Monday, July 27, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/27/09-The Right Strategy

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you read The Weekly Strike and The Big Picture's review of the previous week. And leave those comments! It was a relatively quiet day in politics, so tonight's entry will be short.

OBAMA: The President had a relatively quiet day as he prepared to hit the campaign trail tomorrow for health care reform. This morning he joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at a strategic and economic summit with leaders from China. The meeting is an extension of talks that began during the latter years of the Bush administration under former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. President Obama stressed cooperation between the two countries, saying that the two superpowers share responsibility for progress in the 21st century, and must cooperate on issues ranging from the economy, climate change and nuclear proliferation.

The leader of the 200 person Chinese delegation, state councilor Dai Bingguo noted that though the countries are separated by vastly different cultures, ideologies and social systems, the economic crisis has shown just how interdependent we are in the global community. This meeting may not yield any tangible agreements, but it's a good way of improving diplomatic relations with a country that, like it or not, we will be heavily dependent on as we recover from this economic crisis.

The rest of the President's day was pretty nondescript. He held a meeting with the head of FIFA, the world soccer federation, to discuss a possible 2018 World Cup bid. The President also met with the Detroit Shock, WNBA champions.

HEALTH CARE: No actual news on health care today, though we did hear from the Associated Press that the Senate Finance Committee is getting closer to a bipartisan proposal. Apparently, it's even more watered down than I expected. Not only does the plan not have a public option, but it does not contain an employer mandate. My hope is that if they come up with something, it will help restart momentum for reform, and will make reticent House Democrats think that they won't be taking a tough vote in vain. We will need to make sure that the public option and employer mandate are included in the final bill that comes out of the House-Senate conference.

Meanwhile, as President Obama gets back on the road to promote health reform. it's becoming increasingly clear that he needs to change his strategic approach. Yes,
we've been blaming Democrats/industry/media, but another factor we're beginning to consider is, maybe this plan just isn't that popular, and maybe that's rooted in Obama's basic message just not being that popular. Our favorite blogger Ezra Klein wrote a thoughtful post today saying that the President is mistaken to abandon the moral case for health reform. It's a lot harder for average people to be taken with talk about bending "cost-curves." The Big Picture and I engaged in a little dialogue about this today.

The Big Picture:

This is a crucial post by Ezra, once again pessimistic, but getting to the crux of the issue. The argument Obama would make is that you're not going to get the 80% who have insurance to rally around everyone else, unfortunately. But it's true that, if you look at what Obama has been primarily saying, it's we're going to bend the cost curve, and if you like what you have, you can keep it. Those are the two main things. Well, why would somebody who's not political really be very supportive of that? No moral argument, no appeal to conscience, but also no improvement for them. And as Ezra says it's easily disprovable with specious and not-so-specious arguments that a) it's not really bending the cost curve, b) actually you may lose what you have, and c) you can't both bend the cost curve AND let everyone have what they have now in an unsustainable system. We may have lost touch with that basic objection because we're so in the game, and forgot to step back and see how your average workaday person sees this.This is both heartening and disturbing. It's disturbing for the obvious reason that he's staking his Presidency on a plan that he thinks he can sell, but maybe the way he's selling it is fundamentally flawed. But the silver lining is that there's hope that if he changes the emphasis of this plan - toward more conscience "we're all in it together, people are being ruined without health care coverage, how can this happen," especially to fire up the base, AND this is specifically how this plan will improve your life, for the people in the middle - than it will surge in popularity and political viability.

The Strike: I’m conflicted about it. If all we had to do was make a strong moral case for health reform, we would have already gotten it passed. How many Democratic candidates have you heard say something like, “In the richest country on Earth, we still can’t ensure everybody. That’s wrong. Health care is a right, not a privilege.” It certainly didn’t help Dukakis, or Gore, or Kerry. In fact, if we turned it all into a moral argument, and that was really politically marketable; we’d have socialism, or possibly the New Society. On the other hand, you’re absolutely right that there is no reason for any one who is not political or policy-oriented to care at all about cost curves etc. They mostly care about what it will mean for them and their families. That’s why specifically how this plan will improve your life is I think how every argument should start. It’s also important to remember that people sometimes are swayed by the “power of public ideas” even if they don’t really have an impact on their lives in the short-term. Why do you think people express so much concern for the deficit in polls? Why does anyone care about global warming? Or capping executive pay? There’s a certain sentiment about creating policies that work, that make us proud to be Americans, that seem fundamentally just and fair, that can make policy politically appealing. I think Obama has been trying to tap into that, and perhaps that has caused him to shy away from making moral arguments.

The Big Picture: Good points - I would say that it doesn't have to be either/or: with the concrete "this is what it will do for you; there will be some costs but the benefits will outweigh them (I think you have to admit to people there will be some costs, nobody believes this can be done cost-free, so I think Obama's rosy take makes people skeptical, and leaves him open to bad CBO reports, etc.)" in addition to the moral argument, which you make both about covering the uninsured and about changing the course, which will leave us all in terrible shape, the status quo is hurting people and will ruin us soon, we can't fail to act both for the unfortunate among us, and for our own future. And when you spend some time making the moral argument, you fire up the base, which is critical - this isn't going to happen unless people are clearly passionately invested in making it happen, unless people like us are out there at marches and organizing, and bending the cost curve isn't going to do that. Play to the base and to the center. Obama's already proved he can do that tremendously well.

That's it for today, we will see you tomorrow!

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