The Long Game Strategy
"It's always darkest before the dawn," goes the old saying. The Washington version is that it's always darkest before the deal. Legislators have a tendency to seem maximally rebellious in the days before a piece of legislation is actually finished. The reason is intuitive enough: That's when threats have an effect. A Blue Dog who talked down health-care reform six months ago couldn't have gotten a quote in his local paper. A Blue Dog who talks it down now gets a front-pager in Politico and a solicitous phone call from Rahm Emmanuel asking what, exactly, would make the bill more appealing.
And as I argued yesterday, I don't even think it's particularly dark. I seem to be rare in having been quite a bit more pessimistic at other points in the process than I am at this juncture. But either way, it's worth making one point on the White House's agonizing decision to largely hold the president in reserve until this week, and its legislative hardball until conference committee: This isn't a new strategy.
In fact, it's a pattern. It was White House officials' approach to stimulus. It was their approach to the summer months of the general election. It was their approach to the months leading up to Iowa in the primary campaign. They have a habit of holding their fire till long after supporters are screaming for them to enter the fray. They have a tendency to take a long view of a project -- whether that project is a campaign or a bill -- and identify the point of, hopefully, maximal impact, and ignore the calls to respond to bad news cycles that precede that chosen moment. That leaves a lot of their allies in agony as they wait for the White House to defend itself, but it's worked pretty well so far.
July 21, 2009; 4:15 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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