Obama’s First Year Problems

We have a president who has had many significant accomplishments during his first year in office, with the economy now in much better condition than we could have dreamed of in January 2009, but there is a feeling held by many that Obama is failing. Frank Rich’s column discusses a “leadership shortfall” on the part of the Obama administration and attempts to determine where the problems are:

Those who are unsympathetic or outright hostile to Obama frame his failures as an attempt to impose “socialism” on a conservative nation. The truth is that the Fox News right would believe this about any Democratic president no matter who he was and what his policies were. Obama, who has expanded the war in Afghanistan and proved reluctant to reverse extra-constitutional Bush-Cheney jurisprudence, is a radical mainly to those who believe a conservative Republican senator like Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is a closet commie.

The more serious debate about Obama is being conducted by neutral or sympathetic observers. There are many hypotheses. In Newsweek, Jon Meacham has writtenabout an “inspiration gap.” He sees the professorial president as “sometimes seeming to be running the Brookings Institution, not the country.” In The New Yorker, Ken Auletta has raised the perilsof Obama’s overexposure in our fractionalized media. (As if to prove the point, the president was scheduled to appear on Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted” to celebrate its 1,000th episode this weekend.) In the Beltway, the hottest conversations center on the competence of Obama’s team. Washington Post columnists are now duelingover whether Rahm Emanuel is an underutilized genius whose political savvy the president has foolishly ignored — or a bull in the capital china shop who should be replaced before he brings Obama down.

But the buck stops with the president, not his chief of staff. And if there’s one note that runs through many of the theories as to why Obama has disappointed in Year One, it cuts to the heart of what had been his major strength: his ability to communicate a compelling narrative. In the campaign, that narrative, of change and hope, was powerful — both about his own youth, biography and talent, and about a country that had gone wildly off track during the failed presidency of his predecessor. In governing, Obama has yet to find a theme that is remotely as arresting to the majority of Americans who still like him and are desperate for him to succeed.

The problem is not necessarily that Obama is trying to do too much, but that there is no consistent, clear message to unite all that he is trying to do. He has variously argued that health care reform is a moral imperative to protect the uninsured, a long-term fiscal fix for the American economy and an attempt to curb insurers’ abuses. It may be all of these, but between the multitude of motives and the blurriness (until now) of Obama’s own specific must-have provisions, the bill became a mash-up that baffled or defeated those Americans on his side and was easily caricatured as a big-government catastrophe by his adversaries.

Obama prides himself on not being ideological or partisan — of following, as he put it in his first prime-time presidential press conference, a “pragmatic agenda.” But pragmatism is about process, not principle. Pragmatism is hardly a rallying cry for a nation in this much distress, and it’s not a credible or attainable goal in a Washington as dysfunctional as the one Americans watch in real time on cable. Yes, the Bush administration was incompetent, but we need more than a brilliant mediator, manager or technocrat to move us beyond the wreckage it left behind. To galvanize the nation, Obama needs to articulate a substantive belief system that’s built from his bedrock convictions. His presidency cannot be about the cool equanimity and intellectual command of his management style.

That he hasn’t done so can be attributed to his ingrained distrust of appearing partisan or, worse, a knee-jerk “liberal.” That is admirable in intellectual theory, but without a powerful vision to knit together his vision of America’s future, he comes off as a doctrinaire Democrat anyway. His domestic policies, whether on climate change or health care or regulatory reform, are reduced to items on a standard liberal wish list. If F.D.R. or Reagan could distill, coin and convey a credo “nonideological” enough to serve as an umbrella for all their goals and to attract lasting majority coalitions of disparate American constituencies, so can this gifted president.

Rich is correct that one problem is a failure to adequately utilize Obama’s strengths as a communicator. This may partially be due to a learning curve in taking over a position as difficult as the presidency, but we are still seeing a dramatic difference between the Obama campaign and the Obama administration.

This is partially because, despite all the false claims during the campaign that Obama is all talk, he has spent his first year primarily concerned with the difficult nuts and bolts of actually governing. This has resulted in many positive results but has also resulted in Obama not receiving as much credit as he deserves for his accomplishments. On the other hand, I bet that if Obama had spent more time giving speeches he would have been attacked for being all talk.

It is also easier to attack without regard for the facts, as is common the right, as opposed to presenting a fact-based defense of policy. For example, the right attacked the stimulus plan from the start despite the lack of any evidence either way. Personally I declared myself an agnostic on the issue, waiting to see the outcome. After one year we did receive the evidence that the stimulus was a success at preventing a possible depression and increasing private sector jobs. Unfortunately by this time many were already influenced by the false claims of the right. The right wing noise machine has also been successful in convincing many that Obama is to blame for the deficits created by Republicans.

The false claims coming from the right wing noise machine are responsible for many of Barack Obama’s public relations problems. As Rich pointed out, the right would portray any Democrat as a Socialist regardless of how absurd this argument is. However this should not come as a surprise. Obama should have been prepared for such attacks, and this is yet another reason why he needed to utilize his skills as a communicator better during his first year in office.

Presenting more of a unified philosophy would have been of value as Frank suggested, but this is not as simple as it sounds. What is now classified as “the left” actually consists of a variety of views. We agree on opposing the policies of the far right but do not necessarily agree on what should be done instead.  Still there are many common views held by a large percentage of Obama supporters which he could do a better job of vocalizing. The less he describes his own economic and political philosophy, the easier it is for the right to define him, falsely claiming he is a socialist and that he holds far-left views. This is also a problem which is common among Democrats and not limited to Obama.

Obama’s centrist views are far more consistent with the values upon which this nation was founded, and more consistent with the views of most Americans, than those of the extreme right wing which now dominate the Republican Party. It is necessary for Obama to do a better job of communicating this. He must do a better job of arguing how our liberal values of individual liberty, a market economy with adequate regulations to ensure it works fairly for those who participate rather than for the benefit of a few, and a sound foreign policy based upon international cooperation rather than preemptive warfare, differ from the opposing views promoted by the authoritarian right.

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The Final Push For Health Care Reform Has Begun

The word from multiple sources, including Tom Harkin, is that Congress plans to go ahead with having the House pass the Senate health care reform bill and then use budget reconciliation to pass some fixes. Barack Obama made it clear in a speech today that he plans on pushing for a full health care reform package (full text under the fold).

John Judis sees this as an example of Obama learning how to be president:

Obama’s speech represents a major departure from the politics of his presidential campaign and of his first year in office. In his campaign, Obama pledged to defy partisan gridlock and to “change the way Washington works.” During the campaign, some liberal commentators believed that he was merely employing a clever tactic to highlight the rigid partisanship of his opponents. “If we understand Obama’s approach as a means, and not the limit of what he understands about American politics, it has great promise as a theory of change,” Mark Schmitt wrote in The American Prospect.

But it is now evident that Obama’s approach was what he understood about American politics—it was the guiding light gleaned from his years as an Illinois state senator—and he planned to apply it to Congress. And it was, of course, nonsense. Republicans were able to use Obama’s naiveté about their motives to undermine his initiatives. As Noam Scheiber explains in his profile of Rahm Emanuel, the principal obstacle to getting health care reform through Congress last year was Obama’s dogged insistence last summer that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus continue to plug away at nailing down a bipartisan agreement. What Obama got was not an amicable agreement but a summer of discontent, highlighted by Senator Charles Grassley’s  denunciation of Democratic “death panels” and by the emergence of the Tea Party movement.

But it’s not an easy job being president. It took Bill Clinton most of his first term to figure out how to do domestic and foreign policy. Like Clinton, Obama has stumbled, but his slip-ups have been more dramatic because, with the economy cratering and two wars raging, the stakes have been higher from the first.

However, in Obama’s speech today, and in his artful performance at the health care summit last week, he showed that he has learned something from his first year in office. Obama is now using the rhetoric of bipartisanship as Schmitt and other liberals thought he was doing in 2008: He is using it to paint Republicans as intransigent. He clearly no longer believes that a bipartisan agreement on health care is possible.

The final push has begun with many believing the plan is to pass a bill in the next two weeks.

(more…)

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Transforming An Insurgent Campaign Into A Governing Philosophy

Running an insurgent campaign is one thing. It is harder to be the insurgent force once you are in office. Tim Dickinson looked into the attempt to make this transformation in an article at Rolling Stone. He places the blame for the failure to maintain the enthusiasm for Obama’s agenda on David Plouffe, who was eager to get out after the campaign:

“There was no question of my joining the administration,” he recounts in his memoir. So Plouffe, in a truly bizarre call, decided to incorporate Obama for America as part of the Democratic National Committee. The move meant that the machinery of an insurgent candidate, one who had vowed to upend the Washington establishment, would now become part of that establishment, subject to the entrenched, partisan interests of the Democratic Party. It made about as much sense as moving Greenpeace into the headquarters of ExxonMobil.

This led to problems including becoming two closely identified with the Democratic Party machinery, risking the alienation of independents and Republicans who backed Obama. The departure of Plouffe (who has since rejoined the Obama administration as an adviser) also led to a more conventional legislative strategy:

The decision to shunt Organizing for America into the DNC had far-reaching consequences for the president’s first year in office. For starters, it destroyed his hard-earned image as a new kind of politician, undercutting the post-partisan aura that Obama enjoyed after the election. “There were a lot of independents, and maybe even some Republicans, on his list of 13 million people,” says Joe Trippi, who launched the digital age of politics as the campaign manager for Howard Dean in 2004. “They suddenly had to ask themselves, ‘Do I really want to help build the Democratic Party?’”

In addition, with Plouffe providing less input in his inner circle, Obama began to pursue a more traditional, backroom approach to enacting his agenda. Rather than using OFA to engage millions of voters to turn up the heat on Congress, the president yoked his political fortunes to the unabashedly transactional style of politics advocated by his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Health care reform — the centerpiece of his agenda — was no longer about mobilizing supporters to convince their friends, families and neighbors in all 50 states. It was about convincing 60 senators in Washington. It became about deals.

This affected how health care reform was approached:

What backfired, it turns out, was ceding populist outrage on health care to the far right. Because OFA failed to mobilize the American people to confront the insurance companies, it allowed industry-funded Republicans, like former House majority leader Dick Armey, to foment a revolt by the Tea Partiers, whose anger dominated the news. Stewart, the director of OFA, says the failure to anticipate last summer’s town-hall ragefest was his. “Organizing for America did not properly plan for that first week of August,” he says. “That was an error on my part.” OFA scrambled to rally its troops, generating more than 300,000 calls to Congress on a single day. But the belated effort typified the group’s first year. “It’s always reactive and half-hearted,” says Moulitsas. “The movement was built on the concept of big change — but they haven’t gone after the things you need to do to enact change.” Indeed, OFA’s own numbers reveal a sharp drop-off in activist participation: All told, only 2.5 million of its 13 million followers took part in its health care campaign last year — and that’s counting people who did nothing but sign the group’s “statement of support.”

“It didn’t work — with an exclamation point at the end!” says Rollins, the former Reagan strategist. “They didn’t keep the organization alive. They thought it was out there to use whenever they wanted to use it. But with constituents who feel like they’ve been part of a revolution — as ours did in ’80 and ’81 — you’ve got to feed them. You’ve got to make sure that they feel important.” Instead, says Rollins, OFA “e-mailed them to death, but without any real steps to make them feel a part of the process, like they felt a part of the campaign.”

Fortunately the Obama administration is becoming more engaged in pushing for health care reform. The question is if it is too late to overcome the propaganda campaign of the far right which has many people believing false claims regarding the legislation.

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It’s All Rahm’s Fault

If you go by this article from The Hill, the failure of health care reform to pass is all Rahm Emanuel’s fault. Depending upon who you listen to this is because 1) he failed to court Republicans or 2) he allowed Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to waste too much time courting Republicans.

There is one argument which transcends these two contradictory views:

Some Democrats in Congress also question whether Emanuel scheduled enough time for the president to travel the country to stump for healthcare reform.

“For a guy who talked a lot about not liking the culture of Washington, he spent a lot of time in Washington,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

The aide noted that former President George W. Bush traveled to states and congressional districts he carried on Election Day to pressure Democratic lawmakers to support his agenda. The aide said Obama did not put similar pressure on centrist Republicans.

Regardless of whether Obama did so in swing states or in Washington, in retrospect it is clear that Obama should have spent more time publicly pushing for health care reform and debunking the Republican distortions of the plan. He does appear to have learned this lesson and is  getting more involved. It also would have helped reduce much of the opposition which developed if Obama had stuck to his opposition to the individual mandate which has fueled opposition from elements of both the left and the right.

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Republican Fight Double Feature: Palin v. Limbaugh and Gingrich v. Club for Growth

As a general rule of thumb Republicans are totally inept at governing, but are a highly effective opposition party. On the other hand, Democrats do a far better (even if not perfect) job of governing, but cannot match the Republicans in a dirty political fight. It is great to see the Republicans occasionally battle each other. We have two such battles at present with Sarah Palin vs. Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich vs. The Club For Growth.

At least Sarah Palin is showing some degree of consistency in attacking Rush Limbaugh for a “retard” comment after calling on Rahm Emanuel to be fired after he called strategy of some liberals on health care reform “f–king retarded.”

The cases aren’t entirely analogous.  Palin responded on her own to Emanuel’s comment but only showed this consistency in criticizing Limbaugh through a spokesperson when asked about this. Still, it is good to see the two fighting in this manner. There is also a difference between Emanuel using an insult such as this against fellow Democrats in the heat of an argument and Limbaugh calling a meeting of advocates for the mentally handicapped  a “retard summit at the White House.”

Of course, if we can believe Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin also joked about her “retarded baby.” I guess she’ll have to demand that she resign. Oh wait…

Meanwhile the Club For Growth is attacking Newt Gingrich for supporting Republicans who are not as extreme as they are. Gingrich was campaigning for Utah Senator Bob Bennett while the Club for Growth is working to defeat him:

“I wish the Club for Growth would spend as much time and energy to defeat liberal Democrats as they do dividing Republicans,” Gingrich told a crowd at Bennett’s formal campaign launch, according to the Deseret News. “I try to defeat liberal Democrats. I don’t spend much time trying to defeat Republicans.”

That prompted the influential conservative group to take a shot at Gingrich for backing “ultra-liberal” Dede Scozzafava in last year’s special election in New York’s 23rd district. The moderate Scozzafava quit the race after being harangued by conservative activists who supported Doug Hoffman. Democrat Bill Owens eventually won the race.

“Newt has proven time and again that he will support any Republican, regardless of policies and principles,” said Club president Chris Chocola in a statement. “That’s his right, but the Club for Growth PAC puts principles over party,”

“Newt was wrong about New York-23, and he’s wrong about Utah,” Chocola continued. “And pretty soon, Bennett will wish Newt never gave him the kiss of Dede.”

Actually Gingrich was right about New York-23 as the Club for Growth’s strategy led to the Republicans losing a Congressional seat which they had held for a century. See, good things do happen when the Republicans fight among themselves.

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Goolsbee Wins Comedy Contest

Austan Goolsbee of the Council of Economic Advisers won the 16th annual “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity” contest by throwing in frequent humorous asides to otherwise sounded like a serious talk (video above). Politico and The Swamp also have summaries of some of his lines. From The Swamp:

“We packed up, like the Beverly Hillbillies, we came to Washington,” Goolsbee said in last night’s 16th annual “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity” contest.

“Anybody can win in a landslide,” he said. “But the people in the campaign, we share this bond… We came here because we knew that the president had a lot of things to do. No. 1 on the list we wanted to make sure — all the Clinton people got their jobs back — that we were going to do something to help the country.”

Goolsbee is a good friend of the president – he’s not suggesting that they were “separated at birth in 1961 – in a village in Kenya ” – but they’re buddies.

“I’m just a guy from Chicago — future Fed chair,” said Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers serving as director and chief economist on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Now a lot of the president’s friends have flown off to Copenhagen, he noted, in pursuit of Chicago”s bid for the 2016 summer games. (The president flies tonight at 6:50 pm EDT.)

“This is a big week for Chicago,” Goolsbee said of the delegation in Denmark. “It’s an amazing group. Valerie Jarrett is going over there. They’ve got Oprah, the president, the first lady, the mayor. They’re bringing the senators. I think they’re bringing the governors – if the parole board says it’s OK…. I hope we get the Olympics.”

This is an administration that took office in tough times, the economist noted.

“it was OK, because as we took office, it was an all-star team of economists and we basically knew what to do – panic,” he said. “Let’s just sort it out and start from the fundamentals – how do we throw money at this problem?… We kind of had to go back and look at the old text books. Karl Marx, Trotsky.”

“I think, from all sides, there are some things we agree on,” he said. “We all want our kids to be educated. Think of somebody in today’s world in the 21st Century, if you have no skills and no education and you don’t know anything, what future do you possibly have? FOX News correspondent.”

He had a few things to say about the next election, too.

“I think [Republicans] might do better looking outside of Washington to governors, there’s a lot of governors,” he said. “There’s obviously Sarah Palin – wingnut – from Alaska who’s a former governor — quitter — and you just cannot rule out that by 2012 — there will be a warrant for her arrest – that she will be the nominee….

“They might want to just pick somebody who was against Obama from the start, someone who was against somebody from the start, just had it out for him for some time — Hillary Clinton … If they do that, they could challenge him competitively.”

There are plenty of people still unemployed, he noted. “When Rahm Emanuel sees my comments from this evening, I’m going to be one of them.”

Some additional lines from Politico:

On Sen. Ben Nelson: “He is still a Democrat and I do think that if you see somebody as distinguished as Senator Nelson, maybe we can learn something from him (sneak attack) maybe it’s a lesson (stab him in the back) and there are many leading figures he reminds me of (Benedict Arnold) …”

“If you think about it, we all want our kids to be educated. … If you have no skills and no education and you don’t know anything, what future do you possible have (Fox News Correspondent)…

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Heckling the President

Congressman Joe Wilson has received a lot of attention for heckling Obama during his speech last night. Wilson shouted “you lie” and later apologized. PolitiFact found that it was Obama who was right on the facts.

Joe Wilson’s conduct was found to be distasteful by American audiences but such heckling is commonplace in the British Parliament. If Wilson wants to act as if we are in the U.K., it is a shame that we don’t have universal health care as they do there. (I’m referring strictly to the concept of universal care–not to the specifics of the British plan.)

While such heckling doesn’t work in a prepared speech such as the one given last night, I wouldn’t mind if we also could have the President meet more informally with Congress and hold discussions comparable to those held in the British Parliament. It would be interesting to see Obama directly take on the misinformation being spread by the Republicans. I’m sure that Obama could easily handle their talking points, and demonstrate to viewers how empty the attacks from the right really are.

I previously responded to Obama’s speech here and responded to Sarah Palin’s op-ed, which repeats many of the right wing talking points, here.

Update: First Read believes this will harm the Republicans:

Well, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t help the GOP’s cause one bit. Indeed, the most effective part of Obama’s speech last night might not have been what he said — but rather what Wilson yelled: “You lie.” It could be an incredibly important moment for the president and the congressional Dem leadership because it does a couple of things: 1) paint a picture of the Republicans as ornery and hard to work with, and 2) remind conservative Democrats that they may not want to line up with folks like Joe Wilson when casting votes. Let’s be honest: Wilson did more to undermine the GOP’s efforts to come across as reasonable opposition as anything any conservative cable host has done in the past few months. Remember how conservatives were able to turn Cindy Sheehan into someone very difficult for the anti-war Democrats in Congress to support during the Bush years? Well, Wilson could end up providing that kind of symbolism. In short, he gave voice — literally — to the president’s attempts to paint some of his opponents as shrill…

Wilson apologized last night in a statement (“I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility”) and in a call to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. But the damage was done and it may take a long time to repair. It was a sad day in Washington that polarization has gotten so bad that a member of Congress thinks it’s appropriate to shout down the president. So what should Wilson’s punishment be? After all, it was a verbal sucker punch, and we just saw one football player get suspended for the year for a sucker punch. By the way, the DCCC tells First Read that in the eight hours since Wilson’s outburst, his Democratic opponent in 2010, former Marine Rob Miller, has received nearly 3,000 individual grassroots contributions, raising about $100,000.

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The Danger of Killing Health Care Reform From The Left

Matthew Yglesias has made an important point about the strategy of the “progressive block” to attempt to block any form of health care reform which does not meet their ideological goals. This now includes blocking plans which might serve the goals of health care reform if they do not include  a public option. An example of this was seen yesterday when they attacked an extremely sensible statement from Rahm Emanuel who argued that “The goal is non-negotiable; the path is.” I have used the Clinton’s as an example in criticizing the strategy of opposing any reform plan which the left does not consider to be perfect. Hillary convinced Bill to veto any bill which differed from the ideas of HillaryCare. As a result nothing was able to pass and the number of uninsured and under-insured has grown tremendously. Yglesias notes an even earlier parallel.

Yglesias points to a report on a plan proposed by Richard Nixon back in 1974 which is similar to what the Democrats are proposing today:

“It was an extremely extensive plan, as I remember, that would have given universal coverage” for health care, recalled Rudolph Penner, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and economic official in the Ford administration.

Nixon introduced his Comprehensive Health Insurance Act on Feb. 6, 1974, days after he used what would be his final State of the Union address to call for universal access to health insurance.

“I shall propose a sweeping new program that will assure comprehensive health-insurance protection to millions of Americans who cannot now obtain it or afford it, with vastly improved protection against catastrophic illnesses,” he told America.

Nixon said his plan would build on existing employer-sponsored insurance plans and would provide government subsidies to the self-employed and small businesses to ensure universal access to health insurance. He said it wouldn’t create a new federal bureaucracy.

The Nixon plan won support from a Time magazine editorial on Feb. 18, 1974, which noted that “more and more Americans have been insisting that national health insurance is an idea whose tune (sic) has come.”

Considering his support for HMO’s I would have reservations about a plan advocated by Richard Nixon without seeing further details, but it is remarkable that we are still struggling this many years later over a way to do what every other industrialized country manages to do and enable all citizens to have access to affordable health care. The plan was not killed by conservatives but by those on the left who hoped for something better:

Despite the heated politics of Watergate, national health-care legislation was proceeding in Congress thanks to a compromise brokered by a young Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, a Nixon nemesis.

But then, according to a 1974 political almanac published by Congressional Quarterly, the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers lobbied successfully to kill the plan. Unions hoped to get a better deal after the next elections.

Yglesias concludes by saying essentially the same thing I have said on this topic in previous posts:

In retrospect, that particular iteration of the progressive block strategy doesn’t look so smart. And it’s possible that this time around, too, it’ll turn out that the votes aren’t there for a bill with a strong public option and the votes aren’t there for a bill without one either.

In retrospect, Emanuel was right and the liberal bloggers attacking him were wrong when Emanuel stated his concentration on the goals of health care reform as opposed to any specific path. For the past eight years we criticized George Bush and the Republicans for governing from the extreme right without compromise. Similar demands from the extreme left are no more rational.

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Health Care Reform and Ideology

Will Wilkinson comments on Ezra’s Klein’s frustration with Rahm Emanuel’s being willing to compromise on specifics of health care legislation as long as the key goals are met  (which I discussed earlier). Wilkinson wrote:

Bush couldn’t reform Social Security because his plan was unpopular. Obama won’t be able to deliver a health-care bill ideological Democrats want, because what they want is unpopular and legislators know it. So Congressional Democrats want something they can cast as “victory” while doing nothing that could hurt their noble struggle for ongoing political self-preservation. Right now, strongly ideological media liberals like Klein have to decide whether they’re going to (a) act as enforcers, sending the signal to the powers-that-be that they will vocally and publicly count a “trigger” plan as a pathetic failure, or (b) sigh and prepare to declare whatever legislation passes a profound victory for ordinary Americans that shows just how great Democrats are.

I’ve noted many times before, there is widespread support in polls for health care reform, including a public option. Wilkinson is also at least partially correct in commenting:

Reform is very popular in the abstract. Even a government-run system. But most people are quite satisfied with their current plans. So support for systemic changes turns out to be shallow. This is what Clinton learned. As soon as people get the sense a new policy will force a change in their own situation, they break off. That’s what Obama’s people are worried about, and why the constantly return to the “you won’t have to change anything” refrain, even though the goal is to have everybody change into the government plan sooner or later.

When we write about the need for health care reform it only makes sense to concentrate on the millions who are uninsured, under-insured, or have been screwed by the insurance companies. The fact remains that millions of other people are happy with their current plan and prefer to remain in their plan as opposed to being forced into a government-run plan. They might be wrong, such as in thinking they have good coverage only because they have not yet run into a situation where their insurance company has tried to deny coverage, and they might be falling for untrue claims about government-run plans, but they will still vote based upon such beliefs.

A public plan could be advocated either as a way to keep the insurance companies honest or as a back door path to a single payer plan. Those who are pushing for it as a way to get to a single payer plan are unlikely to compromise. For those of us who are more concerned with changing the behavior of insurance companies, it makes sense for Emanuel to stress goals rather than drawing a line in the sand with regards to the public option.

The “strongly ideological media liberals like Klein” might only have the two options Wilkinson mentioned. Personally I chose an alternative option. I have long suspected that we will wind up with a compromise which falls short of what the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants. The question is not whether they get everything but whether we have a bill which has positive results with regards to improving access to health care and making it more difficult for insurance companies to deny coverage. Even a watered down plan is likely to be far more comprehensive than what the Democrats were running on in 2004.

It isn’t a matter of declaring victory or proving “just how great Democrats are” but in being realistic in hoping for some improvements without expecting perfection. Our political system was set up to prevent the ideological extremes from usually getting everything they want. Sometimes this might be frustrating, but this reality was also beneficial when George Bush was in office.

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Compromise To Remain On The Path To Health Care Reform

Whether a health reform deal includes a public option remains a key issue dividing the parties. The Wall Street Journal reports there is room for compromise:

It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.”The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest,” he said in an interview. “The goal is non-negotiable; the path is” negotiable.

President Barack Obama has campaigned vigorously for a full public option. But he’s also said that he won’t draw a “line in the sand” over this point. On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement reiterating his support for a public plan.

“I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest,” the president said in the statement. “I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.”

While some have drawn lines in the sand, Rahm Emanuel gets it right. What is important is the final result and that solutions be offered to problems.  Some on the left have concentrated too much on the path, threatening to vote against bills which achieve the desired goals if they do not do it in the manner they prefer.

If a perfect health reform bill was passed which imposed the necessary restrictions on insurance companies it would not be necessary to have a public  plan. It might be argued that to demand a public plan is to be conceding that the health care legislation will not produce the needed reform. Of course this is also a realistic position, knowing that there is a strong chance that insurance companies will find ways to circumvent regulations to maximize profits regardless of what laws are written.

Many liberal bloggers such as Ezra Klein question why any compromise is needed with the Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. If Congress can pass legislation which contains a public plan then this whole discussion of compromise becomes irrelevant. The reason that it does remain a matter of discussion is that it is not yet certain whether the Democrats will remain united to pass a bill with a public plan. Moderate Democrats might join the Republicans in voting against a public plan.  It is then that we should remember Rahm Emanual’s stress on the goal rather than the path and still push for legislation which prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to those who need it in order to maximize profits.

Update: Will Wilkinson comments on Ezra’s Klein’s response to Emanuel. I have commented further on Wilkinson’s post here.

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