
Posted by: Doug Matthews
Sat Mar 6, 2010 8:55 AM
I believe most Americans want health care reform. I also believe most Americans do not want the current plan (aka: Obamacare ). This plan cost much more, (paid for by much higher taxes, and the gutting of medicare) then the cost of health care without reform. As to obama's courage in supporting this overpriced plan, I believe it is more of an ego thing rather than any form of courage.
Comment: #17
Posted by: RAML
Sat Mar 6, 2010 7:28 PM
You call it courage, I call it a strong adherence and world view in believing Marxist ideology - and yes, I am using correct terminology here - Obama is a Marxist - crack open Wikipedia and read up on Karl Marx.
Comment: #18
Posted by: Darek
Sat Mar 6, 2010 8:20 PM
Maybe it can be argued that Obama is a liberal fascist, much in the mold, but further left than Hillary? Still struggling with terminology and defining beliefs of each group. One thing I don't think Susan can argue with is the breaking of all sorts of promises with regard to transparency, "open" government and bipartisanship - he certainly hasn't measured up in those areas. Maybe that has something to do with a public that is now downright frightened of him?
Comment: #19
Posted by: Darek
Sat Mar 6, 2010 8:28 PM
Obama's biggest problem with his version of heathcare reform is that many in the public actually ARE aware of what is being proposed. The bills that have been posted are long (2000+ pages), but the type is large, and it's easy to scan. In almost every area, the government is involved in some capacity. Now, I am a government employee, and I do get paid rather well, and I see on a daily basis how things get done (or not)... trust me, you DO NOT want your personal health or the care of it, in the hands of these people. Mind you, everyone I know is a person, but the government system is simply to large to manage anything efficiently.
Comment: #20
Posted by: Darek
Sat Mar 6, 2010 8:34 PM
Susan - I'm conservative, but read you regularly, though I only agree when you have one of your great human interest pieces about maybe dogs or family. But you're always interesting.
You implied early in this article that Obama is keeping his promises by pushing health care. Can you please devote an article to his promises to have all bills on internet for 72 hours for public viewing? Or his promises to always have legisllation done in front of c-span? Or his promise to not sign any hc bill without a public option, etc., etc.? I'm very serious. You are fair. I hope you deal with these points soon. Thank you.
Comment: #21
Posted by: Jim Sawyer
Sun Mar 7, 2010 8:32 AM
Did you ever think the same when "W" was President? I didn't think so. Only when it's a Democrat on a purely political mission (not deciding on the basis of what's best for America). Makes us proud to be an American, Susan.
Comment: #22
Posted by: JohnnySunshine
Sun Mar 7, 2010 9:55 AM
The American people can be led only where they want to go. I'm sure they will have the courage to help Obama understand in the next couple election cycles.
Comment: #23
Posted by: scott365
Sun Mar 7, 2010 10:31 AM
Susan, most but not all of your analysis is true, especially the finger pointing that will go on. The passage of a culture and nation altering legislation, and a revision of the values of the population takes much much more than courage, Susan. It takes wisdom, legislative skill, communication and most of all popular endorsement. Without all of these the continued thrust of "pass the bill because it is the right thing to do" rings hollow in the ears of the people and rings not at all in the ears of the representatives. If you don't have the people on your side it is rather arrogant to say "the president knows best." and if there is one thing the people dispise more than corruption it is arrogance slapping them in their face when they told Washington "not now." You can never win by forceing unpopular change no matter how convinced you are that you are correct...never. Convince the people first and forget all of the platitutes of courage....the courage and the fingerpointing will be worthless at the feet of lost Trust.
Comment: #24
Posted by: Tom Donahue
Sun Mar 7, 2010 11:37 AM
The biggest problem with this plan is that it is a liberal, left-wing partisan plan and as a result gives us a government takeover of healthcare which is one-sixth of the American economy. The majority do not want this for they realize government will make decisions that are in the best interest of government and not the patient. Something as complex as healthcare must be done incrementally and with wide support with the ability to change directions if something doesn't work. Over time, we can achieve the primary result of acceptable coverage for everyone without giving all the power to government.
Comment: #25
Posted by: pyeatte
Sun Mar 7, 2010 12:17 PM
Re: Doug Matthews
Doug, well written commentary. Further to your note about Health Care being a "Right" For a very long time I have tried to help people understand that politicians and columnists and the population in general have misused the word "Right". What they are are "entitlements, or guarantees or privledges"..but these are not Rights. A Right is something you have inside of you by your nature as a Human Being. A Right can never be given or taken because it is inherently a part of your intelligent being. You have the Right to speak, to think, to judge, to worship or not worship as your mind decides, to move and talk in crowds, to write. You do not have a right to anything that is not inside of your or come from you. On the other hand we must cherish our constitutional guarantees that are often confused as Rights...trial by a jury, prevention of self incrimination, bear arms....the problem is that when you say "Rights" it imparts the concept that it is part of his or her humanity and therefore belongs to him or her without infringment or limitation from other...including the government....Some day, maybe, out politicians and the others will stop adulterating this valubable word, "Right" and elevate bach where it belongs.
Comment: #26
Posted by: Tom Donahue
Sun Mar 7, 2010 2:56 PM
What is this "Obamacare" people keep harping on? Obama refused to offer a plan until after both houses of Congress had passed incompatible bills. Then he offered a set of basic principles that need to be included, notably excluding the public option on which he campaigned and of which 65% of the public are in favor. He didn't offer courageous leadership on a plan that was best for all, as he promised in the campaign. Instead it looks like the Senate bill, which was written by and for the big insurance companies, will be shoved down our throats with the vague promise that Congress can "fix" it later.
He also violated his campaign promises to end the Bush programs of detention and rendition, since the same things are going on now, just being moved from Gitmo to Bagram. He campaigned on telecom accountability, then voted against it when the nomination was secure. I could go on, but I think I made my point.
One further question: How does calling someone a "socialist" or other such epithet disprove the facts asserted in that person's argument?
Comment: #27
Posted by: Tom Blanton
Mon Mar 8, 2010 7:24 AM
Was Stalin courageous? Was Mao courageous? Me thinks Susan has joined the far side along with her leader.
Obama is about as courageous as Michael Myers of 'Halloween' fame!
Comment: #28
Posted by: Early
Mon Mar 8, 2010 7:37 AM
Oh, Please. Stop drinking the kool-aid. Obama is NOT couragous. He's a narcissist on a magnitude of 100. He makes Bill Clinton look like a hopeless introvert. He needs health care reform to hang his hat on and tell everyone how great he his. The American people have awakened and they do not want his plan. The problem is he spends and spends and spends. If he had not spent BILLIONS and BILLIONS on TARP, bailouts, stimulous and want to spend more than a TRILLION on healthcare he might have been able to pull something off. If back in Jan 2009 he had said lets spend a trillion dollars on healthcare he probably would have gotten it but he went and spent over a trillion dollars on other stuff before he got to healthcare. The economy is down and will be for quite sometime because fear of tax hikes and healthcare demands that employers may have to deal with. He handled this whole thing poorly. Instead of being the President and acting like an executive he chose to do what he does best and that is to community organize. Because of that he will forever have Jimmy Carter thanking him for taking over the title of "WORST US PRESIDENT EVER".
Comment: #29
Posted by: Adam
Mon Mar 8, 2010 8:39 AM
ET TU SUSAN? Courage of his convictions--perhaps. But how about a more honest,
broader based evaluation of what his 'convictions' are?
We know President Obama is very! We know he has stated his position
in favor of redistribution of! But while you are so busy clapping hands,
does it really not give you pause to consider that he 'sold' himself to the American people as a centrist while he is clearly anything but? Are you such a great fan of
Macchiavelli that you have no objection to governance by lies then threats? Governance, incidentally, in terms of his health care 'reform' bill that flies in the face of the will of the people.
The quickest way to effect change in a country our size is through fear. The easiest ways to create mass fear are healthcare and food. Obey the government after they
take over healthcare or else you just might not get approval for the life-saving operation you need. How about we examine what 'outcome' studies are? We both
know these are largely retrospective studies where the parameters are framed to
produce the desired result.
Massive unemployment strikes fear in the heart of the people. As unemployment grows, the government becomes the ultimate arbiter of who gets fed and how--so simple just to keep extending unemployment benefits as people continue to lose jobs instead of spending money in proven ways to reduce unemployment so people can take care of themselves.
You can tell a person by those around him--look at the many idealogues and radicals in the Obama administration and the many who have had to resign --(Van Jones -a 'truther' and self described Communist plus, plus) OR turn down a request to
serve (Governor Richardson, Tom Daschle) OR who required an ethics waiver (Geithner) and the administration able to claim they have no lobbyists on board because the day the joined the administration they ceased to be lobbyists.
So how about a little intellectual honesty please, Susan? G-d knows you've got the intellect in Spades.
Liz Hevey
Comment: #30
Posted by: Liz
Mon Mar 8, 2010 1:43 PM
Reading all these virulent anti-Obama posts, and so few in agreement with Susan's points, I'm sure the Republicans will re-capture the Congress and repeal any healthcare law the Democrats manage to get through the eye of the needle. It breaks my heart to see my country lose its compassion for most vulnerable and align with the most powerful and greedy. It's not the America I loved.
Comment: #31
Posted by: Laurie Craw
Mon Mar 8, 2010 11:47 PM
Your way or the highway Laurie? Nobody wants to bar people from receiving healthcare. Unlike most countries, ours provides emergency care to one and all.

First, your party had a BULLETPROOF majority in THE HOUSE, THE SENATE and THE PRESIDENCY for more than a year...and yet, you
could NOT pass a bill. Why? Because your approach is wrong.

May I suggest you read the bills? Most edifying -- anathema to you
'do-gooder idealogues.' Do you have a clue what an 'outcome study' is?
You should find out since they will be created as 'guides' to treatment
and, yes, created is a good is preordained.

This bill will extend coverage to 30 million more people (actually more,
since other 'laws' will extend coverage to illegals). It will also restrict
coverage to Medicare patients--older people with fewer options to
increase coverage for themselves.

I'm way too tired to continue. If you had the slightest inclination to
educate yourself with facts instead of 'emotions,' you would know all about these problems. Oh, by the way, it was the Republicans that passed the bill to assist the elderly to pay for their prescriptions (against heavy Democrat opposition).

Having said all this, do you understand why leaders and elites from countries that have the sort of healthcare approach you are championing come to the US for any serious health problems.

I lived in England for some 15 years. Since I was married to an Englishman, I was covered by the 'national health.' For some 'strange'
reason, I opted for private care.
Comment: #32
Posted by: Liz
Tue Mar 9, 2010 8:38 AM
You say Obama is doing everything humanly possible to keep campaign promises. Was it beyond human possibility to allow C-Span to broadcast the closed door debates? Also is health care more a right than food? We do not guarantee that every person living in this country will have 3 meals a day. Go without food for a week and see how important health insurance is to you. Government health care cannot work and stay within a so called budget. Fraud and abuse will see to that. If a private company exposes fraud in their organization they must clean it up or it effects their bottom line. But the government will take a different approach. It's much easier to adjust for the losses by squeezing the taxpayer just a little tighter.
Comment: #33
Posted by: Rick
Tue Mar 9, 2010 9:24 AM
Courage. It's ego bordering on sociopathy. The only promise he's come through with is buying his kids a dog.
Comment: #34
Posted by: David Kidd
Tue Mar 9, 2010 7:39 PM
Yeah...Clinton survived the mid-term elections ONLY because he changed his policies. BO will not. He thinks he knows best when he knows nothing. Another educated fool. Jesse Ventura is right...there should be no LAWYERS allowed in a government office. I've been saying that for years!
Comment: #35
Posted by: Cathy
Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:59 AM
Even though for the most part we have different opinions on what is the appropriate role of government and the direction we should be taking, I really enjoy reading your column, because of columns like this one. Our government is a republic, and the job of legislators is to be the experts on the issues, and make decision on what is right based on the basic philosophies that got them elected. It takes courage to attempt to do what you believe is right, especially in the face of such ugliness that is today's world of politics. It does not take a great mind or courage to read a poll and vote, but it takes real courage to understand all the options, and make an informed decision of what is right or wrong and then stand up for that decision regardless of the consequences. If more Congressman would take this approach, perhaps people would trust them more than an used car salesman.
Comment: #36
Posted by: Kevin Hildreth
Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:37 AM
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