Point 1: The Obama administration backs away (but doesn't back away, but then again does) from the idea that a public option is essential to a successful health insurance reform bill. No matter what they say from this point on, they have wounded the public option as gravely as if it were an embattled Supreme Court nominee (remember Harriet Myers?) about whom a President says, I'm standing behind her 1000% percent.
Point 2: Democratic Senator Kent Conrad says, “Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the U.S. Senate for the public option, there never have been.” . That last clause--there never have been the votes for a public option--has been more or less ignored in the MSM thus far. That's a mistake: it is critical to the political process. The American political process--kind of like the free market--always sets up a "middle" whether the parties or the candidates want one or not. In 2008 the Democrats moved further left and the Republicans moved further right, forcing a Presidential choice on voters in that election that was misread as a fundamental shift in American viewpoints and values. The House--and, most significantly, the Senate--did not present voters with such a clear choice: voters in blue states with small populations can still have a massive impact on national policy by electing conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. There are maybe seven or eight of them, and they don't do the party unity bit worth a damn.
But the real import of Senator Conrad's comment is that the Obama administration should have known from the beginning that there were not sixty votes for the public option, and overconfidently charged ahead based on inaugural honeymoon momentum.
Point 3: Howard Dean has now thrown down the gauntlet inside the Democratic Party:
"I don't think it can pass without the public option," Dean said about the bill to CBS Anchor Maggie Rodriguez on "The Early Show." "There are too many people who understand, including the president himself, the public option is absolutely linked to reform."
Dean is the functional head of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party; in process terms he is to progressives what Limbaugh and Cheney are to the hard right. A lot of things went into the Obama victory/McCain loss in 2008, but one of the critical factors was that Obama energized his progressive base and McCain lost his conservative base. But energizing your base to win elections has consequences: the base expects to be at the table and driving the agenda after the election. Dubya let that happen, and the results were disastrous for the entire country.
President Obama is a different story. In his post, Dana Garrett concludes with this sentence: He doesn't want to take a stand. The old conservative joke about Clinton (usually made as he was running rings around his opposition) was that Clinton ruled by triangulation because he had no core values. Clinton believed in Clinton, and if he had a core value it was governing in the middle. Obama was an outstanding, disciplined, on-message candidate, but he is not turning out to be anywhere near as adept as a politician in power. He cannot rationalize his progressive public narrative against his actions--as the Mango Man has noticed:
Let’s make a list of the big money people that have won so far under Obama
1. Wall Street
2. Auto Industry
3. Health Industry
4. Defense Industry
Am I missing anyone? yep, here comes socialism
And he's absolutely right: Barack Obama is not a socialist or even--sorry to disagree, Tyler--a fascist. Inasmuch as he has any particular political ideology he is a believer in managed capitalism, with a more-or-less permanent, autocratic managerial class dependent on government appointments in charge of making the major strategic decisions. It's pretty close, in many ways, to the model of the 1980s-era Japan Inc.
Ironically, if President Obama wants to pass health insurance reform now--even with co-ops replacing the public option--he's going to have to do something that Bill Clinton pulled off with his Sister Souljah moment. He's going to have to tell the single-payer folks and the Deaniacs to either sign up for his compromise or get off the train. That's the only way he wins a consistent, even if floating, 60-vote majority that holds the moderate Senators of both parties as well as the House Blue Dogs to a modified version of his social agenda.
If it happens it will not be pretty, because the Dean progressives have done the most dangerous thing you can do in politics: they have started to believe their own narrative that they elected this President, and that he can't survive or win re-election without them. Clinton already showed that up as a fallacy: if Barack Obama is truly interested in his own power and his own political effectiveness, all he has to do between 2010-2012 is slide markedly back toward the center, forcing the Republicans even further into their own base, and rendering the progressives [who were always a captive constituency] impotent to drive their own party's agenda.