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Was Hedging on the Public Option All Part of the Master Plan?

I doubt this was part of some master plan, but Noam Scheiber has a smart take on the long-term fallout of yesterday's "liberal revolt" over the public plan:

Prior to all the apoplexy on the left, the two poles of the debate were the president, who wanted a reasonable, fairly moderate set of health insurance reforms, but was nonetheless being branded a socialist or whatever, and a lot of lunatics on the right screaming about death panels and enemies lists and home invasions.

Around the conference table at TNR, we've been saying for weeks that what Obama really needed was a group of equally vocal, equally zealous critics on the left, pulling the debate's center of gravity in the other direction. And, wouldn't you know, that's exactly what's happened over the last 48 hours. We've now got a pole on the left to match the intensity of the pole on the right. (Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting a moral equivalence between the two. As far as I'm concerned, the critics on the left are basically right and the critics on the right are either insane or deeply cynical.) From a sheer tactical perspective, I think the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress have dramatically improved their position.

The benefits arise both in the broader national debate and in the congressional negotiations. In the national debate, Obama now looks like the centrist voice of reason instead of an over-ambitious lefty (I'm caricaturing, of course, in the spirit of the cable-news coverage). Inside Congress, Obama may not get a public option, but if he doesn't, he was never going to get it. And now he can extract a ton of concessions in return, because he can point to a left-wing of his party that's ready to eat him alive for failing to deliver on it (whereas that left-wing outrage was largely hypothetical before now). That kind of leverage is extremely helpful.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 18, 2009; 3:46 PM ET
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Next: The Futility of Compromise


When I turned on cable news last night and saw story after story about the public option and only a few images of the town hall meetings, I suspected as much.

Posted by: caed | August 18, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Makes sense.

A really significant added plus is that people are once again talking substance, debating the merits of the public plan and talking about Medicare for All as an option rather than just focusing on the crazies. Here is where I think we are sometimes ill-served by lefty media--they focus way too much attention on the crazies and on analyzing the evils of the other siode rather than articulating and explaining what we want and why.

So keep on the pressure.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 18, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Granted, i know more about health care than politics, BUT how has Obama and the White House improved their position by signalling they will give up (or already have given up) on a public plan? And all of this without any promise of support for a compromise position (perhaps co-ops) by Repubs.

What are the "ton of concessions" this will bring? Repubs won't support a co-op plan (or at least not many seem willing to).

I'm not saying that Obama's shift (or non-shift shift)on the public plan has really changed much. Intead i think it's really just a recognition of the realities that a public plan doesn't have the public's support. Having a leftwing uprising doesn't change the public's perception of health care reform, thus i don't think it helps Obama. And i doubt it will cause Repubs to compromise.

Posted by: mbp3 | August 18, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

This smacks of wishful thinking, much like Obama's Super Duper Secret Plan to force the courts to outlaw indefinite detention by continuing to detain people indefinitely. Is it a welcome change? You bet. But I doubt it was intentional.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | August 18, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Obama's supporters are not so dumb ass fools to not understand that it is Politics here.

The question is the guy who promised us 'Change' is simply using his Base rather than giving them 'tough love'. Obama's supporters deserved their President to be honest with them and here he is not and using his 'Base' for his political ambitions and agenda.

What does not work is - he is cheating his Base for the ultimate benefit and glory of the Base itself.

Enough said.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 18, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't have to be a Master Plan. It doesn't have to be "using" vs. "ignoring" his left-wing base.

It's called a "trial balloon." The left will be disappointed or incensed. The right will either acknowledge the concession or go for the next "sliver." Reading the response to the "trial balloon" is an effective way to gauge the depth of sentiment on each side.

That being said, I am gratified to hear the growing chorus saying that the public option is crucial to reform. Hear, Hear!

Posted by: mikeinmidland | August 18, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Maybe there was some manipulation going on - I consider the recent "health co-op" debate to be be in that categpry.

Have you ever shopped at a co-op? I used to shop at a natural food co-op. It is not impressive. I think the co-op aspect is just to humor that politician that likes them (sorry - forgot his name).

IMO, the only way a co-op system works well is if it's national and huge - with millions, and only then does it begin to have enough clout to make a difference. Otherwise, the risk factors are huge, the cost is large, the results are unproven, and it's basically a gigantic waste of time and money.

Posted by: markdinboston | August 18, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The Big Dog once told Bernie Sanders that more criticism from the left would give him more maneuvering room. I think we need to provide some cover from the left by firing off more criticism.

I've been calling "my" Blue Dog representative (I work in her district -- close enough) repeatedly to request a public option. Vote early, vote often.

Posted by: J_Bean | August 18, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I doubt this was just another of those "11 dimensions chess games" from Obama, but he may just won the lottery. And why would he give up on the public option now? He should actually encourage the far left to eat the blue dogs alive. He should push towards a public option, not against it. He knows that PO is the only real reform.

Posted by: impikk | August 18, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

This theory is nutso. Obama could rally the base much more effectively by showing a bit of backbone.

Posted by: bmull | August 18, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

We'd all love to think it's 11-dimensional chess. I think that Obama is simply extraordinarily good at recovering from his missteps.

The one thing is, though, that this can't last forever. Obama _didn't care_ enough to get the left flooding Grassley's phone lines or agitating in public in support of the health care bill. I can't get on this rollercoaster where the activists get deployed to bail Obama out just as the right-wingers are letting loose with the crazy. He's the president-- he should be making his case in public and marginalizing the protesters, not sitting back and waiting until the rest of us watch a slow-motion cock-up and show up to clean up the mess.

The degree to which he's willing to let the right drive the debate and basically let public insults and lies from the right go unanswered is demoralizing.

Posted by: tyromania | August 18, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, of course.

Also, the public option is the best idea out there. You can keep your own insurance if you want. But people should have a CHOICE, an option, to get baseline healthcare without having some of their money ripped off by the private insurers.

They add to the cost of healthcare and they don't do anything for it.

A public option should be made very simple and easy -- stop adding to the time and energy costs of maintaining coverage. More people will be able to afford it than ever before, while at the same time it will lower longterm medical costs. Why? Because it should be a baseline universal program, no frills at all, and people will be FREELY CHOOSING this form of rationing. Liberals may not like this part, but it's true too.

Get the private industry subsidy out of Medicare and we can bring down costs there too.

Meanwhile, the degree to which people are complaining that Obama hasn't inspired them to the sort of advocacy effort that is common on the Right is what is truly demoralizing.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | August 19, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

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