I was about to take issue with a recent post by Jonathan Chait on the politics of healthcare reform, but I see he launched a pre-emptive strike against one of mine, so I’ll start by responding to that. Chait accuses me of contradicting myself when I call this a tainted victory. I argued that (a) the healthcare plan has moderate, centrist ambitions and (b) Obama broke faith with American voters by subordinating himself to liberal Democrats in Congress. Absurd! And I say these things in the same column!
Is this logic so very hard to penetrate? I don’t think I am the first person to draw the distinction between the product and the process. The product is a centrist plan. Chait and I agree about that. It is so centrist, as Chait pointed out in a note on the progressives’ suicide impulse, that many liberals had to hold their noses to vote for it. How quickly we forget. A week ago, the plan that now has all Democrats in rapture (and rightly) was so popular with much of the party in Congress that Pelosi wanted to pass it without asking her members to vote for it. At the beginning of March Chait wrote:
[T]he most committed Democrats believe, absurdly, that the final bill has been compromised down to something that only barely improves the status quo.
All in all, the liberal strategy of focusing on the public option and constantly harping on the bill’s shortcomings has won few identifiable concessions and has significantly increased the chance that no bill at all will pass.
Agreed. Now, my point is to ask, where was Obama in all this? Was he leading the party and the country to the centrist plan which the Democrats ended up with? No. He called for change, but was mostly absent from the debate about the form it should take. When he did express a view, he spoke up for the public option, though signaling he would not go to the stake over it. He outsourced leadership on the issue to the Democrats’ Congressional leaders.