The Long Game

Via Balloon Juice, I think Ronald Brownstein is really onto something when he says:

The fight has opened a second window into Obama. The key here is his 2008 campaign assertion that “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America” more than Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton did. The health care struggle suggests that Obama views changing that trajectory as the ultimate measure of a presidency’s success. His aim is to establish a long-term political direction — one centered on a more activist government that shapes and polices the market to strengthen the foundation for sustainable, broadly shared growth. Everything else — the legislative tactics, even most individual policies — is negotiable. He wants to chart the course for the supertanker, not to steer it around each wave or decide which crates are loaded into its hull.

If this is what Obama believes, then I think he’s right about that. In fact, it’s been part of my argument for passing health care from the beginning: that a massive public good like this could also redefine for the better how the legislative branch views its job.

This is something that I don’t think progressive opponents of the bill get; all they see is an insufficient bill sitting in front of them right now. But besides being the art of the achievable, politics is also the art of the incremental and the art of precedent. You can’t create sweeping reform out of a vacuum. And while I’m all for starting with a high opening bid, openly refusing to work on something that could actually pass–and instead unsuccessfully pushing for a dream bill–is going to do more to set back progress than help it.

Of course at this point, with regards to health care, that argument is irrelevant. Tomorrow it will either pass or not pass (more likely the former). There aren’t a lot of other options on the table. If it doesn’t pass, of course, that will be a catastrophe; for the left, for the White House, for the Democrats, and, most importantly, for the uninsured. But if it does pass, then I think it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for all of its opponents on the left to grudgingly return to the fold.


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