Steve Chapman

Barack Obama hoped to unify the nation, and he is making impressive progress toward that goal. Last week, he created common ground between Howard Dean and conservatives. They agree on one thing, which is that the health care reform package produced by the Senate and endorsed by the president richly deserves to be voted down.

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Conservatives have always opposed ObamaCare because it involves too much government. Now liberals are abandoning the administration's plan because it involves too little. Dean and Co. are bitter that the bills in Congress offer neither a "public option" -- a government-run insurance program -- nor a provision letting those from age 55 to 64 buy Medicare coverage.

It's OK to alienate people at each end of the political spectrum if you please those in between. But the so-called moderates on Capitol Hill are proving no help to the president. On the contrary, they have discovered that the middle of the road is an ideal place to block traffic.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, once thought to be open to supporting the plan, now says she probably won't. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., got his way when the Senate dropped the government-run options, but even he is not a sure "yes" vote.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, denounced attempts to use "artificially generated haste" to get the bill through, which doesn't make her sound like she's on Obama's side. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is holding out unless he gets tighter restrictions on abortion coverage.

Even proclaimed supporters make it clear they are settling for a pale facsimile of what they really want. Obama seems to have created a split between those who are critical of his efforts and those who are ungrateful.

So he may not get an overhaul passed at all. If he does, it may cost him control of Congress in next year's elections. In the worst (or best) case, it may help unseat him in 2012. In any case, it won't make him a lot of friends anytime soon.

But Obama has no one to blame except himself. He made the mistake of thinking that because Americans elected him on a promise of overhauling health care, they agreed on what that means. If Americans were unified on a plausible change in the system, however, they probably would have gotten it long ago.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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