Top advisers to Barack Obama warned him that it was “insane” to sign healthcare reform legislation, but the president did it anyway because of his mother’s experience with insurance companies when she was dying from cancer.
“This was clearly a decision that his own chief of staff didn’t agree with, and there were other senior advisers who thought this was insane, lunatic, to risk the presidency on it,” says author Richard Wolffe, whose new book, Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House, tracks an intense period around the first year of the Obama administration.
Wolffe told NPR that the president went against Rahm Emanuel’s advice to not sign healthcare reform legislation because of the experience he had in seeing his mother deal with insurance companies in her last days dying from cancer.
“So, his mother passed away because of cancer. Her experience in her final days and months was about struggling with insurance companies over [....] the question of pre-existing conditions. And if you listen to the president, what does he talk about most?” Wolffe says. “It’s about insurance companies quibbling with patients about pre-existing conditions.”
“And he tears up — it’s strange that people didn’t kind of notice it — in all of the hullabaloo around the signing in the East Room, he can barely keep it together. And that’s very, very rare — to see a president, especially this president, who is struggling, fighting with himself, to hold back the tears.”
Wolffe says that Obama “would rather do the big stuff and be a one-term president than small stuff and be a second-term.”
“In that sense, and this is not going to please partisans on either side, he’s kind of like President Bush — the stubborn self-image of saying, ‘I’m here to do big stuff; I don’t care what the price is,’” Wolffe says.
“The difference … is that Bush had a simple, clear message and he would repeat it until everyone was sick of it, including himself. This president feels like everyone’s heard it already — ‘You know about this stuff, right? You know what’s in health care or the Recovery Act.’”
“Well, it turns out people don’t.”