I know this isn't going to be popular here (although it won't be the most unpopular of my diaries), but Charlie Cook is essentially correct with his September 12 analysis of the political situation in the Democratic party.
The party is divided into three camps, purists, who want a move to the left (including basically this site), Obama loyalists, who think his problems are mostly due to the economy and just want any bill passed, and the moderate to conservative Democrats, who are angry at "the expansion of government" since last year's bailouts and for that reason are skeptical of further government programs like public option.
This is a Democratic site, and as far as I know it isn't troll behavior or beyond the rules of this site to propose the moderate Democratic position. So I'm going to say it: the people Cook calls the 'skeptics' are right, the Obama loyalists are partly right, and the purists are not right at all.
First of all let me preface this by saying that I am a supporter of single payer, and failing that, a public option. I believe it is the best policy. But I think that progressives here are not reading the political situation correctly.
People like Max Baucus and others aren't just opposing public option because of insurance companies, although that is part of it. They're also getting a lot of pushback from their constituents. Baucus represents a McCain state and so does Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad. Most House Blue Dogs represent McCain districts. Mike Ross, leader of the House Blue Dogs, represents Arkansas, where despite 55% support of public option in polls, Ross was undoubtedly besieged by hundreds if not thousands of town hall protestors, calls, and emails of quantity considerably larger than the number progressives have been able to muster. Prior to the August recess he said he was supporting the House bill, but when he came back he backed off his support. It wasn't the insurance companies that changed their mind during this time. It was greater knowledge Ross received from his district during the recess.
The truth is, the chances for public option were always slim and fragile. Once the conservative protests of August became known, the chances of public option died. A public option could still be passed through the reconciliation process. But it does not appear that this will be the choice taken. It would be an abuse of the reconciliation process, which was not meant to be an instrument of reform. It was meant to be a process for ensuring that the federal government did not end up like California and was able to pass a budget every year on time.
This is reality. I thought we were a reality based community? The reality is that the deep recession has made Americans more fearful about what we can afford. The Paulson TARP plan and the auto bailouts and the Federal Reserve's lending facilities pushed beyond the tolerance of what the public wanted in terms of government intervention in the economy. Most people see public option as just more "government intervention in the economy."
They see no difference between thigns like TARP, the auto bailouts, and the Fed's facilities, and public option. To them, they are all one and the same: big government.
The progressive mistake was that we have never understood this and therefore we didn't frame the debate in the right way. The first step needed to be to establish a new frame that sharply differentiated the government programs we want from the government programs associated with the unpopular bailouts.
This was also the Obama administration's mistake. I have been reading the comment section of Marketwatch.com and other websites since last year, and I know the mood out there. If the Obama administration had had political intelligence, they also would have known the mood. They would have anticipated the town halls. It's a failure of political intelligence on their part, which resulted in failed framing, which resulted in failed policy. We are the same.
A fundamental dynamic is emerging in the Obama Presidency, and progressives must respond to it to be successful. To quote Charlie Cook:
My own hunch is that the Skeptics are right that the Democrats' problems are bigger than the recession: Purple America is reacting to the growth of government with emotions ranging from dubiousness to outright hostility. So, the rebound for which almost everyone is praying won't necessarily fix the Democrats' problems.
To my way of thinking, many of the unprecedented actions that the Bush administration took in its last four months and that Obama took in his first few months as president were necessary to prevent a worldwide economic collapse. But that view is not widely shared and, thus, is of no solace to those alarmed by what they see as an ineffectual federal government expanding far beyond its competence.
I have been arguing here for months that the Obama administration should take a more populist tack and that progressives should take some of the attention we've given to public option and try to influence our lawmakers on the topic of financial and regulatory reform. And reframing the economic dialogue. The health care debate does not exist in isolation, and treating it like it does is like trying to fight a little doll being held up by a giant and ignoring the giant. No wonder we are losing.