President Obama has tacked a bit over the past few weeks and is trying to sell his healthcare reform as heath insurance reform.  He is doing so by employing a GOP strategy:  appeal solely to people’s selfish interest.

[W]hen President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised news conference to explain his health care policies, he focused on two narrow questions that are defining the health care debate in Washington: “What’s in this for me?” and “How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?”

The U.S. Constitution calls on Americans to “promote the general welfare.”  There was a sense during the presidential campaign that Obama subscribed to that notion.  But he seems unwilling to make that argument, especially when promoting healthcare reform.  Why not ask for sacrifice?

For uninsured Americans, health care reform represents a bonanza. For millions of other Americans (many of whom like their health care coverage), reform will mean more in the long term but potentially less in the short term: fewer tests, a demand for changed lifestyles and, as Obama suggests, a more “discriminating” approach to the health care system.

For doctors, reform could mean less take-home pay; for small businesses, new mandates; and for insurance companies, more government regulation and greater competition.

In short, all members of the health care ecosystem will have to change their behavior so that, in the end, the overall system will be more efficient and more effective.

Sacrifice is a tough sell.  But if Obama asked for it in the name of our children, he might succeed.  People like to think they are leaving a better world to their children.  Asking people to make sacrifices so that the next generation will not be stuck with the healthcare tab for our generation, he might at the very least squelch the wackos yelling at town hall meetings.

We have been self-indulgent and careless with our health.  We baby-boomers will cost a lot to care for in our later years.  Under the current system, insurance premiums will continue to rise to pay for that care.  And our children will get stuck with that bill.

The president has sought to reassure Americans that nothing will change for them with reform. But if Obama’s goal is far-reaching and not incremental change, then inevitably he is going to have to ask Americans to give something of themselves for the greater good. It’s foolish to think that there can be serious policy changes that don’t involve someone’s ox getting gored, whether the issue is health care, climate change or any other policy shift that will have an effect on the way Americans live their lives. Obama clearly wants to be a change agent, but he’s not pushing Americans to do their part.

For a politician who rose to prominence by using the force of his words to inspire and energize millions of Americans, such a call for sacrifice and citizenry responsibility has been strikingly absent from his rhetoric. During his campaign for the White House — and even in his inaugural address — Obama showed little inclination to merge patriotic devotion with civic responsibility, à la John F. Kennedy or even Lyndon B. Johnson. The result is a debate on health care focused on making the system more efficient rather than more fair.

In his election night victory speech, Obama said, “Let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.” The time has come for the president to demand of his fellow countrymen that they help make that pledge a reality.