Is Barack Obama Really Mad at the People Pushing His Agenda?
Ceci Connolly had a nice piece over the weekend reporting on a conference call Barack Obama held with congressional Democrats to plot strategy for health-care reform. But Obama's audience, it seems, wasn't the congressional Democrats who were actually on the phone. It was the liberal advocacy groups that were going to read reports of the call. And Obama had a pretty simple message: Step. Off.
In a pre-holiday call with half a dozen top House and Senate Democrats, Obama expressed his concern over advertisements and online campaigns targeting moderate Democrats, whom they criticize for not being fully devoted to "true" health-care reform.
"We shouldn't be focusing resources on each other," Obama opined in the call, according to three sources who participated in or listened to the conversation. "We ought to be focused on winning this debate."
Specifically, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations that worked on his behalf in the presidential campaign will now rally support for "advancing legislation" that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage, controlling rising costs and modernizing the health system.
This is, on a couple of levels, a very weird call. If Barack Obama wants MoveOn.org to to pack it up, he'll have a staffer reach out to the organization's leadership directly. He won't conduct an ostensibly private conversation with congressional Democrats in the hopes that it gets leaked to the media with the message and the emphasis that he intends.
That, however, appears to be what he's done. Which suggests that there's a bit of theater going on here. It looks like Obama is semi-publicly defending the congressional Democrats whose votes he'll eventually need. That's probably a good strategy for him. But that's different from seriously putting the screws on, say, the unions attacking those restive centrists. If he were doing that, those attacks would quietly disappear, and we'd never know why. This, by contrast, seems a bit like one of those Captain Morgan ads where they loudly and publicly advise you to "drink responsibly" while still, you know, selling alcohol in large quantities.
Which makes sense. Obama apparently spoke of "advancing legislation." But what legislation? The House legislation, with the strong public plan? The HELP legislation, with the weak public plan? The Finance legislation, which is likely to embrace some version of the co-op compromise? Advocacy groups on the left and the right are currently trying to make sure that question gets answered in accordance with their preferences. So, to some extent, is Barack Obama. And indications are that his preferences are more closely aligned with those of liberal advocacy groups than centrist Democrats. But unlike liberal advocacy groups, Obama needs Sen. Kay Hagan to continue to like him. The best outcome for him, in fact, is that the liberal advocacy groups succeed in uniting congressional Democrats around Obama's health-reform preferences but appear to be doing so over his objections.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.
July 6, 2009; 10:31 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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